10 years of blues music.
That’s what the Mahindra Blues Festival accomplished on the 8th and 9th of February 2020. And to mark the momentous occasion, festival-goers were given a few hours of the perfect duo – good blues and strong beer.
Mumbai’s (or rather, Bombay’s) love for the blues is, at this point, part of the city’s fabric. Mahindra Blues 2020 proved that with a sizable crowd from the absolute beginning. As The Homegrown Blues Collective opened the festival, the city rejoiced by welcoming the OG Indian bluesmen and women – Rudy Wallang, Ehsan Noorani, Tipriti Kharbangar. They were joined by a newer generation – Kanchan Daniel, Arinjoy Sarkar, Rohit Lalwani. Kanchan channeled her inner Tina Turner, Tripti resurrected memories of Ella Fitzgerald and by 6:30 on a balmy Mumbai evening, the blues had risen to rage all over Mehboob Studios.
Next came Keb’ Mo’, the Delta Blues man with five Grammies and a voice that will melt your immortal soul. He went through song after song, brandishing glorious guitarwork while musing over the world with “Government cheese”, “I Remember You”, “Oklahoma”, “Suitcase”, “Every morning”, and other specimens of his splendid craft. While he doesn’t cheap out on rockin’ out, Keb’ Mo’ offers a more introspective spin on the genre. Metaphorically, his music makes you lean in to hear it, and leaves you thinking long after the song is done.
When the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band hit the stage, the vibe changed, and you might have wondered for a minute if you were still at a blues festival. Mr. Kenny Wayne likes to shred that guitar – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. His band brought a barrage of steely, hard rock influences with “Diamonds and Gold”, “Heat of the Sun”, “Shame, Shame, Shame”, “I Want You (The Traveler)”, “Talk to me baby”. Every song built to a frantic crescendo, and previously pensive crowd (at Keb’ Mo’) now transformed into headbanging, beer-downing, AC/DC lovin’, instant fans.
Day 2 started on time with roots rock sister duo Larkin Poe who immediately summoned heaven on Earth, courtesy of Rebecca Lovell’s apocalyptic voice and Megan Lovell’s shattering lap steel guitar. When Rebecca sang “John the Revelator”, you could hear the ominous rumble of the gospel blues. They made through the hits of their Grammy nominated album Venom & Faith – “Beach Blonde Bottle Blues”, “Mississippi”, and others – “Trouble in Mind”, “Black Betty”, “When God closes a door”, “Look Away”, “Preachin’ Blues”. They even debuted a song from their upcoming album “Self made man”. Their listeners were enthralled, especially when Megan launched into striking solos. Their sound was a combination of electric glamour and earthy lyricism – something that sticks to genre tradition while embracing so much that is new.
And then came the piece de resistance.
At Mahindra Blues for the fourth time, Buddy Guy proved that Mumbai does not tire of a true god. The blues legend attracted a stifling crowd – it was impossible to not worry about lack of oxygen if you were anywhere except the exit. But, thanks to the giant screens, no one missed out on the 83 year old play his spectacular Chicago blues – “I just want to make love to you”, “Chicken head”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Feels Like Rain”, “Boom Boom Boom” and so much more. While playing intricate chords with the ease of making morning coffee, Buddy also sent out a message “Stop hatin’ people you don’t even know”.
As he always does, Buddy Guy paid homage to the guitarists that made the blues, and did so by initiating a delicious jam with all the artists in the festival – Kenny Wayne, Keb’ Mo’, Rebecca and Megan Lovell and Rudy Wallang. Needless to say, magic was made.
And then, it was over.
As the crowd filtered out of Mehboob Studios, it was heartening to see how many of them spoke fondly of previous versions, hummed their favourite blues song (most often, Buddy Guy’s Fever), and raised their glasses of stout to the music they had grown up with – Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Jethro Tull and the like.
Unsurprisingly, the festival-goers were mostly on the older side of time, but a fair share were in their late twenties and early thirties. College-goers shrieked along with Larkin Poe, and a few first year students burst into ecstatic tears when Buddy broke into “I’m Going Down”.
Anand Mahindra, the architect of the Mahindra Blues Festival once said that he wants the Mahindra Blues Festival to be to the blues what Montreaux is to jazz. After 10 years, the festival is closer to that objective than ever before. Luxurious and artistically rich, it provided 2 evenings that everyone will talk about for the rest of the year.