The Ponderosa Stomp at Mid City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl, April 26-27: The Ponderosa Stomp is part dreamscape, part sideshow, but in each of its four renewals, the music has presented itself like a grail pursued by the legends of yesteryear. This may be the only time you can see Sun Records and Elvis Presley sideman Scotty Moore come into contact with his own greatness on a rock 'n' roll stage. Like the other roots rock titans from the 1950s and '60s who participated, Moore was placed in a musical context where his sensibilities were allowed to shine, surrounded by a rockabilly supergroup featuring D.J. Fontana on drums and a supercharged Billy 'I Can Help' Swan singing.
Roy Head was similarly stoked for a wild performance backed by guitarist Deke Dickerson and his Eccofonics, rampaging through a series of Bo Diddley covers before finishing off with his epic hit single 'Treat Her Right.' Head dropped to the stage and popped the gator for his astonished fans at the top of the set.
This year's Stomp included a number of cameos, notably a riveting performance by the remarkably vital 90-year-old bluesman Robert Lockwood Jr. and a rumbling evocation of rock power from one of the most influential guitarists in history, Link Wray. Most of the sets were shrewdly assembled groups populated by some of the most important names in their respected genres, some of whom were having reunions for the first time in 40 years. Zydeco and R&B giants Stanley 'Buckwheat Zydeco' Dural on organ and ex-Clifton Chenier guitarist Li'l Buck Sinegal led the Top Cats reunion, and that band -- complete with a three-piece horn section -- backed soul singers Head, Archie Bell, Barbara Lynn, swamp pop vocalists Warren Storm and Phil Phillips. Harmonica player Lazy Lester sounded terrific finishing off the band's first set.
Deacon John's 'Doin' It to Death' New Orleans Revue was the highlight. It took some time to get started, but with longtime Fats Domino sideman Herb Hardesty and Plas 'Pink Panther' Johnson on saxophones joining Deacon John's crack rhythm section, artists such as Al 'Carnival Time' Johnson and Willie Tee may never play in front of a band of this quality again. Eddie Bo sat in for an incredible mini-set.
Though most of the emphasis of the Stomp is on artists who we may never get another chance to see, there are enough younger players involved to keep the concept going for the foreseeable future. Deke Dickerson is a next-generation supporter who plays with knowledge derived from the primary sources, as does Boston-based R&B shouter Barrence Whitfield. He made his Stomp debut this year and can howl with the best of them, whether it's a Phil Lenker tune from the early '80s with his first Savages band -- at that point, members of garage-rockers the Lyres -- or a tribute to Screamin' Jay Hawkins. At the end of the Tuesday night Plas Johnson rock 'n' roll set, Whitfield used a lyric sheet to sing Hawkins' "Feast of the Mau Mau." When he didn't need it anymore, he ate it as the band played on. Someone yelled out, "Give him a beer to wash that down with," and when someone did, he ate that, too, biting the can sideways and literally foaming at the mouth as he completed his tribute to Hawkins and the spirit of the Stomp itself.