2017 Flathead Lake Blues Festival (day 2) – live performance review

Hope you enjoyed our reviews of day 1 of the Flathead Lake Blues and Music Festival, which featured some of Montana’a best musicians.  The theme for day 2 was “Ladies of the Blues,” and Steve Pickel pulled out all the stops to bring four of the finest and brightest to light up the stage.

First up was Missoula native Andrea Harsell with her new band, Luna Roja.  Harsell has become a Missoula icon with her sound, primarily as a solo artist.  She began hiring drummer Antonio Alvarez and guitarist Nick Hamburg for her gigs, and then asked them to join her as a band.  They hired bassist Michael Rhead to complete the band, and Alvarez came up with the name Luna Roja (Red Moon) because of his Spanish heritage.  They also recorded an album, which will be celebrated with a show at the Top Hat on September 15.  The album will also be reviewed shortly on this blog’s Get it or Forget it series.  Their sound is a mixture of Americana, rock, R&B and blues.  Harsell has a voice akin to Janis Joplin, and it showed on many of their songs, including new tunes “Oh Boy” and “Hard Times,” as well as on their cover of the Sam Cook classic “Bring it on Home to Me.”  The only thing missing was the stage banter, but we are sure that will come as they continue to grow as a band.

Next up was the power-packed sound of Seattle’s Michelle Taylor Band.  If Harsell had the sound of Joplin, then Taylor is the reincarnation.  With her band composed of Robert Morrill on drums, Lissa Ramaglia on bass, Jim Barnes on keys and vocals and her husband, Justin Dean on guitar and vocals, the MTB truly brought the blues home to Polson.  With a mixture of original tunes like “Black Lace” and “Trashy Queen,” and pop hits like Duffy’s “Mercy,” Elle King’s “Exes and Ohs,” Grace Potter’s “Paris” and “Medicine,” Bonnie Raitt’s “Angel From Montgomery,” Tracy Chapman’s “Give me a Reason,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious,” MTB proved that any song can be stylized as blues.  But what really drove home their exceptional talent was their version of Ike and Tina Turner’s classic “Proud Mary,” which truly allowed Taylor to shine as both a singer and a performer, as she brought Tina’s unique energy to the show.  This performance was one of the pinnacles of the weekend.  Kudos also to both her husband and badass female bassist Ramaglia on their outstanding licks on guitar and bass.  The band also received the first encore of the Festival, and delivered a rousing version of Led Zeppelin’s “Been a Long Time” in response.

The third band for the day was Estelle and the Atomic Jive, who brought something entirely different to this day.  Atomic Jive is reminiscent of a combination of the Royal Crown Review and one of Brian Setzer’s various bands in that they bring an army of sound to the stage.  The band features Estelle on lead vocals, surrounding by the amazing talents of Mike Ruggles on guitar, Lee Cardella on bass, Brian Seagrave on keys, Bob Briley on drums and a horn section that is as powerful as the one from Tower of Power, composed of Russ Hoffer on sax and Mike Baker on trumpet.   Some of the highlights of the show were their version of the “Stray Cat Strut,” the classic jazz standard “Don’t Roll Your Bloodshot Eyes at Me,” Roy Head’s 1965 classic “Treat her Right,” and the theme from the Blues Brothers’ movies, “Peter Gunn.”  This was classic New Orleans jazz-tinged blues, and elevated the musical standard to a new level.

The final act for the weekend was another Seattle band, Polly O’Keary and the Rhythm Method.  We had the distinct pleasure of awarding them the Best Blues Band trophy for the LA Music Critic Awards for the first half of 2017.  O’Keary was totally taken by surprise, and the band joined in her gratitude for the award.  O’Keary is a red ball of energy, constantly dancing across the stage as she delivers true bad ass licks on her brand new wireless LedBelli Blackbird 6-string bass and vocals that stir the soul.  The band also includes the amazing David Miller on guitar and O’Keary’s husband, Tommy Cook, on drums.  The band performed primarily original material, many of which came from their latest album, Black Crow Callin.‘  Included in their amazing performance were “I Don’t Understand,” “Yours to Lose,” “Red Light,” “Wish You Could See me Now,” “Reconciled,” and “How the Mighty Fall,” which reminded this reviewer of “Mustang Sally.”   They also did a stirring rendition of Eric Bibb’s classic “In my Father’s House.”  Cook laid the perfect foundation on his drums, while Miller proved to be a true guitar aficionado, even playing the guitar behind his head at one point.  The band brought their set and the Festival to a close with an amazing encore with Michelle Taylor and Justin Dean of ZZ Top’s “Tush.”  It was the perfect cherry on top of a super delicious weekend of music.  Special thanks to Steve Pickel and Anderson Broadcasting for bringing these amazing artists to us.  We can hardly wait for next year!!!


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