Years may come and years may go, but Skopje Blues & Soul Festival is still an institution, undisputed well of great music and positive vibes. This year’s edition was no exception, as anybody in attendance can confirm with ease. Two-night event of cool sounds left everybody happy and wondering if it could possibly be expanded to more days. Great line-up of artists which presented their kind of blues and confirmed their status within blues community and were in great form, doing justice to this musical genre, mother of them all (almost!).
#1 Proceedings on the first night were opened by Venko Serafimov and his band The Bluesfakers, Macedonian all-star line-up featuring veterans and young guns of Macedonian blues scene. Venko Serafimov is an excellent guitarist, composer and arranger of Macedonian legend status. His credits include excellent album by his 80’s rock band “Concord”, music for theatre, movies and TV projects which gained him reputation even outside Macedonia. For this festival Venko prepared a varied set which included material from his rocking days and cool renditions of familiar blues and rock tunes of well known people and all that sounded just fine on this hot Summer night. His band displayed quality musicianship and youthful female vocalist added plenty of fine singing and good looks! Venko Serafimov once again proved his guitar abilities playing as good as ever, even after quite some time. This was the occasion to put him on the stage again, an offer he just could not refuse! His fluid and original style had fellow guitarists in the audience eyes wide open, absorbing his licks and riffs performed with ease of seasoned journeyman. Great start of the evening and well deserved applause for Venko and his band members. We can only hope that this band can record some blues stuff in the near future, because they deserve to be heard by much wider audience.
#2 Lance Lopez and his band came directly from Dallas Texas and started their European tour right here in Skopje, took the stage and set new standards for performing skills which left all attended jaw dropped! This young but already world-class guitar slinger put on a show that will be remembered for its intensity, never-let-go approach, great guitar playing, fabulous vocals and professionalism that goes beyond his age. Cody Norman on drums and Tony Valdez on bass were perfect vehicle for Lance’s music. Indeed we have not seen a guitarist on stage in Skopje who played his long set as if it was the last one he would ever do; He put his heart into it and people felt it and loved every minute of his performance. Material consisted of his own songs (he promoted his latest album “Higher Ground”) and great rendition of Jimi’s “Spanish Castle Magic”, his fingers did the talking, heads and feet were shaking, excellent excuse for beer consumption! Lance Lopez has absorbed different styles of playing, most notably Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King and alike, making a sound of his own, a winning combination wherever he plugs one of his guitars into old Marshall amp. He left Skopje for gigs with Whitesnake and ZZ Top, enough said! Can’t wait to have him back in the near future, that’s how good he was!
Second night of the festival featured Matt Schofield Trio from UK and those nice gentlemen, Blues Company from Germany.
#3 Matt Schofield has been recently voted among ten of the best British blues guitarists of all time, which speaks volumes about his guitar abilities. He surely did show his potential on the stage in Skopje. His band feature Jonny Henderson on cool Hammond and Evan Jenkins behind traps, a configuration that is usually connected with organ jazz combos of the fifties and sixties, but proved to be equally effective within the blues idiom. His fluid playing recalls Albert Collins at times, especially in slow burning numbers which became Matt’s trademark and crowd pleasers. Occasional breath of New Orleans sounds put refreshing mix in their set. Compact ensemble playing was obvious and joy to experience in live setting, Evan’s shuffle rhythms and Jonny’s organ fills matched perfectly Matt’s guitar skills, this little band really cooks and delivers! Matt and the guys are very modest and down to earth people who deserve all accolades coming to them these days. Band definitely gained few more fans in this part of Europe and quite rightly so!
#4 Festival activities were closed in great style by an excellent band from Germany: Blues Company, who played here few times before and by public demand were back again. Blues Company easily confirmed what we already knew: they are one of the best bands in Europe whose high level performing skills guarantee a great show whether in club or stadium setting. Augmented by BC Horns, Blues Company put on an energetic set full of goodies which included their well know tracks, all of them crowd pleasers, plus tracks from their latest album which were well received too. Leader of the band is a great singer/guitarist Toshe Todorovic who was in a special mood – namely, his ancestors come from Macedonia, so every time he plays here, there’s a lot of emotion involved. Audience responded favorably to Blues Company’s music by singing along and dancing, all in all fine performance as expected!
Finally, the festival was huge success, real gathering of blues fans and fans of good music in general – looking forward anxiously to next edition.