Friday, June 15, 2007

Since I've Been Gone: Doheny, other strong shows

Since I last checked in here, I've been anything but idle. Just a couple of weeks after spending three days in Indio at Coachella, I got to cover the 2-day Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point.

Day one (May 19, 2007) was capped off by an amazing set from Al Green (seen here in one of my favorite pics I shot that night). I had never seen the legendary singer before and it was a joy. Armed with a voice and engaging stage presence that thrill, the singer effortlessly sang many of his biggest hits with a warmth and enthusiasm that played out like he was the new kid on the block. In addition, the artists that performed in the hours leading up to Al Green also turned in fine sets, including a rejuvenated Fabulous Thunderbirds and an act that blew me away, Rhythm Council. Pianist-vocalist Henry Butler, guitarist-vocalist Papa Mali, sousaphone player Kirk Joseph and drummer Robb Kidd somehow fused New Orleans jazz, funk, Delta blues and Southern rock together across Rhythm Council's memorable 38-minute, 3-song set.

Susan Tedeschi is one of the formidable young talents hoping to continue to champion blues in the 21st century. Her powerful soprano and strong rhythm and lead guitar work were used throughout her solid full-length Main Stage set.

I can't say enough good things about the second day of the festival, which was staged on Sunday, May 20. Anyone who thought John Fogerty (pictured playing guitar) was going to close out the 2007 fest with a quick greatest hits set was thankfully mistaken. While many headliners who run the last lap in Dana Point simply plan an hour or so because the natives are restless and want to go home after enduring two full-length days in the outdoors, Fogerty and his five-man band blew the roof off the seaside, ceiling-less Main Stage on Sunday night. It was a thrill to be pressed up against the stage, watching this legend deliver an impressive set of great songs.

Over the course of a 23-song concert that stretched for 97 magical minutes, Fogerty injected the kind of power and memorable music making that will undoubtedly set the bar for future performers at the Doheny Blues Fest. He expertly played rockers (the show opening "Travelin' Band," blistering "Fortunate Son"), country-tinged classics ("Bad Moon Rising," "Down on the Corner") and stirring folk rock (Who'll Stop the Rain," "Deja vu (All Over Again)," "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?), moving around the stage with the enthusiasm to match.

The first wonderful performance to hit fans on Sunday came almost eight hours before Fogerty even took the stage, thanks to a delightful pairing of Kim Wilson (lead singer and harmonica player for the Fabulous Thunderbirds) and his band (including guitar wiz Kirk Eli Fletcher) with legendary harmonica player James Cotton. The audience at the usually intimate Backpoch Stage erupted in applause and a standing ovation when Cotton joined Wilson on stage. Cotton didn't disappoint, playing his instrument with fiery skill and later trading rapid-fire harp licks with Wilson.

Other highlights on Sunday included a great performance from the Blind Boys of Alabama and Steve Copeland & Raging Sun.

More recently, I got the chance to catch Tyrone Wells, James Grey, Micah Dahlberg and several other acoustic performances at a benefit for Bailey Spoonhower, 6, a cancer patient at Children's Hospital of Orange County. The show was held at the Plush Cafe in Fullerton on June 3. You can read more about the performers in my Orange Pop feature column that ran in the Orange County Register today profiling Tyrone Wells.

On June 9, I saw singer-songwriter Michael Ubaldini play a very good acoustic set at Alta Coffee in Newport Beach that included strong originals and a few well-worked covers. His wonderful originals included "Side By Side," "Honeysuckle Dew" and "The Unfaithful Wife."

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