Friday, May 27, 2016

Concert review: Doheny Blues Festival 2016 Roundup

Singer-guitarist Roy Rogers, left, with fiddler Carlos
Reyes at Doheny Blues Festival. Photo: Robert Kinsler
Editor's Note: This is an expanded version combining my two reviews that ran earlier this week in The Orange County Register.  A special thank you to photographer Bob Steshetz for letting me use a number of his wonderful photos with my review.

Doheny Blues Festival
When: May 21-22, 2016
Where: Doheny State Beach, Dana Point, CA

Review by Robert Kinsler

Day 1, Saturday, May 21, 2016

Day 1 of Doheny Blues Festival 2016 featured a number of wide-ranging artists appearing on three stages and elsewhere. Noteworthy performances stretched from a breakfast set staged outside the Dana Point venue courtesy of Steve Copeland & Raging Sun to headliners Lynyrd Skynyrd. 

Johnny Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
In recent years Lynyrd Skynyrd has performed at a number of high profile spots including Stagecoach in May 2014, at Pacific Amphitheatre in August 2014 and at the NAMM Show in Anaheim last year. And while guitarist Gary Rossington remains the only original member of the groundbreaking Southern rock outfit (a majority of the members were killed in an October 1977 plane crash), the band's well-chronicled tale of survival and an enduring collection of FM radio favorites is celebrated at each show. 

The band (fronted by singer Johnny Van Zant, younger brother of original lead singer Ronnie Van Zant) finally made its first-ever appearance at the Doheny Blues Festival on Saturday, delivering a rousing and memorable 90-minute show that blended classics ("Free Bird," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Simple Man"), a sweet tribute to the late Merle Haggard (a spirited version of the Hag's "Honky Tonk Night Time Man") and more obscure material ("Cry For the Bad Man," "Whiskey Rock-A-Roller"). 
James Hunter at Doheny Blues Fest.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

The single best set of day 1 may well have belonged to the James Hunter Six, who blasted through more than an hour of exciting, dynamic and fun songs that blended rock 'n' soul, R&B and blues. From the opening notes of their first song, the uptempo "She's Got a Way" to the two dozen or so songs that followed, Hunter and his five talented band mates personified how much fun a great concert can be in the hands of masters. Highlights came fast and furious, from the title track of Hunter's latest album ("Hold On!") to the spirited "The Gypsy" (where Hunter unleashed some amazing guitar work to finish out the track) and beautiful ballad "Something's Calling," this set was a complete triumph for the soulful Hunter.

No artist traveled further to get to Dana Point that Finland-based songstress Ina Forsman with the Helge Tallqvist Band. Forsman, who noted this was her first time in California, made the most of the trek to showcase a mix of her emotive originals and beloved material from both Etta James and Amy Winehouse. Highlights included her own reggae-meets-blues nugget "Farewell" and the potent ballad "Don't Hurt Me Now," the latter showcasing Forsman's incredible soprano. Harmonica master Helge Tallqvist impressed throughout their set.

Making a well-deserved return to the concert stage were the Rockin' Rebels, a loose and fun-styled rockabilly quartet that delighted discerning listeners on the Backporch stage. The area quartet is set to release a new CD on Rip Cat Records this summer.

The first artist to appear on the Backporch via an early Saturday turn, singer-songwriter John Long performs authentic original songs that sound as if they were being written and performed in the early 20th century. His first song, the Delta blues-styled "Pressure Cooker ('Bout to Blow)" and the infectious slide guitar-anchored "Baby Please Set a Date," the latter the wonderful lead-off track off Long's 2016 return Stand Your Ground (his first studio album since 2006's Lost & Found). Guest Al Blake blew some great blues harmonica during "Baby Please Set a Date." During much of the set, Long was joined by Fred Kaplan (piano), Bill Stuve (upright bass) and Washington Rucker (drums).

Kicking off the day was an appearance of Steve Copeland & Raging Sun. The talented Copeland (guitar, vocals), was joined by lead guitarist-vocalist Terry "The Count" Medeiros and harmonica virtuoso River Blue for an acoustic set that displayed the power of one of the ensemble's full-band outings. While a medley featuring Rolling Stones, Steve Miller and Creedence Clearwater Revival classics was fun, an artistically-reworked version of Kris Kristofferson's "Me & Bobby McGee" was amazing. …Robert Kinsler

The Walter Trout Band remains a force of nature.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
Day 2, Sunday, May 22, 2016

Two things marked the 2016 entry of Doheny Blues Festival: amazing weather and great guitar playing. That was especially true on Sunday, with Roy Rogers, Walter Trout, Tommy Castro, Tommy Harkenrider (guesting with England's Si Cranston and his Soul Revue) and Brian Setzer displaying some flat-out amazing guitar work. 

