By Shelby Clark Petkus
In protest of the ever-bitter Michigan cold, The Magic Bag hosts the "Anti-Freeze Blues Festival" this month in Ferndale. The two-day long festival features a variety of local and national blues talent, including yet-to-be-named "special guests."
The first day of the festival features Lazy Lester. Lester, who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2012, carries on the tradition of South Louisiana blues. Born Leslie Johnson in 1933 in the small town of Torras, La., Lester was raised in the suburbs of Baton Rouge. The artist began his path to full-blown musician after buying a harmonica while working as a grocery store attendant when he was young. After a relatively short time "blowing harp," he became proficient and eventually joined a band in his late teens called "the Rhythm Rockets." His career began when, during the mid-1950s, Lester accompanied Lightnin' Slim on a bus trip to Jay Miller's Studio. The scheduled harp player fell through; this left the gig open for Lester. After that, Lester and Slim became a standard pairing, leading to Lester's growing success.
With hits like "I'm a Lover Not A Fighter" and "Sugar Coated Love," Lester's "nasal-pitched voiced" and excellent harp work led to the bluesy sounds that would resonate with fans for decades. Lester went on to become as known for his music as his stage presence, where his jokes and conversational tone have also enticed people to see him perform. The blues talent currently lives in Paradise, Cali., where he still regularly performs (in addition to tours and shows throughout the country) on acoustic guitar, rack harmonica and foot percussion. More information on the artist can be found at www.lazylester.net.
Saturday's edition of the festival features the Siegel-Schwall Band as headliners. The Chicago-based band performed from 1966-1974, ranking amongst the most important forces of the baby boomer audience. Formed by Corky Siegel and Jim Schwall, the group is currently touring with bassist Rollo Radford and drummer Sam Lay. Lay has been inducted into both the Blues and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with Muddy Waters and other well-known acts. The band is known for fueling the "Great Blues Revival" of the 1960s and pioneering the "cross-fertilization" of blues with other forms of music, including the moments they performed with the San Francisco Symphony and the Boston Pops in 1968. Siegel currently continues this method of cross-genre blues with his project Chamber Blues.
The Anti-Freeze Blues Festival begins at 7 p.m. on both Friday, Jan. 16 and Thursday, Jan. 17. The Magic Bag is located at 22930 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Tickets for the event are $25 each day. For more information the festival, other blues acts to perform or the venue, visit www.themagicbag.com.