Friday, May 20, 2011

Gearing up for possible best Doheny Blues Fest yet

This concert preview was originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site on May 18, 2011. I took the photo of rocker John Fogerty when he first performed at the Doheny Blues Festival in May 2007.

Even longtime attendees of the annual Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point should expect a few surprises from this year’s bash on the beach, scheduled for Saturday, May 21 (11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.) and Sunday, May 22 (11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.).

This year’s high-powered lineup is arguably the most exciting in the 14-year history of the event, thanks in part to the first O.C. gathering of the sprawling Experience Hendrix show, a nearly three-hour salute to the legendary guitarist featuring original Band of Gypsys bassist Billy Cox and an array of six-string progeny: Steve Vai, Jonny Lang, Robert Randolph, Eric Johnson, Ernie Isley, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Living Colour, Mato Nanji of Indigenous and more.

“In their 10 years of spreading the music of Jimi Hendrix, the Experience Hendrix Tour has never played a music festival until Doheny Blues,” boasts Rich Sherman, president of Omega Events, which produces the widely regard weekend of music. “It’s going to be an amazing tribute to the man who many feel was the greatest guitarist of all time, and who certainly has ties to blues music.”

That all-star tribute closes out Saturday, while John Fogerty makes an eagerly-awaited return to the fest to headline on Sunday. Doheny Blues is also the only place to feature the original Blasters — brothers Dave & Phil Alvin, Johnny Bazz, Bill Bateman and Gene Taylor — in concert this year. (Presumably Dave and another player or two won’t be on hand when the rockabilly revivalists open for Tiger Army at Pacific Amphitheatre on July 30.)

Other much-anticipated performers include the original Funky Meters, gospel great Mavis Staples, an homage to Robert Johnson featuring Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Charlie Musselwhite and Cedric Burnside, and the Southern California unveiling of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the newly launched outfit featuring the husband-wife duo of singer-songwriter-guitarist Susan Tedeschi and slide guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks.

That group will perform songs off its forthcoming debut Revelator during a 90-minute set Saturday on the main stage, just before Experience Hendrix.

“It’s really a whole other level,” Tedeschi said of how the ensemble compares to previous bands she and Trucks have played in. “I tell people it’s like being on an Olympic team — everybody is an all-star. There is not one weak link. That goes for the singers, the horn players, the drummers — we have two fabulous drummers.”

With the exception of the Allman Brothers Band and Grateful Dead, very few high-profile bands have utilized two drummers. “I think (our) two really make it unique, (given) their chemistry together and their respect for each other,” Tedeschi said during a brief phone chat, noting how well drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell mesh. “It is going to be exciting because it is different.”

The rest of the 11-member outfit includes brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge and Kofi Burbridge (keyboards and flute, respectively), trumpeter Maurice Brown, tenor saxophonist Kebbi Williams, trombonist Saunders Sermons and harmony singers Mark Rivers and Mike Mattison.

“We pretty much spent last year writing,” Tedeschi explained. “The two of us wrote with different songwriters who would come down to the house (in Jacksonville, Fla.). We started out with the idea that we would have Kofi definitely in the band. We really wanted Oteil, his younger brother, who plays with Derek in the Allman Brothers.

“We (also) really wanted Mike Mattison, who was Derek’s lead singer in his band and he loves to sing back-up, and I was like ‘Are you serious?’ because he is such an amazing lead singer. I actually feel bad, and we incorporate him into more and more live — we get him to do duets and we get him to sing lead on some stuff, just to mix it up. He’s too talented just to let him sing backup all night.”

Just as Mattison has found a new role in the project, so has Tedeschi; though a celebrated lead guitarist, it’s her gospel-drenched vocals that are her biggest contribution to Revelator. Trucks, meanwhile, a new master who can jam like few others, has sharpened his fretwork around songs that range from classic rock and ’70s funk to timeless blues delivered with a modern-day edge.

Tedeschi mentioned that she sang and played guitar with the rest of the band live while tracking in the studio, as co-producers Trucks and Jim Scott took an approach to mostly avoid overdubs. In addition, no Auto-Tuning or special effects were used to enhance Tedeschi’s voice on the 12-song album. “We didn’t even put reverb on my vocals on some of the stuff. A lot of it is super-realistic.”

Revelator doesn’t come out until June 7, but Tedeschi said Saturday’s Dana Point crowd will get to hear some tracks from it, likely “Bound for Glory,” “Midnight in Harlem” and “Learn How to Love,” the latter of which the TTB performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno earlier this week.

Tedeschi is Trucks’ biggest admirer, but was likely speaking for countless devotees when she was asked what it’s like to be performing with him on a full-time basis: “He’s just a force. It’s funny — I think of a lot of people and how they entertain and jump around on stage. Derek doesn’t have to move … he’s so moving.”

Of the festival overall, Sherman said his team worked hard this year to put together something special.

“To the best of our ability, we try to book artists who have never played at Doheny Blues, and mix them in with fan favorites and some cool packages. This year, I think we hit a home run in that department,” he believes, not only in acquiring the Hendrix and Johnson sets but also by satisfying O.C.’s undying love of rockabilly via the inclusion of the Blasters as well as Stray Cats bassist Lee Rocker.
“We had been talking about reuniting the original Blasters for a few years, and frankly the Alvin brothers were never interested in joining up for advertised Blasters shows,” Sherman noted. “But the timing was right this year and we had the budget to bring everyone together (including Gene Taylor from England). “Rockabilly and roots music has a strong following in Orange County, so this is a great year for those fans.”

Rocker picked up the story from there: “Doheny Fest fell in my lap,” said the longtime Laguna Beach resident, who will make his first appearance at the festival. “It’s natural because I’m in Orange County, and rockabilly and blues spring from the same well. Rockabilly is based on blues, with a kick in the ass. It’s definitely a natural fit.”

He plans to catch many of the artists slated to perform over the weekend, including Fogerty, with whom he helped record “All Mama’s Children,” the lead track on Carl Perkins’ final album, 1996’s Go Cat Go! Rocker himself just released The Cover Sessions, a six-song EP featuring reworked material from the ’60s and ’70s that he used to hear on AM radio while growing up in New York. His choices range from the Beatles’ “Come Together” to a boisterous version of Eddie Rabbitt’s “Drivin’ My Life Away.”

But the impetus behind the project was more than just revisiting songs he loved as a child. Over the years he has collected a wide range of folk-based instruments, and on the new EP he gets to showcase ukulele, banjos, autoharp and harmonicas amid these creative covers.

“I’m a studio rat, and over a long period of time I gravitated to those ’70s songs — AM hits. I had a blast doing it — it was something I was doing for myself.”

The 14th annual Doheny Blues Festival at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point (25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive) runs Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Day 1′s lineup includes the Experience Hendrix tribute along with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Lee Rocker, the Funky Meters and more. Day 2′s roster features John Fogerty, a Robert Johnson tribute led by Big Head Todd & the Monsters, the Blasters, Walter Trout, Mavis Staples and others.

Tickets are $50 for single-day general admission, $80 for a two-day passes, $10 per day for children. All prices go up $10 on the day of the show. Call 949-360-7800 or visit the official website for more details.

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