BLUES & BEYOND: The big chicken (raid)
Mudcat’s long-running Chicken Raid weekend returns
Every major city with a blues scene needs someone like Danny Dudeck, aka Mudcat.
There are only a handful of musicians and/or experts as knowledgeable about Atlanta’s blues history as Danny Dudeck, aka Mudcat, and he is likely the best informed and most respected. For decades, he has been steadfastly dedicated to enlightening the world about the city’s deep and substantial contribution to the blues. And not only has Mudcat befriended the architects of Atlanta’s and regional Southern blues, he is their tireless supporter — philosophically and financially — and perhaps most importantly, he plays the music, too. The guitarist/singer/bandleader makes old-time blues come alive in various configurations by fronting outfits with ever-shifting personnel and playing solo performances at whatever ragtag stage, coffee house, bookstore, or even established venue (he just opened for Tinsley Ellis at the City Winery) will have him. To say he is relentless in his mission to expose and promote deep, authentic, often gutbucket blues would be an understatement.
To fully explain all of the projects Mudcat is, and has been, involved with would take more room than is available in this column (check out the Music Maker Foundation, an organization he has worked with for years). Still, it’s important to mention the “Piedmont Report” podcast www.mudcatblues.com/podcast he hosts monthly. There are currently over 120 hour-long episodes available. Like most of what is associated with Mudcat, it’s a little rough around the edges. But podcasts feature a wealth of information and generally stripped-down, backwoods blues music — new and old — along with his running commentary and interviews with other experts on this raw, gritty yet heartfelt sound. Artists include such colorful and obscure names as James Thunderbird Davis, Speckled Red, Peg Leg Sam, and Pig Iron — and that’s just in the first half hour of a recent show.
One of Mudcat’s longest-running and most prominent projects is the Chicken Raid concert. The event, named after late Atlanta bluesman Frank Edwards’ popular song of the same name, has been a city institution for close to 30 years, albeit under different names. There wasn’t one in 2019, but the Chicken Raid returns this year at a new location — Waller’s Coffee Shop — slightly bigger and perhaps better than before.
The Raid started around 1991 without much fanfare as “Giving It Back,” to honor Atlanta legend Frank Edwards (Mudcat usually refers to him as Mr. Frank), an Atlanta-based Piedmont-styled blues guitarist, on his birthday. It picked up steam when Mudcat moved it to the Northside Tavern a few years later. “None of the older players were performing around town,” he says. “They were languishing, and it was kind of pathetic because there was an audience for them, but nobody would hire them.” Mudcat organized about 17 years’ worth of the Giving It Back fests, at which point the older acts he featured, like the late Beverly Guitar Watkins and Cora Mae Bryant, were playing regularly around town and even going on tour. After Edwards’ 2002 passing, the two-day Chicken Raid was born.
This year, for the first time, the weekend of music is open to all ages. It takes place March 21-22, rain or shine. As usual there will be about 100 musicians involved, which in itself is an organizational challenge. The Raid has evolved over the years, but even though Mudcat is best known as a bluesman, and the occasion honors another bluesman, he is quick to point out that “it’s a misconception that it’s a blues fest.” He clarifies that “it’s just a music festival. Frank Edwards was a bluesman, and I’m bringing a lot of blues people in. But he loved all music, as long as it was good.” Edwards even loved punk, Mudcat says, “if it was honest.”
Because of the venue (and Mudcat’s personal taste), this year will feature more acoustic musicians, many huddled around a single microphone like in the old days. There will be a few acts per set, with an announcer, and much of the music will appear on future editions of his podcast. He’s looking to have a stage inside and outside to keep the music flowing. A wide age range of musicians, from those in their 20s to the elders Mudcat has always championed, comprise the extensive lineup (check Chicken Raid 2020’s Facebook page for a full listing). Some are traveling from out of town, with Little Pink Anderson flying in from South Dakota.
