Friday Night 3/10/23
6:30 PM – Tommy Bentz
Growing up in a small Wisconsin town isn’t always limiting as it sounds. An eclectic musician, Bentz totes history with the violin, oboe, saxophone, guitar, and bass. Putting all of this musical knowledge together to start a band for the first time in high school, Bentz’s love of music would give him the flexibility to perform in rock, classical, jazz, blues, bluegrass and jam bands. When asked for his resume, Bentzs list goes on…
His sound gives credence to this fact the many faces and different genres of music have allowed him to create his own sound: one that blends ideals from many flavors of music into one (kind of like at the ice cream store he managed as a teen). The distinct movement, layering, and syncopation of his style, though intense, is immediately accessible to the listener. Some may say that Tommy Bentz’s greatest asset is his confident and mature electric slide guitar style, yet others will argue that his insightful lyrics and adept layering of sound are what keep them coming back to hear him play again and again. Regardless, with three full length albums under his belt – each of them a landmark of musical growth in a coming-of-age fashion, Tommy Bentz represents a man with spirit, drive, thoughtful journeys, and musical ability that so many musicians strive to achieve.
8:30 PM – Peoples Brothers Band
Originally hailing out of Madison, Wisconsin, The People Brothers Band (PBB) are a staple of the Midwest’s vibrant music scene. Featuring some of the best vocalists and musicians in the region, the PBB have blossomed into a unique brand of Rhythm and Soul dedicated to uplifting the hearts and minds of its friends and fans. The PBB’s core mission is to bring people together by spreading love through music. Coupled with their energetic live shows and infectious stage presence, they are guaranteed to bring the party.
1:00 PM – Alex Wilson with Big Al Dorn
Alex picked up the guitar at five years old and never put it down. Immersed in the Milwaukee blues scene, Alex was surrounded, and influenced by such local luminaries as Stokes, Lee Gates, Jim Liban and Milwaukee Slim. Alex formed his own garage band at twelve years old. By seventeen he began to dig deep into the blues, learning the songs and styles of masters such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Magic Sam. At seventeen Alex began playing professionally and by twenty-one he had joined Milwaukee’s Blue Rubies and was performing regionally while still playing part-time with his own band. Playing up to 25 gigs a month, Wilson honed and sharpened his skills as a singer/songwriter, guitar player and over all entertainer.
In 2008 Alex played a series of shows with Grammy nominated blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite for the Chinese New Year in Beijing, China. Alex returned to the states to find himself a triple nominee for the WAMI (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) Awards. Between 2007 and 2011, Alex was nominated by the WAMI for the categories of “Blues Artist of the Year”, “Guitarist of the Year” and “Album of the Year” and has won the awards in 2007, ’08, ’09 and ’11. In 2011 he represented Grafton Blues Association in the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, TN. Out of 130 other bands from all over the world, Alex and his band ended up finishing in the top 8 in the IBC finals at The Orpheum Theater.
Alex brings with him Big Al Dorn, one of Wisconsin’s Premiere Harp Players. “We need more REAL Blues harmonica players like him” – Jim Liban.
3:00 PM – Avey Grouws Band
Avey Grouws Band met at a blues jam on the Iowa side of the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River, and have since put their Quad Cities sound into the world with the release of their debut album ‘The Devil May Care’ in March of 2020. The album hit #10 on the Billboard Blues Album Chart, #24 for 2020 on the Roots Music Report Top Contemporary Blues Album Chart, “Rise Up” was named top song of 2020 in the Ben Vee Roadhouse 66 top songs of 2020, “Come and Get This Love” won top honors in the Unsigned Only Songwriting Competition and in the International Songwriting Competition, Avey Grouws band was nominated for the 2020 BBMAs for Debut Album New Artist and was nominated for 4 awards in the 2021 Independent Blues Awards, including Best New Artist, Best New Artist Album.
Hot on the heels of their Billboard charting album, ‘The Devil May Care’, AGB is released their sophomore album ‘Tell Tale Heart’ September 24, 2021, which debuted #7 on the Billboard Blues Album chart. Recorded in Nashville at East Iris Studios and The Purple House (Leiper’s Fork, TN) with Grammy-winning engineer/producer Casey Wasner at the helm. Featuring 10 original songs, ‘Tell Tale Heart’s’ music (described by Wasner as “rock and roll blues soul”) demonstrates the label-defying band’s command of a wide swath of American roots music – – including blues, classic rock, country, R&B, funk, introspective balladry and unbridled rock and roll.
