Waterloo, Iowa ( Feburary 08, 2014) Every year The Friends of KUNI presents The Blues Blowout at The Electric Park Ballroom. It creates a great opportunity for fundraising and friend-raising for KUNI Studio One and Iowa Public Radio, but best of all it brings premier blues acts to the Cedar Valley! This year’s guests were Big James and the Chicago Playboys and Marcia Ball.
Big James and The Chicago Playboys took the stage at 8 o’clock but did not wait for the crowd to get fired up. They set the stage on fire inviting people to get up from the tables and up to the stage. It took a few songs before dancers stepped up, some older folks were two stepping and twirling while others brought their beer to the front and got their funky butt on. Big James sang like a houseman. He picked up a trombone and a few times strut stepped with his trumpet player. They are a Chicago class act, all the members dressed up like playboys of the blues, funk, and soul. The bass player slapped the notes all night providing a joyful tone over the rhythm. Tasteful guitar solos were woven between the horns. People were dancing so hard after Mustang Sally played that two-thirds of the crowd went for a refill or break on the last note. Dispersing in seconds, I have never seen anything like it. It was so different compared to a crowd’s usual break during the intro of the next song. The stage gazers up front still continued to get a fine show and the crowd trickled back in after they caught their breath. If you wanted a party band, it was at The Electric Park Ballroom.
We were quickly reminded of our headliners nickname as she hit the stage. Long Tall Marcia Ball brought her rolling piano lines up from Texas, electrifying the park. She had to keep the energy going and went into a few New Orleans sounding songs that charged the crowd to another level. Her band members were tried professionals that never stopped smiling. A seasoned bassist and trumpet player had to not only play behind her but also a sharp drummer and guitarist. The drums were set tightly together, only a bass, floor tom, ride, hi-hat, snare…and a regular tom that I don’t remember him using! He held his left stick like a jazz player but also rattled it like war drum all night. The snare sounded like crunch from a video game and was angled down at about 70 degrees, complete control his arms were literally an inch away when he was patting the hi-hat. I later saw several sticks broken on the floor next to him –never did I see or hear him fumble. The guitarist, sporting a Tele with a P-90 at the neck spilled Texas all over in the best way. His tremolo trails were elegant and he added polished country licks only a Tele from Texas can deliver! What stood out to me was the showmanship of always smiling, but still showing emotion during the soulful solos. As he spidered down the neck, the solo would sometimes get slower and then on the last note a little hop to show he was done. After a playing a rapid cluster of notes close together he would end with the single last note on the opposite end of the fretboard a whole octave away. It was a taste of Texas blues and Marcia’s frolicking piano had the house jumping like a wild roadhouse.
The Blues Blowout had people already excited for next year’s show. Most everyone had smiles on their faces as the lights turn on to leave and many showed off their prizes they won from the raffles. Iowa Public Radio left a presence with their many familiar faces (well voices). There were also a few new friendly faces, including the new director Myrna Johnson, who earlier in the night made a band introduction. The Friends Of KUNI brought Big James and The Chicago Playboys to meet halfway with Austin pianist Marcia Ball at the Electric Park Ballroom, for another explosive and unforgettable night.
All photographs © Rick Chase