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  Sparta Blues Fest

Michael Burks at the Sparta Blues festIt's 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 for yourself.

Michael Burks - the 'Adopted Son' of Sparta - was scheduled to follow Melissa Neels to the stage. You may have read our recent review of Michael 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 soon!

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