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Ponderosa Stomp 2005 Review: Harp Magazine

Mid-City Lanes
New Orleans, Louisiana USA
April 26, 2005 – April 27, 2005
by Meredith Ochs

Folks of all stripes descended upon New Orleans during April's waning days. Some stood in line for hours under a blazing sun for one last taste of fried green tomatoes at Uglesich's, a tiny, family-run lunch joint that closed its doors for good in May. Some slogged around in the mud at the city's annual Jazzfest, after the sky had opened up on Saturday morning and drenched the fairgrounds. And some spent two nights in a cramped, smoky bowling alley to witness performances by R&B, blues and swamp-pop greats, some of whom hadn't performed in decades.

That last group was comprised of true believers, obsessive music lovers who traveled from around the globe and paid 35 bucks a night to be at the Ponderosa Stomp festival. Celebrating its fourth year, the event featured more than four dozen lost legends, one-hit wonders and architects of rock 'n' roll and took place at Mid-City Lanes, aka the Rock 'n' Bowl, a dingy, two-story structure in a marginal Crescent City neighborhood.

Stomp's performers, who dressed as if they were playing Branson and seemed honored by the rapt attention of the crowd, did not reflect the lowbrow backdrop. Barbara Lynn, who, with the help of Dr. John, hit big in 1962 with the swampy soul cut "You'll Lose a Good Thing," belted out her set and tugged at the strings of her lefty Fender Strat, while the strap of her blue gown lost to the strap holding up her guitar in a battle over her bare shoulder. Singer Archie Bell, clad in a bright red ensemble and fronting a house band that included Stanley "Buckwheat Zydeco" Dural on keyboards, was especially sprightly when Lee Allen Zeno nailed the celebrated, funky bass line to Bell's 1968 hit "Tighten Up."

There were surprises, delightful ones. Alex Chilton walked onstage with his guitar, unannounced, to back up Brenton "Gimme Little Sign" Wood. Dale Hawkins wailed on "Suzie Q." Link Wray plugged in and played louder than God. New Orleans piano luminary Willie Tee sang soulfully alongside Deacon John, a ubiquitous Big Easy bandleader whose guitar playing can be heard on landmark singles like Lee Dorsey's "Working in a Coalmine."

Another of the festival's highlights came by way of soul sister Betty Harris, who recorded with both Allen Toussaint and Bert Berns before disappearing at the height of her career, sang a bold soul-sister set worthy of a full-on comeback, her new songs burning just as hot as her 1963 version of Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me."

On a stage upstairs, beneath low-hanging party lights and near a few stray bowlers, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater entertained electric-blues fans in a glittery Western suit and full headdress. Downstairs, blaxploitation film star Rudy Ray Moore-better known as Dolomite-held court next to two local voodoo priestesses hawking mystical oils, while Meters drummer Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste propelled a late-night funk set that had even the most worn-out revelers on their feet and stompin' again. Outside in the parking lot, fans took a respite, leaning on vintage cars, basking in the glow of the Rock 'n' Bowl's neon sign and chatting with stray performers who'd wandered out to catch a bit of nighttime air themselves.

Engaging, sometimes stunning, performances and the local flavor help make the Ponderosa Stomp much more than just an oldies revue-at times it felt like a night on the Chitlin' Circuit. It's a cult happening.
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