’Quit Your Bitchin’ and the routine Albert Castiglia delivered with it on Friday (July 19) at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62 in Sarnia sent everyone on both sides of the stage into peels of laughter.

The crowd was having fun and even his bandmates were cracking up. They’ve heard it many times but (as they said themselves) it’s hard not to go to pieces when Albert comes up with some of these things. Hearing a guitar cast in the role of the nagging wife as effectively as he did it with his instrument makes that easy to relate to. That song followed the pair of scorchers they’d opened with and sent the message that everyone was supposed to have as much fun as they were.

The message caught on and what followed was an evening of leaps from peak to peak. Each number was delivered with a combination of warmth and consummate musicianship that came from the entire band. Bassist Justine Tompkins and drummer Ephraim Lowell formed a rhythm section that kept the energy levels high while exchanging lead and timekeeping roles as seamlessly as could possibly be imagined. Albert crested the waves they created with playing that could only be described as insanely brilliant. The slower bits he wove through the ballads were indescribably tasty. His speed-picking was lightning fast and brimmed with emotion. Everything he played touched the hearts of listeners directly.

The big surprise of the evening happened when Albert brought Sarnia’s own Rick Steeves up to jam with the band. They felt each other out for a few moments then established a rapport that had broad smiles lighting up the faces of everyone on the stage. For the crowd it was the moment that sent the show into the cosmos. For the band, it was the instant where they became friends instead of welcomed visitors.

Technical excellence is only part of what Albert and the musicians around him bring to the table. He’s a bluesman in the tradition of the greats he’s following. His intent and heart’s desire is to leave people with more than what they had through the gesture of sharing the music. He’s a showman and pays close attention to what audiences are picking up on.

Away from the stage the band members were friendly and forthcoming. Ephraim Lowell had a smile for everyone (and was the model of patience while I struggled to get his name right). Justine was a sweetheart who more than happy to share time with people.  Albert was wonderfully candid. He spoke about how he got started and what things had been like before Junior Wells offered him the chance. When asked, he stated that having Rick Steeves up on stage had been Paul Knapp’s suggestion and that it had gone ahead because he likes jamming with people. He described that part as selfish, then added that he wouldn’t be where he is if similar opportunities hadn’t been given to him. He’s honest, understands that people have to give to get and does so willingly. That’s as much a part of his artistry as his playing and it has a lot to do with what sets him apart.

That this show came together and succeeded beyond all expectations was due to the efforts of several people. Paul Knapp was responsible for booking the band in the first place and he took a big chance doing so. Putting the 4Barrel Blues Band on the bill was his idea and it played out beautifully. Getting Rick Steeves on stage with Albert was his inspiration as well and it pure brilliance. Albert’s sound man did an excellent job of keeping the audio clear. The people working behind the bar and on the floor were great all night. The group working Security did their job without being intrusive. The vendors who sold the tickets to the show rose above and beyond the call to stimulate interest. Bruce Falconer of The Eagle FM 107.7 learned about it from MaryAnne Peloza of the Cheeky Monkey and did a pair of shows about Albert.

Those factors added up and they set the stage for a show that was far more than brilliant. This one went into orbit.

Sarnia’s own 4Barrel Blues Band sounded great when they opened this show for Albert Castiglia. Bassist Jamie Adair and drummer Stephen Bird built a rock-solid platform for guitarists Ricky Seed and Chris Jenniskens to work from and they took full advantage. Jenniskens, who handled the lead vocals for the set projected nicely on standards such as ’The Thrill Is Gone’. Seed and Jenniskens shared the lead guitar parts pretty evenly and both clearly had fun doing so. Their set was loose, enjoyable and, most importantly, set the mood for an evening nobody could have predicted.

Concert photos by Brian Hay

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