Eddie Floyd celebrated his 74thbirthday on Saturday night. Toronto received the gift.
The long-time bluesman came on stage with the Stax! band midway through their set and absolutely, positively, undisputedly wowed us all. He pulled young ladies out of the audience to dance, played matchmaker by calling up an eager guy to join one of them, displayed a level of showmanship you usually have to pay big bucks to see at the ACC and delivered each classic blues song with a set of lungs that had to have been half as old as the rest of him.
If all is right in the universe, Floyd’s performance outside Metro Hall should guarantee the 2011 Toronto Jazz Fest will have a huge week and go down as the most successful edition yet. Anyone watching Floyd and the outstanding Stax! band, which included guitarist Steve Cropper (an original member of Booker T & the MGs and Floyd’s songwriting partner), drummer Anton Fig (from David Letterman’s band) and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn (an original member — with Cropper — of the Blues Brothers Band), will be tempted to return for the remainder of the Mainstage’s stellar lineup — which includes Robert Cray (Monday), a terrific double bill of Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos (Tuesday), and an “are you kidding me?” Canada Day treat: The Roots (Friday).
If you haven’t been downtown the last couple of nights, you may not be aware the tunes are floating out from the big tent that’s been set up at Metro Square between King and Wellington Streets. So even if you haven’t paid the $40 or so for a seat, you can grab a spot by the rail or lounge on the lawn or dance it up for free.
Alabama-born, Detroit-raised Floyd got everyone grooving with his hit “Raise Your Hand” (all Bruce Springsteen fans are familiar with that one) and continued the good time with “Knock on Wood” and “Soul Man”.
The Stax! band — who are from the historic Memphis-based record label — played for nearly two hours, drawing even more people into the square as the Bollywood Awards let out and enticing those hanging on the lawn to move closer too.
And, again, the majority of the audience didn’t have to pay a thing for that quality of world-class entertainment.
The Average White Band opened the night and were also superb, delivering a funky session that set the mood for the night. They saved their signature tune — the ’70’s hit “Pick Up the Pieces” — for the encore.
With Aretha Franklin’s free show on opening night and the numerous performances all over town, the jazz fest organizers have really topped themselves. Our fest isn’t what Montreal’s is, but give it time. It seems a gauntlet may have been thrown.
[NOTE: Copyrighted photos]