Doheny Blues Festival Day 1 – May 21, 2011

I have to wonder if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that overall the most memorable part of the day for me will be the random conversations that I had and not the music I went to hear?

First off, a close friend was graduating college today, and I decided to delay driving down to the show until after I could have lunch with him and his family.  (Congrats Elliot!)  So, that assured I’d miss the first few acts, Doug MacLeod I’d seen in the past, I wasn’t too familiar Dennis Jones or the 44’s.  I sort of wanted to see Terrance Simien….But, overall nothing was as important as time with friends and family.

So, I reached the festival overflow lot about 2pm….and it was full.  Really guys?  The overflow is full….how long have you been doing this event (14 years)….and every year the overflow lot is packed by mid-day.  Umm, can I suggest you add a second lot?  I circled for a while and finally found a spot some tennis player was vacating.  So, coupled with the parking and shuttle ride time, I finally reached the festival at 3pm.  Ugh.

BB and the Blues Shacks were tearing it up on the second stage as I entered.  They didn’t sound half bad in a traditional sense.  Nothing groundbreaking, no huge wow.  Just a tight competent band  like you can probably find in a random bar in a random city any friday night.  Not a knock on them, just not anything that made me stop and see them.  I pushed on to the main stage to try and find a spot for the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  I wedged my chair in by the trashcans on the edge of the food court and listed to the last of the Blues Shacks through the feed at the main stage PA.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band hit the stage at 3:45 with a trio of songs from their soon to be released Revalator album.  Now a lot of bands might not have the confidence to hit an audience out of the gate with material that’s it’s very likely the majority of the crowd has never heard.  But, this one tight, accomplished and confident band.  “Love has something else to say” is a funky driving piece that showcases Susan’s soulful voice with a nice solo by Derek.  They followed this up with “Bound for Glory”, a current free download on their website (go get it…I’ll wait)….

Okay, now that you have that…the next song up was an extended version of “Midnight in Harlem”….stunning.  (Here’s a recent version off YouTube)

Hearing music like this made by the next generation of musicians give me hope that there’s a new generation that can carry on as the old one fades away.  Their set was worth the price of admission.  Yes, they are that good.

A very “Allman-esce” version of “Anyday”…a great version of “Til You Remember” and a great “Coming Home” highlighted by a trumpet solo propelled the set along.  It’s a pleasure to watch such a tight group of musicians, but Derek reminds me of why I fell in love with the sound of the slide guitar back in the 70’s.  His businesslike demeanor and lack of flashy moves do nothing to detract from some of best and most fluid slide playing you’ll hear from anyone these days.  And his wife, Susan is no slouch on the axe herself.  The last two songs were covers.  “Sing a Simple Song” and “Space Captain”, bridged by a solid drum solo by the bands dual drummers.  Here’s a version of the Sly and the Family Stone song:

And here’s one of Space Captain:

And it was every bit as good today without the guest musicians.  These guys are great and were the highlight of my day.

From there I wandered close to the second stage and listened to a bit of the Funky Meters.  I really somehow expected more.  It sounded good, but having just been floored by Tedeschi Trucks they just didn’t really connect with me as much as I had hoped they would.  World class players, solid material.  Not sure why it wasn’t working for  me.

I headed for the food court before their set ended and grabbed some dinner.  That’s where I had a couple of nice conversations, just chatting about music.  One of the great things about a festival is the ways you tend to connect and chat with random folks.  I put the Funky Meters in my rearview mirror and headed over to the main stage to grab a spot for the Experience Hendrix set.  It promised to be nearly three hours of Hendrix music by an all-star line up.  It was the centerpiece of the day for me.  I squeezed my chair in my a nice couple and we chatted about music.  His daughter sings.  We traded stories and swapped names of bands to check out.  Good fun and it made the time zip by until the Hendrix set started.

It kicked off with Chris Layton, Billy Cox and Mato doing a somewhat ragged version of “Stone Free”….but hey, it’s Billy Cox!  It’s Chris Layton….I wanted to like it more than the reality.  The PA was acting up, the vocals rough and compared to the kick from Tedeschi Trucks a few minutes before, it was weak.

Ernie Isley was up next for a couple songs including “Manic Depression”, followed by Living Color.  The audio was a bit sorted out and I’d never seen Living Color before, so I was pretty please with their two cuts “Power of Soul” and “Crosstown Traffic”:

Eric Johnson came on for “Bold as Love”…but, it started to feel like one of those old package shows from the 50’s….guys would pop on play two songs and pop back off.  In that way, there wasn’t the usual cohesion of a band building, it was more like an iPod on shuffle….Isley, Reid, Johnson are all great players, but they never really had a chance to shine.  The parade continued, Dave Hidalgo, Cesar Rojas, Susan Tedeschi back out to sing “Little Wing”, then all off in favor of Robert Randolph.  These are some of my favorite players in the world.  Folks I’ve seen multiple times….and it just was a blur…and not one where it’s a blur of goodness.  A check my watch, check the next name off the list blur.

It sounds darn fine in that video.  So, it may have been the crowd, the weather…heck, who knows.  It just wasn’t as epic as I’d hoped it would be.

Brad Whitford and Jonny Lang came out and did “The Wind Cries Mary” and a nice version of “All Along the Watchtower”

By the time Steve Vai hit the stage I’d begun to plot my early escape to grab a shuttle bus ahead of the long lines.  Listened to this on the way out:

Frankly, he may be a good player, but Steve Vai has never worked for me.  His flashy moves are the complete opposite of the cool professionalism of someone like Derek Trucks.  I know it’s style thing, but his style just doesn’t work for me…sorry Steve.

I guess 2.5 hours of Hendrix covers is pretty much the same as 3 hours….it’s all covers, some of them darn good.  But, in a way, I’d rather pull out Are you Experienced? or Electric Ladyland and just listen to the real deal.

So, that’s day one of this two day event.  Not a disaster, just not as amazing as I’d hoped.  Four bands…one hit, one semi-miss and a couple in the middle.  It’ll be interesting to see how tomorrow stacks up.

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