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The indomitable Kenny Neal was on of the headliners at the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival on 12/1/12. A great show was had by all.

Actually Kenny was in fine form, according the local blues “experts” I know, but I must admit he left me a bit flat. Read on and I’ll tell you why…

But first for those not familiar with Kenny Neal, here’s a little history…

Kenny Neal is the son of harp player Raful Neal. He’s been on the blues scene for many years thanks to his father’s reputation. He hails from New Orleans and his brand of blues has many “N’Orlins” touches to it. He got his schoolin’ from New Orleans blues musician Slim Harpo and Buddy Guy. You definitely see some of Guy’s showmanship in his live performance.

In September 2006 Neal announced he was taking a year’s break from recording and performing, due to an undisclosed illness. He returned to the public eye at the Monterey Blues Festival in June 2007. His illness was also disclosed as Hepatitis C.

He’s since recovered and back on the scene and looks healthy and full of energy. Welcome back Kenny Neal.

And here’s some videos so you can have a context for my following opinions.

The Things I Used To Do

Baby What You Want Me To Do “Jam”

Honest I Do

I was honestly disappointed in Kenny Neal’s performance. Admittedly, these are subjective opinions, and I’m often disappointed at Blues Festivals by the “headliners.” Many don’t live up to the hype in my opinion. Kenny Neal falls in that category to me.

Now he definitely can play guitar and harp quite well, but my disappointment was in the band and the overall presentation. Here’s some of my points.

Kennny’s guitar sound was indistinct and had too much delay on it. It just did not cut through the mix well. Basically a lousy guitar sound by today’s standards in my opinion.

The band generally did not play well together. It sounded like they were there to listen to themselves. The bass player overplayed and dynamics were generally lacking. The drummer overplayed as well.

The “electronic horn” player just did not sound good. The sound was “fake” and even though he was suppose to be the “horn section” in the band it just didn’t cut it. He was too soft generally as well to have any impact.

The song selection was predictable and un-original. He played some old blues classics but he didn’t really bring anything new to the table. After playing around for over 20 years on his own, I expected a little more of his material and less of the “top-40” blues songs.

Now the crowd seemed to love him but that doesn’t mean much. I see too much of this “pied piper syndrome” at blues fests with crowds not really knowing the blues well enough to be a good judge of talent. Proof was that when the amazing Ruth Foster started playing the crowd began to thin out. She was by far the best of the day, but she probably was too mellow and original for the blues lemmings in attendance. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Kenny Neal ended up playing those cliched old tunes. He has learned from experience that that’s all the crowd could understand. If that’s the case then Kenny Neal is forgiven.

Anyway it was a beautiful day for a blues fest. Watch for a complete review coming soon.

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