On a mild winter night in Indianapolis one might be snuggled up at home but after sitting at home on a much colder evening last winter event promoter Mike Milligan had different ideas this year. His band Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel is usually off performing in some venue around the Midwest only this winter he wanted to bring together some of the best local talent for one night as a cabin fever reliever. Mike created the event bringing in some of the best local talent who bring together a variety of flavors including Traditional and Contemporary Blues, Soul, Jazz, and R&B. The event unfolded at Birdy’s Bar & Grill on the corner of 71st and Keystone Ave. on the cities north side, a familiar place for such music gatherings with blues the focus on this night.
The first band to take the stage had two vocalists who also provide lead and rhythm guitar respectfully. Paxton Norris and Tyler Mac both have new solo cd’s being released however they perform together live and have for some time providing a solid opening set for the crowd. Each artist interjected their own songs while backing the other. It was an exciting mix of music with each bringing their vocals and guitars to life. Both of these young men brought fresh and creative expression to their music making their set the perfect kickoff for the event! Tyler Mac performed “Leave My Little Girl Alone” with a slide guitar groove putting this classic in a whole new light while Paxton Norris threw down an impressive combo of picking and vocal on “Somethings Gotta Give.” You can sample both of these songs on their websites to learn more of Paxton Norris and Tyler Mac, both have great music to discover!
Now this type of event in Indy wouldn’t be complete without a Master of Ceremonies and on this night the man responsible for this task was blues historian and host of “The Blues House Party” on WFYI 90.1FM, Matthew Socey. He shared with the audience little bits of history and current recordings of the artists as he introduced them, Matthew goes back as much as twenty years in knowing the bands who were performing on this night. Catch his Blues House Party every Saturday night for the best in local and national blues recording artists!
The WT Feaster Band was next up on stage as this trio laid down songs from their two albums that have elevated them in both the U.S. and the U. K. WT Feaster on guitar and vocals sung a mix of songs that go from traditional blues to the song “Mr. Maybe” which has elements of pop and country, having been played on local country station Hank FM. WT is known for his guitar finesse and the band played with intensity adding the classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy” at the end building on the excitement of the evening. You may also sample WT Feaster Band songs on their website.
In the middle of this mix was the Tad Robinson Band and Tad has one of those voices that will impress everyone, soulful and smooth he’s known internationally for his vocals and the bands style of play! Accompanied by his band including horns and keyboard, Tad put a little funk and R & B into everyone’s groove with songs from his previous albums and his upcoming release showing everyone why we’re so fortunate to have such a performer among us locally. The bands performance, a tasty mix which suggested romantic interludes while pleasing the ears of all in attendance led us in another direction among these varied styles of blues.
The Gordon Bonham Blues Band followed with traditional and contemporary blues that has made Gordon the most recognizable figure among today’s local blues artists. From his early days in Bloomington, to his time in Austin Texas, to his tenure in Indy, Gordon has developed a style and sound that displays his dedication and passion for blues. His fluent guitar skill accompanied by keyboard and blues harp played out as another flawless set with performances from each instrument standing out. The crowd’s approval confirmed this night was going as planned, a great success! Along with the rest of the bands thus far Gordon will release a new album due out this spring!
The final performance of the night would come from the man responsible for this event and his band. Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel took the stage after Matthew Socey’s introduction, kicking off his set with the title track from his brand new album “Lucky Man.” His sixth release and his third on Mojo Hut Records, Mike truly is a lucky man from having played with and opened for several national musicians like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Walter Trout, Robert Cray, and Joe Bonamassa. Most recently Mike Milligan was able to sit in with former Steve Ray Vaughan band mates Double Trouble at a reunion show in Nashville, Tn. Mike anchored the evening with a set list of originals showing his allegiance to Texas Blues Guitar along with a soulful voice influenced from his early days listening to R & B records. Mike’s band performed as a trio with a much fuller sound as he shared the songs that marked his growth spanning two decades. It had to feel good for Mike to perform on stage after witnessing the successful evening coming from the other bands, the interest of the good crowd who came out on this night to support live local blues, and the promise of another winter blues fest’s likely success in 2012! It showed in his songs as he ran down a set full of melodic riffs and rich vocals putting an exclamation point on a night meant to entertain and relieve our winter woe’s as spring draws near. There was continual thanks given to World Class Beverages, Birdy’s Bar & Grill, Mike Milligan, and the crowd of blues lovers who came out in support of the First Annual Indy Winter Blues Fest. I was taken by the precision in which the bands transferred to and from stage and the flawless set each band contributed as the night came to a close. Although I’m a blues lover, as a critic I couldn’t find one moment when anything fell below the high expectation put on this show, it was a perfect night in February for people to come together for music. This city needs more nights like this!
Video by Scott Davin
All Rights Reserved © 2011
Photos Courtesy of Raymon Guajardo