Dallas International Guitar Festival
April 30 - May 1 & 2
Review David Simers
Photos by Calvin Mims / DFWImages.com
Dallas International Guitar Festival RETURNS!
Friday April 30, 2021
Girls Of Guitar
Once again, music led the way. The 43rd Dallas International Guitar Festival was held on April 30-May 2, after a one-year absence, and it was an absolute success. Guitar enthusiasts, musicians and fans gathered at the Dallas Market Hall to celebrate music, see old friends and make new ones.
Jimmy Wallace, Jamie Dillard-Malone, David Malone, Jo Ann Holt and a host of others made sure that it was as close to normal as people have seen in over 14 months. As usual, the Jimmy and the organizers brought in top-tier talent to perform and entertain the crowds.
The Girls Of Guitar were on the Sweetwater Stage on Day One and entertained the growing fans for hours. Australian-relocated-to-Nashville singer/songwriter Kara Grainger opened the show and instantly captured everyone with her beautiful voice and songs. She writes lyrics that not only fit her voice perfectly, they hit home with listeners with their meanings of love, growth and hope. It was a pleasure listening to her as her voice permeated from the stage as if it was an extension of her soul.
Kara upped the energy several times during her set with hard blues and a soulful rendition of “I'd Rather Go Blind.” Some songs turned into jams with Chris Rodriguez supplying the firepower along with Kara. Her own songs were a hit and the cover songs showed her vocal range and influences on her music. It was a tremendous kick-off set to the day and she followed it with sets on Saturday and Sunday.
The Ally Venable Band came out next and continued the energy. She began with the rocking “Use Me Up” which utilized her terrific voice, a powerful guitar solo and every bit of her soul. The pulse of the crowd continued to rise as drummer Elijah Owings, bassist Braeden Stubbs and keyboardist Fernando De Los Santos showed how tight they've become with their continual touring to support new albums, which continually rise to the top of the charts. Her latest album, Heart Of Fire, has risen rapidly and she continues to garner well-deserved awards. The lovely young lady from Kilgore, TX, gave every song her all, as she always does in concert.
Ally's expressive voice and driving beat guitar riffs had feet stomping and hands clapping. Her slide guitar provided a great sound on some songs while personal lyrics were the genesis of others. Her associations with Lance Lopez and Devon Allman were evident and her influence from the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan shined through as she ended her much too short set. Lucky fans got to see her perform another set on Saturday. It's always a thrill to see her play. She has come so far in a short period of time and everyone agrees she will continue to grow as an artist.
Celisse Henderson wasn't well known to the audience at the beginning of her show, but everyone who heard her play was a big fan afterward. Her time on stage was nothing short of spiritual. The crowd roared when she displayed the power in her voice, especially as she put her own spin on “Chain Of Fools.” She used her powerhouse vocals as another instrument to add to the wailing that came from her Flying V guitar.
Celisse sang distinct syllables in an almost slow scat and picked individual notes before turning songs into jams. She played New Orleans beats, created long-string solos and sang A Capella to the delight of all. She was expressive and created a tight-knit bond with the crowd from her opening song. The audience was absolutely spent as she finished with a raucous version of “Sir Duke” and showed their appreciation to this special lady.
Joanna Connor from Austin came on next and instantly showed her powerful guitar prowess. Her boogie-jam beginning to Elmore James' “Shake Your Moneymaker” set the tone for her time on stage, backed by Mike Gage on drums, as it turned into a guitar jam. Half of the crowd were already fans and the other half quickly became Joanna Connor followers.
Joanna never let up and shredded some instrumental Jimi Hendrix to stir up the crowd. That segued directly into a rock and roll guitar show that also featured tremendous bass work. It continued with “When The Levee Breaks” as finishing with Led Zeppelin always leaves your fans in a frenzy. If you get the chance to see her play, do yourself a favor and go. You'll come away a fan.
Then came the highlight of the day. Blues great Ana Popovic delivered a show that mesmerized everyone within hearing distance, from the photographers close to the stage to the security guards at the back of the auditorium. Ana started out rocking to set the mood for the night. The beautiful woman who was dressed to the nines was also in beautiful voice and her effortless strumming seemed to be an extension of her body. She was so fluid that many couldn't fully appreciate the difficulty of the songs she was playing.
