Big Blues Bash

With, “I’m just a small-town boy,” Brandon Isaak brought the crowd up onto the dance floor with big, heavy guitar riffs and an infectious grin.

It’s Friday night at the Yukon Convention Centre and Issak and his band, the Whitehorse Blues All-Stars, are opening for blues legend, Sonny Rhodes.

Isaak is no stranger to a rockin’ crowd and you can usually catch his band at the Gold Rush Inn.

This Friday, he was warming up the eclectic crowd for Rhodes. All ages were out, from young twentysomething hipsters in skinny-leg jeans to older folks in cowboy hats.

The dance floor wasn’t too busy to remain anonymous yet, so my concert pal, Laurie Dawson, and I downed some “liquid courage” before hopping on. Laurie, a Vancouverite up in Whitehorse for a radio internship, was shown some real Yukon spirit.

“I don’t know who I was more impressed with, Brandon Isaak, who really got the crowd going, or the crowd itself,” she told me later.

Clutching $4 draft beer, we stepped up to the dance floor and joined the young and old, doing a modified two-step, jive and jump. Isaak gave the crowd energy, swinging his guitar around and playing it with both fingers wrapped around the neck in a blistering solo.

It was no-holds-barred on the dance floor. I noticed local tall man, Tristin Hopper, swing dancing up in front, jiving and rocking awesomely. It’s clear the vibes were flowing and nobody was crying the blues.

Intermission and we met up with Phil McCaffrey, a friend of Laurie’s. McCaffrey and I drank highballs that seemed suspiciously low in alcohol so he went on a quest to discuss the short-drink problem with the bartender.

He returned with our drinks topped up. I was impressed. But when we go for another drink, McCaffrey had me make the purchase, afraid of bartender retaliation.

“Even if you’re not a huge blues fan, in Whitehorse you take any opportunity to listen to live music,” McCaffrey said. He happens to be a fan of Rhodes and partied with his freshened gin and tonic.

The lights onstage started glowing white, red and blue. Rhodes, in purple splendour, stepped out and everyone flocked to the dance floor. People who sat out were raced to the floor by Isaak; only a third were left to watch from their tables. Rhodes started singing, “You told me that you loved me …”

Rhodes, in an all-purple suit and purple hat, looked dapper and fantastic. To his left, a guitarist strummed with a missing right hand, filling out the sound. After a strong set that had everyone dancing, Rhodes told us, “I’m around 70 and, when you get this old, you get to play sittin’ down,” and pulled out his steel lap guitar.

The crowd went wild and I accidentally splashed cider in my eye. When Rhodes announced a slow song, the floor cleared out faster than a gym at a Grade 7 school dance. We found a wall to lean on and listened while Rhodes included “Found myself in Whitehorse, Yukon”, in his slow song.

A great blues night, and Rhodes and the Whitehorse Blues All-Stars brought the party. If you feel the need for some live blues that will get you dancing, Isaak and the Whitehorse Blues All-Stars can be found at the Gold Rush Inn.

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