SING THEM BLUES: Blues from the Top Festival returns this weekend to Winter Park
By Sawyer D’Argonne | firstname.lastname@example.org
The newly opened stage in Hideaway Park will play host to the 15th annual Blues From The Top Festival in Winter Park this weekend. The event promises cold beer, local dining and performances from some of the preeminent blues artists touring the country right now.
Anders Osborne, Carolyn Wonderland, Jimmy Vivino and The Fabulous Thunderbirds featuring Kim Wilson will headline the two-day festival, which kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m. and continues throughout Sunday.
The festival serves as a major fundraiser for the Grand County Blues Society, a local non-profit that organized the event and uses funds to support various community programs.
Anders Osborne to highlight festival
The Anders Osborne tour is bringing the star blues musician to Winter Park this weekend to headline the Blues From The Top Festival, which he will be closing out Sunday night.
Osborne has become famous for his incendiary live shows, guitar performances and soulful vocals. But it wasn’t always easy for the now lauded artist.
Born in Sweden, Osborne took to music at an early age and began touring as a teenager before settling in New Orleans, where his needle began to rise.
“I listened to a lot of different things,” said Osborne. “Miles Davis, Black Sabbath, Al Di Meola, Bob Marley. I loved almost any and everything I got my hands on. It was a wonderful time to discover music back in the 70s. I decided to make it my full time thing when I was about 23.”
Osborne’s big debut came in 1989 when he signed an independent record deal and released his first album, Doin’ Fine. He’s put out 14 new albums since then, including 2016’s Flower Box, as he evolved from up-and-coming New Orleans talent to a force in the industry.
While Osborne’s influences stem from rock, R&B and jazz, the blues were the best way for him to express himself.
“The blues is raw, honest and a straightforward way to express complicated lives,” he said.
Osborne’s music isn’t the only thing that has evolved in recent years. Years ago Osborne faced addiction to drugs and alcohol, but since has become a model for sober musicians everywhere.
Addiction can be especially troublesome for musicians who frequently play bars or have fans offer to buy them drinks, so Osborne came up with Send Me A Friend, an organization that connects musicians seeking sobriety with a national network of “sober friends” to reach out to in moments of need.
Once a well-known partier, Osborne has been substance free for eight years and hopes that his example, along with Send Me A Friend, can help other performers dealing with similar issues.
“Hopefully others can see that it’s okay to be clean,” said Osborne. “And still be able to work hard and have a great time playing music without needing to get loaded.” Through the program musicians can submit their tour dates and the organization will send someone to each location to sit with them and keep them accountable. Send Me A Friend is also looking to grow their network, looking for individuals to lend their services to those in need.
Osborne continues to tour relentlessly all over the country, both as a solo artist and with a number of other talented musicians including Toots and the Maytals, Stanton Moore and the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh.
Osborne says he is nearing completion on a new album. He performs at 5 p.m. Sunday as the final act of the Blues from the Top Festival in Hideaway Park.
Musician trumpets to TV fame
Jimmy Vivino wasn’t born a musician. He was forged into one.
Vivino rose to prominence as a member of the house band on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” on NBC. He’s now the musical director and lead of the Basic Cable Band that plays with Conan on TBS.
Vivino was raised in a musical household. He was playing the trumpet at the ripe age of nine, playing around with his two brothers Floyd and Jerry. The three used to do amateur shows including music, dancing and comedy.
“You’d go and play a little number and sing and dance,” said Vivino. “We were like a young Marx Brothers. The idea of course was to get on Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour.”
Vivino’s brothers were one of the driving forces behind his musical education. Floyd hosted an underground cable show in New Jersey called The Uncle Floyd Show, which featured performers such as The Ramones, Cyndi Lauper and Blue Oyster Cult. Jerry still works with Vivino as a member of the Basic Cable Band.
Vivino played trumpet and piano in bands for most of his youth, composing and arranging songs for his high school orchestra and stage band. When he was 23 years old he made the move to guitar.
From there he began to connect with a myriad of influential musicians, working his way into the inner circle of the blues world.
“The blues is the closest thing to my heart because when I was a kid playing in bands, my friend, Bob Margolin, was a huge blues nut,” said Vivino. “Then he started working with Muddy. It was a legendary band. So I spent a lot of time around those guys.
“At the time Bob used to let me sit down and play the piano at the end of the night. I just got to know what it felt like being inside of a Muddy Waters band. And I cherish that I had the opportunity just to know those guys.”
