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February 16, 2015

Damn Right, We Got Them Blues!

Text and images by Simone Louis

Mumbai saw some of the most invigorating performances as The Mahindra Blues Festival 2015 left enthusiasts electrified and elated, and created new fans

This weekend, while most Indians were fretting about the ICC Cricket World Cup and Valentine’s Day falling on the same day, another group of people were waiting for Mehboob Studio, Bandra, to open its doors. An aura of anticipation laced the nippy air as a swarm of music lovers poured in and began exploring the venue’s stages, food court, bar and viewing theatre. From the moment we walked in, with bands on our wrists and stars in our eyes, we were hooked.

DAY 1 (February 14)

Warren Mendonca and friends kicked off the evening with the Mahindra Blues Show at the fairy-light-bedecked garden and they were greeted by hooting, whistling fans that just couldn’t get enough. Doyle Bramhall II played for the second year in a row, closing the show with Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. Slaying every melody and riff on stage, the duo took turns with the microphone and had the audience eating out of their palms. Bramhall’s larger-than-life front and Robinson’s calm genius was a match made in heaven.

The highlight of the first night, however, was the graceful yet tremendously powerful Nikki Hill. Her roots set pounded through everyone lucky enough to see her perform, her voice effortlessly taking us through soul, gospel and R&B tunes as she moved across the stage like an absolute superstar, the tattooed arms and beehive hair only adding to her firecracker personality. Her band, which includes her husband Matt Hill on guitar, treated the audience to an amalgam of soul, blues and R&B gems which left almost everyone feeling nostalgic. Nikki may not be a veteran just yet, with one EP and her new debut album Here’s Nikki Hill to her credit, but she has all the swagger and punch needed to connect with a crowd and blow them away (even if she may have been “extremely anxious” before the show). [Read our interview with Nikki Hill here]

DAY 2 (February 15)

This was one of the best Sundays we’ve had in a long time. An even bigger crowd than the first day worked its way through Mumbai’s suburbs and was ready for some blues at 6pm sharp, when the True School Blues Experience made their way onto the stage. The music school’s international faculty came together to show us how it’s done, and were followed by Ashutosh Phatak’s all-star Indian band who played a few originals with their own fantastic blues twist. To add to this heady True School beginning, the students of TSM took over the garden for half an hour, and let’s just say it wasn’t easy to tell them apart from the preceding performance.

Some of the crowd moved once more from the garden back to Stage 1 to watch Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado perform, while the rest formed a winding queue outside Stage 3 for the massive closing acts, Quinn Sullivan and Buddy Guy. We weren’t part of the latter, which means we had to push our way through the overflowing audience at the end of the night, but it was worth it because the Danish band impressed us on so many levels. Thorbjorn Risager’s hard-hitting, tantalising voice is probably still echoing at Mehboob Studio! Those who skipped the band’s sensational set really missed out on a quality show. [Read our interview with Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado here.]

Come 9pm on Sunday and we find ourselves pushing our way through the most packed area one could ever imagine, just to get closer to teenage prodigy, Quinn Sullivan. If you are a fan of Buddy Guy or Eric Clapton, or even if you just watch the Ellen Degeneres show, you know who he is. Most people have seen YouTube videos of him performing with Guy when he was just seven years old, absolutely ripping the stage apart with his unbelievable skills. But nothing could have prepared us for the 15-year-old, advanced version of that boy. Jaws dropped simultaneously as his flawless vocals took over the venue and his guitar wailed like it was being played by one of the masters themselves. Sullivan’s original compositions were strikingly mature, not something you’d expect to hear from someone his age, but he’s not like anyone his age. He closed his set with a song that pretty much everyone in the audience knew right off the bat. It was a song he’d written as a child, about his first encounter with Buddy Guy, called ‘Buddy’s Blues’. His vocals on the track included more runs and tricks than when he had first performed it, but we all sang along as he introduced his mentor.

The 78-year-old legend walked out to deafening screams, with more energy than all the acts put together! He put every young musician to shame with his undeniable aura and vigour — we had chills when he plucked the first guitar string. The Chicago icon couldn’t stand still for even a minute as he charged his way through a massive 2-hour set, saying to the crowd, “They told me that I’d better be prepared when I came to Mumbai because you guys would wear me out. I told them there’s no such thing as wearing me out when I come to Mumbai!” There were people in the audience who weren’t familiar with the musician and were there out of curiosity — they transformed into die-hard fans by the end of the night. There was no shortage of guitar licks, jugalbandis with his band members, plectrum-throwing and charging through the audience as Buddy Guy gave us the blues in all its glory. He finished off his set by calling on all the main artists from Day 1 and 2 to join him on stage for an all-star jam. Describing the jam would take us a whole other article, but, it goes without saying, the closing of the Mahindra Blues Festival 2015 was pure, unadulterated magic.

[Brand new: our interview with Quinn Sullivan and Buddy Guy!]

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