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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ezra Charles Does It Again- and Again...

Here are some highlights of the 2014 Navasota Blues Fest!

Ezra Charles proved ONCE AGAIN why he is the king of blues as far as we are concerned. And, one of the most exciting entertainers in Texas. Of course, I am smitten with his lovely brass section...

Doug Macleod, one of the world's best slide-resonator guitarists, played early in the day and WOWed everyone with his original songs, winsome stories and incredible slide techniques. And there was much, much more...

Charles' gorgeous horn section blows and swoons with Las Vegas energy and even dances with the crowd!

Ezra Charles took the stage and suddenly you forgot two days of stellar entertainment! The evening ended with a full house screaming with approval. 

Not to be outdone by his band, Ezra goes up in flames at the end of his set.

And yes, the music is excellent.. thrilling., impeccable... Ezra Charles is a master of Live entertainment. 



The best year ever in my opinion.

The two day festival started on Friday, Aug 8th, with a cigar box guitar workshop at Navasota Blues Alley in downtown Navasota, led by the wizard of such music, Justin Johnson.

Justin Johnson does wonders with the humble diddly bow at Blues Alley.

Then Justin opened the festival out at the Grimes County Expo Center...
Justin Johnson

Afterwards Brad Absher took the stage with a full blown band and lit up the room. He has TWO saxophone players and an ivory tickler who brings his own (quite heavy!) piano. Very solid band called SWAMP ROYALE.
Brad Absher at far right up front with his sax men 

Tony Vega finished off the first night with tight energy for a three piece band. They set the expectation for the weekend... which delivered GREAT BANG FOR THE BUCK!

Tony Vega

Saturday, Aug 9

The Saturday events kicked off with a fun acoustic set done by Back Porch in E Flat, (or something like that!) who graciously replaced Dr. Michael Birnbaum who was unable to attend. These guys each played multiple instruments. The bass player was blowing on a harmonica and tapping a top hat. A small crowd of hard core blues fans sat in chairs up close to the stage to get a better look, and time stood still... and flew by!. 

Back Porch E Flat

Then, FINALLY, one of my favorite musicians ever, Doug Macleod brought his resonator mastery to the Blues Fest. I told him this must be heaven, because I was sure this is what it will feel like, getting to enjoy such fabulous music and sharing it with your friends. Doug is a National Treasure. He writes his own songs.. and they have a very useful message in this day and time. His slide guitar prowess shares few peers.

Doug Macleod

BAD BRAD and the FAT CATS came on and instantly connected with the crowd, quickly gaining the attention of this seasoned blues crowd and getting smiles. Brad is bad, but I mean that in a good way. This guy will go far as long as people want real blues.
Bad Brad and the Fat Cats

Then everything got crazy.  Texas Johnny Boy and his all-star band blew out the cob webs with his typical high energy blues assault. This man is a blues animal. You can tell he lives to play and plays to live. 

Texas Johnny Boy

Annika Chambers came on like gangbusters as they say and showed why is she has left a wake of devoted fans all over the Houston area and beyond. She is a passionate performer, singing and frolicking on stage with a rare combination of power and abandon.
Annika Chambers

And then there was the incomparable Ezra Charles and his fabulous band. In my mind the best act we have ever seen. Charles has found his dream team and nurtured them into a rollicking brass section that sings and struts and mixes it up with the crowd. By the time he got through playing, everyone was EXHAUSTED!

It will be hard to top this year's sterling stream of shows. Some old traditions were broken to create the best line-up they have ever had. I'm one who thinks the sacrifice and the change was worth it, and hope they stick to their new plan... and that is offering up the best blues fest in the country! SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

Navasota River Halls in Navasota, Texas

My friend Michael Havens has begun to rent his fabulous facility west of Navasota as an event center. Navasota River Hall is huge, richly furnished and decorated, and an exciting new asset to the region.

Carved cedar tree trunks hold up a timber framework which shines under the tin ceiling. The cozy lighting makes each area intimate, even though it is a huge (16,392 sq ft!) facility. A large stage will facilitate most bands, who will appreciate the excellent sound system, and there is a spacious serving room for caterers.

Here are a few shots of a beautiful wedding for the Prescotts, held there Saturday...

Bridesmaids wait their turn...

The pastor had a lot to say to the couple...  about being servants to one another...

If you don't like wood... you'll HATE this place! 

There was room for three hundred people to dine afterwards... 

And just as many to dance.... after the wedding chapel was cleared!

This place is sure to become Party Central for the Brazos Valley!

An 80 foot bar... You have to see it to believe it...

And over-the-top ranch decor... a Texan Valhalla!

This Brazos Valley event hall should be called VALHALLA!

For rental information from a real person, Michael Havens can be reached at: (936) 499-8699.

Bernhardt Winery, Plantersville, Texas

I have prided myself in covering most music venues and anything worth knowing about in my neck of the woods... but I will confess to avoiding the woods. 24 years ago when my little family left Plantersville, after calling it home for around 18 years, it was with the firm conviction that coming there had been the most serious mistake of our young lives. So it will be no surprise that going back... to cover any deserving story, is bitter sweet. Or to be more accurate, choking on crow.

It was a hard pill to swallow, that right across from the Price pasture where I used to hunt and photograph bluebonnets and run my Labrador retriever, is the sign and the road leading to one of Grimes County's prime attractions. Plantersville has enjoyed the upgrade brought by such neighbors as the Bernhardt Winery, as some of us shrugged and shook our heads. "More newcomers... they will never make it..." 

So now you and I can quit ignoring the stunning truth- that Grimes County is now the home of several excellent wineries, and Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville is the flagship of the fleet. Let me demonstrate why...

