A sure sign of the calendar's fresh start is the 15th annual Anti-Freeze Blues Festival, always held the first weekend of January at the Magic Bag in Ferndale. This year's lineup promises two great shows to help bring in 2009.
Friday's big draw is the Siegel-Schwall Band of Chicago, which has continually stretched the boundaries of blues since its formation in 1966. The band has performed with symphony orchestras in Boston and San Francisco, and co-founder Corky Siegel once melded a string quartet and percussionist with his melodic harmonica on his most satisfying solo work, 1994's Chamber Blues.
Also on the bill are veteran blues-rockers Jeff Grand, Jim McCarty and Bobby East; Cee Cee Collins, who can growl one minute and caress a song as sweetly as you please the next, backed by R.J.s Rhythm Rockers; the T-Bone Walker-influenced Michael May and the Messarounds; and winners of the Detroit Blues Society's Detroit Blues Challenge, Count Bracey and the Pleasuretones.
Brian Miller, who blows harp for the Pleasuretones, describes the band as specializing in Chicago blues with a healthy dose of West Coast jump mixed in. "We like to keep it as old-school as possible," Miller says, describing how the band's soon-to-be released CD was recorded live in the studio with almost no overdubbing and using only vintage equipment — some dating back to the late 1940s. As winners of the Blues Challenge, the band will travel to Memphis in February to represent Detroit in the International Blues Challenge.
Saturday's show will be capped off by John Hammond, who first recorded in 1962 and whose new disc, Push Comes to Shove, was produced by Garrett Dutton, better known as G. Love. The new CD is something of a reinvention for Hammond. He wrote five of the 12 tracks (he'd done almost no writing for his 30-plus previous recordings), and a collaboration with G. Love ("Tore Down") blends a Freddie King sample with hip-hop influences — but not in a way that should piss off a blues purist.
Also performing Saturday is the solo winner of the Detroit Blues Challenge, John Latini, the rough-and-tumble Rump Shakers (Chef Chris says the band is "trying to create a ruckus,"), Johnnie Bassett and Thornetta Davis.
Make a resolution that's easy to keep and a helluva lot of fun — spend the New Year's first weekend in Ferndale. It'll be good for the soul.
The 15th annual Anti-Freeze Blues Festival, a fundraiser for the Detroit Blues Society, is Friday and Saturday, Jan. 2-3, at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Tickets are $25 each night. Doors open at 7 p.m. Call 248-544-1991 for information.