I was stranded in Vancouver this week for a day while a big storm came through New England, so I put out a message to the harp-l list asking if anyone knew of a good show in that town on Friday night. One member wrote back that there was a good blues jam on Saturday afternoon at 3 PM at the Cottage Bistro, 4470 Main Street, with the Hinton Hart band, Steve Hinton on harp and vocals.

I showed early and spent some time talking to the band as they set up. Hinton’s rig included a Radio Shack omnidirectional mic with a 10-watt Premier Twin 8 amplifier. I used to own a Twin 8, and the first time I saw Charlie Musselwhite play, at Lennie’s on the Turnpike near Boston in 1973, he was using a Premier amp with two 12″ speakers plus a Shure Omnisphere mic. In short, Premier amps sound very nice for amped blues, and omni mics work fine for harp–they don’t have the promixity effect that cardiod dynamic mics like an SM57 or SM545 produce, but that’s fine. So the setup for harp players at this rig was very good for a blues jam.

The band, including Andrew Hart on guitar, Peter Walker on bass, and James “Hollywood Jimmie” Badger on drums, played an opening set before jamming started. The volume was in general low by modern standards, a throwback to the day when bands played through relatively small amps without big PAs, i.e. the days when this style of music was created. The Premier Twin 8 had no trouble projecting the harp well to the front of the band. Hinton sang and played both diatonic and chromatic harps in a straightforward Chicago style, with plenty of power. I enjoyed the chromatic work in particular, and the rhythm section was tight throughout the set.

I hadn’t been expecting to play out on this trip, so I’d only brought a few harps–a Spec 20 in C, a Ben Bouman-customized Sydel 1847 in C country tuning, a Lee Oskar Natural Minor in Ab, a Golden Melody in B with Dorian minor tuning, and a Seydel chromatic in C. (Not the high-end model, either.) Fortunately, when I played, the band accomodated my limited key options. I ended up playing “Key to the Highway,” “Backtrack,” “Have Mercy,” and “Comin’ Home Baby” with a variety of rhythm sections and guitarists, all of whom played well.

The jam in general was very harp-friendly, both in terms of stage time and stage volume. The owner and the band leader are agreed that high volume is a drag, so things never get too loud for a 10-watt amp to cut through. Besides Steve Hinton, other harp players at the jam included Arthur Jennings and Bruce McFadden. The latter played very strong Chicago blues, straight up with a big amped tone.

This was a nice place to hang out for an afternoon, and if you’re in Vancouver on a Saturday, the jam is a good bet. Check it out.