I just knew it… I arrived at the Court Street Grill an hour and a half early, and every parking space on Court Street and around four corners was taken. No complaints, mind you; any stroll through Pomeroy-upon-Ohio is pleasant, and it was really a short jaunt to the juke joint. But it was certainly a sign of a large number of people who had come early for the perfect perch and whose laughter–ridden, tangled conversations grew louder and more concentrated with each step closer to the Grill. It was also a sign that the good word had spread up and down the river that The Rev had once again booked the atomic and always affable Mr. Albert “The Kid” Castiglia (“It’s Ka-STEEL-Ya Dammit!!”).
With “The Kid” came Mr. Matt Schuler on bass. Matt seemed to take great delight in keeping pace with Albert’s endless energy, all the while adding his own tight two cents here and there. And synchronizing the skins on a super-sounding, beautifully handmade Larry Wright Signature Drum kit was Mr. Bob Amsel, who also had something to say and was not about to be a mere closer-than-it-sounds image in the side view musical mirror. Together, with Albert’s undaunted digital dexterity piped through an Ohlinger amp leading the way, these three musicians could leave you hanging in a slow spatial free-fall to the next note or rapidly fill up the space to a point where you would swear there were six of them cooking and about to boil over.
By the time the band played the fourth song of the evening, Albert’s “Living the Dream,” the title track off his soon to be released CD, people were dancing on benches, beside tables, at the summit of the spiral staircase – anywhere there was room to shake it. Albert’s fine vocals and stunning slide work on “Bad Year Blues,” awarded Song of the Year by the Illinois Blues Blast Awards, received repeated air toasts from a sea of heads bobbing in unison. With facial expressions to match the intensity of each note he played, Albert wound his way around fast tunes, such as Paul Butterfield’s “Lovin’ Cup,” from Elektra’s 1966 compilation album, What’s Shakin’, in a blur of fiery fingers. I was especially pleased to hear one of my favorites, “Loan Me a Dime,” performed a la Fenton Robinson. Following a warm dedication to the late Michael “Iron Man” Burks, with whom Albert had recently played, the band performed the classic “House of the Rising
Sun.” Most people were familiar with Albert’s version, and after just a few notes the applause and comments began. “This is the best version of this song I’ve ever heard,” crawlinkingsnake previewed, pointing to the stage. Pushing his Fedora back on his head, he smiled and continued, “Ya just can’t put a price on pleasure.” Grill regular Mr. Greg Eaton chimed in. “The Animals would hang their heads,” he said as he hung his own. He straightened up and, tapping his index finger on the bar for emphasis, pronounced, “I would drive here every day from Parkersburg to hear this version of that song.”
Behind Greg’s seeming exaggeration, there are two underlying truths: There’s no way to exaggerate the musical force that is Albert Castiglia, and there’s no way that the love and respect for Albert from his family of fans can be overstated. Ms. Chili, fellow writer, friend of the Grill, and fan of Albert, was there with her young son and daughter-in-law, Justin and Michelle Lee. They had come up from Washington DC to visit Mom, and being first-timers to The Right Reverend’s righteous establishment, I was interested in their impression of the evening. Michelle was quick to comment. “I really like this. It seems like everyone is here to support the blues. There’s a strong sense of community here. You feel more of a connection to the band and the music than you do in a large hall.” Justin agreed and added, “This bar that my mom hangs out in is way cooler than bars I go to in DC.”
I just knew it…