Friday, May 20, 2016

Doheny Blues Festival hits Dana Point this weekend

Walter Trout performs at 2011 Doheny
Blues Festival. Photo: Bob Steshetz
Doheny Blues Festival
Where: Doheny State Beach, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point
When: Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22, 2016
With: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aaron Neville, the James Hunter Six, Edgar Winter Band and more (May 21); Brian Setzer's Rockabilly Riot!, Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Walter Trout, Tommy Castro and more (May 22)
How much: Gold Weekend passes and VIP tickets are sold out; some single day Gold tickets ($230), single-day general admission ($60) and two-day general admission ($115) tickets were available as of press time
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Launched by Omega Events in 1998, the Doheny Blues Festival has hosted some of the most legendary names in blues, rock 'n' soul, gospel and classic rock, including the likes of B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty, the Black Crowes, Etta James, Mavis Staples, John Lee Hooker and Al Green. 

"When we start the booking process, we always target a headliner that has never performed before at Doheny...and a returning headliner that is a sure fire home run," explained Rich Sherman, president of Orange County-based Omega Events. 

This weekend's festival delivers on that mark, with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Lynyrd Skynyrd set to headline the event on Saturday night, while singer-guitarist Brian Setzer will close things out on Sunday. Among the other returning favorites are Bay Area singer-guitarist Tommy Castro, and Orange County's own Walter Trout.

Walter Trout performing at the
Coach House in July 2015.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
Trout is making his first appearance at the festival since he received a liver transplant in May 2014. 

"They (Omega Events) wanted me there last year, but I wasn't ready. I didn't do a gig until June 2015 (he performed two songs at the Lead Belly Fest at London's Albert Hall).

"I really thought I was going to die," Trout confessed of the challenging months leading up to his successful liver transplant. 

But Trout has been getting stronger with each passing day, and his performances are as strong as ever. On May 5, Trout earned his first-ever Blues Music Awards (for "Rock Blues Album" for 2015's "Battle Scars," and "Best Song of the Year" for the powerful "Gonna Live Again"). His forthcoming album, Alive In Amsterdam, is set for release on June 17 and celebrates his return to the stage.

"It's awesome man - it's awesome to be anywhere," said Trout, a long-time resident of Huntington Beach. "I have a new-found joy, and appreciation for what we do. It's an incredible experience to be up there. I savor every moment. As you know I play a lot of notes; I love and saver every single note."

After Trout performs in Dana Point on May 22, he flies to Canada to perform at the "Jeff Healey: A 50th Celebration" to commemorate the late Jeff Healey. Trout will be joined by Albert Lee, Sonny Landreth and other guitar greats at Massey Hall in Toronto on May 26.

Tommy Castro in concert. Photo: Mitchell Glotzer
Tommy Castro & the Painkillers is another favorite, and will return armed with material featured on his latest album, "Method To My Madness." The Bay Area artist is known for his top-tier guitar playing and strong vocals. While his new album features mostly original material, he does cover B.B. King's 1956 standout "Bad Luck" on the disc.

"B.B. was a little more than one of my influences; he was my main influence," Castro said in a recent interview. When Castro was growing up he gravitated to blues and rock greats ranging from Taj Mahal and Elvin Bishop to Eric Clapton. "I started digging back to see where these guys got it from; B.B. King comes up with everybody."

Castro did a couple of summer tours opening for King, and the two both performed the same day at Doheny in 2009. Like King and Trout, performing blues is in Castro's DNA and he can't imagine not performing.

"I've been at this with our band for 25 years," said Castro, who just purchased a new tour bus last year dubbed "The Doghouse."

"I still enjoy it. I don't have any plans to stop doing it anytime soon."

Sherman is very excited with the line-up of artists performing at the event this year.

"Lynyrd Skynyrd is an American institution, one of the greatest Southern Rock bands ever formed, and they have been riding a wave of renewed popularity the last few years, headlining country music events and touring with the likes of Kid Rock and Bad Company," Sherman said.

Sherman is just as excited by some of the international acts he is bringing to Dana Point, including James Hunter and Si Cranstoun (from from the U.K.). 

"Usually these acts are making noise in their own countries before we start talking to them, like another import act this year Ina Forsman from Finland. What is for sure, though, is that when these acts make their debut in Dana Point, they usually steal the show because the Southern California fans haven't seen them yet. It's a blast to watch," Sherman said.

When asked about the enduring popularity of blues music, and popular events such as the Doheny Blues Festival, Trout noted: "The blues is a gift to the world; a gift this country gave to the world. The blues is the basis of all popular music."

Robert Kinsler

Editor's note: Robert's review originally was published on The Orange County Register Web site on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

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