5:00 PM – The Stephen Hull Experience
The Stephen Hull Experience gives the blues community exciting evidence that the future of music is in good hands. Born in 1999, a native of Racine, Wisconsin, Stephen Hull started playing blues at age 14 and never stopped, taking cues from Albert King and B.B. King as he developed his sweet, soulful guitar sound. Balancing that with his absolutely stellar lead vocals and infectiously buoyant personality, Stephen has been rising fast in the blues clubs of Chicago and venues across southeastern Wisconsin. Appearing in blues magazines such as Living Blues (U.S.) and Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth (UK), Stephen has been interviewed by a myriad of media including Lake Effect (broadcast on Milwaukee’s NPR). From the Chicago Blues Fest to the Mississippi Valley Blues Fest, The Stephen Hull Experience is making headlines.
7:00 PM – Vanessa Collier
“There’s a young lady [Vanessa Collier] came onstage with me, I forget where I was, but she’s playing an alto saxophone, and man, she was amazing.”
Those are the words of Buddy Guy in a recent issue of American Blues Scene, describing an impromptu performance with Vanessa Collier on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to meet Vanessa and witness one of her head-turning, fiery, and passionate performances, you should definitely make sure you do. As a master musician and multi-instrumentalist, Vanessa Collier, weaves funk, soul, rock, and blues into every powerful performance and she is downright impressive. With soulful vocals, searing saxophone, and witty songwriting, Vanessa is blazing a trail, racking up an impressive arsenal of honours, and has already singled herself out as an artist of distinction and one we would all do well to watch.
It’s not simply the accolades she has accumulated so far, although they’ve been many — two Blues Music Awards for “Horn Player of the Year”, and a third BMA for “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year”, eight Blues Music Award Nominations (BMAs), a Blues Blast Award nomination, the Jammingest Pro Award bestowed by the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, First Place for lyrics in the International Songwriting Competition, Best of 2014 Blues Breaker on Dan Aykroyd’s BluesMobile — it’s the fact that she has accumulated all these honours even while her career is still in its infancy. A 2013 graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, she’s toured nationally and internationally, released four critically acclaimed albums (2014’s Heart, Soul & Saxophone, 2017’s Meeting My Shadow, and 2018’s Honey Up, 2020’s Heart On The Line. Honey Up spent 9 weeks atop the Billboard Blues Album Charts Top 15, 3 months on the Living Blues Charts at #10 and #23, and continues to be spun on Sirius XM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville radio station!
It’s not surprising that the press has been quick to commend her efforts as well. Blues Blast Magazine affirms, “Vanessa Collier is a fresh face on the American blues scene, and in addition to her soulful vocals, she brings a mighty sax to the table…” Blues Music Magazine proclaims, “Collier is a fresh face who comes to the blues stage carrying her reed instruments, a dual degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston, a major label debut, almost two years of touring with Joe Louis Walker, and a mature musical vision…Collier commands center stage with her vocals, soloing, and stage presence.” Midwest Record exclaims, “This bluesy singing sax player knows how to bring the slinking funk to her captivating, award winning sound that has echoes in young Bonnie Raitt/Maria Muldaur vocal sounds…Killer stuff on every level, this sounds like one of the reasons you first became a music fan. Killer stuff.” and AXS.Com declares that she “might as well go ahead and add another shelf to her trophy case because clearly, she’s going to need it. With a voice that often recalls that of blues-rock stalwart Bonnie Raitt, Collier turns up the heat…”
Having first picked up the saxophone at the age of nine, Collier embarked on her road to recognition at Berklee, earning dual degrees in Performance and Music Production & Engineering. While still completing her degree, Collier landed a position touring with Joe Louis Walker for a year and a half before Joe encouraged her to strike out on her own. And strike out she did!
Vanessa has won 3 Blues Music Awards – two for “Horn Player of the Year” in 2019 and 2020 and one in 2022 for “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year”!! She has been nominated for eight Blues Music Awards since 2017, which puts her in elite company with artists such as Beth Hart, Samantha Fish, Shemekia Copeland, Ruthie Foster, Trombone Shorty, Al Basile, and Jimmy Carpenter.
