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Two Takes on the Winthrop Blues Festival

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There's still hope for a crash landing

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back into the throes of life...


I'm in love with Polly Okeary, in love with the energy in her eyes, her bright-red satin blouse, her pounding bass guitar, and the vein on her neck when she screams out her blood-curdling vocals.

A Friday-night street dance in Winthrop to kick off the weekend-long annual Blues Festival. Five women welded together for an hour set--sax, drums, keyboard, lead guitar and Polly. Good God Almighty,I dance my shoes off and ate my heart out and doubted I'd hear anything to top these ladies all weekend long.  

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Afterwards I drove out to the Blues-Ranch beer garden where some of the weekend performers were having a midnight jam, my harmonicas in a day pack. I listened for awhile and then stood at the side of the stage and played along, one hand cupped to my ear so I could hear myself. Polly Okeary leaned that mean bass guitar of hers down close to hear what sort of sounds I was making.

"What's your name?" she called out over the music, her face up close.

"John," I said.

"John, get your ass on up here" said Polly, and I hopped on stage and grabbed a mike.

I put an F harp behind a blues number in C, did some back-and-forth with the lead guitar, and took them by surprise by taking a solo--the dance crowd ate it up. Played a few more numbers, shook some hands, and blended back into the crowd.

Now it's early the next morning and I'm sitting on a bench with a cup of fast-food coffee,a tin of rolled cigarettes, and three hours sleep under my belt; barefoot in sweat pants and a cutoff, looking out over the Methow River at a hang-glider in the distance.

It occurs to me that I made some serious wrong choices back down the line by not giving myself over to music.

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I almost didn't hear anything hotter than those five hot ladies. As good as they both were, John Lee Hooker Jr. didn't top them, and neither did Charlie Musselwhite. But then came Eric Burdon and a handful of musicians he calls the Animals, and they blew everyone away.

There's no way to relate how good Burdon was. He did with his voice what van Gogh did with paint and Kenneth Patchen did with words, him and an old gray fox on keyboards, a fox of a different kind with long red hair on bass, a totally kick-ass drummer, and someone on lead guitar who seemed a tad too plaintive for what was going down. But what the hell, Burdon carried him, he carried them all with his driving vocals and an occasional cow bell or shaker.

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Good lord. Who has time for this? I just ran down a great off-the-top profile up-date, hit "Save Profile Modifications", and got disconnected, because apparently I hadn't "logged in". Listen, "Booklist" once crowned me King of the Mimeo (more...)

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