Carolyn Kelly Blues Band and Charlie Musselwhite Brought the South to Syracuse

Southern flair washed the Westcott Theater in spicy fits of harmonica and blues guitar Sunday, Sept. 13. Carolyn Kelly Blues Band opened, the leading songstress demonstrating her powerful vocals for a mature, introspective crowd. Nearly every audience member was seated, either in the rows of collapsible chairs closer to the stage, or further back on the beer keg stools clustered around small bar tables. They sat quietly, listened thoughtfully and applauded graciously after each song. Kelly was joined by Terry Mulhauser (guitar), Don Sollars (drums), Jerry Neely (keyboard), Jim Pavente (bass), and special guest Skip Murphy on harmonica.

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For their final number, Kelly announced, “It is Sunday so we’re gonna’ take it to church on this one,” then reaching deeply into her soul, bellowed a rich opening solo of “Amazing Grace” before the band joined in. The historically statuesque crowd came alive, feeling compelled to clap along to this final number, revved up by the intensity of the band’s performance.

Charlie Musselwhite and his musical crew including June Core (drums) Steve Froberg (bass) and Matt Stubbs (guitar), followed quickly after. Musselwhite attempted to warm up the crowd calling out “It’s so quiet in here. We got some blues in the house tonight,” as if reminding the audience they were permitted to be a little more rowdy. A spunky performance of “River Hip Mama” proved too irresistible for an older woman to the left of the technical booth as she whipped out her shiny iPad to snap a quick video. Musselwhite brandished an impressive set of pipes given his seniority in the blues scene, hitting every note like a pro.

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Singing aside, Musselwhite’s harmonica maneuvers are largely what draw crowds. His masterful playing produced a sea of shrill pitches mixed with more mellow hums, delivering that thirst-quenching satisfaction blues harmonica offers fans. Stubbs’ blues-rock persona could have given the allusion both visually and sonically that he was the long-lost third member of the Black Keys. With greased, combed back hair, scruffy beard and sporting dark t-shirt and jeans, his heavier guitar riffs completed the allusion.

Musselwhite played with the crowd a little, prefacing “Stranger in a Strange Land” with the inspiration behind the song, which came from his experience as an eighteen-year-old looking for a factory job. He began, “A couple years ago when I was 18…” and the crowd chuckled. He continued, “Sometimes it still feels like I’m eighteen, though it’s fleeting.” Musselwhite vibed a mix of old wisdom and young charm, effortlessly switching between modest humor and sly sauciness.