Vivino began working with Conan O’Brien in 1993, and has been with him ever since. He says he has tried to keep a blues presence on the show during his time there, although the pop and Americana movements have largely shoved blues out of the spotlight.
Vivino believes this is indicative of the larger trend in blues.
“The blues has always had a niche crowd,” said Vivino. “We’ve lost so many clubs, and we’ve lost so many radio stations and magazines. You have to search for the blues now. You don’t stumble across it like we used to on the dial, or walking into a club and hearing the blues.”
Vivino insists that the blues regression out of the mainstream hasn’t dissuaded him or other serious artists, and that notoriety takes a back seat to the respect of your peers in blues circles.
“The only thing I will ever want in the community of the blues players, and the people I know, is respect,” said Vivino. “I just want to be somebody that elevates it in every place that I can. That’s the blues, man. I just like to be around it.”
Vivino says that while he loves working on television, he values his time away from work as well, playing festivals or traveling to blues clubs in Austin with his friends. He says he has no other hobbies, just playing music.
He isn’t sure what is next for himself, although he is considering putting out a new “barn-burner” album which he recorded years ago with Levon Helm, Johnny Johnson, Richard Bell, Rick Danko and others. Helm, Johnson, Bell and Danko have all since passed away.
“We didn’t have anything ready, but we wanted to get it on tape,” said Vivino. “We just went ‘bang,’ hit the button and we didn’t know what the record was going to be.”
The death of his friends put a hold on the album’s release.
“You have to careful of your timing when legendary people pass away, and all of a sudden you put an album out. I don’t want to be picking the bones of my friends. But it’s been a while, and people keep telling me to put it out. So I might do that soon.”
Vivino will be playing the Blues From The Top Festival with the Kate Moss 3 at Hideaway Park in Winter Park at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Shut your mouth, open your ears
Carolyn Wonderland doesn’t use a guitar pick, because her mom won’t let her.
“Mom taught me my first three chords, and all the verses to ‘This Land is Your Land,’ ‘Pancho and Lefty,’ some Elizabeth Cotton-style fingerpicking,” said Wonderland. “And grounded me from using picks when I got into my Townsend phase and scratched her Martin. Mom is my first hero and the reason I don’t use picks.”
The star musician, born Carolyn Bradford of Houston, is coming to Winter Park this weekend to play the Blues from the Top Festival at Hideaway Park. But her passion for music began at home where she was born into an instrument filled household. She spent her teenage years driving into the city with her friends to see live shows.
She recalls one night in particular: passing a guitar and bottle of whiskey at a club called Locals in Houston, and trading songs with a stranger. That stranger was Townes Van Zandt, a celebrated American singer-songwriter who wrote “Pancho and Lefty.”
“I really liked his songs and his style, and after a while he pulled out ‘Pancho and Lefty,’” she said. “I said, my mom’s band used to play that song! I thought it was one of her band’s songs until I heard Willie (Nelson) do it.”
Van Zandt replied: “Thank you, Darlin’, that’s the most popular song I wrote.”
“I stunned myself by semi hollering, You liar!” she recalled. All the air got sucked out of the room and everyone fell silent, she said. “Cat Daddy behind the bar says, ‘Should we throw her out, Townes?’ He just chuckled at my youthful (ignorance), took the bottle from me, handed me back the guitar and said, ‘Play me another one of yours.’”
Wonderland says she learned to “shut her mouth and open her ears that night,” and years after the gaffe has released five studio albums. Her first solo album, Alcohol and Salvation, debuted in 2001. She also released several albums as the front-woman for Carolyn Wonderland & The Imperial Monkeys.
Her newest album, Moon Goes Missing which was released earlier this year, is her first studio album since Peace Meal in 2011.
“It is an interesting time to try and release albums,” said Wonderland. “Moon Goes Missing is a collection of songs I was lucky enough to record. It’s happily all over the map.”
Her career has brought with it a myriad of accolades including 2009’s Best Blues Band at the Austin Music Awards. She also won the Austin Music Awards Best Female Vocalist in 2009 and 2012.
While she recently stepped back into the studio, Wonderland still loves touring all around the country. She plays Blues From The Top this Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
“Festivals are great because you can hear so many bands and you get to share music with kids,” she said. “Catching up with friends, swapping John Catt stories, collecting hugs and hearing new music… I love playing bars and other venues, but it’s important to have music for underage folks, too.”
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