As soon as I found the marina, I could hear the bluesy rifts echoing off the walls of the high-rise downtown buildings, in San Diego; I still was extremely excited.

I dream of hazy street corners glowing from dimly lit street lamps. I dream of open instrument cases that welcome loose pocket change. I dream.




The San Diego Blues Festival
North Stage from the grassy center.

Today my dreams came to life, but not quite as I pictured them - they never are. The San Diego Blues Festival took place at the Embarcadero Park on the downtown Waterfront. It was a perfectly secluded peninsula surrounded by California style. I watched the miniature cars travel across the Coronado Bridge into downtown on one side. On the other, jet skiers littered the choppy sea just in front of a Navy ship off in the distance. And as I stood there, waiting for Janiva Magness to rock the stage with her commanding stage presence, people lay coolly in their Costco-brand foldable double-chairs complete with drink holders. The weather was balmy and cool - it was perfect.

Ms. Magness enters the stage with her R & B influenced blues-rock. She immediately captures the eyes of the uninterested as she brings out her anatomically correct rub board. She continues to sing her John Lee Hooker influenced songs while simultaneously tapping and rubbing away on the rub board around her neck that can best be described as a wooden old-school Madonna outfit. It makes a distinct noise that resonates against the electric guitar soloing in the background.

Raised in Detroit, Janiva obviously felt the pull of the blues from people like John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams, Jackie Wilson, and Della Reese. But there are certain musical links to the vocal styles of Billie Holliday, Memphis Minnie and Etta James. Her voice comes from deep within her soul, and she loves what she does.

"I love this," she said. "You can just see what a good time people are having."




Intensely focused, the keyboardist
of the Otis Rush band solos away.

Not a moment after the Magness crew had completed their presence on stage, an occasional scale could be heard at the other side of the grass. The festival had alternating stages so that upcoming bands could prepare and start up immediately when the previous one had finished. Next up: The Radiators.

Here we have a unique group of musicians that play New Orleans-infused rock and rhythm and blues. The Rads came from the same era as The Grateful Dead, gathering leftover hippies, and inspired jammers that want to start their own band. They took the stage and the audience. The band has survived a quarter of a century with the same lineup, and not a hit record to their name. The played on as the stage lights accompanied their presence with a warm glow. As the lights grew brighter, the night gained ground on the sun as it barely peeked out to say a quick hello underneath the marine layer; it yielded an exciting dusky show.

I could tell that many of the drunkards that had been there since 11am (the start of the show) were ready to rock out before their second wind of drinking. This was the first band I saw people actually get up to dance to. Next to me stood a teenage boy sporting a dark hooded sweatshirt. He looked suspiciously at each of the security guards, then quickly hopped over the guard railing into the front pit beneath the stage where he joined his dancing friends. Over near the side of the stage, a handful of people stood next to a monstrous wall of speakers (no earplugs - I looked).

I knew there was only one band left, so I had to venture around and see what was happening in some of the booths. I ventured past camps of people with full-fledged tents and sleeping bags. Meandering in and out of the maze of people, I walked along a path of booths. Here, people sold anything from fake tattoos to Bob Marley posters. I headed for the food.

After one of the spiciest chicken Bratworsts I've ever had, I grabbed a bag of sweet freshly cooked Kettle Corn and ate until I started to feel sick. That's what those booths are about - eating junk until you feel sick - but it's fun. I finished up just in time for the last and final headlining band - Otis Rush.




Otis Rush plucks
and strums the blues.

Let's see - how can I describe the power of this band? Moving? No, Powerful? No, not strong enough. How about this: In one sentence - the Otis Rush band is the quintessential example of a blues that could make even the most apathetic listener drop their jaw in awe.

They humbly took the stage with a confidence that excited me to a point of anxious anticipation. First comes the guitarist who resembled that guy from the movie "Rudy." He looked relatively young, but his sound echoed the maestro-like styles of the all time greats - Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, even some of the old school metal bands that strummed and plucked with the ease of tying a shoe. I at first thought he was Otis Rush, but couldn't figure out how he could have possibly been born in 1948. Eventually, Otis did come out.

He was dark and old. He pulled out his shiny red electric, and wailed away in a simplified elegance that can only be compared with euphoria. As he played, I began to see how his style influenced all the members in his band. The drummer mirrored his bluesy repetition rifts. The backup guitarist projected his subtle body language. He barely moved when he played. Usually, guitar players have to move around, jump, rock back and forth, or make sexually displeasing faces as they hit certain notes. It's a form of expression, an outlet to extra energy lost while the music is being played.




Otis Rush glistening under
colorful stage lights.

Otis salvaged every last bit of central passion, and incorporated every tidbit into his graceful, rocking blues. It all came from within, and I could see the other members of the band trying to minimize their movements, and mirror his to improve their styles.

Coming from a farm in Mississippi, Otis picked up a right handed guitar, flipped it over and learned the rudiments of his playing techniques this way as did Jimi Hendrix and Albert King. After a move to Chicago, Mr. Rush was captured by a show by Muddy Waters. "All I could say," Otis recalls, "was 'Wow! I gotta do that!'" They played this night for about an hour and a half, but it went by extremely fast. As the lights came on, the steadfast crowd calmed as they exited euphoria and made their way back to their cars.

Music is empowering. It has the capacity to literally change your mood from excited to depressed, and back again. It's an amazing thing to know that all the people standing there in front of those stages during all the impressive blues bands have one thing in common. They all stood there for a relatively brief moment, united by the powerful manipulation of emotions that we like to call the Blues.

Feature and photos by Josh Edelson, San Diego Correspondent.