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Weekend Reviews : Pop Music : Strong Performances at New Orange County Blues Festival

September 27, 1993|BILL KOHLHAASE

DANA POINT — Could there really be room for another blues festival in Southern California? The answer from the well-attended first two days of the Orange County Blues Festival is a resounding yes. The new event, held in Heritage Park overlooking Dana Point Harbor, lacked the array of headliners that the 14-year-old Long Beach Blues Festival offered earlier this month, but was no less heavy with strong performances.

A handful of top-name performers--Canned Heat and Johnny Copeland on Saturday--shared the stages with a roster of lesser-known but respected names, and a good sampling of Southern California-based blues musicians. This billing strategy deservedly focused attention on the vibrant local scene, something the Long Beach festival seems to have forgotten over the years.

A crowd of about 1,500 covered the hill in front of the main stage when Houston-based singer-guitarist Copeland went on as scheduled at 9 p.m.

His gravel-toned voice, prone to break unexpectedly into shouts, was his most effective tool. Though he occasionally broke out with bold, startling lines, his guitar work seemed reserved in comparison to his vocals as he played in a narrow range, seemingly content to air mostly predictable riffs.

Friday's battle of the harps was won by Rod Piazza, who pulled an almost orchestral richness from his harmonicas, while his band worked jump and boogie tunes propelled by Mighty Flyers keyboardist Honey Alexander. But the evening's best moments came on the small stage when guitarist Kid Ramos worked up lush, rhythmic solos in front of a five-piece band that included vocalist Lynwood Slim.

The Orange County Blues Festival was scheduled to conclude Sunday with headliner Etta James.

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