By early afternoon last Saturday, it was pretty clear: the first annual Charleston Music & Heritage Festival was already a success. Thousands of locals and visitors of all ages had already strolled through the brick entrance of the Family Circle Tennis Center facility and were meandering across the lawns and courtyards, from one stage area to the other. Things were rolling along quite well — more smoothly, perhaps, than even the festival organizers expected.
The ChazzFest staff deserves a round of applause for their efforts — especially in arranging the schedule and pre-planning stage and audio logistics in such an organized manner. On all four stages, every act hit the stage on time, every band sounded good through the P.A. system, and every crowd had a great view from whatever angle and plenty of elbow room to boogie down.
By 1 p.m., the Soul Rebels were rasing a ruckus in the main stadium on the Daniel Island Stage. They sounded like a collaboration between a college marching band, an early '80s rap act, and a 1975 funk band. KarlDenson's funk-heavy "jazz trio" would soon follow.
Across the vendors' and artists' area and down a wooded walk to the marsh, Columbia blue guitarist Drink Small started crankin' up some hot Southern blues around 1:30 p.m. at the shady Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina Stage. Dressed in a purple suit, hollow-body guitar in hand, Drink warmed things up right off the bat with more than a few two-liners. "Hey man, I wanna see everyone smilin' ... 'cause we're out here on Daniel Island," said before his opening song. "Yeah, I'm 73 ... and I'm as funky as I want to be," he added, as he riffed into "Funky Old Man." The Catalinas (in matching blue shirts) and The Drifters (in matching red shirts) mixed oldies, beach classics, and original songs for their sets as folks shagged in the pine straw and grass at the stage front.
Along the fence and backboard area near the main gate, the City Paper gang gathered under the tent and watched a cozy audience settle down in the bright sunshine at the City Paper "Locals Only" Stage as ever-gracious and upbeat singer/guitarist Danielle Howle performed a rousing solo set. Other highlights on the "Locals Only" Stage included a fist-pumpin' performance from rock trio Leslie (at one point, fellow performer Cary Ann Hearst hurried up front to lend guitarist Sadler Vaden a handful of guitar picks); terrific bop, improv (and kick-ass drum work) from jazz trio Gradual Lean; and a beautifully-performed, loudly-applauded string of country-tinged guitar-pop tunes and ballads from Cary Ann and her "official band."
One of the biggest surprises of the festival was at the Michelob Stage when New Orleans organist Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk — powered by two electric bassists and guest lead guitarist June "Junior" Yamagishi — kicked into overdrive with some frighteningly funky renditions of James Brown's "Super Bad," CCR's "Fortunate Son," and other classics. The Michelob Stage maintained the strongest crowds through the afternoon. Sam Bush and his band and Georgia's Drive-By Truckers rocked the joint hard.
Electric blues guitarist Buddy Guy walked onto the main stage in the stadium, decked in a polka-dotted shirt and Fender Strat. "Hello Carolina! I'm hard of hearing, so speak up, now!" he hollered to a loud roar from the crowd. His band was tight, his cussin' on the mic was cool, and his solos were very loud. At one point, Guy walked through the crowd on the floor, bending the strings in a long solo along the way.
Not long after sunset, the bulk of the late-afternoon crowd shifted from the Trucker's final few songs toward the stadium for the Rev. Al Green's closing set in the stadium (at 9 p.m., one could hear Truckers singer Patterson Hood wailing, "It's fucking good to be alive!' on the mic in the distance).
Green and his band delivered the classy soul tunes and grooves everyone hoped for, throwing a few new songs off his recent Everything's OK album with such classics as "Let's Stay Together" and "Still in Love with You." Green looked overjoyed on the stage (one could see his broad smile from way up in the third tier seats); and sent more than enough love and thanks to "Charleston Car'lina!" through the set.
Other memorable moments included Green's frequent tossing of long-stemmed red roses to the ladies, two stage dancers who kicked it old-school, the three-piece horn section called down the vocal mic of a solo, and a super-tight, rapid-fire set of "the good stuff" — snippets and choruses from classic Motown and soul hits from the likes of the Four Tops, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder, and others. By 10:10 p.m., Green exited the stage with big wave to crowd as his band and dancers jammed for several minutes in their final number.