Ms. Popovic made a quick connection with the audience that kept growing throughout the evening. The extremely tight six-piece band also formed a bond with the music fans who cheered the bass, keys, drums and horns at every opportunity. Power boogies led into power blues and rock and roll, each song providing more energy and entertainment than the one previous. Her continuous touring has turned her into a master showman, a recognition she takes to heart and continually tries to outdo herself.
Ana played the blues songs she loves so well, some rocking songs on which she was absolutely superb and some New Orleans beat tunes in which she encompassed the soul of the late, great Dr. John. The upbeat mood of the crowd was that of a revival as her mannerisms let out her emotions, but with nothing forced or strained.
Musicians noticed and talked of how every note she played complemented what the rest of her band was playing and formed different levels of music to fill the senses. The sum of the parts was greater than the whole, a feat few bands can achieve much less maintain for an entire concert. The union of chords came together in perfect harmony to please even the harshest critic. She continued her time with old school shuffles and energy-packed blues and spoke of celebrating getting out to play again in front of a live crowd. She enjoyed her time playing on stage as much as the fans enjoyed watching and hearing her, and it was a win-win for everyone who was lucky enough to be in the venue.
After the show, Ms. Popovic told this reporter she put together a setlist of high energy and upbeat songs to celebrate getting to play in front of appreciative crowds again. In short summary, Ana Popovic rocked the fans' faces off and they loved every minute of it. They would have stayed all night listening to Ana's entire catalog of music and probably would have listened to her sing the names in the phone book if she turned it into a blues song and added a jam at the end of every letter.
Saturday, May 1, 2021
Local Rock and Blues Bands
The Buddy Whittington Band started off by playing several of Buddy's songs, which pleased the crowd immensely. The former lead guitarist for John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers sang and picked a little rockabilly and blues, some rock and roll, and some covers of legendary Texas musicians. Mouse Mayes on guitar, Wayne Six on bass and Mike Gage on drums formed a tight band, even though Buddy half jokingly said, “We had our first rehearsal in 20 years.”
Songs about Texas Trios, being the Second Banana in a famous band, and the benefits of Viagra grabbed everyone with their lyrics and playfulness. Buddy and Mouse, who were both in Point Blank, paid tribute to their former band, as well as other great Texans. The BW Band also covered songs from John Nitzinger and Bugs Henderson, local legends who set the bar high for area musicians. The crowd, which picked up heavily during their time playing, loved every minute of the show. Whittington, well known for being magnanimous and letting all the band members show their individual prowess, proved once again that a few musicians can be among the most well liked, respected and talented people around. Every show he plays is a must-see event and you will walk away impressed with much more than the music they played. You'll feel as if it was a small group of friends sitting in your den and jamming out all night.
The Reece Malone Band, newly formed with excellent musicians on every instrument, played to their strengths. Introduced by famous rock historian Eddie Trunk, the band started with a rocking blues intro and continued with Reece's hot riffs and the smoldering bluesy voice of Kayla Reeves, also a singer with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, fit the part perfectly.
Reece led the close-knit group with several solos and long jams with guitarist Wes Jeans and bassist Patrick Smith felt completely natural as nothing was forced. Each song progressed organically and Reece, or Wes or both, played a solo exactly where a solo should be. Malone showed his immense, and still growing, talent, from rock songs with a driving beat to slow-and-fast blues that Texans live for. The band showed their range and played several different types of songs in many genres and the fans responded enthusiastically and wanted so much more than time allowed. This band will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. Watch for them and see them play live in your area.
Jim Suhler brought out six guitars, showing everyone that he was not only ready to play, but play hard. Fans, friends and music lovers gathered to hear the leader of Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat play several songs from his blues albums, including Panther Burn and Tijuana Bible. Birthday boy Shawn Phares highlighted several songs on keys as well as the accordion. It was warm in the afternoon sun and the selection of songs they played made it downright hot. In appreciation of Jim and the talent that shined through along with the sunlight that finally replaced the rain, not a soul left. It was time for them to be entertained and Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat started out on fire and somehow managed to turn the stage into an inferno with each subsequent song.
Jim's solos are rich in tone and appear effortless with his years of mastering the guitar. Playing off bassist Patrick Smith and drummer Beau Chadwell thrilled the crowd who knew every song and sang along. Jim also brought up friends Nick Schnebelen and Rocky Athas and let them showcase their skills, too, as they helped the George Thorogood and the Destroyers guitarist jam on covers of Canned Heat, Robert Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix. It was a fantastic set to end Saturday's portion of the Guitar Show. Jim is going to be busy over the next few months, with both George Thorogood and the Destroyers and with Monkey Beat, so fans have a chance of seeing him perform live soon.
