One of the most impressive guitar players I’ve ever seen has to be Mike Welch. He’s a giant and a legend in the making. His gift of passion, his determination, and hard work all shine through as someone who is serious about their craft.

Despite his mild manner, he is truly a monster on the guitar. And when the stage lights up, he lights up the audience with a sound that is uniquely his, playing off of his band mates and standing firmly on his own. There’s a reason he has the moniker “Monster Mike Welch”!

Mike has been nominated for 2 Blues Music Awards (Instrumentalist - Guitar and Band of The Year for the Welch Ledbetter Connection) for the upcoming 2019 40th Awards!

The night was ripe with emotion and beautiful music. A return to the native region for Mike and a congregation of the best of the best up on stage with him. It was a deeply felt homecoming of sorts after a long hard months’ worth of days.

Finding his footing after the world shifted painfully around him with the loss of his musical partner and friend, Mike Ledbetter, Welch has showed that he is more than capable of, and will be going on to carry out, honoring the legacy of his friend in each and every show. In his words, each show from now on will be a tribute to his friend in some way or another.

Mike roared into the audience with a beautiful Chicago sound that instantly makes you smile. For anyone who is a fan of the Delta/Chicago/West Side Soul blend of the Blues, you are going to be hard pressed to find someone who can play in a fashion that blends them all and yet he can step into the sound of any band he is with. It’s always a pleasure to see this man work.

With an ongoing influential theme of Otis Rush running a ribbon through the night, you got to enjoy that deep soul and emotion that comes from a great influence meeting a great talent. Everyone on that stage showed that Rush takes skill and feeling, and they all put their hearts into it to a beautiful result.

For anyone with an appreciation and a connection to the music of BB King, you are sometimes nervous or let down when you hear someone work through one of his songs. We’re a hard breed to please in this category at times. For me it’s a deep emotional connection which leads me to be far more picky than I might otherwise be. But, rest assured that the legacy of BB King is safe in the hands of Mike Welch, Mudcat Ward, Anthony Geraci, and Liviu Pop! True to fashion and honest to soul, they faithfully interpreted his music in a manner that I can’t help but think he would be proud of, I certainly know that I’m grateful and heartened to see the music approached with such care.

Part way through the first set, Kit Holliday hit the stage with her larger than life voice and full energy impassioned approach to the music. Having been my first opportunity to see Kit perform live I was anxious to see for myself the heights of her passion and talent being displayed real time. I was NOT disappointed. In fact it made me regret missing the Blues Cruise all the more. Taking in the West Side Soul sound and carrying it solidly to New England, Kit showed that she is more than up to the task of belting out the full throated Chicago Soul. Diving with a gentile grace and a fierce focus, she proved that the Diva’s of the Blues and Soul are not going to vanish any time soon!

With Mike hitting on all 8 cylinders and Kit at the wheel, they careened into that Magic Sam number, “Easy Baby”. Her passionate and faithful vocals for the song absolutely brought that soul line to life in a beautiful beautiful way. With Mike playing off of her with his warbling guitar fully on point, it was a pairing that one might think they’d not see together in their lifetime. You’d be wrong. The pairing exists! With Liviu taking on the solid beat that marks the background drive and the sway that Mudcat brings with the bass, you might wonder what would round it out. Horns? Harp? No no, keys. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a more consummate professional and talented pianist than Anthony Geraci. Sliding right into the pocket of the song and seamlessly bringing the melody out of the keys so that they meld with the guitar into a beautiful harmony. This was easily one of my favorites of the night.

Anthony Geraci, who is himself nominated for 6 Blues Music Awards for 2019, brings to the stage a long and successful career with many well deserved accolades along the way. His talent and hard work have ensured that he is an intricate part of the Blues Community, not just of New England but internationally. And permanently. it is absolutely always a pleasure to come out and enjoy his work. Be it with Sugar Ray and the Bluetones, or with his own Boston Blues All-Stars, Geraci is a force to be reckoned with!

Michael “Mudcat” Ward is a gifted bassist, as well as a phenomenal song writer. His work has been played internationally and by numerous artists. In a true testament to the staying power of quality music and hard working musicians, Mudcat can be found working with a multitude of bands, and every last one of them are top notch.

Liviu Pop, while new to me, is a well known figure of the local CT Blues scene and holds a regular Blues Jam at Black-Eyed Sally’s, where he and others get together and put on display the best of a community coming together to connect with the good things in life. He comes at the music with more energy than ought to be possible for one person. I’m convinced they’ve got him ingeniously connected to a diesel generator set to silent. Because he cranks out a beat that would move any truck clear off the road. Yet there is a beautiful grace with how he slides into a slow blues. He isn’t just a hard driving drummer, in fact I’d say he is more of an engine that can shift gears and keep things moving smoothly and with a steady rhythm without hitting a single pothole along the way.

Every one of these artists put on a fantastic night of music at Black-Eyed Sally’s.

On a night where I wasn’t sure if I felt like going out or not, they erased any and all doubts when I got inside the door. I instantly knew I’d made the right choice and in that they restored me.

Make sure you catch these true artists together the next time it comes around, and in the meantime ensure you find them each individually as they work tirelessly to bring us the phenomenal music that is the Blues!

 *This review was not solicited by the musicians or venue.