Bobby Rush and Mofro's contrasting sets at Bluesfest

"She's from Texas — they grow 'em big down there."

So said bluesman Bobby Rush from the stage during his closing set at Saturday's Sarasota Blues Festival, where all political correctness was cast to the wind. He was talking about one of his three ample-figured dancers, who made intermittent appearances on stage, and took booty shaking to Richter-scale proportions.

The nearly 68-year-old Rush is a product of the Southern rhythm & blues circuit — once know as the chitlin circuit — where you had better entertain folks in nightclubs and armories (and if it's a little blue, so be it) or they'll run you off stage.

The Blues Fest's overwhelmingly white audience reacted with slightly embarrassed glee as Rush showcased the dancers during the first song, each turning around to strut their, uh, cheeky talents.

The hi-jinx overshadowed the music, which came off as rather pedestrian. Rush seemed more interested in delivering a ribald spectacle than knuckling down for some well-performed, inspired music. We left before Rush and company finished.

The seasoned bluesman's show was preceded by a performance of an entirely different stripe. JJ Grey & Mofro took the stage around 6:20 and, after getting their sea legs, delivered a soulful set of funky Southern soul for nearly 90 minutes.

The band performed quite a few tunes from their estimable current album, Orange Blossom, which is on Alligator, a blues label. Their once ultra-laidback stage vibe has become more animated, with Grey taking center stage. He has developed into a first-rate blue-eyed soul singer, whose deep Southernness has a real authentic quality.

So when he sang the bouncy "Ybor City" from the current album, and pronounced it "Ee-bo Cit-ae," it didn't sound like an affectation.

In all, Mofro's set was funky and danceable, with a few choice ballads tossed in, and plenty of gospel flavor.

Directly after the set, I approached Grey, whose something of a neo-hippie cult figure, backstage. When I asked if we could do a quick video interview, he said, "Sure, whatever you need; let's do it now." With that, he began high-tailing it to the tour bus. We walked straight to his back-of-the-bus enclave and did a quick Q&A.

This sort of thing rarely happens. Post-concert interviews are almost always done after the artist has toweled off or showered or chilled out for awhile, then met with a few fans by the bus. And then sometimes the interview doesn't happen at all. Grey huddled with me before he did anything else, which saved me plenty of waiting around with my thumb up my ass.

That video interview, which includes a discussion about the song "Ybor City," will be up soon.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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