Mudcat loves the location. He’s impressed with Waller’s Coffee House, which has a large backyard area with a creek and “is absolutely more family-friendly” than the festival’s former location. He wants those under the drinking age to experience the musical elders, something that couldn’t legally be done at the Northside Tavern. Plus, as the hours wore on at Northside, the crowd got rowdy and often unruly, and people were there more for drinking than appreciating the music. “This way we can keep the atmosphere exactly how we want it.”
With the new venue, new musicians, and a new lease on life, the Chicken Raid may even be getting stronger. If Mudcat can handle it, perhaps the fest will continue to expose and promote this seldom-heard music for generations to come.
Lion or lamb, check out these March Blues and Beyond live music highlights:
Trigger Hippy, Aisle 5. Returning soon after their December 2019 appearance, the revamped Trigger Hippy features ex-Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman (who recently penned a book about his time and misadventures with the band) and Nashville bassist Nick Govrik, now joined by lead singer and occasional sax player Amber Woodhouse. The result is soulful, bluesy, and occasionally funky Southern rock not far from Wet Willie or a scaled-down Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Kristen Englenz, Eddie’s Attic. This CD-release show celebrates hometown girl (now in Nashville) Englenz’s new ingénue debut. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s (hopefully she’ll display her French horn talents) disc was produced by ex-Wilco drummer Ken Coomer and features Englenz’s sultry voice on swampy, Southern folk rockers that find an elusive soulful groove.
Friday, March 6
Will Hoge/Julie Gribble, Gypsy Rose — Marietta. Get up close and personal with roots rocker Hoge in this intimate venue as he unloads on the current administration with songs from 2018’s socio-political My American Dream EP. Indie singer/songwriter Gribble’s tough and tender voice and her emotional, introspective songs make a solid opener for a sure sellout.
Sturgill Simpson/Tyler Childers, Infinite Energy Center. How Simpson will incorporate his new album’s synth-pop heavy sound with the more organic country and singer/songwriter approach of his older albums is as unclear as how many of his old fans are on board for his rather drastic artistic transformation. No such problems for opener Kentucky born and bred Childers, whose second disc firmly built on the unvarnished country debut that made him a medium-sized venue headliner.
Katie Toupin, Eddie’s Attic. Toupin’s unique two-person lineup — she and incredibly talented co-musician Michael Chavez play loops, synths, and organic instruments — will make you think there is a full band on stage as Toupin sings dark, bluesy pop with luminous, sultry vocals. The singer/songwriter’s 2019 Magnetic Moves solo debut (she used to be in the band Houndmouth) should have been more widely heard, since it was a highlight of the year.
Them Dirty Roses, Eddie’s Attic. This whisky soaked Alabama quartet’s record collection seems to start and stop with the Georgia Satellites’ original trilogy from the mid-late ’80s. But since Dan Baird’s current lineup isn’t playing tonight, this is the next best thing as the Roses’ guitars crash and twang with robust red clay rocking.
Blue Mother Tupelo, Eddie’s Attic. Married couple Micol and Ricky Davis has been crafting a homespun, mostly acoustic, wonderfully ragged gumbo of dark folk, Delta blues, and edgy gospel in various configurations since 1995. They have only released a few studio sets, but it’s live where the magic happens as the twosome mix and match musical genres with the ease and experience of the rambling, road-hardened veterans they are.
Kevn Kinney, Hunt House — Marietta. The Drivin N Cryin frontman/founder is even more engaging when unplugged and solo than when he’s tearing it up with his veteran band. You never know where he’s going musically (although you can usually bet on hearing “Straight to Hell”) and his between-song chatter is also unpredictable but always witty and charming. SOLD OUT.
Marc Broussard, Variety Playhouse. Louisiana roots/soul/blues belter Broussard has been touring and releasing albums for over 15 years, and knows how to deliver a riveting performance. His catalog is wildly eclectic, ranging from a recent children’s album of lullabies to covers of R&B classics and live acoustic sets, so you never know what you’ll get. But you can count on a professional show and him killing it on “Lonely Night in Georgia.”
Walter Trout, Terminal West. The title of electrifying blues rocker Trout’s latest is Survivor Blues, and that’s an understatement. He’s had a series of health scares since a liver transplant in 2014, so the fact that he’s back touring and grinding out one-nighters at his age (late 60s) is pretty remarkable. Better yet, his blistering guitar hasn’t lost a step throughout the ordeal.
