Lollapalooza Day 1: Charlie Musselwhite
Charlie Musselwhite's set had an unexpected guest appearance from the Polyphonic Spree. And the two acts weren't even on the same stage. Right when this blues harmonica great (and former Chicago resident) started into one of his noted "Brazilian blues" fusions, those ominous chanted harmonies of the Spree (all 2,220 of 'em) could be heard on a nearby stage, giving Musselwhite some outside help. Was it me, or did the sound engineer turn Musselwhite's band up louder on the next song? At any rate, this was "Memphis Charlie"'s chance to wail for an audience he probably doesn't usually play in front of, and he did just fine.
At this point, the rock and blues audiences are probably more polarized than ever. Fat Possum, the Mississippi record label that did more than anybody to expose Delta blues to indie-rock kids in the '90s, has now stopped releasing blues CDs altogether, figuring that if they're gonna sell to the alt-rock crowd, they may as well start putting out alt-rock records. The audiences at the last few Chicago Blues Festivals had a noticeable lack of younger people (guess all those 20-somethings who used to request Stevie Ray Vaughan songs at blues bars have now grown older or switched to jam bands). With this in mind, I was wondering how Musselwhite would go over at Lollapalooza, and I'm happy to say the audience loved him. When you've got the goods, you don't need a marketing strategy.
While Musselwhite has released his share of indifferent records over the years, he has defiantly refused to become just another bar-band hack, grinding out the generic shuffles for those who want it. These last few years have seen him experiment with Brazilian music and social commentary, and last year's Delta Hardware album definitely proved his talents haven't frozen solid. The Ace of Harps had tone to spare on, and between him and the guitarist, the solos went down well with the crowd, drawing hearty response. And he didn't even have to do "Suicide Blonde"! (That's his harmonica you hear carrying the weight on INXS' old hit of that name.)