It’s a run-of-the-mill Monday with plenty to do and to think about but as I sit here down at my bar listening to my Pierce Dipner CD, Goin’ Back, I’m going back to a little over a week ago when I had the good fortune to spend the day at the Smoke, Salt, and Blues Fest at Big Rail Brewing. This place was cool! An outdoor show in late September in western Pennsylvania is a crapshoot; it may be hazy and sweltering, it may be cold and clear, it may be cloudy with whipping winds, or it may be any sequence of all of those. However, it was a crisp, cool, dry day, which was the perfect way to enjoy the blues at this rustic outdoor venue, with a stage in the clearing surrounded by seating ranging among rough-hewn (but well-worn and comfy) benches, chairs around the many fire pits, and some opting for a soft seat on the fallen leaves beneath some of the venerable tall trees that surround the clearing. Others brought their favorite lawn chairs to park in preferred spots to enjoy the show, and enjoy the show they did.
Pierce opened the show and his set was outstanding, as usual. No frills, no bullshit; simply a showcase of the triple threat that he is on guitar, vocals, and songwriting, in lockstep with his rhythm section and garnering the attention of every ear in the place. After Pierce, Rodger Montgomery pulled up a chair and an acoustic guitar or two for some flawlessly played acoustic blues. The Max Schang Band took the stage next and got everyone movin’ with his good-time rockin’ blues, and then Rodger played some more, as many people in the crowd made their way to and from the food trucks and drink trailers for some of the BBQ and a wide variety of local brews. A group I had not previously heard played next: Dan Bubien & The Delta Struts. How could a band go wrong with a name like that, by any definition of the word ‘strut’? It’s perfect! The band name was just the tip of the perfection iceberg, though; their sound was a smokin' hybrid of contemporary and traditional blues. Hella vocals, too! After their set, Rodger played a few more songs and then Charlie Barath closed the show with his brand of harp- and guitar-driven blues rock, and a dance floor full of enthusiastic fans who cajoled an extra song or two out of the set.
This fest was aptly named; the BBQ from the food trucks (including some smoked mac and cheese for those who aren’t fans of BBQ…like me, for example) for the salt and smoke, and flavors of blues for nearly every taste were dished out all day long by Pierce Dipner, Rodger Montgomery, Max Schang, the Delta Struts, and Charlie Barath. I sure hope they have this fest again next year! Meantime, I hope to see these guys plenty of times between now and then. If they’re in your neighborhood, I would recommend seeing them all because, as BB King said, “The blues is like a tonic for all that ails you,” and these guys are some highly masterful alchemists.