Blues Between the Bridges featuring Johnny Rawls
2 p.m. May 29 at Riptide on the River, 9079 Old Richmond Rd. $12 in advance, $15 at the gate. Gbusy.com.
By definition, Johnny Rawls is a bluesman, a stylist who came to creative age in the early 1970s and has been absorbing roots-music inspirations from his elders and contemporaries ever since.
But listen to the grooves of his new album, Memphis Got Soul, and you might come to define blues music in broader, brassier strokes. That's because for the better part of his career, guitarist/vocalist Rawls — the headline artist at this weekend's Blues Between the Bridges festival — has embraced the traditions of Southern-steeped soul music as much as he has more conventional notions of the blues.
A native of southern Mississippi, Rawls shared the stage with soul/blues giants Joe Tex, Z.Z. Hill and Little Johnny Taylor when they performed near his hometown, Columbia. But Rawls' breaks came when he toured as band director for soul-music great O.V. Wright during the mid-'70s and again with Taylor during the early '80s. His own solo career began in 1985.
Such soul influences greatly inform Memphis Got Soul — which, ironically, was recorded at sessions in Texas and Montana. Fortified by blasts of welcoming horns, Rawls' vocals seem to cheerfully mask anything that even approximates a negative sentiment.
The brass, in fact, locks in with such inviting guitar hooks on Don't Act So Innocent (one of several Memphis Got Soul tunes written by bassist and longtime Rawls bandmate Bob Trenchard) that you'd think the music was about to sail straight into Sam and Dave's Soothe Me.
But it's on a cover of Wright's Blind, Crippled and Crazy that Rawls best asserts his Southern soul roots. The vocals underscore faith triggered by swirling patterns of churchy organ and the horns' similarly revivalistic sprints. It's the kind of spotlight tune that allows Memphis Got Soul to easily live up to its name.
Rawls will close out Sunday's Blues Between the Bridges festival, an outgrowth of a blues gathering begun in 2009 by local blues entrepreneur Greg Thomerson (a bluesman himself, who performs regionally as G. Busy) at The Red Mile. The festival moved to Riptide on the River last year to accommodate a second stage. To reach the festival site, take Interstate 75 to Exit 99 below the Clays Ferry Bridge.
The lineup includes the Robbie Bartlett Blues Band, Tee Dee Young, the G. Busy Blues Revue and Mojo Theory on the main stage before Rawls takes over about 10:15 p.m. The second stage, dubbed the "Ron Harris Memorial Juke Stage," will feature Bryan Himes, Tom Cool, Alien Blue and One Shot Johnny. The Michael Gough Band will headline about 9:15.
Zac will reign indoors
Well, it looked like a good idea back in March. Louisville would kick off Memorial Day weekend with a major outdoor concert by one of the most critically lauded and commercially successful new country ensembles of the day, the Zac Brown Band.
Then the rains came. And came. And came. Given that Friday night's concert was to take place on the Great Lawn of Waterfront Park, which sits beside a heavily swollen Ohio River, flooding was inevitable. Post-flood conditions and still-high river levels haven't cancelled the show. But they have forced it indoors to the KFC Yum Center.
The catch is that the concert has to remain a general-admission show to accommodate tickets already sold for when it was to be an outdoor event. Those who bought VIP general-admission tickets may enter the arena at 5 p.m. Everyone else will be admitted at 6. The music starts at 7.
Tickets ($50) are available through TicketMaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.