Pardon the alliteration but Bluesdays is back, bigger than ever.
After a yearlong hiatus, the weekly summertime show returned Tuesday. The Blues Monsters and guests performed to what certainly was the largest Bluesdays crowd in The Village at Squaw Valley.
Although the temperature was high, a steady breeze kept concertgoers relatively cool. And, yes, Bluesdays now is large enough to be deemed a concert. The new protocol is for people to bring their own chairs. Nevertheless, hundreds danced in the courtyard throughout the more-than two-hour performance.
The only local Bluesdays band each season, the Blue Monsters are celebrating its 30th year. The eight-week season continues Tuesday, July 13, with harmonica great Mark Hummel & the Blues Survivors, who are Rusty Zinn on guitar, Bob Welch on keyboards and guitar, Wes Starr on drums, and — making his Bluesdays debut – Joe Kyle Jr. on upright bass.
Hummel has more Bluesdays appearances than any artist with the exception of Chris Cain, who will play the following week, July 27.
While many prepare for a career after high school by going to college, Hummel prepped for what would be the life of a bluesman by traveling for a year by thumb and bus all across the country. A Southern California native, he decided to settle in the East Bay Area.
“Everything is commercial in L.A.,” Hummel said. “The popular harmonica players were in War and the J. Geils Band. I went to a show in Santa Cruz and just the fact there were all these hippies listening to blues blew me out of the water. Everybody knew about Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Little Walter.”
Hummel paid his dues for several years, working as a wheelchair attendant, getting food stamps and playing harmonica for about $10 to $15 a night. Since 1981, he’s supported himself as a full-time musician, traveling more than 2 million miles across the nation. In 2017 Hummel wrote a biography, “Big Road Blues – 12 Bars on I-80.”
Hummel has released more than 20 solo albums and more than another 20 collaborations and compilations. The next is officially released in September but copies will be available at Bluesdays for “Mark Hummel presents the East Bay Blues Vault, 1976-88.”
“They are early recordings I played on and people who have been big influences on me,” said Hummel who plays on 11 of the 22 songs.
Artists on the album include Ron Thompson, Franck “Paris Slim” Goldwasser, Sonny Rhodes, Brownie McGhee, J.J. Malone, Mississippi Johnny Waters, Cool Papa, Boogie Jake, Little Willie Littlefield, Robert Kelton and Nancy Wright.”
Those artists and Hummel regularly performed in those years at the Eli’s Mile High Club and Deluxe Inn in Oakland and The Playboy and Savoy clubs in Richmond. Those venues are a contrast to the outdoor Village at Squaw Valley, a ski resort and site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games.
“It’s pretty different but it sure is fun,” Hummel said. “It’s great because we always see people we haven’t seen in a long time. I’ve brought up so many good musicians that people know that I will bring up a great band.”
Editor’s note: Legendary East Bay guitarist Ron Tompson died in February 2020. A public memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 31 at the Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia Street, Vallejo, CA. Performers include Hummel, Franck “Paris Slim” Goldwasser, Terry Hanck, Angela Strehli, Larry Vann, Gary Smith, Rudy Parris and Lady Bianca. Information: www.empresstheatre.org 707-552-2400
The Village at Squaw Valley
Tuesdays, 6-8:30 p.m.
July 13: The Blues Monsters
July 20: Mark Hummel & the Blues Survivors Zinn
July 27: Chris Cain
Aug. 3: Alastair Greene
Aug. 10: J.C. Smith Band
Aug. 17: Terry Hanck
Aug. 24: Rick Estrin & The Nightcats
Aug. 31: Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings
- More events:
Aug. 14-15: Brews Jazz & Funk Fest
Sept. 3: Guitar Strings vs. Chicken Wings
Sept. 18-19: Oktoberfest
Oct. 9-10: Made in Tahoe