Tales from the Mahindra Blues Festival




A two day saga of one of the most compelling gigs anyone could have watched through the last weekend, when Anand Mahindra announced that he wanted to recreate the feel of the Montreal Jazz festival in India, brought a spark to music lovers, thus leading it to becoming one of the biggest festivals Mumbai has ever seen. The event, held at the infamous retro looking Mehboob Studios in Bandra was specifically designed to create a blues like atmosphere, with 3 venues, rather stages to choose from, out of which one was strictly for the ‘not so free’ flowing booze. Among the artists who were invited this year were Shemekia Copeland, a Grammy nominee, defined as one of the finest blues singers, (potentially the queen of the blues) and daughter of legendary Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland. Then came Matt Schofield, a British bluesman widely regarded as one of the most distinctive and innovative guitarists to have emerged in this generation, and rated amongst the top ten blues guitarists of all time (Guitar and Bass Magazine) putting him right up there with icons like Eric Clapton. Next on the list was Jonny Lang, a Grammy award winner who topped the Billboard New Artist chart when he was 15! And finally of course, the one and only, Mr. Buddy Guy! Need I say more?

On the 5th of February, the gates opened up to the first day of the festival, the buzzing smiles and people waiting for their favourite bands to kick in. Luke Kenny’s Mojo Juke Box, a rather amateur sounding blues band with Luke Kenny on vocals, began playing their set. An hour later, at 8.00 p.m. sharp, Shemekia Copeland with her enthralling voice (which carried right till the end of the hall without even a mic!), was absolutely spectacular, and she dedicated almost all her songs to all the ladies in the house. Sorry boys! Looks like she loved the women better. Nonetheless, she managed to engage the crowd and made them sway to her tunes. Post Shemekia was the last act of day one, Jonny Lang. A rather young handsome looking lad with a Bryan Adams feel to him, he shredded his guitar like never before! However by this time, people had started leaving the venue, fervently waiting for their blues icon Buddy Guy to play the next day.

Sunday, the 6th of February, saw large crowds pouring in. Celebrities like Dolly Thakore, Kunal Kapoor, Gaurav Kapur, and not to forget our very own Anand Mahindra were all spotted walking around in the confines of the studio. What surprised us all was that every music set began on time and ended right when it was supposed to. Of course Buddy Guy wouldn’t conform to that rule! Come 5 o’ clock, the Kolkata based Saturday Night Blues Band started playing covers like ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, and ‘Red House’, resulting in a brilliant, rather splendid show by this skilled band, which was formed in October of 1999.

Following them was the very famous blues band from Shillong called Soulmate, with Rudy Wallang on the guitars, and Tipriti Kharbangar (Tips) on lead vocals. Their showmanship was immaculate, and the weird robotic dance moves and expressions by Tips never ceased to make people fall in love with them! They played their originals including the song which has always been a hit amongst Soulmate fans, called “I am”, and another one called ‘Blues is my Soulmate’ (how apt could that be?) which were sung to perfection that evening, with this band going all out on an international stage and sharing their passion for the blues just like the rest of them.

Subsequent to Soulmate, Matt Schofield kicked in with some mind-boggling riffs, his band comprising three members including himself, a keyboardist cum bassist, and a drummer. After the set completed, a fifteen minute break kept the people lining up outside stage 3’s entrance, and a few humming the blues like me who couldn’t wait any longer to see the ‘74 years young’ legend, Buddy Guy! And finally amidst a packed hall as Luke Kenny announced his name, you could sense the place vibrate, almost like thunder! It took him a good ten minutes to get up on stage. And there he was! The legend himself, with his guitar strumming to the likes of bands like Cream, and the infamous John Lee Hooker.

Buddy Guy is well known for his antics with his guitar, and that indeed is what he did, twisting and turning the instrument at different angles, playing it behind him, walking into the audience, and throwing away his many plectrums into the crowd. Yes, it was the ‘go crazy, feel the blues mood’. Once he started, there was no stopping him; it was pure magic on stage, as if it were set ablaze! His walk into the audience cost a lot of people a lifetime of memories, which they would probably share with generations to come. For me though, the part was where he in between a song would go ‘oh shucks!’ really did it for me! Another rather engaging act was when he sustained a note for over a minute, and his helper came up on stage with his cup, as he took a sip and started off a riff which blew everyone’s mind. His charisma on stage had transcended into this magical night, which was beyond compare to all of us. And later that evening it felt as if a galaxy of legendary blues superstars had come down to earth and played together. A final impromptu round with Shemekia Copeland, Jonny Lang, and Matt Schofield, ended with Mr. Guy’s guitar string breaking, as he yet again flung it across into the audience, marking the end of a whirlwind experience of a never before seen festival dedicated just to the blues. We take our hats off and bow down to those who respect this genre of music. All I know is yes, indeed it left me with this song in my head ‘You’re damn right I’ve got the Blues!’


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