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William C. Altreuter
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Monday, September 10, 2012

To the Niagara Falls Blues Festival Saturday, an entertaining excursion. Niagara Falls is 20 or so miles away from Buffalo, but there is surprisingly little intercourse between the two cities, and the denizens of the Falls are remarkably different from Erie County folk. People from Niagara county are mostly seen at Sabres games, I think, and people from Buffalo rarely venture past North Tonawanda. It's a mystery. We went to see James Cotton, who was the headliner, but got there good and early, anticipating a Buffalo sized crowd. WNY has always been a good audience for the Blues, and it is a good bet that this line-up at the Harbor would have drawn a much larger crowd. As it was the audience was several thousand enthusiasts. We arrived just as the Forty Fours, a tight little outfit from LA with a more or less Texas sound were taking the stage. They were followed by John Primer, a Chicago blues man who showed how it is done. Go see this guy. He set the bar so high for the rest of the evening that there was really no point in staying, although we did. The Nighthawks followed, and although they were a capable outfit they were also pretty pale compared to Primer, in every sense. The Hawks stayed on stage for the rest of the night, first backing Donnie Walsh (Canadian), and then featuring a turn on "Crossroads" featuring a 14 year old lighting boy from Rochester, Jon Dretto. The kid looks like a downy duck, but holy smokes he can play. He cut heads with the guitarist from the Nighthawks, a pyrotechnic display that but for Primer would have been the highlight of the evening. Sadly, Cotton is a wreck. A bout with throat cancer has left him unable to sing (or talk much really), and he needed help to get to his chair on stage. It looks like he has vision problems, and not the cool blind blues man vision problems-- the sad, diabetic and old kind. He can still blow, but he was easily fatigued, and although he seemed to be enjoying himself it was sad to see him like that. We left before the set was over. Even at that it was a good outing. The mayor of Niagara Falls was there, and extended the curfew, so he's cool. Niagara Falls used to fund this event with part of the money it got from the Seneca, but the Seneca aren't paying any more. (What did people think would happen with that deal? If you can't enforce it it isn't a deal, it's a scam.)

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