Thursday, May 27, 2010
Stretching the limits at the Doheny Blues Festival
The following review was originally posted on the Orange County Register/Soundcheck blog on Sunday, May 23, 2010. I took the photo of Jackie Greene on May 22 at the 13th annual Doheny Blues Festival.
Maybe “13″ is lucky after all — seeing as the first half of the 13th annual Doheny Blues Festival played out superbly on a beautiful Saturday (May 22, 2010) in Dana Point filled with sunshine and cool breezes, while a parade of classic acts and rising stars heated things up across the event’s three stages.
Blues may have been the sonic glue holding together this far-flung lineup, but the truth is that many of the artists featured during Day 1 use traditional blues as only one small ingredient in their respective stews. Indeed, the day’s five best sets came from acts not normally associated with the blues.
The Black Crowes have always blended the loose, rootsy rock of Exile on Main St.-era Rolling Stones with Southern rock heroes like the Allman Brothers, and there were plenty of blues-influenced licks in the guitar solos that enhanced their jams. Yet few fans of the band think of it as primarily a blues band. Nevertheless, brothers Chris and Rich Robinson led their troupe, due to go on indefinite hiatus at the end of the year, through an energetic and wide-ranging 90-minute set of old and new stuff.
While the bulk of the crowd went crazy for the group’s hits (“Jealous Again,” “She Talks to Angels”), it was also invigorating to hear the band tear through fare like “Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love),” a nuanced blues-rocker off its terrific double-album from last year, Before the Frost … Until the Freeze.
But as strong as the Crowes were in their full-length performance, I thought several newcomers were equally stirring earlier in the afternoon.
Delivering the last performance of the day on the Renaissance Stage, San Francisco-based Jackie Greene blended rock, blues, alt-country, folk and more in an outstanding 75-minute set that really allowed him to introduce his wealth of talents and range as an artist.
The last time I had seen Greene was at the Doheny Heritage Music Festival in May 2004, where he performed solo and seemed destined to remain only a folkie singer-songwriter. Returning to Dana Point for two sets this weekend (he played again Sunday), Greene has proved that he hasn’t let his gifts go to waste.
Backed by a top-notch trio on Saturday, he primarily touched on material from his 2008 album Giving Up the Ghost plus new gems from the forthcoming Till the Light Comes, due June 29 from 429 Records. Opening with “I Don’t Live in a Dream,” a fantastic original song that has a dreamy, neo-psychedelic quality yet retains folk roots, Greene later performed a short medley of Beatles songs, including a reworked version of “Taxman” with an extended jam at the end.
Also standing out: Big Sam’s Funky Nation, who instantly made it clear they came to party. Booked on the Backporch Stage, which typically hosts acoustic performances, the Louisiana-based quintet launched into a high-octane blend of soul, funk and a bit of blues that soon had young and old attendees on their feet and moving to the music. The highlight of their set was a funked-out take on the Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle” (written by Otis Redding, of course) which is also featured on the Nation’s King of the Party disc.
Earlier on the Backporch Stage, Burbank-based James Intveld mined country and rockabilly of the ’40s and ‘50s without sounding like a knock-off. Highlights included the pretty country-folk of “Cryin’ Over You” and the up-tempo “Something You Can’t Buy.”
Speaking of acts that weren’t strictly blues, Lisa Haley and the Zydekats brought a decidedly Cajun flavor to the Doheny Stage early on. An effective singer and fiddle player, Haley made her set a celebration of Louisiana roots music via material sung in both English and French.
And no assessment of Doheny Day 1 would be complete without mentioning the powerhouse appearance by Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. Mixing James Brown with Otis Redding and then injecting that sound with steroids, Lewis and his band roared through almost two dozen songs in about an hour. At times they seemed like a straight-up soul band, at others they evoked a more proper blues vibe — but no matter the approach, the infectious energy of the group was undeniable.
Of course, the event still featured many well-known blues heroes, too, including a frequent name at Doheny that seldom disappoints: the Fabulous Thunderbirds. As his Texas blues troupe churned up the crowd with upbeat hits (“Tuff Enuff,” “Wrap It Up”), frontman Kim Wilson reminded that he’s still one of the genre’s most skilled harp players.
Other winning and more blues-based performances came courtesy of Brazil’s Igor Prado, who has a mighty baritone voice and guitar skills to match, and Flat Top Tom, who kicked things off at the 11:15 a.m. start.