It’s time for some old-time entertainment. The Pine Grill Reunion, which takes place at 4 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 9 in Martin Luther King Park, keeps alive the gutbucket spirit of the old Pine Grill – a club on Jefferson Avenue that played host to the funky down-home sound of the Hammond B3.
Now in its 26th year, the Pine Grill Reunion has been described accurately as an old-time picnic. Vendors sell fried chicken and sweet potato pie. Families gather in tents and on blankets. Newcomers are welcome, too – just bring your lawn chair and enjoy. The night typically ends with dancing, as the evening’s featured artists gather on stage for one last jam.
Admission is free. Adding to the fun, the performers are often a mystery until almost the last minute. Sunday’s lineup, just announced by Buffalo’s African-American Cultural Center, is an intriguing mix.
• Buffalo bass prodigy Juini Booth has recorded and toured with Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers, Betty Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Chuck Mangione. For his Pine Grill appearance, Booth’s combo will feature 82-year-old guitarist Calvin Newborn.
Newborn, the brother of the late pianist Phineas Newborn, grew up in Memphis, Tenn., where he gave guitar lessons to blues legend Howlin’ Wolf and also taught Elvis Presley how to dance. The young Elvis used to eat at the Newborns’ house and buy gospel records at their record store. Calvin Newborn has played alongside such stellar colleagues as Count Basie, David “Fathead” Newman and the great jazz pianist Earl Hines.
• Jazz diva Denise Thimes, who has performed at the Pine Grill Reunion at least once in the past, is from St. Louis, Mo., and has had an impressive career that spans three decades. She appears at many international jazz festivals and has sung for the Queen of England, the Queen of Thailand and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Thimes grew up singing in church and still does, when she is not touring.
Thimes is also known for fashion. As she said in a recent interview, “We’re from the old school – where people dressed.”
• Saxophonist Bill Easley has worked with George Benson and Isaac Hayes. He needs no introduction to Pine Grill Reunion audiences. Easley has been here multiple times, at least once in the company of organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith.
• Blues and soul singer and guitarist George Stancell has been featured at the Chicago Blues Festival. Born in Greenwood, Miss., he grew up in Arkansas. As one bio of him states: “He quickly learned to play guitar and piano sneaking into clubs throughout the area.” Stancell is now in his 70s, an age at which many blues performers just start to get good. Though he has appeared in Buffalo before, most notably with the late Count Rabbit, this appears to be his debut at the Pine Grill Reunion.
This year’s festival will be in memory of James “Pappy” Martin and Lance Diamond, two great spirits of Buffalo music.
The second Sunday traditionally spotlights a satisfying collection of local favorites, and the lineup Aug. 9 includes Hands On with Ray Scott, the Charlie Reedy Band, Denzel Ward, the Old School B Boys and the Timmy Woo Band.
What: Pine Grill Reunion
When: 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 9
Where: Martin Luther King Park, 778 Best St.