Blues, Funk, and La Bamba: Antone’s Austin Blues Festival Returns to Waterloo Park

Home of the Blues revives its genre mosh nearly a quarter-century later

BLK ODYSSY at the inaugural Austin Blues Festival at Waterloo Park (Photo by Jana Birchum)

John Lee Hooker himself headlined the 1st Annual Antone's Blues Festival at Waterloo Park in 1999. Los Lobos did the honors last night at the inaugural Austin Blues Festival in Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park – presented by Antone’s and the Waterloo Greenway Conservancy, which oversees the venue. What a difference a millennium makes.

Last century, the aforementioned sovereign of Delta blues, then 82, sat in a chair on a makeshift stage in a rambling, untamed downtown park and hypnotized the May 22 throng frying in the heat with African drone and a Mississippi hum. Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, and Jimmie Vaughan also starred. Afterward, Ontarian shredder Jeff Healey (1966-2008) lit up Antone’s.

Rebirth Brass Band played that latter role on Saturday at the sponsoring Home of the Blues, but their suppertime parade through “Moody Park” – I give; rebrand Austin as Moody City – proved near mosh enough during a nine-hour sit-in at the gorgeously redone public space. C.J. Chenier’s 1pm show went regretfully missed by those of us co-coaching elementary school soccer to a bloodbath defeat (0-5), but BLK ODYSSY soon lulled the bruised 8-year-old to sleep while his parents blissed out.

Rebirth Brass Band (Photo by Jana Birchum)

What‘s BLK ODYSSY, inquired the missus beforehand? Austin’s D’Angelo, opined the music writer. During their album release celebration for 2021 breakout BLK VINTAGE at the former Parish on Sixth Street, on a hot August night straight out of Escape From New York or The Warriors – bacchanalia in late COVID – Sam Houston and his crew rocked, rapped, and banged. Two years later, the bandleader posted up next to local singer Eimaral Sol for dual-cylinder cooing, crooning, and swooning.

What a difference a plague makes.

“Thank you so much,” bowed Houston at the start of a 40-minute tour de force. “Y’all look beautiful out there, today.”

BLK ODYSSY's Sam Houston (l) and Eimaral Sol (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Idyllic, in fact: 75 degrees, several thousand live music capitalists, and a “come-and-go-event,” which came in handy late in the evening when the o-n-l-y food vendor gave up the ghost.

No line at the Lambert‘s tent at 3pm, though, so BLK ODYSSY cooked up a simmering funk. Subcutaneous bass, shuffling percussion, and Jurassic riffing from co-leader and ax maniac Alejandro Rios grooved the quintet deeply. Meanwhile, the vocal spellcasting – Houston’s falsetto and Sol’s earthen highs and lows – soothed the masses, especially those under the white pergola stage overhang. Moody Amphitheater feels like a classic Texas shed, in that respect: big stage, roof, but no walls and lawns to sprawl.

BLK ODYSSY’s red-ember reading of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” from Led Zeppelin III produced one of the event’s most memorable moments.

Adrian Quesada’s entire set next rates the same assignation.

Adrian Quesada (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Leading a sextet – vibes, double keyboards, Nemegata’s Víctor-Andrés Cruz as a second percussionist – and a three-man horn section that kept expanding, the Black Pumas guitarist and founder riffed an instrumental expedition into the urban jungle: ours. While Quesada’s 2022 solo bow Boleros Psicodélicos bagged an Austin City Limits taping with Latina criers, its companion piece six months later, Jaguar Sound, bewitched a cinematic Fifties soundtrack. Multi-horn wrangler Brian Donohoe’s arrangements spearheaded a brass fantasy punctuated by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin adding a second baritone sax to the backline. When Quesada closed with a searing side of Albert King as vocalized by New York transplant Jessy Wilson, he flexed six-string heroics befitting one of the Laradoan’s first local inspirations: Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Jersey steel tamer Robert Randolph scooped up that gauntlet atop the roaring spectacle that followed. Opening with Cream’s “I’m So Glad,” his quartet ran oncoming locomotives down the same track as the bandleader‘s pedal steel screamed and guitarist Tash Neal gave as good on his vocal close-up, Jimi Hendrix signpost “Red House.” Tripping, ripping, skipping – slicing and dicing – they built toward the climax of “Foxy Lady,” with Austin guitar heroine Jackie Venson peeling off solos while grinning ear-to-ear to the heavens.

Chugging, massive, they closed with roiling rock devotional “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me.”

Special guest Jackie Venson (r) with Robert Randolph Band (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Stax/Volt Records overseer Booker T. Jones led a 90-minute hits cavalcade through the label’s standard-bearing American R&B. Jimmie Vaughan lent his white Stratocaster fire to brand backbone “Born Under a Bad Sign” and B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” In-between those bookends, the great Southern jukebox punched up one sing-along after another: “Respect,” “Knock On Wood,” “Soul Man,” “Mr. Big Stuff,” “In the Midnight Hour,” “Hold On, I’m Coming.” When Jones’ organ led Booker T. & the MGs blueprints “Green Onions” and “Time Is Tight,” his wondrous chords swirled and squirreled as hard as the return of Austin Psych Fest this weekend.

“I used to come to Austin a lot when I worked at Willie Nelson’s place,” dropped Jones, who produced Nelson smash Stardust, on the outlaw’s 90th birthday.

Festival secret: a goodly percentage of attendees exit before the headliner. Indeed, 3,000-plus thinned a bit for Los Lobos’ 75-minute headlining walk-off. Whoever missed the best set to the inaugural return of a downtown blues festival also skipped out on the essence of the genre Antone’s maintains, the fusion of all Southern roots.

Blues, cumbias, Mexican revolution ditties, a Flaco Jimenez shout-out and Josh Baca guest spot for the mic-drop encore, plus hit after hit from East L.A.’s Rolling Stones – “Don’t Worry Baby,” elephantine Neighborhood twofer “I Walk Alone” and “Down on the Riverbed,” “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” “Evangeline,” “Come On, Let’s Go,” “Volver, Volver,” “Mas y Mas” – all boiled down to the obvious Lone Star adios.

“Para bailar La Bamba, para bailar La Bamba, se necesita una poca de gracia, una poca de gracia.”

No, de verdad, muchas gracias – muchísimas gracias. Mil gracias.

Austin Blues Festival (Photo by Jana Birchum)

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Austin Blues Festival, Los Lobos, Booker T's Stax Revue, Robert Randolph Band, Adrian Quesada, Adrian Quesada's Jaguar Sound, BLK ODYSSY, Jackie Venson, Jimmie Vaughan

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