“Y’all must be about the best looking race on the planet,” Ben Ringel, lead singer with The Delta Saints, drawls in his engaging Tennessee accent. “We were on the beach today and we kinda noticed that.”
The sultry city night and sizzling music already have the audience sweating, Ben’s comment turns up the heat for some of the younger chicas in the crowd who have for some reason just discovered the attraction of enjoying a tasty slice of blues.
“I really like you,” a pint-sized chica behinds us shouts back, sounding a bit like Gloria from Modern Family. Ben smiles and turns his attention back to the Dobro resting across his knee. And then we’re off again – the distinctive guitar begins to weave its hypnotic song and Ben’s face contorts as the music courses through his body. The rest of The Delta Saints fire up their instruments to continue their mission to convert an already willing audience to worship at a musical church where the preacher’s sermon is as smooth as still swamp water one minute and as ferocious and unpredictable as a cornered alligator the next.
This is exactly why we love the annual Santa Blues festival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It’s the live music version of Christmas Day. Unless you really know your blues musicians, the chances are you’re going to turn up not exactly sure of what to expect. Youtube might offer a taster but it never fully prepares for the real thing; every year we are blown away by the musicians who perform at the festival.
This year it was The Delta Saints; a typhoon of young Nashville musicians who live every soul-searching note they produce.
For crisis ridden 2012, Santa Blues had been pared down to one night instead of the customary three, making us slightly blue about our reduced annual dose of the blues. But every Gibson plucking cloud has a silver lining. Condensing the mini festival meant that everyone interested in hearing good live blues turned up on the same night. Subsequently the crowd was bigger than in previous years which led to a better atmosphere; something that was picked up by both bands who seemed to have as much of a ball as their audience.
To concentrate on singing the praises of the Nashville boys is a bit unfair on the first band. Spikedrivers from the UK had a particular style of blues that was like riding the rail-road through the heart of the American Deep South’s bluesy capitals – Chicago, New Orleans, Mississippi – with some boogie woogie thrown in for good measure.
The 9pm start can be a graveyard slot for the first band at Santa Blues (a bit too early for the locals) but Ben Tyzak, Constance Redgrave and Maurice McElroy conjured up a crowd out of nowhere, drawn by their gutsy, lively riffs. Spikedrivers didn’t let up for over one and a half hours during which they kept the audience constantly on the boil with a crowd-pleasing set that chopped and changed gear and style but never dropped its racy pace as it rolled rhythmically along the track until it was time for the boys from Nashville to take the stage.
The first time I really noticed the difference between good blues musicians and blues musicians who seemed almost to have become assimilated with their instruments was watching Robert Cray at Santa Blues a few years ago. He teased every sweet sound out of his guitar as though it was a painfully masochistic pleasure; each beautiful, heart-wrenching note emotionally etched in his face.
The Delta Saints are cut from that cloth.
Ben Ringel’s fresh face contorted as though fighting with a guitar that had a life of its own, Greg Hommert wrestled his harmonica about the stage producing a sound that, for the first time for me, made the harmonica seem on a par with the world’s sexier instruments whilst Ben Azzi on drums looked and played like a man possessed. With David Supica on Bass and guitar-wielding Dylin Fitch duelling, The Delta Saints created a frenzy of sexy, swampy, voodoo music that got under the skin and made it itch. Theirs is a talent worth selling your soul for.
This is Santa Blues. It’s a festival that transcends just ‘watching live bands’. I’m no blues expert, but the music I hear beneath the tower of the Iglesia de la Concepción at the bottom of one of the prettiest streets in Santa Cruz infects my soul year after year. It’s a potent pleasure drug that demands a yearly fix.
Viva Santa Blues and let’s hope that this year’s enthusiastic turn-out ensures that a little bit of America’s Deep South returns to Tenerife for a few hours next year.
Santa Blues takes place in June. Exactly when in June is a mystery until a few weeks before the event but it is usually on a weekend between the middle and the end of the month.