Back in the Game | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Back in the Game

Blues music isn't just for old timers any more

Bend blues band Blackflowers Blacksun doesn't necessarily need the help of modern-day, big-name blues artists conjuring up meaningful relevancy for the genre to pack its shows and win over new fans. But the fact that blues music is reaching new heights in this era of indie music dominance certainly doesn't hurt things either.

That's something the band is betting on when it aims to pull off another one of its spirited shows Nov. 2 at the Volcanic Theatre Pub.

Blues music aficionados will say it's crazy to think that the blues ever left mainstream music. After all, it has continued to thrive in bars that cater to the genre as well as urban pockets around the country; it is hard not to stumble into a blues bar in Memphis or Chicago, for example. Yet, when considering mainstream airplay and headlining tours, blues music has been riding in the backseat for quite some time.

But recently, bands associated with the grimy rock sound where simplistic lyrics and hard played guitar do a lot of the heavy lifting have been playing in stadium-sized venues and headlining music festivals like Coachella rather than being tucked into the corner of a dingy beer soaked bar. The festival scene in particular—which relies on sub-25-year-olds for a bulk of its ticket sales—is proving that the younger generation is embracing blues rock.

The music of these new-age blues bands pays a strong tribute to legends like Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan while also trying out new approaches and at times blowing the doors off tradition.

Three names that come to mind when discussing the resurgence of blue music are The Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr. and Black Joe Lewis. These bands have been touted by music websites like Pitchfork for a few years now and legend Eric Clapton is even quoted as telling Clark Jr. that he is the blues guitarist that made him want to play again. That's quite the affirming endorsement.

The Black Keys won four Grammy awards this past February, including one for best rock album; impressive considering that the now 34-year old Dan Auerbach started the band when he was only 22.

The success of these groups seems to have translated to a demand for blues music at a local level. In the Pacific Northwest, bands such as Tango Alpha Tango and Hopeless Jack and the Handsome Devil are immitating the sounds of Clark Jr. and Lewis, drawing large crowds of their own. Bend's Blackflowers Blacksun is no exception.

Comprised of members Greg Bryce, Randy Rooker and Andy Coman, Blackflowers Blacksun is an unabashed blues rock trio with leathery chops, playing the kind of proletariat music that sounds as if it took as much overtime to manufacture as rebuilding an engine with no repair manual. There is no refinement here, no smoothly paved transitions that mark the change between verse to chorus. The band's Facebook page doesn't even list Bryce as the vocalist, instead opting for the simple—and apt— description, "yelling."

With slide guitar and lap steel dominating the strings, Blackflowers Blacksun perfroms at a rapid-fire pace; they aren't ones to tell stories with the sluggish wail of a sorrowful guitar solo. Rather, these guys fiercely blast though songs as if the world were about to end and with all the annihilative flames of hell.

And whether or not they are even aware of blues newcomers like Clark Jr. or Lewis, they're reaping the benefit of that music being out there. Sure their music stands on its own merits, but when people retreat to their hometowns from a festival like Sasquatch hungry for the blues, they're a little more likely to check out what the local scene has to offer.

Blackflowers Blacksun

8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2

Volcanic Theatre Pub

70 S.W. Century Dr.


About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...
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