Published in the October 11 – October 24, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

A festival in Morgan Hill is nothing new, but a free blues festival in Morgan Hill could certainly be a musical first for the town. Save the date for this one-day free blues festival from, 1 to 10 p.m. Oct. 21. The first Morgan Hill Blues Festival is presented by Realtor Tony Johns (Houston) who also happens to be an accomplished blues and jazz musician, a bandleader, a producer and the owner of Track Record Productions. The festival is cosponsored by Reina Carrillo, owner and driving force behind the GVA Cafe in downtown Morgan Hill.

There are many performers throughout the day including opener Alvin Draper who has been a front man on the South Bay blues scene for as far back as I can recall. One of the Bay Area’s finest smooth blues and jazz singers Ladee Chico (Lucille Hurd) who has a sweet voice with a big range is an act not to miss. Bass guitar pro Tebo J Thibeaux will perform his blend of Howlin’ Wolf style blues.

Another fixture on the local blues scene in the South Bay Burnin’ Vernon Davis (lead guitarist for the War tribute band Cisco Kid) is certainly the real deal. Sweden-born blues guitarist Henrik Martin, who is also a Morgan Hill resident, will tear up the fretboard, and headlining the show is Maxx Cabello Jr. whose musical selections, energy and stage presence go well with his tasty, yet powerful style of blues guitar. He stole the show at this year’s Fountain Blues Festival in San Jose and this will be a great opportunity to see a younger artist who can lay it down.

It’s a full day of free blues on the Downtown Amphitheater Stage at the Community Center, 17000 Monterey Road at the corner of E. Dunne Avenue and Monterey Road. All they ask is that you support the various vendors. This will most certainly be the place to be for blues in South County.

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On another note, although no one really thinks of Morgan Hill as a place to find good blues, Aki Kumar’s Blues Guitar Showdown held Oct. 1 at GVA Café was beyond belief. The sold out show predominantly featured blues guitarists who have worked with many of the old time Chicago Blues legends.  Steve Freund who moved to Chicago from New York as a very young man and worked with a wide range of blues players including Big Walter Horton, Louis Meyers, and Koko Taylor did a three-year stint with Chicago blues piano great Sunnyland Slim. His set closed the show and like the others who played before him featured both original and cover tunes. Rusty Zinn, who has backed up the best harmonica players on the planet, including James Cotton, Kim Wilson, Snooky Pryor and Mark Hummel just to name a few, was originally influenced by guitar great Luther Tucker who eventually invited Rusty up to sit in. Rusty is an award-winning artist and has recorded on many well rooted blues labels including Black Top and Alligator Records. The rhythm section for the evening included Patrick Rynn (bass) who along with his musical partner Chris James dominated the Chicago Blues club and festival scene for many years as a duo. Chris James in addition to his extreme talent as a singer and guitarist is also a funny and witty ‘character.’ If you have ever seen Chris you know why I call him a character but also a friendly approachable guy. His set was nothing less than masterful.

On drums for the evening was the youngest member of the band Andrew Guterman a trained jazz drummer who has performed and toured with many top musicians in his comparatively short career. Aki Kumar was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening and lent his unbelievable harmonica stylings and vocals to each of the guitarists’ sets. The last song of the night was a slower blues song led by Steve Freund who plucked special guest guitarist Johnny “Cat” Souberand right out of the crowd. Prior to the start of the song Aki acknowledged my continuing support of the blues and specifically on this show, then proceeded to invite me to the stage for the finale. This was a complete surprise and totally unexpected. My harmonicas were in the car a block away. Aki played while I ran to the car and although out of breath we seamlessly switched places so I could take over his harp spot and close the show with the band. This was certainly one of those magical shows that left every lucky blues fan in the house with a smile and a feeling of satisfaction.

Thank you Aki Kumar, Reina Carrillo and Tony Johns for keeping live music alive in Morgan Hill.

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Mark Fenichel

Mark Fenichel

Mark Fenichel is the Advertising/Marketing Director for Morgan Hill Life with more than 40 years of marketing experience. If you're interested in learning more about building your business brand, contact Mark at (408) 410-4782 or email him at
Mark Fenichel