This year the line-up was outstanding, as usual. I won't mention everyone (just follow the link above to the website for a complete list), but I want to mention what the highlights were for me.
Billy Watson is an incredible Harmonicist and well-liked entertainer around here. His technique, tone, attack, and solos are unsurpassed. He had Junior Watson on guitar, Nathan James on bass, and Brian "Nucci" Cantrell on drums. Man, what a show these guys put on! If you don't recognize any of those names, Google them and find out who they are. It would be very hard to over-state how good these guys are. Even if you don't care for Billy's "shtick", his playing and showmanship are unquestionalbly superior.
Another highlight of the show for me was John Whiteman's incredible Harmonica collection (I hear he has over 2,000 instruments in his collection); John brought only a representative sample of instruments to display, but they were all quite remarkable, and John is so knowledgeable about them, it's like a mini-trip to the museum.
Finally, the reason I was so exited to attend this year's Harp Fest - West of Memphis.
West of Memphis' front-man Karl Cabbage is the most sincere, humble and talented Blues Harmonica player I have the privilege to call my friend. He's a scholar of Old School tone and attack, he has a deep respect for the music, he uses "the real deal" Vintage gear, he dresses and behaves like a real gentleman on stage, and the man can BLOW! He has great tone and Mad Skills. Close your eyes and you could swear you were in a Chicago Juke Joint. Karl and his co-leader Tom (and the whole band!) are totally professional and sound great together. Tom also has serious chops, but you know me, I'm all about harmonica.
West of Memphis plays every Friday in Salvation Alley at San Diego's House of Blues. Please make time to check them out.
The icing on the cake for me was having the opportunity to chat with Troy Sandow, who plays Harmonica for The Fremonts. As good as Billy and Karl are, I'd have to say I enjoy Troy's playing even more - his acoustic tone is as fattening as a three-layer cake, it's that good!
From the moment I introduced myself and started a conversation with him, he was very friendly and amenable with me. We talked about vintage gear, 4-set nights, Harp Fest, playing techniques and our favorite players. Troy is a real gentleman and a monster of a player - it was a privilege to meet him.
I missed the post-harp-fest jam at the Downtown Cafe afterwards, but I had a ton of fun coloring Easter eggs with my kids later on Saturday night - all in all a very good day!