SAN ANGELO, TX — The 12th annual Simple Texas Blues Festival was presented by the San Angelo Blues Society on Saturday, May 22, at the San Angelo RiverStage. Entertainment included the car and motorcycle shows, a rib cook-off and most importantly, the Blues music competition. The music featured many acts battling each other for $2,000 and a trip to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee this coming January. Jennifer B. & The Groove and The Mark May Band ended the night with their wonderful performances while not participating in the competition themselves.
Hundreds showed up, lawn chairs and coolers in tow, to enjoy the cars and bikes, the ribs, and the music. They stayed despite bouts of heat and rain and by the end of the competition the weather had settled into simple shade and an incredibly pleasant atmosphere.
The winner of the Blues competition, chosen by a panel of judges appointed by the San Angelo Blues Society, was Rochelle & The Sidewinders. The powerful ensemble with electric guitar, saxophone, drums, and Rochelle as lead singer wowed the crowd.
Rochelle’s voice is fueled by commitment and soul, at one moment yelling and another whimpering. She commands attention through sheer vocal power and rewards the listener with feeling and emotion. She sways and shakes by the force of her song and you can tell by her face how she means what she sings.
Rochelle & The Sidewinders won the Austin Blues Competition in 2017 and 2018 taking them to Memphis where they once made the final four of the International competition. This year, the group decided to forgo Austin in favor of San Angelo for the sake of variety. All in attendance were glad to have them. After their performance, all sorts of fans hurried behind the stage to praise the singer and she responded with genuine thanks.
We asked her about the blues. It is necessarily sad, but at the same time people are drawn to it as she is herself. What does the blues mean for people? Is it beneficial to dwell on the bad times as the blues seems to promote?
“You get people together, hearing the same thing, moving to the same beat I think it’s healing. It definitely brings people together. I tell my baby girl when she gets a little crazy, ‘breath deep with me. . . 1, 2, 3, ahhh’, you know that’s what the blues is. It says breath deep with me, it says it’s okay to feel blue and that as long as we can sing it’s all ok.
“More than anything the blues is a release, the singer and the crowd breathing and letting go. For that to happen, the audience has to feel something so that’s my goal: to make them feel. Pain has to be brought out to be dealt with and then released,” Rochelle said. Are Rochelle’s songs personal?
“Some are deeply personal, like ‘Treat me the way you do’ which you heard tonight, but mostly we [Rochelle and Tom, lead guitarist and another writing partner] try to keep things general and relatable.”
Rochelle & The Sidewinders was launched six years ago in Austin and since have released two studio albums. Their performance at the competition consisted of all original songs from their most recent album released last year. The band is working on new material and hope to record their third album with the studio. Rochelle said, with hope in her eyes, that the album may be ready by the time the band wins the top prize in Memphis. She and her blues band are aiming higher than just the final 4 this time.