here and gone, the 2004
Sparta Blues Fest. Leaving St. Louis on
fest day, the weather was promising, with blue
skies and sunshine - in spite of the gloomy
forecast. Approaching Sparta, the weather abruptly
changed into grey, rainy skies, complete with
lighting and thunder added in for effect.
Unsure what weather to expect, we stopped and
picked up some umbrellas, and headed for Sparta
City Park - and the Fest. As soon as we arrived,
the rain cleared up, and the sounds of Preston
Shannon could be heard wafting from the stage
area. Shannon is a fixture on Beale street,
and is always a good show.
Following Shannon was St. Louis artist Melissa
Neels. A strong performance is guaranteed
by this band, with Melissa cutting her unique
Blues guitarist/vocalist path through the St.
Louis and regional Blues scene. Strong sidemen
always make the show so much better, and Melissa
has some of the best around, see
Michael Burks - the 'Adopted Son' of Sparta
- was scheduled to follow Melissa Neels to the
stage. You may have read our recent review of
playing at Blues on the Mississippi. Michael
was delayed by vehicle problems, so the band
schedule was flipped, and the Oliver Sain Revue
took to the stage. This years fest was dedicated
to the memory of Mr. Oliver
Sain. Oliver was known as 'the Godfather
of St. Louis R&B', and was a good friend
here at STLBLues. You may have heard Oliver
perform at last years Sparta fest, if you were
fortunate enough to attend. Sadly, since then
Oliver lost his brave battle with cancer, but
his memory is carried on by all who knew and
loved him. Papa Ray, of KDHX
fame (where he's known as the Soul Selector
each Monday from 4-6p), shared his own feelings
for Oliver, a longtime friend. Ms.
Renne Smith, a longstanding member of the
Oliver Sain Revue, belted out some Etta and
Aretha classics as only Renee can do. A tremendous
version of 'Soul Serenade' was performed, a
favorite saxophone hit of Olivers. Mrs. Ruby
Sain was on hand, and shared her pleasure in
seeing Oliver honored this way.
All throughout the evening, the rain kept coming,
but that didn't seem to deter any of the loyal
Sparta Fest blues warriors, as Fest Director
Debi Jo remarked, "the crowd was hanging
in and hanging out".
Michael appeared right in time to follow the
Oliver Sain Revue,
a tough act to follow. But follow-up was done
just fine, in typical Michael Burks fashion,
with his electrifying guitar wizardry and uncanny
vocal resemblance to Albert King. The 1962 B3
always lends it's special appeal at the hands
of keyboardist Stuart Baer. A special moment
awaited Fest director Debi Jo, as Michael stopped
his show to present Debi with a signed guitar.
Michael also shared some sentiments felt by
many, when he said "I've heard rumor Debi
was going to resign her position as Fest Director,
and we just can't let her leave". We echo
those sentiments at STLBlues, having seen the
Sparta Fest develop so well under her leadership.
We missed the Ike Turner show, but what more
needs to be said about this legendary musical
pioneer who influenced so many? Okay, how about
that as a pianist in the early '50s, Turner
helped lay the very foundation of rock &
roll, he learned boogie-woogie piano firsthand
from his inspiration, Pinetop Perkins, and he
and his band went on to back legendary bluesmen
like Howlin' Wolf ("How Many More Years"),
Elmore James, Otis Rush ("Double Trouble,"
"All Your Love"), Robert Nighthawk,
Buddy Guy, and Sonny Boy Williamson II, plus
an assortment of Sun artists.
Thanks to the Sparta Blues Fest organization
for once again putting on such a enjoyable music
event, and for the warm Sparta welcome. Don't
miss the 2005 Sparta Blues Fest, they just get
better each year. Tell them STLBlues sent you,
we'll see you there!
Editor's note - The
Sparta photo gallery is on the way, come back