John Moreland/Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, Terminal West. Oklahoma folk/country/Americana singer/songwriter Moreland has a gruff voice that brings out the bluesy undercurrents of his emotional songs. He’ll be playing tracks from his new, swampy LP5 set, arguably his finest yet. Arrive early for opener Kinkel-Schuster, whose reserved yet ringing folk rockers are expressive and powerful.
Cris Jacobs Band, Eddie’s Attic. His name might not be well known but Jacobs and his taut, groove-oriented band will blow the roof off Eddie’s with their combination of tough, Petty-styled Americana, country rocking, and jaw-dropping instrumental chops. His recent Color Where You Are album is just a teaser for what this talented band can do live. He won’t be playing places this intimate for long, so catch him now.
Michelle Malone, Eddie’s Attic. Two shows 7 & 9 p.m. She’s a local icon as she somewhat reluctantly admits, but Moanin’ Malone doesn’t take her status for granted. Her taut, swampy rock, blues, and soul is steeped in a Southern sensibility, and when she tears into a slide guitar solo, it all comes together in a perfect storm of tough and tender rocking.
Nathaniel Rateliff, Tabernacle. Soul/bluesman Rateliff cracked the big time with his booming, horn-infused rocking Night Sweats band. But he started as a low-key folk singer, which is where he returns on his new, mostly acoustic And It’s Still Alright release. How fans will react to this kinder, gentler, more sensitive, reflective, and ballad-oriented Rateliff is unclear, but since he’s playing a relatively large venue, he probably has some tricks up his sleeve.
Chicken Raid Blues Festival, Waller’s Coffee Shop. See feature.
Legendary Shackshakers with Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, The EARL. Other than frontman and founding multitalented (banjo, harmonica, author, illustrator) wildman Colonel J.D. Wilkes, it’s hard to say who else is currently in the band he has led intermittently since 2001. Their latest album of unhinged swampy bluegrass, blues, and rockabilly was recorded live at Sun Studios, which should give you a good indication of the raw, rollicking sound. Hopefully local guitarist Rod Hamdallah, who has played in various Wilkes’ bands, will be along for this ride.
Bottlerockets, Eddie’s Attic. After nearly 30 years of one-nighters and over a dozen rocking Americana albums, it’s a mystery why this Brian Henneman-led quartet isn’t more popular. Henneman’s literate, never pretentious songs capture the frustration of the working class with insight and sometimes surprising humor, and the band always tears it up live. If you haven’t experienced the Bottlerockets yet, now’s your chance to see what you’ve been missing for the past three decades.
Kermit Ruffins, City Winery. Ruffins is a colorful New Orleans veteran whose brash, bold trumpet and vocals encompass the history of jazz and blues in that storied music mecca. He doesn’t play here often, so take advantage of this gig to get in on a little post-Mardi Gras fun.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band/Samantha Fish, Center Stage. This dynamic double bill of youngish but established blues rockers matches the serious guitar chops of Shepherd and Fish with solid, mostly original material. Both are touring behind well-received 2019 albums that display their prowess as songwriters as well as guitar slingers. Hopefully they will share the stage together, which in itself should be worth the price of admission.
The Music of Cream plays Disraeli Gears, Center Stage. The son of Ginger Baker (drummer Kofi Baker) with Eric Clapton’s nephew guitarist Will Johns are as close as we’ll get to the original power trio these days. Along with Sean McNabb (bass, vocals) and Chris Shutters (guitar, keyboards, vocals), they’re touring to reproduce Cream’s 1969 classic Disraeli Gears, arguably the band’s finest and most cohesive studio set. But since that album is barely a half hour long, expect plenty of other Cream gems and of course a lengthy drum solo, to expand the set. Bring your own air guitar. [No, Jack Bruce’s son Malcolm Bruce is not along for the 2020 tour.]
Please send upcoming blues events to consider for CL’s Blues & Beyond concert calendar to hal.horowitz at creativeloafing.com.