A mix of styles flows from Pittsburgh Blues Festival's rainy conclusion

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On a dreary summer Sunday, the blues couldn't stop music enthusiasts from dancing in the rain.

In band tees and sunglasses, nostalgic baby boomers gathered in droves to reminisce about the music they grew up on. They twirled their umbrellas, tapped their feet and unsuccessfully moved their bodies to the rhythm of the blues music that they celebrated.

On Sunday, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank concluded its three-day Pittsburgh Blues Festival at Hartwood Acres. With a variety of acts that paid tribute to the music of the '50s and '60s, the festival completed its 19th year.

The festival showcased many different blues subgenres, including soul, rockabilly, gospel, surf music and swamp blues.

The first act, Shot O'Soul began its set at 2 p.m. before a modest early crowd. After awakening the crowd with its fun, enthusiastic set, the audience was primed for what followed.

Instrumental surf band The Turbosonics took to the smaller of the two stages with black suits, black sunglasses and electric guitars. Hoping to encourage sunshine, the band covered the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" the "Hawaii Five-0" theme song and Dick Dale's "Misirlou." The crowd was appreciative, but the weather was apathetic.

It was time to return to the main stage for JD McPherson, a short Oklahoman with a resonant voice that expertly honored the rockabilly music of the '50s. The growing audience couldn't help but move to the music that McPherson and his lively bassist, Jimmy Sutton, produced.

The next group to perform was theCause. Equipped with vocalist Jill Simmons, the band brought the audience into the gospel subgenre of the blues with Sam Cooke's "Good Times."

"Devil music!" an audience member screamed at the conclusion of the song, referring to the stigma that the once controversial genre carried.

After being introduced by WYEP radio hosts Mike Canton and Wrett Witherspoon, an animated Billy Price and the Nighthawks paid tribute to their influences. Price performed "Open House at My House," by Little Johnny Taylor with the stage presence of a charismatic Southern Baptist preacher. .

As the sun set, the Cajun Tab Benoit presented himself to the large crowd. "It smells like Louisiana," he said, referring to the rainstorm's aftermath. "I live in the mud; it's not a big deal."

As he performed his original song, "The Blues Is Here to Stay," his audience was reminded why they tolerated the poor weather.

"The blues threw out a pain, but now it can heal/The more I sing it, the better I feel," he sang.

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Antoine Allen: aallen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1723.


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