Sunday May 2, 2021
Jason Elmore stepped onto the stage in sartorial splendor in a violet jacket that drew cheers from the audience. Clapping for the jacket quickly turned to applause for his music as Jason Elmore and Hoodoo Witch played several songs that will be on his next, as-yet-unnamed, album. The rocking “Leviathan” with backing from longtime bassist Brandon Katona was an excellent opener and kept the fans invested and engaged in the entire set. The other half of the back line, Mike Talbot on drums, pounded a rock beat the whole time and complemented Jason's rock and roll show.
Elmore's haunting beat and slightly eerie solo highlighted “The Devil You Know,” along with a face off between guitar and bass during the song. Couples got up to dance on the side of the stage during “Cold, Cold Ground,” which is a welcome compliment for any boogie music. Jason didn't just rely on his technical prowess, though, as he also wrote meaningful lyrics for the new songs. They closed their set with “Blind,” featuring a slow intro that turned into another rocker. The tight band turned it into a jam session, played off each other and kept the energy alive as the fans wanted more and more.
There are two things you can count on when you see The Maylee Thomas Band perform – 1) Thomas will give you every bit of her soul when she entertains, and 2) When the hat comes off, the level of energy will go through the roof. It happened just that way with fans absorbing the energy and giving it back in even higher doses. Guitarist/husband George Fuller, re-elected as Mayor of McKinney the previous day, was playing on adrenaline and helped fuel the widespread vigor that had the crowd pumping their fists and dancing in their seats.
Maylee engaged the fans before the set even started and kept building that bond throughout the show. She uses her powerful voice as another instrument. Maylee, and the band, have a personality and a personal message that is always positive and uplifting and it shows in the music. Performing their own songs, with “Crazy's What I Need” seguing into “Feelin' Alright,” created a frenzy with the love and emotion she put into it, as well as her dancing that doubles as advanced yoga in terms of calories burned. Then, off came the hat and the hair whips and tosses led the head bobs in the crowd. Fans can only hope that all restrictions will soon be lifted and the tigress can get out of its cage for fans to enjoy.
The venue kept filling and was packed to see the uber-talented Samantha Fish headline the 2021 Guitar Show. Cameras popped up everywhere as Ms. Fish began with the rocker “Bitch On The Run.” The sexy singer was dressed to match her voice and lyrics. The combination of her voice and screaming guitar was perfect for the next song with its emotional blues flavor. She commanded the stage with her presence and developed a great rapport with the crowd from the outset.
Promoting her latest album, Kill Or Be Kind, Samantha is touring with a marvelous three-piece band including a back line of Ron Johnson on bass and Carl Boudreaux on drums. They switch seamlessly between lyric-driven songs and rockers such as “Wild Heart” with a late 60's Steppenwolf vibe that features a head-banging solo that rocks your faces off. She continues to make sure the audience gets a show to go along with excellent music.
Ms. Fish became a sultry chanteuse with the finger-snapping “Chills And Fever” and a bad-ass rocker chick when shredding a solo accompanied by head bopping and hair tossing. Her range was evident as different genres flowed easily from her fingertips, such as the smoky bar blues “Either Way I Lose” that oozed tons of emotion. She changed guitars with every new song, she played slide, and she had the fans hollering when she did a chicken-neck strut across the stage. All of her mannerisms flowed as if they were natural movements that anyone could easily do.
The old blues number that Sam played on acoustic showed a soft side that expanded the talent palette for some members of the audience. She also increased her vocal range and used her powerful voice as another instrument when needed. Her followers knew exactly what was coming when she brought out her cigar box guitar and laid down a boogie-beat breakdown slide on the four-string instrument. She danced, she strutted and she posed before ending with, “It's an honor to close out this event.”
The 2021 Dallas International Guitar Festival was a huge hit for the fans and was considered a monster success for the organizers after not being held in 2020 due to the pandemic. Jimmy Wallace, and the large group of people who make this a must-attend event every year, will make it ever bigger and better in 2022. It's always a challenge to put on a better show, but it's a challenge that is met every year. It will have musicians you want to see and hear, up-and-comers that you can say, “I saw them back when,” and stars who will dazzle you. You'll want to be there.