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July 13, 2008

Horseman’s Club Sunday, June 13, 2008

The second part of my personal Festival weekend came with a invitation from the mighty Mo. I’d spotted this show and had reluctantly concluded that with the payment of my son’s college fees I wouldn’t be able to go with the spiraling gas costs. Mo’s offer was a godsend, and off we sped to Sacramento on what promised to be a very hot day.

Like anyone who’s been there, I just love the Sacramento Horseman’s Club. It’s hard to describe to people who haven’t been there. The old building has that juke joint feel with the main food concession (Pulled pork, sweet potato pie, and many other delights), good beer, and the bar. The grounds are really good for their summer canopied stage set up with covered seating in some areas with rows of rental chairs under the canopies and along the shaded tree lines. The stage is set up next to a central concrete pad adequate for dancing.

Let’s say it right out: It was hot at one o’clock when we arrived and parked in the ample parking. By two o’clock it was very hot, and by three o’clock it was broiling. The audience was all experienced Californians and everybody was in the shade in one way or the other.

Back on the Blues trail was Kenny Neal recovered from the illness that had sidelined him for a year. “I’m well, y’all, and I want to thank everybody who stuck with me so I could beat that.”
Kenny had his Northern California “local” band with him and they were sounding strong. I apologize to the band members for not having their names. Kenny announced that his upcoming National tour would be with a band of mostly Neal family members.

Kenny strapped on that ancient beat looking Fender Telecaster he’s played for years and he was right into that smooth Kenny Neal swamp sound. Wonderful guitar playing and Kenny seemed to really relish playing for us. The band was really into it and the excellent keyboard player really swung as the tropical leisure suited bass player really dropped that beat on us and hammed it up for us. Kenny did a bunch of his classic material and one of his father’s tunes.

I rotated into and out of the shaded stage right corner of the stage. One of the joys of the Horseman’s club shows is that there’s no “stage security” and no need for it either, it’s all real blues fans and no annoying hustlers or drunks. Kenny looked out and the sun roasted concrete slab that was the empty dance floor and you could see he wished there were dancers. Everybody was too smart to go out of the shade at the “total burn” part of the day and two hundred people cheered Kenny from the shaded tree lines. A few of us zipped out in front of the stage from time to time getting totally irradiated and enjoying the wonderful sound.

Kenny had his lap steel out for a couple of tunes and sounded wonderful on that too. He really is back. Then he brought out the harp on “Baby Bee” and sounded smooth as silk . As the sun lessened a tiny bit more came out and danced in front of the stage. The Horseman’s club shows have no “opening acts.” Kenny sure was a headliner all the way. Yes, Kenny Neal is back.


There was interest and speculation about how Rick Estrin and the Nightcats would sound now that Charly Baty has semi retired from performing and left the band. Rick has kept the band going by adding the Norwegian Flash, guitar phenomenon Kid Andersen for the virtuoso guitar playing the Nightcats always featured. It’s no surprise to the Northern California audience that Kid can just make the guitar do what he wants, but let me just reassure a more national audience that Kid is just astounding. There’s no fall off in Nightcats sound with the Kid, plus Kid is a master of slightly crazed rhythm guitar licks and he seemed to love playing behind Rick.

Rick did a bunch of his classic tunes like “Dump That Chump!” with full female audience participation. Another standout was his long and involved and deeply felt explanation of why he really needs a woman he can really get his arms around and skinny-just-won’t-do introducing his hymn to large women, “That’s Big!”

On song after song Kid Andersen did incredible backup and solos. Kid comes out of left field and goes crazy places with his solos and always achieves a solid resolution with the songs. Kid continues to grow as a guitar player and since he was a master already it’s getting really scary how good he’s likely to get. It isn’t ego flash, it’s a huge musical mind and a sense of humor at work. Kid has that ”no fear” mentality when he plays–“I’ll try this, maybe it’ll work!” It almost always does. And he plays great funk guitar too. The whole Nightcats thing was just fine and Rick is going to carry on real good. The sun had moderated some and lots of us were out dancing in front of the band. The Nightcats sure did make dancing fun.

[After the show Rick changed out of his sharp suit into long shorts–they were pressed.]

The Fabulous Thunderbirds in their latest incarnation were up last on the bill and they sounded good. As a fan of departed guitar player Kirk Eli Fletcher, I was interested to see what the latest edition with the Moeller Brothers of Dallas was like. Johnny Moeller is a long known name from Texas Blues circles, but I’d never seen him. Kim was fully on and really led out on the show. His voice and harmonica playing were as strong and fine as could be. Songs I recall were, “Two Time Fool,” “Hurt On Me,” and “Save It For Someone Who Cares.”

Kim started off with some of his more recent tunes that I’m not as familiar with. Johnny Moeller was being restrained in his guitar fills, and Jay Moeller was staying with the straight arrangements on drums. Randy Bermudes was a solid familiar presence on bass. I began to notice a young guy playing rhythm guitar down on the far side as his chops were tight. Others began to notice him too. As the show went on Kim pointed to him more often and he got into some good solos too. Turns out his name is Mike Keller and I’ll watch for him.

Johnny Moeller began to fire out and the show picked up and the cheering from the audience motivated the band. Johnny showed some hot guitar and won me over. The dancing was full on now that the sun had gone into the west. As the set started getting toward the end the old T-Birds classics came out. “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up” sounded just great.

A fabulous show and why people drive to get to the Horsemen’s Club shows. Everything you want in a blues show and no extra useless frills. A big thanks to Big Mike Balma and his band of volunteers for another great show.

---Rolf Olmsted

Posted by Rolfyboy6 at July 13, 2008 08:03 PM

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