Many of blues fans and music lovers in general agree that this year’s festival was one of the best so far and proving once again Festival is Skopje is undoubtedly the best in this part of Europe. Two days of great music and fabulous atmosphere left the audience grasping for more and more it will be, but only the next July, unfortunately! Anyway, all artists did their best and it was their stylish variety that hit immensely, they came from USA and Europe and gave us a glimpse of contemporary world blues agenda. Everybody had a great time, weather was cool, beer cold enough, artists inspired to do what was expected and all in attendance, around two thousand of them, enjoyed every minute of the proceedings. We could only wish it would last longer and we hope that would happen in the near future.
#1 The excellent “The Nimmo Brothers” from UK, Glasgow to be precise, debuted in this part of Europe with a blistering set of original and some great cover material and showed why the band is one of the best on British blues scene at the moment. Led by two guitar playing brothers Alan and Stevie, the band simply tore the place down and that was only the beginning! Backed by an excellent rhythm section, two brothers traded licks and solos like possessed, these guys really cook, their guitar playing is nothing short of brilliant and everybody present could not resist tapping their feet and waving hands to the band’s material which covered a lot of bases. Strong original material is rooted in blues tradition with enough rock elements to keep every blues and rock fan happy throughout the set, covers included some classic stuff with Otis Rush’s “So Many Roads” being the best to these ears. Band also performed a few tracks from their new album “Picking Up the Pieces” which indicated slight turn to mainstream rock vocabulary which is always radio friendly, but not always in peace with blues traditionalists. In any case, “The Nimmo Brothers” blues rocked the festival stage and earned well deserved encore which had everybody dancing in the aisles and presented perfect beginning of the festival.
#2 Topping the bill was Sherman Robertson who did a great set of originals and covers that appeared on his last album “Guitar Man” plus a variety of tracks which showed why he is one of the best bluesmen today. Sherman had a great rapport with the audience which responded to anything he did with great anticipation. Sherman calls Texas and Louisiana his home and it’s clearly evident in his music which originates in rich musical traditions of these US regions. Sherman Robertson is an excellent guitar player and vocalist who chose Skopje to be his first date on Summer European tour and while here he usually work with “Blues Move”, an excellent UK band of seasoned musicians who honed their art through countless UK and European gigs and it was quite obvious why they were Sherman’s choice for a backing band doing a great job all the way! Sherman Robertson is a great blues artist who put all of him into his performance, a musician who lives the blues and is able to transform it into an art form and that vibe was felt in the hot Skopje night. Some of the covers he did were ones of the best we heard in a long while, especially his version of “Tin Pan Alley” full of great solos and tempo changes, spiced with great showmanship. He walked through the audience while continuously pouring licks after licks to everyone’s delight! He proved to be also a great person, talking to his fans after the gig, refused nobody wanting to take a picture with him although his shirt was dripping wet like he just stepped out of the pool! Really cool guy who’s set was excellent closure of the first night of the festival.
#3 Vlatko Stefanovski Trio were scheduled to open the second night of the festival and his blues debut gig was eagerly awaited. One of the top guitarists has finally agreed to present bluesy side of his musical personality. This kind of music has always been in his heart and 30 years and 25 albums later, the time was just right! All these years he played different kinds of music as a member of the legendary “Leb i Sol” or as solo artist. Festival venue was crowded with his fans, blues lovers who felt something fine would happen and all flocked to witness this exclusive moment in time. They were in a for a treat as Vlatko and his band presented an hour worth of classic blues covers and originals done his way, just great. His renditions of classic stuff featured versions of “Stormy Monday”, “Rock Me Baby”, “Spider In My Web” and, of course, his all time favourite “Need Your Love So Bad” via “Fleetwood Mac” which he used to play with “Leb i Sol” a long time ago. Strong rhythm section did an appropriate job giving Vlatko a lot of space to stretch out, treating blues fans with his exemplary blistering solos. His vocals were more than adequate unlike some of his previously recorded material, probably singing English is more suitable for him. In any case, his debut blues gig will be fondly remembered and delighted fans were there for him making it a moment in time to be cherished for a long time.
#4 A number of music fans came especially to witness a gig by legendary Jan Akkerman whose work with exceptional “Focus” made him one of the best known guitar icons of contemporary music and he did deliver on the said night! Backed by impeccable band of young but experienced players, Akkerman played to everyone’s delight. Well structured compositions included his signature tunes with the afore mentioned band, his rich legacy of solo work and some recently composed themes that fit well into the whole gig concept. His guitar playing left nothing to be desired; even some technical problems could not detract from the impression of being near of such a great player. Highlight of the evening was his calling upon Vlatko Stefanovski to join him on a session that had everybody on their feet! Both traded licks, Vlatko being in awe to play along one of his guitar heroes, what a great finale to this year’s festival!
Great evening to be remembered as everything worked out perfectly throughout the festival during two day festivities. Blues is alive and well in Skopje and that’s the only way it should be and the festival set high standards for future events, but we have no doubts that we can expect even more in the coming years.