on the waterfront

Champlain sunset

Champlain sunset

Not the Brando film. At least, not last night. “On the waterfront” would be the Burlington waterfront, sitting here at the Northeastern shore of Lake Champlain. Site of the Festival that began last week in celebration of Samuel de Champlain’s 1609 arrival at the Lake.

I was actually in Montreal when the whole thing started last week, but I came home to find there’s still plenty left to go as the Festival continues for several more days: a visual art tent, puppet theatres, Abenacki and other native American cultural activities, Francophone poetry readings, French/American dance performances, a solo piano recital with the theme of  “Water Music”…I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. (I often feel like that about life in VT, truthfully, but this time there’s actually a reason for it.)

It doesn’t stop there. Along with the full schedule of local performers, the Festival is also bringing in big names like Tony Bennett, Steve Earle, Aimee Mann and – last night, “The Great Lady of Soul” Bettye LaVette with Buddy Guy and the Damn Right Blues Band. (Might just be the best band name. Ever.)

Bettye is elegant, dynamic, and about the only thing that gives away her 64 years (48 if those as a professional entertainer!) is the depth of experience

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette

that fuels her songs. She can sing it because she’s lived it. She did the encore acapella, and poured everything she had into the powerful bluesy gospel, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. A lot of today’s younger singers can take a lesson from Bettye in messages like that one, delivered with 100%  of everything she offers as an entertainer: longevity is earned, cultivated carefully through a combination of artistic excellence and consistency. If you’re still headlining and singing to audiences of thousands when you’re 64 (especially as a woman – it’s true, unfortunately) – it’s not because that’s a given part of success.

And Buddy Guy, well. One of his favorite lines is “I’m gonna play something so funky you can SMELL it!” He plays fewer individually distinct sets or ‘tunes’ than he keeps a rolling dialogue going from the stage combining music, ongoing interaction with the audience and the band, and searing guitar riffs on everything from Mustang Sally and Skin Deep (title track from his latest recording) to knock-down imitations of Eric Clapton and John Lee Hooker. All in good fun, and he knows it too. Another Buddy quote: “You got me feeling so good I’m liable to say anything.” (Promptly launching into some juicy howling guitar licks, as he sings “It must be jelly ’cause jam don’t shake like that.”) OooooEEE!

This is the first time (of many) seeing Buddy Guy in concert when he didn’t bring his big white guitar down into the audience to play around. And he didn’t feature a second guitarist this time, either, which is something I’ve come to expect in his shows. I’ve noticed in the past he’s been very generous with the time he gives his band in the spotlight, doing their own thing, and I usually look forward to hearing whatever young guitarist he’s playing with. It’s been different every time, but always good.

This show was about Buddy, up front with no exceptions. Just fine by me.

Check out the rest of the Burlington Waterfront Festival listings here, it’s going to be a busy weekend!

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