Website – www.vanessacollier.com/
Video – “I can’t stand the rain” – www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz57R8qDA2w&list=RDEMC6HHo5StFh7MEBLn1kZCbA&index=1
9:00 PM – Nick Moss Band with Dennis Gruenling
Blues guitar virtuoso Nick Moss and harmonica wizard Dennis Gruenling have been on a winning streak since they first joined forces in 2016. With relentless nonstop touring and the release of their Alligator Records debut, The High Cost Of Low Living, in 2018, The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling has been playing for wildly enthusiastic fans and winning over critics and radio programmers worldwide. Debuting at #3 on the Billboard Blues Chart, the album topped many 2018 “Best Of” lists. UK tastemaker magazine Mojo said, “Guitarist and singer Nick Moss shows the world his fearsome guitar chops and his complete familiarity with the great tradition of Chicago blues music. Partnered with harmonica-player Dennis Gruenling, Moss creates a two-headed monster that takes the band thundering through crisp originals.”
Their self-made lucky streak continued into early 2019, when down-and-dirty guitarist Moss – a 30-year veteran of Chicago’s take-no-prisoners rough and tumble West and South Side blues clubs – won the Blues Music Award (BMA) for Traditional Blues Male Artist Of The Year. Gruenling, one on the hottest players on the scene today, took the BMA for Best Instrumentalist – Harmonica. And now, with the odds heavily in their favor, they unleash their dynamic new album, Lucky Guy!.
Lucky Guy! – produced by Kid Andersen (guitarist for Rick Estrin & The Nightcats) and Moss and recorded at Andersen’s Greaseland Studio in San Jose, California – is a foot-stomping showcase featuring the classic Chicago blues sound the band is known for. But, as Moss himself notes, there are also “a few other flavors,” including Louisiana swamp pop, West Coast blues, New Orleans funk, and even some proto-rock and roll. All but one of the 14 songs are originals, with 11 by Moss and two by Gruenling. The band delivers each one with uncompromising skill and authority. Start to finish, Lucky Guy! is a joyous, sonic blast of pure blues power.
Guitar hero Nick Moss paid his dues gigging in the city’s blues clubs under the tutelage of some of the city’s greatest blues luminaries. His fiery fretwork, gruff, soul-charged vocals and memorable original songs place him in a league of his own. New Jersey’s Dennis Gruenling is considered among today’s best blues harmonica players. His high-energy, full-throttle playing has earned him comparisons to the late James Cotton. Living Blues says, “Nick Moss’s muscular, electric energy combines jaw-dropping guitar, gruff, soulful vocals and impassioned songwriting. Gruenling is a contemporary harmonica master…impressive, genuine and fresh-sounding.”
Although Moss and Gruenling had known each other for 20 years and had jammed together often, it wasn’t until 2016 that they decided to team up full time. Moss’ expressive and expansive blues guitar playing flawlessly meshes with Gruenling’s monster harmonica chops. On stage, the two communicate seemingly telepathically, as Moss lays down the deepest blues licks and Gruenling’s harmonica wails and howls in perfect response, with Moss’ top-notch band completing the ensemble with their energy and expertise.
Website – www.nickmossband.com/
Video – “Crazy Mixed Up Baby” – www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GRInLYodPw
“Crazy Woman Blues” – www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVR75wXoDp8&list=RDrVR75wXoDp8&start_radio=1&rv=rVR75wXoDp8&t=676
Andy Zynda (acoustic player between mainstage sets)
Andy Zynda started playing acoustic guitar at the age of seven, following his dad on lapsteel. By age thirteen he was playing bass and guitar in assorted high school bands as well as banjo with a ragtime piano-man at the local pizza shop. At 17 he was touring with a show band and travelling across the country under the tutelage of Sonny Murphy, the band’s leader. Sonny was a true master who taught in the Naval School of Music and had the prestige to have played the White House during the JFK years.
Andy picked up additional instruments and abilities and some master-level music theory while touring with Sonny, performing nearly every musical genre. The variety of music he played during those years on the road reflects his diverse writing and recording styles. From rock to jazz to bluegrass to Latin, fusion and Zydeco, Andy plays and enjoys writing in all styles and genres.
Andy began to work seriously on his guitar chops after meeting and marrying soulmate Barbara. It was about that time that he heard what was for him, a life changing guitarist: Stevie Ray Vaughan. “Stevie inspired me really start building and sharpening my playing technique and vocal ability.” From SRV, Andy went on to study and learn from the styles of Jerry Reed, Steve Morse, Brian Setzer, Mark Knopfler, Lee Ritenour, Albert Lea and the greatest guitarist of all time, Danny Gatton.
His most recent solo project is an act that incorporates his multi-instrumental abilities tracked on a loop station while playing bass pedals with his feet. All styles and genre’s are part of the act, with some emphasis on his ability to vocally mimic John Fogerty, covering some sweet old CCR tunes.