America's Harpland 

Mark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowout fast-shuffles into Yoshi's

Blues harp player Mark Hummel, paragon of the Bay Area blues scene, may live in Castro Valley, but he definitely looked out of town for this year's eleventh edition of his annual Blues Harmonica Blowout. "This is my first all-out-of-town show. I've never spent this much on airfare before," laughs Hummel. "It's a rare chance to see most of these people."

As usual with Hummel's midwinter blasts, the talent is top-notch. Like living legend Snooky Pryor: "He just turned eighty and he's full of fire. Snooky was one of the first to amplify the harmonica in the '40s, and he still plays the old-style, pre-Muddy Waters Chicago blues." Texas guitarist Anson Funderberg and blues harpist Sam Myers, who've played together fifteen years, will be there, as will Boston-based twentysomething harpist Annie Raines, teamed with guitarist Paul Rishell. Raines records for Tone-Cool Records, Hummel's label -- his Low Down to Uptown is on Tone-Cool, but next fall he's releasing a new CD on Electro-Fi, out of Toronto.

As if to reflect the ongoing interest in things Cuban, Hummel is showcasing Cuban-born Canadian harpist Carlos Del Junco. "He's the first overblower [a method of achieving overtones on the instrument] I've ever had on the show," says Hummel. "I first met Carlos in 1993 at the Hohner Harmonica Championships in Germany. He's very bluesy, and that's why I got him for this show." All of the above are backed by Hummel and his band, the Blues Survivors -- guitarist Charles Weal, bassist Steve Wolf, drummer Marty Dodson, and pianist Bob Welsh -- who recently returned from a tour of Scandinavia. "We were in Sweden, up north near the Arctic Circle, and it was forty degrees Fahrenheit! Talk about global warming. It was colder in Spain."

The Yoshi's component of the Blues Harmonica Blowout takes place Friday and Saturday, January 11 and 12 (510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, 510-238-9200 or www.yoshis.com), but blues harp fans with wheels might want to check out its other stops: tonight (Wednesday) in Santa Cruz, Thursday in Modesto, Sunday in Santa Rosa, and Monday in Chico.

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