Natural Beauty.

Bernhardt Winery is situated on county road 204 in far eastern Grimes County, just north of Hwy 105. The surrounding countryside is so pretty that it explains why I moved here... and stayed here in Grimes County over forty years ago. Distant vistas and mammoth trees greet visitors to this oasis, which prides itself on being a site of peace and serenity. And the wine doesn't hurt. Bernhardt offers their award winning wines ice-cold, as you sip and listen to Texas' most celebrated musicians. Shake Russell. Ezra Charles. On this visit we were entertained by the original future hits of 2- Bit Palomino. 

World Class Music. 

A veteran crowd of picnickers congregate on a gentle slope which stops at a gargantuan pecan tree, which protects a small outdoor stage from the sun. It might be Bob Livingston, who has performed in over 30 countries around the world for the State Department, or the best of local talent. This Autumn they plan a series of tribute bands, from the Eagles to Willie to Elvis to the Beatles to Motown. 

And the wine flows. The music fills the valley. The sun goes down... 

And Jerry Bernhardt reads some of his winsome poetry and... all is right with the world. He explains that the place is for getting back in touch with nature... and beauty. If I'm not totally accurate about what he said... I'll blame the wine...And he asks everyone to be quiet and just listen for a moment to the sounds of the country. Cicadas obligingly turn up the volume, and crickets rub their legs with enthusiasm. He makes a toast. I look around. Yes, this is Plantersville. Back when I first moved here, me and my coon hunting, skoal dipping, whiskey sipping buddies would have cracked up at such eloquence.

Delicious Wine.

As I explained to the kind lady offering me a sampling of wine, I'm a beer guy. But the wines I tasted were very rich and refreshing. We bought a blush wine that disappeared quickly. You come. You be the judge. I know music- and they have the best music in Texas, and as our entertainers for the evening joked, the more we drank the better they sounded. And probably the better the whole experience is... or seems. Whatever, Plantersville has more going for it than the Texas Renaissance Festival. Right now it has the two most impressive entertainment venues in Grimes County.

Thanks to the vision of the Bernhardts, time, good taste and financial commitment has rewarded this lovely place with a solid attraction. And hundreds of people are making it a regular part of their lives.  I sure plan to.

But thank goodness, it is still Plantersville.

If you want to more details about Bernhardt Winery, call (936) 894-9829 or go to their website:

2 Bit Palomino- A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

An expectant crowd of music lovers spreads out at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville. 

I had heard Andi and Peter Renfree first as "The Renfrees" at the Corner Cafe several years ago. They came back the next year re-invented as "2 Bit Palomino," with a new guitar picker and keyboardist, and unveiled their new songs... But being in transition, I chose to reserve my judgment and wait for more input before writing about them... Then a mutual friend invited me to see them at Bernhardt Winery in Plantersville.

2 Bit Palomino is a veteran threesome of Houston-based singer-songwriters who have found an original sound and written some catchy, solid songs. These are songs that make you remember those things in your sub-conscious that have been pushed aside by the tyranny of the urgent; things we need to hold on to.  

They were named the Vocal Group of the Year in 2011 and 2013 by the Academy of Texas Music. My favorite song is an epic song they sing, made famous by Chris LeDoux, and written by Andrea C. Renfree, Willie McCullough and Clay Canfield, called The Buffalo Grass. I promise, it sounds better than... it sounds... Anyway I'll bet this song had something to do with the fact that Howlin' Dog Records just signed them to a contract. The three are quite pleased with their new situation and looking forward to cutting the new album. Persistence and excellence have paid off.

Andi Renfree strolls among her crowd at Bernhardt Winery before she performs. With casual, down to earth ease, she explains how far her faith was stretched, how far she had to step out on faith, before the band was seemingly "instantly" rewarded with milestones of success in their respective careers.  Now they are going to enjoy the coming journey with appreciation that has been fermented like a fine wine. 

Bill-       Andi-      "Ren"
Bill Ward, the songwriter- guitarist and keyboard player, explains that he just performed in front of the Alamo. Now THAT is a Texas moment. He is doing his second performance in as many days, with a grueling drive in between. And the real work is just beginning. Only talent and commitment and down-right hard-headedness would have gotten them this far. And now, almost running on empty, they generously give us, who sit casually in our lawn chairs, an evening to remember...

Peter Renfree

2-Bit Palomino sings about No cowboys in Dallas, buffalo grass... and even about a whore. Bill sings a protest song. He finds no comfort that everyone agrees with his protest, that there is no more middle class in America. So it must not be a protest song... he explains, if everybody agrees with him... Their sensitive, sincere message strikes a chord with the audience. America is changing right before our eyes. The songs hit us where we sit; regular folks seeking a measure of peace and serenity in the middle of somewhere. And for just a moment,  remembering.

As in the days of yesteryear, songsters are the voice of our social conscience- and our consciousness. And for the moment, there is music, and friends, and Grimes County wine.

It has been a perfect evening. Too perfect. Native Americans would intentionally place a random bead in their bead work, a concession that only God can make perfection, and to keep themselves humble. I looked around and found the Bernhardt's "random bead"... a little light bulb had gone out.

You probably wonder about their name... it is also the name of one of their great songs... about that mechanical rocking horse we all begged to ride for a quarter as children, in front of the grocery store... Meanwhile 2 Bit Palomino has grown and matured into a promising act, and will be away, more than ever, on the road or in Nashville or whatever, and we are fortunate to have had an evening with them. And now they can get rested up for the challenges ahead. Good luck to them, and God Bless! And thanks for refreshing my memories!