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Published: 2004/02/17

Clay Evans, Benji Shanks and Robert Walter’s 20th Congress Step In For Wavering Bluestring Just Prior to Radio Broadcast

Less than a half hour before load-in on Saturday, Jeff Dunham received a phone call informing him that the current line-up of Bluestring, his scheduled band for the second Dunhams In The Daytime party/recording for broadcast, would no longer be performing together. The group’s frontman and principal songwriter Clay Evans chose to honor the gig, and he called upon his buddy Benji Shanks, the lead guitarist for Atlanta band Captain Soularcat. ‘We had played a show at the River’s Edge in Rome (Georgia, where Shanks lives) the night before,’ Shanks said, ‘and Clay called me at about 2:15. I like the guys in Bluestring, and I even played on their last CD. So, I gladly dragged myself off the couch, got something quick to eat, and then sped at 90mph down I-85 to Smith’s, and we did the show.’

Shanks had never played some of the material, but you would never know it as they moved through some of Evans’ most recent Bluestring songs, ‘Benji is my guitar hero and good friend who can make anyone sound good with his six-string tastiness,’ Evans said. The duo opened with the as yet unrecorded ‘Always Comes,’ followed by, ‘Reach Out’ and then a recent addition to the Bluestring catalog, ‘Valley.’ They closed their set with the title track, and then ‘Man In Your Mind’ from their forthcoming CD, Pair Of Claws, (‘Double Edge,’ also from the disc, was performed early in the set). A slightly modified version of Bluestring, fronted by Evans, will open for The Big Wu at The Funk Box tonight (and they will focus on Pair Of Claws material), and all of their west coast tour is still a go.
The Dunham staff had been discussing the possiblity of The 20th Congress popping in early for a mini-set (they were headlining at Smith’s later the same night) for many weeks. When one staff member explained the situation that had arisen to the band’s tour manager after their performance at Zydeco’s in Birmingham, The group agreed to get on the road early so they could help The Dunhams out. The band arrived at Smith’s two hours early to set up (with the eager assistance of Smith’s staff and some Dunham party regulars), soundcheck and perform a twenty-five minute set which was broadcast the next day.
The band sandwiched two new originals ’34 Small’ and ‘El Cuervo’ around an energized cover of The Apostles’ ‘Soulful.’ They ended the brief set with a strong cover of a deep cut from The Meters’ catalog, ‘Go For Yourself,’ which Walter introduced as a ‘Valentine’s Day song for the lonely.’ 20th Congress performed as a trio as Walter explains, ‘Will (Bernard) had another gig and our bass player has other gigs right now. We decided to keep it in the family rather than hire other musicians. It’s given me a chance to explore the organ-based thing, playing my own bass lines, which is in the tradition of all the great organ players. I have written alot of material in the past couple of months with this configuration in mind, so we’re excited to get out there with plenty of new material.’ The group performs at the Side Bar in Gainesville tonight, and will return to Georgia for a show with reggae band dubconscious at the Georgia Theater in Athens, February 23rd (The Dunhams will reair the band’s impromptu set on Z93 in Atlanta the night before this show). Guitarist Will Bernard will be with the band for the Georgia Theater show.

Report by Rob Turner

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