Thursday, May 20, 2010

13th Annual Doheny Blues Fest is coming!

Jackie Greene Photo credit: Jay Blakesburg

Here is a reposting of my full-length feature published on the Orange County Register Soundcheck blog on May 18, 2010. I hope to see many of you at the festival this weekend!

New faces, old friends slated to perform this weekend at 13th annual Doheny Blues Festival

For those who might be on the fence, still determining whether it would be better to attend the annual Doheny Blues Festival on Saturday or Sunday this weekend, there’s an easy answer:

Go both days.

With such a wide-ranging lineup of legendary veterans, blues-fest favorites and powerful, genre-defying up-and-comers scheduled to play across three stages, the fact that the O.C.-based concert promoter staging the event hasn’t raised ticket prices enables die-hards and lookie-loos alike to take in the whole relaxed shebang next weekend just off the sand at Doheny State Beach.

That said, act fast: VIP and Gold tickets for both days are already gone, “the earliest sell out in our 13-year history,” reports Rich Sherman, president of Omega Events.

This year’s star-packed lineup pretty much guarantees that both days will attract record crowds. The Black Crowes headline Saturday, topping a bill that includes Taj Mahal, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and touted newcomers Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, while the decidedly un-blues Hall of Fame group Crosby, Stills & Nash will close out the proceedings Sunday evening, after performances from soul legends Booker T. and Bettye LaVette as well as blues greats Robert Cray, Otis Taylor and Duke Robillard.

Neither the Crowes nor CS&N has ever appeared at Doheny Blues. “Both were on our radar for years,” Sherman explained, “but each had a significant end to 2009, which is the timeframe when we begin sending offers.”

The Crowes, riding high off last year’s critically lauded double-album Before the Frost … Under the Freeze, recorded at Levon Helm’s barn studio in upstate New York, are arguably the weekend’s chief attraction, heightened by the recent announcement that the band will go on indefinite hiatus at the end of the year, following a December show at the Hollywood Palladium.

“The Crowes released one of their finest albums in years,” Sherman believes, “and they are definitely as vital a blues-rock outfit as any in the U.S.” As for CS&N’s inclusion: “In October, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th anniversary concerts, (they) stood out as a pillar of American music … a band that was as important to the growth of the California music scene as any.”


Yet, beyond standard offerings that keep concert-goers coming back year after year — the laid-back atmosphere, tasty food choices and unusually scenic location — there are smaller though no less significant reasons to check out both days of Doheny Blues this year.

For starters, San Francisco-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jackie Greene — one of the sharpest new figures on the Americana scene — will perform with his band on Saturday, then return to play an early-afternoon acoustic set on the Backporch stage on Sunday.

Greene is accustomed to performing for huge crowds as a sideman with the Dead and bassist Phil Lesh, yet his own work finds him filling intimate clubs. “It was my goal to present both sides of Jackie’s music,” Sherman says, “so our offer was firm — it’s two sets of music or none.”

Greene will likely spotlight material from his outstanding 2008 disc, Giving Up the Ghost, as well as his wonderful forthcoming disc, Till the Light Comes (due June 29 from 429 Records). Those who have seen the 29-year-old Salinas native as he’s come up through the ranks (notably opening for hotshot guitarist Jonny Lang throughout this past decade) may recall how much his focus had been on acoustic material, especially from his 2002 album Gone Wanderin’. Fans who haven’t seen him since then may be floored by his phenomenal growth as a songwriter and musician.

“It’s funny — if somebody had Gone Wanderin’ and then heard this (new) record, they wouldn’t even think it was the same person,” Greene explained in a recent phone interview while he was putting finishing touches on his latest album at the San Francisco studio Mission Bells.

Now, after spending much of his first decade in music playing as many live shows as possible, Greene’s undeniable talent and work ethic are paying off, leading not only to high-profile slots like his coming Doheny sets but collaborations with many of his musical heroes. Thus far, he has shared the stage with Lesh, Bob Weir’s RatDog ensemble, Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule, as well as former Band drummer and singer Helm.

Given so much work with such jam-leaning friends, it’s not unthinkable that Greene’s Doheny performances will be somewhat stretched-out. “We definitely have more of a psychedelic element where we experiment on stage,” he admits. “We tie songs together, kind of like the Grateful Dead,” though the extent of such out-there forays “depends on our set time. If we only have one hour, we may not get too crazy. It really depends how I’m feeling … I don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what makes it fun for me.”

As does ditching the jams and going for a mellower approach instead — for instance, last year’s acoustic tour that found Greene performing with one of his closest friends, Mother Hips frontman Tim Bluhm, under the moniker Skinny Singers. The guitarist also has a prominent role on Greene’s next disc.

“I had a whole group of songs that I needed some help with to finish,” Greene explains, “so Tim and I took a retreat up the coast and he helped me.” It’s the first time Greene has included co-written songs on one of his albums. “Sometimes you need someone else to help you step back from yourself. You need the perspective of someone you trust to step back from your own work and then give you new perspective on it and inspire you to do different things. That was definitely the case with Tim.”


Here’s one more Bay Area-based reason to head to Dana Point next weekend: John Németh, a rising star known for his triple-threat talents as a soul singer, harmonica virtuoso and songwriter.

Németh first appeared at Doheny Blues in 2007, performing with guitarist Junior Watson on the heels of his debut, Magic Touch. He also shared the stage with Elvin Bishop in 2009, but finally arrives this year as a featured performer, bringing his John Németh Revue to the Renaissance Stage Sunday afternoon in support of Name the Day!, due Tuesday from blues mainstay Blind Pig Records.

Admirers of the giants of traditional R&B — Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke — should definitely arrive early to catch Németh’s set, as he boasted during a recent chat from his Oakland home that he’ll be playing his latest album in its entirety.

“Fortunately, the musicians who like recording with me also tour with me, (so) I have the same most of the time.” That also enables him to cut records down and dirty and in a hurry. “I book a couple of days and knock out 12-13 cuts. Then I take a couple of days to mix it up …I like that. If you spend (too much time) to work on it, maybe you should work on it before you go in.”

But Németh realizes that if it weren’t for events like Doheny Blues, he might languish even longer in relative obscurity. At a time when it’s harder than ever for blues artists to find supportive audiences, Németh says the contributions of Sherman and other champions of the live circuit are inestimable. It’s because of such growing festivals that he’s been introduced to potential fans.

“The only reason I’m around and doing it (is) there are people who want to support the musicians and the music,” he says. “The records I make aren’t commercial tools; they are made to present cool music.” For them to ever get heard, then, “You have to have people who support cool music … like Rich Sherman.”

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