The weekend before Indy Jazz Fest, I was in Chicago for their blues fest where three of the four days had moments of rain. Looking back at IJF’s relationship with rain, it’s like an old nemesis returning to town. However, this year, the rain didn’t interfere quite as much as in years previous.
What made the opening day of IJF frustrating was that, by the time the music kicked off, the rain damage had been done. By the time the thunder and lightning moved through town, most people had wussed out. Too bad, because Friday boasted one of the most diverse lineups ever seen at the festival. Mike Milligan’s Kokomo boogie. Bettye LaVette, who almost blew the tent off with her soulful vocals. The jazzy groove of MSM&W. Adam Birnbaum’s solo piano. All of this followed by Buddy Guy. Guy’s set list had no surprises (“Feels Like Rain,” “Damn Right I Got the Blues,” “Little By Little,” “Fever”), but his energy and looong guitar solos were what the festival needed.
Full disclosure, I was one of the MCs for Saturday, so my focus was mainly on the stage I was working. There was a fun Afro-Caribbean group I had never seen before (Jerry Gonzalez), Indy’s own Freddie Hubbard celebrating his birthday, Dave Koz, who earned my new-found respect with his lively stage show, and, of course, John Legend. Regardless of whether or not this singer should be at a jazz festival, Legend has a solid voice and a solid band, and put on an entertaining show.
Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party, Saturdays at 10 p.m. on WFYI 90.1 FM.