Live Review: Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowout at the Belly Up, January 23, 2012

Legendary harp player Mark Hummel has been organizing harmonica “blowouts” since 1991, and it shows in the quality of his events.

Little Walter was the focus of the blowout at the Belly Up on January 23, and every one of the players put their all into representing Little Walter’s unique style and lasting influence on the world of music.

Mark Hummel took the stage to kick off the evening, with John Mayall on the keyboards. Their introduction to Little Walter was clean and precisely what was to be expected from their level of performer. The first few bars set the tone for the evening, and Hummel’s opening song did Little Walter justice. Sugar Ray Norcia then came out roaring with a gritty version of “Up the Line” (Little Walter’s original was much more sweet and polished) and topped it off with “Mean Old World.” After Sugar Ray Norcia, harpist Curtis Salgado came on stage and adeptly painted a picture of the life and times of Little Walter before performing his first number one hit, “Juke.”

The second set brought out the old school bluesmen. Chicago’s Billy Boy Arnold — the man who gave Bo Diddley his name — took the stage with three Little Walter tunes, putting his special flair on each piece and telling tales of their shared time on the blues scene.

The rest of the night was dedicated to the sounds of top-billing John Mayall and his surprise guest, Kim Wilson, both blues legends in their own right. Mayall’s fifty-year career includes sharing the stage with the likes of Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green, and his style was relaxed, enjoyable, and spot-on. Kim Wilson — a.k.a. front man of The Fabulous Thunderbirds — showed off his skills and was, without a doubt, a major highlight of the evening. If you see him billed for a local show, definitely check him out.

From the solid backing band that supported numerous harmonica players for two long sets, to the relaxed pace and comfortable timing of the show, it’s clear that this type of gig comes from a place of passion for keeping the blues tradition alive. On January 23 at the Belly Up, Mark Hummel’s passion paid off.

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