For one surprising and spectacular night, the home of the blues in Austin was somewhere other than Antone’s.
The Belmont, the indoor-outdoor West Sixth Street venue that books a broad variety of musical genres, landed one of the coolest blues shows to come through town in a while when Todd Park Mohr assembled a lineup to pay tribute to the legendary Willie Dixon that included Mud Morganfield (son of Muddy Waters), Ronnie Baker Brooks (son of Lonnie Brooks) and Billy Branch (Dixon’s former harmonica player).
Mohr is best-known as the leader of longtime Colorado rock band Big Head Todd & the Monsters, but his love of the blues runs deep, and a few years ago he created the Big Head Blues Club to pay those dues forward. An initial Robert Johnson tribute, issued in 2011, led to the new “Way Down Inside,” which features highlights from the long career of Dixon, a Mississippi native who rose to prominence in Chicago and died in 1992 at age 76.
Mohr and his bandmates, bassist Rob Squires and drummer Brian Nevin, provided solid support throughout, and Mohr took a few solo turns, but mostly he stayed back and gave the rightful spotlight to a cast of players who have lived inside the blues for their whole lives. The ties between Mohr and Brooks goes back more than 20 years. The bond with Morganfield and Branch stemmed largely from common associations with Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who died in 2011.
On Tuesday at the Belmont, they gave props to the legacies of Sumlin, Dixon, Waters and others with illuminating stories. Morganfield related how, as a kid, he answered the door one day and found a young Mick Jagger on the other side, asking if Muddy was home.
And even if this show wasn’t at Antone’s, its presence still loomed large: Branch noted that the very first show he ever played with Dixon was at the legendary blues club’s original Sixth and Brazos location.
The show proceeded in classic revue style, with the performers coming and going from the stage as the songs warranted. As poignant as the performances of Morganfield, Branch and Brooks were, guest singer Erica Brown — who also appears on the “Way Down Inside” album — nearly tore the nonexistent roof off the Belmont’s courtyard space when she made a guest appearance.
From the side of the stage, fellow Chicago blues luminaries James Cotton — a harmonica mentor to Branch — and guitarist Carl Weathersby looked on, soaking it all in. Regardless of the venue, it was a great night for the blues in Austin.