FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Harlis Sweetwater's Band from Southern California was one of the blues bands that rocked during the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival June 20 at the Continental Country Club Driving Range in Flagstaff.
Sweetwater's guitar, along with a cool horn section, had the crowd up and dancing. The Sweetwater Band played covers such as John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen" along with several originals including "Big Bass Drum" and "Evil Spirit Blues."
"It's hot hot, but so are you all," Sweetwater told the crowd. Flagstaff was pushing 90 degrees, but between the brews and the breeze everybody seemed happy.
Three members of the band have been together for 20 years, but the present band has been together about five years. The horn section includes Jed Thurkette on trombone, Effrem "Kenny" Shaw on trumpet and young outstanding talent Filiberto Quintero on sax. Peabody Crease supplies the bass and Eric Hartwell is the drummer.
Harlis Sweetwater's band is touring America with a key stop coming up in Tennessee including Memphis.
"Chuck Berry was the one who got me going on guitar," Sweetwater said about hearing a Berry record when he was 7-years-old. He immediately took up the instrument. He's self-taught and was in his first band when he was 11.
Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf inspired him to play the blues, but he also likes Freddie King and Robert Johnson. When it comes to vocals, Otis Redding is his man. He also appreciates other genres of music as he's a big fan of Kiss.
Like many musicians, when Sweetwater plays the guitar he closes his eyes because he feels the music.
Sweetwater said the best part of being involved with the blues is being able to meet and share the stage with James Cotton, Etta James and Wilson Pickett.
Harlis Sweetwater's band has two CDs out: "Lights Going Down" came out in 2012 and "Put It In the Dirt" came out this past May.
Terrance Simien's and Zydeco Experience band got into the blues festival lineup and nobody was complaining it wasn't blues because Simien made it more of a party than a performance.
In Louisianna style, he threw out beads to women and children. He took some popular songs, including "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" and "Love the One You're With," and played them in his zydeco style. He finished with a Louisianna zydeco medley that included "When the Saints Come Marching In."
"It's not hot. It's hotter in Phoenix and hotter in Louisiana," he said.
Simien not only had the crowd singing along but brought some members of the audience up to play wash board on stage with the band.
Maggie Dewar, a Flagstaff resident, was one of the residents brought up to play washboard. Dewar happens to be in her own Flagstaff-based band, Heartwood.
"It was cool to be on stage with a major band," she said.
RD Olson's Band also kept the crowd grooving.
This is arguably the best blues festival in the state with several thousand attending. Olson is well-known on the music scene in the Prescott area with performances at Bricks and Bones and the Raven as well as at Sound Bytes in Sedona.
"This is a great opportunity for us. I understand sales are up 400 percent from last year," Olson said about the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival.
Olson said he gave this year's festival an "A" because the sound system, the stage and the lighting were excellent.
"Everything was top notch," he said.
RD Olson's Blues Band calls themselves the Real Deal and it would be tough to argue with that as they emphasize professionalism and entertaining the audience. Olson has done stints with Luther Allison, Chico Chism and Buddy Reed. Olson's band won the Arizona Blues Showdown and competed in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis last year.
Jim Crawford, president of the Phoenix Blues Society, said Olson's band gets better every time he sees and hears them.
"The guys are dead serious about coming back this year to win Showdown in September and going on to Memphis to let the world know Arizona's got blues. But first, they have to win," he said.
Olson's band plays authentic Chicago blues mixing up originals with classic covers.
The seven member band includes Jamie Waldron on bass, Bob Selani on drums, Darryl Poras on guitar, Royce Murray on Hammond B3, Mike Reed on sax, Eric Williams on sax, guitar and piano, and Olson on vocals and harmonica.
Olson's band hopes to have a CD cut in July.