The Upshot: Blues legend turns up at documentary screening for a short-but-sweet set at Toronto’s Silver Dollar Club
TEXT & PHOTOS BY ERIC THOM
Fans of the blues will relish the 6th documentary by Montreal-based director, Daniel Cross – I am the blues, to be released June 3rd.
The film was previewed at Toronto 16th Hot Docs festival (after Amsterdam and Austin screenings) and music and film alike were treated to a short-but-sweet live performance by the inimitable Bobby Rush at Toronto’s venerable Silver Dollar Room – itself, a relic of the blues.
Rush is one of Cross’ “last original blues devils” featured in the musical travelogue that moves across the swamps of Louisiana’s bayous, the Mississippi delta and the remains of the Chitlin’ Circuit, still operating in the deep south. You’ll meet characters like Rush, Barbara Lynn, Little Freddie King, Carol Fran, Lazy Lester, Bibo Walker, Henry Gray and others – presented in a rambling, travel diary format. The film spells out the blues through the people still playing them and the places they’re played – from one dilapidated juke joint to the next church or backyard BBQ.
In person, Rush is a sweetheart and a sturdy survivor, wily and resourceful – still making smooth moves from the stage towards any young lady who will pay him back with a smile. Introducing Cross to the crowd, he reminded the crowd that he – Bobby Rush – was one of the last of his kind…. a vanishing breed, comfortable in his role as unofficial spokesman for the movie.
Playing alongside local hero Shawn Kellerman (who once toured with Rush’s band), Rush took the time to talk to the audience, accompanying himself on harp, guitar and the soulful rasp of his vocals as Kellerman had his back, keeping the music rolling underneath him, turning in some tasteful slide guitar of his own. “Night Fishin’” and his ’71 hit, “Chicken Heads“ came together as did “Uncle Esau” and “Howlin’ Wolf’s “Natchez Burnin’”.
Easily earning an encore, the smiling, ebullient Rush could’ve played all night and the audience wouldn’t have had too much of this gentle giant of a presence.