Concertgoers certainly didn't have to wait long to take in amazing music making on Sunday. Widely considered one of the greatest slide guitarists ever, Roy Rogers' performance on the Backporch stage offered the chance to see the legendary artist in an intimate performance that offered a chance to see the artist as he put his virtuoso guitar talents in the service of a wide range of material with his trusted Delta Rhythm Kings and guest fiddler/Paraguayan harp player Carlos Reyes.

Songs from Rogers' latest album, 2015's Into the Wild Blue, provided fuel for part of the 70-minute set, including the blues rocker "She's a Real Jaguar" and the Keb' Mo'-styled "Don't Let Them Win." Among the selections perfectly suited for Rogers and Reyes to shine while playing in tandem was an uptempo take on Willie Dixon's "Built for Comfort."

Walter Trout's appearance at the blues fest was his first since undergoing a liver transplant in May 2014, and the Huntington Beach singer-songwriter-guitarist made the most of his set by featuring songs from his latest album Battle Scars, which documents his brush with death and miraculous recovery. "Almost Gone," "Haunted By the Night" and acoustic-flavored "Please Take Me Home" were powerfully rendered and captured the depth of the songs during the performance. Trout also brought up his sons Jon (on guitar) and Dylan (on drums) to play a few tracks too. Trout's winning vocals and flat-out impressive guitar chops are as strong as ever, and the crowd cheered his return to Dana Point.

The Record Company rocking the Backporch.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
The Record Company is clearly one of the better young bands that have tapped into hard rocking blues elements of the 1970s and found a way to work those influences into something new that connects and excites modern-day audiences. At the trio's incredible performance on Sunday afternoon, the Record Company attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd with its sure-fire and infectious sound. "We are the Record Company," said singer-guitarist/harmonica blaster Chris Vos when he took the Backporch stage with band mates Alex Stiff (bass) and Marc Cazoria (drums). "We play rock 'n' roll."

Indeed, the Los Angeles-based threesome tore through a set of original rock, many of the songs from the group's 2016 debut Give It Back To You. The amped-up opening shot "On the Move," nuanced country-flavored "Hard Day Coming Down" and blues-drenched "Rita Mae Young" were among the many great songs performed by the exciting outfit.

Closing out the action on the Sailor Jerry Stage were long-time favorites Tommy Castro & the Painkillers. Like Trout, Castro is as talented as a singer-songwriter as a guitarist, so his 75-minute set worked on a number of levels. Early, he honored his hero B.B. King with an inspired Chicago blues take on "Bad Luck," the arrangement showcasing Castro's skilled lead guitar work. Castro also brought soul into his blues mix via the infectious "I'm Qualified" and tore up the place with his anthem-styled blues rocker "Can't Keep A Good Man Down."

Brian Setzer at Doheny Blues Fest.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
The festival's final act was a great one. Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot offered up a dream set of Stray Cats gems (a scorching "Rumble in Brighton," extended "Runaway Boys" with some great guitar work, the crowd-pleasing "Stray Cat Strut"), as well as great material off his 2014 Rockabilly Riot! album; the song "Vinyl Records" featured some of Setzer's greatest vocals of the set. Everywhere his lead guitar work impressed, including on some great covers (Carl Perkins' "Put Your Clothes On," Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and more). 

Make sure to read writer George A. Paul's comprehensive report of the Doheny Blues Fest. We both covered the two-day festival for The Orange County Register, and he was able to cover several of the acts I missed. You can access his day 1 report here. His day 2 report is here.

A special collective "thank you" to the talented staff at 100.3 FM (better known as "The Sound") who spent some time with the Register's writing crew and shared musical stories. I got to meet Mimi Chen, Cynthia Fox and Uncle Joe Benson after listening to all of them for many years on the Southern California "airwaves." It was very cool and they are truly passionate about music - and great people too.
From left, writer George A. Paul, 100.3 FM radio host Mimi
Chen and Robert Kinsler. Photo: Bob Steshetz

Review by Robert Kinsler 

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