Posted by Pat Baxter on 07/13 at 08:28 AM
Arts Fest typically peaks on the Saturday of the five-day event, so that’s when I decided to make my way down to the festivities. There was a large crowd out and about on the gorgeous, sunny day. Patrons browsed exhibits and tried to stay cool, doing everything from sitting in the shade to walking through what can only be described as a human car wash on Allen Street.
I made my trek across Penn State’s campus, moving through several tents of artwork and trinkets that would be any hoarder’s dream come true. Eventually I arrived at the Old Main lawn—just in time to catch Friar’s Point, a blues band from Kutztown, Pa.
I’m not much of a blues fan, and this Saturday set didn’t change my opinion about the genre. Friar’s Point is about as standard a blues band as you can get, complete with a middle-aged ensemble (featuring Chris London on lead guitar, Karl Frick on Hammond organ/keyboards, Brian Berlanda on drums, and Jim Baldwin on bass) and a typical Stevie Ray Vaughn/Buddy Guy sound.
I’m not sure how they usually perform live, but on this day they struggled to generate energy. The odds were against them from the start as patrons seated themselves to the extreme left of the stage, presumably to avoid the harsh, hot sun.
The highlight of the set, for me, was the first number: a slightly more jazzy version of a blues jam that ventured outside of the I-IV-V chord structure. Unfortunately the rest of the set didn’t build off this opening. The band performed such numbers as Johnny Lang’s “Lie to Me,” the Muddy Water’s version of “Got My Mojo Working,” and other blues standards. They also played some originals, including “Be Your Man.”
The crowd seemed generally content. There was courteous applause throughout, and I noticed a few bopping heads. But again, for me, it was only OK. The persona of the band was laid back. The banter, attempted by frontman and lead singer Pat Powers, was casual. Jam songs that suggested dance didn’t inspire much of it. And as each song blended into the next, it felt repetitive (as blues tends to feel). I asked myself how many variations of the 12 bar blues can you play before it becomes boring. How many rote Stevie Ray Vaughan/Buddy Guy/B.B. King, etc. licks can you hear before you lose interest?
Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship was solid, and the group was pretty tight as a unit. Yet at the end of the day, I might say that Friar’s Point is a solid small scale blues bar band, but nothing more. I’m sure blues fans would find them entertaining, but for me it was a miss.
Preview of their CD: To the Point
Author: Pat Baxter
Bio: A native of Pittsburgh, Pat Baxter is now working for WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting in video on-demand and multi-media. He enjoys playing guitar and bass, listening to music and watching films. He likes listening to grunge/alternative rock, experimental and prog rock, and jazz/fusion. His favorite rock bands include the Smashing Pumpkins (1990s era), David Bowie, Talking Heads, King Crimson, Buckethead, Frank Zappa, Mars Volta, David Torn, and the Cure.
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