Friday’s biggest headliner at the Notodden Blues Festival was Van Morrison. He played the biggest outdoor venue at the festival, Brygga, with 8000 enthusiastic fans. Before Van Morrison, James Hunter played the same venue, and later at night Little Andrew, Beth Hart and the Royal Southern Brotherhood played the big tent. Summarized, a great day with one big positive surprise for me.
Friday and Saturday at Notodden are both packed with music, from the soundchecks at 10 in the morning until the last band closes at almost 2 AM. With day stages, Brygga, the two big tents with a 2-3000 capacity, there is music everywhere. And there is people everywhere, too. The town is packed with blues fans, and the different vendor stalls sell everything from toys, to hats, exotic drums, waffles, great food and not so great food.
On Friday I started “late”, at 4 PM for James Hunter. The last time I saw him was at Antone’s in Austin during SXSW. He did approximately the same show at Notodden, but there is a difference between a club and being the opening act at a big outdoor venue. James Hunter does a good job with his band, but personally I prefer the club version.
Van Morrison is one of the more unpredictable artists around, with a rumor of being a bit grumpy. This means that his concerts can either be great, or also not so great. I didn’t see very much of his concert yesterday, since all photographers had to go out after shooting the first songs and put the camera gear somewhere else. But what I saw was Van in a good mood, and after the reports I got, his mood got better and better during the concert. Here is the review from the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. (Google translate if you don’t understand Norwegian.)
With parallel concerts at two venues at night, I always miss some artists. But the festival has organized it so most artists play two concerts each, so you can usually see the artists you miss the next day. My Friday night menu started with Little Andrew, then Beth Hart and ended with the Royal Soutnern Brotherhood.
Little Andrew is a Norwegian blues man who started out as the winner of the Union Blues Cup, and has built a reputation as a hard rocking artist with a tight and competent band. His playing and singing is excellent, and he has a good mix of traditional blues songs and more rock oriented songs.
The venue wasn’t full during Little Andrew, but when Beth Hart started after him, it was really packed. I don’t remember how many times Beth Hart has played Notodden, but the audience love her, and that is obviously a good enough reason to book her. And she does her part of the deal. All her shows have a high energy, and her singing is personal and forceful. This time she had one more guitarist in the band, and it helped to give the band a fuller sound. Smart move.
The last course on my Friday menu was the very best – The Royal Southern Brotherhood with Devon Allman, Cyril Neville and Mike Zito in front. And not to forget the powerful rhythm section with Charlie Wooton on bass and Yonrico Scott on drums. All the three front men are excellent singers, and Devon Allman and Mike Zito are guitarists who complement each other. On some of the songs they had an almost eery Allman Brothers feel to their playing.
The band’s style is a mix if many influences, with a lot of latin mixed in. It is really refreshing to see bands like the Royal Southern Brotherhood. Great instrumentalists and singers, varied songs, and a good southern swamp feeling on many of the songs. Cyril Neville’s contribution is an important part of the sound, with his singing and his percussion playing that reminds me sometimes of his family band, but also Santana at his best, with Devon doing lead guitar.
NRK P1 recorded Little Andrew, Beth Hart and the Royal Southern Brotherhood, and you can hear them in the program Radio Rock together with the other concerts they are recording during the festival.Mike Zito
All the pictures are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.