Close your eyes, sit back in your lawn chair. Let the saxophone, harmonica, Delta rhythms, and golden sunlight sink in. Take a bite out of hand-rubbed brisket and gulp it down with some high gravity ale. These were the only things on the minds of the goers to the first ever Brews and Blues Fest on Saturday. The event, sponsored by the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, showcased live, award winning blues artists. The performers consisted of Aki Kumar‘s Shakedancer Blues Revue which featured special guests Terry Hanck and Mark Hummel. Melancholy love songs, soul tunes, and hip-shaking dance numbers blended in perfectly with the warm air as the performers sang blues classics from the Delta, Chicago, and Louisiana, and their own originals.
It was all smiles as festival goers munched on the mouthwatering, hot, fresh-off the grill barbecue, and drank perfectly paired local craft brews and local wines. Nestled behind downtown Saratoga, Wildwood Park provided an intimate and uncrowded forest setting. A built-in stage was directly in front of the audience that comfortably sat on lawn chairs and blankets with friends, their children, and family. Some brought their furry friends. Plenty of shade from the grand oaks and redwoods encircled the stage and lawn, and kept the audience cool on a particularly warm afternoon. The talented blues revue kept people tapping their feet, clapping, and dancing for four straight hours.
The main band featured charismatic, frontman and rising star Aki Kumar, a Bay Area blues favorite, who played the harmonica and provided vocals. His band consisted of Little Jonny Lawton on guitar and vocals, and Johnny “Cat” Soubrand on guitar, Kedar Roy on bass, and June Core on drums. Special guests were Terry Hanck (saxophone and vocals) and Mark Hummel (harmonica and vocals). They sang songs by Chicago greats Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, B.B. King, Memphis Slim, and Louisiana legend, Lazy Later, Muddy Waters, in addition to their own originals. (At the bottom of this post are links to the musicians’ website and music).
All the vendors were based locally in the South Bay Area. The festival featured fresh, handmade barbeque and vegetarian options by Handheld Catering. Handheld’s beef sliders melted in your mouth- the patty was cooked to perfection. Each slider was individually hand topped with melted cheese, carmelized onions, and mushrooms. Handheld also served bratwurst and veggie patty sliders, as well as gourmet tater tots. The Handheld team cooked up fresh pulled pork and hand rubbed brisket on their massive smoke-billowing, iron barbecue grill. As sides, baked beans, corn, and coleslaw were served. The Kona Ice Truck provided flavored, shaved ice desserts for adults and children. Twenty five percent of Kona’s proceeds went to charity.
All of this food was perfectly paired with local craft beer from Santa Clara Valley Brewing (due to open a brewery in San Jose next year), Hermitage Brewery, and Faultline Brewery. Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s Electric Tower IPA and Hermitage Brewery’s Maltopia Scotch Ale and citrusy Hoptopia IPA were favorites. Along with the $30 ticket you were given a pint glass, which was generously filled all day long after drink tickets were purchased. One drink was complimentary with the entry fee. Representatives from the breweries were present all day long to chat with people about the beer. Those who preferred to drink wine had both red and white wine options from local wineries: Cooper Garrod Estate Vineyards and Guglielmo Winery. All of this was in a ethereal forest setting. Sun streamed through the knotted branches over the audience and the musicians.
An hour or so into the festival things got funky. Dozens of people danced in front of the stage and did not stop twisting and gyrating until the very end. A children’s playground a few feet from the stage enabled the music lovers to listen to music while pushing their children on swings. It was a fun, incredibly relaxing way to kick back or dance the day away on a perfect Indian Summer day. We are sure that word will spread quickly about the Brews and Blues Fest. If you want fresh air, quality craft beer (or wine), fresh, homemade barbecue, and a chance to listen to live blues music from the Bay Area’s award winning greats, who are definitely the coolest cats of the Blues scene- don’t miss out next year.
If you would like to know more about the blues musicians please read on:
Aki Kumar is a rising Bay Area blues star in the Bay Area. He performs in the South Bay Area every week. Please check out his music here:
Little Jonny is a Bay Area blues guitarist/singer/song-writer who made his name in the late 1980’s as part of the highly acclaimed band The Pontiax. He now performs with Aki Kumar as well as his own band “Little Jonny and The Giants.”
Johnny Cat Soubrand is a top rated Bay Area blues guitarist, who is now celebrating 10 years with the Terry Hanck Band.
Kedar Roy is one of the finest blues bassists in the Bay Area. He performs with many top local and touring artists and has played on dozens of outstanding blues records in the past decade.
June Core is a renowned blues drummer for the Grammy Award winning legendary blues-man Charlie Musselwhite.
Terry Hanck is a multiple Blues Music Award Winner (Blues music world’s equivalent of the Grammy’s). Aki Kumar told us he is one of the few R&B saxophonists on the scene today who can really do justice to the genre, both on the instrument and vocally.
Mark Hummel is one of the world’s top blues harmonica players and a harp player. He is well known for his Blues Harmonica Blowouts. He’s a Grammy Award Nominee and a Blues Music Award winning artist.
Please support all these artists by checking out their websites, downloading their music, liking them on their social media channels, or better yet, by going to their shows. Visit these local breweries and wineries, and check out all that Handheld Catering has to offer. Don’t forget to take a look at our Instagram photos of the festival on @ContentMag.
Photos and Review by Anna Bagirov.