I'll be a thousand miles away, but if you're a blues lover and are on or near the West Coast in January, you've got to check out Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowout. The Bay Area harp man has put together these January tours annually since 1991, and he's brought in the old lions and the young turks. We caught the show in Riverside this year, which featured Superharp himself, the legendary James Cotton (from the Muddy Waters bands of the 1950s and '60s), along with Charlie Musselwhite and Fabulous T-Bird founder Kim Wilson. Hummel's rockin' band The Blues Survivors backs up all the players, and it's three-plus hours of fun.
This year, Hummel's pushing the envelope. Along with Jerry Portnoy, another Muddy Waters alum, the tour features Lee Oskar of War and Magic Dick of the J. Geils Band. (Wilson will join in a few gigs, and don't be surprised if Hummel's longtime buddy Huey Lewis doesn't pop up at a show or two.) The dates and players are here.
Magic Dick and J. Geils put together an outfit called Bluestime in the mid-90s that played nothing but vintage goodies from the '50s and before -- music that was more retro than what the original J. Geils Band played in Boston bars nearly 40 years ago. I caught Bluestime at a club in D.C. and was astounded by their chops.
The shows are great, and Hummel's a terrific player and seems like a good guy. Seeing James Cotton jam onstage with Musselwhite and Hummel while Kim Wilson worked the crowd was a treat. Check it out.
UPDATE: I would be remiss to not mention the opening act at this year's blowout: Nathan James and Ben Hernandez. We first saw Nathan picking guitar with the James Harman Band in 1998, when he was too young to consume alcohol at the bars where he played; he was the guitarist with Harman when the band played our wedding reception in 1999. Nathan's still with That Dangerous Gentleman and doing the duo stuff with young Ben, performing country blues with songs that date to the 19th century. They're talented fellows and nice guys who deserve a wider audience. Check out Nathan's Web site for more info and gigs -- they're primarily in Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties. He and Ben often play Saturday shows at the Mira Monte winery in Temecula. The cover's criminally reasonable, the food and wine are fine and the setting is downright delightful.