May 28, 2016
Puurs is a small, attractive town in Belgium midway between Brussels and Antwerp with excellent road and rail links to both cities. This year marked the 16th year of the Duvel Blues Festival held in the town, an event that has hosted the late Johnny Winter and BB King, together with Eric Bibb and countless others over the years. Somehow, however, it seems to slip just below the radar, possibly because it’s a one-day event kicking off at around lunchtime and running till the small hours.
This year featured some quality performers from around Europe and the USA, a much favoured Duvel mix. The festival name, ‘Duvel’ comes from one of Belguim’s beers so this can be seen as a bit of a blues and brews sort of gig. Beer was certainly flowing freely pretty much everywhere I looked.
Among the guests this year was US traditional picker Alvin Youngblood Hart playing with a trio configuration under the umbrella of Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory. Frankly, this was a disappointment and, having previously caught Hart as an acoustic picker, I know he can do much better as a solo artist. The band was loud, electric, loose and energetic but lacking in any true quality.
From Louisiana, Larry Garner was teamed up with top German blues picker, Michael Van Merwyck; this pairing worked well and they produced some excellent moments. Local band, The Steven Troch Band delivered a strong, energetic opening set which hi-lighted why they are in the running to represent Belgium at next year’s European Blues Challenge, a band led by harp-blowing Troch with a feel and flair for the music.
Swedish-based Bert Deivert’s Copperhead Run were down to play but Deivert suffered an unexpected illness a few days before the event and had to pull out, leaving the stage slot to be filled by the UK’s veteran acoustic bluesman Dave Peabody. Peabody did two sets and, partnered by German fiddle player Regina Mudrich, turned in what could and would normally have been a positive show-stopper and stealer were it not for the fact that as a last-minute, unannounced addition from the USA, The Johnny Rawls Band were added to the bill.
Rawls is a highly accomplished soul-blues singer-songwriter with years behind him and vast success under his belt. He produced a simply superb set based around his current release, ‘Tiger In A Cage,’ and had the packed marquee crowd on its feet demanding more, dancing in the aisle and singing noisily along – a masterclass in audience control that ultimately, in my view, tipped the scales in his favour, narrowly pipping Dave Peabody to the crown as performer of the festival.