By Sarah Bennett
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By Alex Distefano
No Yuppie Hipsters Allowed
The Long Beach Blues Festival is the anti-Warped/anti-Coachella experience
Admit it: By the time you hit 22, spending a perfectly good weekend day at a music festival is a big waste of time. You’re in the sun desperately trying to not get burned; the bathroom line seems longer than an eight-hour workday; a bottle of water costs more than it does at an airport; and good luck if you want to get drunk off $8 beers that cause more dehydration than inebriation.
Then there’s the music. If you’re at a Warped Tour stop, the lineup includes your two favorite bands, but God forbid the promoter lets you know beforehand what time they go on. If you’re at Coachella, you have to arrive at the field at 10 a.m. to sit through 15 other groups you’ve only heard of, and another 20 whose names will be forgotten by the time you hit the parking lot 14 hours later. At both fests, the stage is a mile away, someone’s blowing weed in your face, and even the handful of songs you recognize don’t sound right because the winds cause the songs to fade in and out; plus, there’s the yuppie hipster behind you who insists on singing every lyric louder than the band you paid to hear.
But there is good news for those who’ve surrendered to the inevitability of getting old while trying to rock: the Long Beach Blues Festival. This is where the Warped/Coachella crowd is presented with the exact opposite of everything they’ve ever known about all-day shows. For starters, set times for the acts—which include rock & roll legend Chuck Berry, 95-year-old guitarist Pinetop Perkins, British bluesman John Mayall on Saturday; the Taj Mahal Trio, soul organist Booker T. Jones (sans MGs), Charlie Musselwhite and Stax Records singer Eddie Floyd on Sunday—have been posted on radio station/fest organizer KKJZ’s website for weeks. The show is outdoors, but instead of sweaty dudes with dreadlocks pressing against your face, blues-festival audiences bring beach chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. They sit and listen while their kids run circles around their spot on the grass (yeah, little kids can be a pain, but nothing’s perfect). And the heat? Sure, it might be there, but the venue’s location is a mere football field or three away from the Pacific Ocean—close enough to feel a calming wind that should help with rising temperatures.
This fine setting isn’t reserved just for the audience—many performers see the Long Beach Blues Fest as a chance to catch up with fellow musicians, says Floyd. The 73-year-old crooner was part of the iconic Stax label, home of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MGs, the Staple Singers, and Rufus Thomas. Floyd tours as a solo act and as part of Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers band, but he says he’s as excited to catch—and potentially join with—other acts on the bill.
“I’d like to see Booker T. and the Taj Mahal Trio,” Floyd says. “And if Booker’s on the same date that I’m on [Editor’s note: He sure is], more than likely, I’ll get up and sing with him. If some collaboration like that would happen, it would be with Booker. I would also love to see Chuck.”
Death doesn’t usually play a major role in rock festivals, but it’s an unfortunate theme that has affected the Long Beach Blues Fest more than once. In 2006, promoters booked Floyd Dixon, a Los Angeles singer/pianist who passed away approximately one month before the show. This year’s event will be shadowed by the recent passing of soul great Hayes, with whom Floyd was scheduled to perform the day after our interview. I called Floyd at his Montgomery, Alabama, home to discover he’d be on his way to Memphis for Hayes’ funeral the second he got off the phone with me.
“I had to wait to do this interview [before leaving],” Floyd says. “I was packing my bags for Philadelphia when I got the call telling me what happened. Quite a few artists will be there, and we’ll be in that spiritual moment. His music will live on, and that’s the great part about it.”
The Long Beach Blues Festival at Rainbow Lagoon Park, Shoreline Drive and Linden Avenue, Long Beach, (310) 478-5061; www.jazzandblues.org. Sat., Chuck Berry, John Mayall, Pinetop Perkins and more; Sun., the Taj Mahal Trio, Booker T. Jones, Eddie Floyd and more. Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m. One-day ticket, $45-$50; weekend pass, $75-$85.