Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Doheny Blues Festival offers two full days of memorable performances in Dana Point

Tedeschi Trucks rocks the Doheny Stage. Photo: Bob Steshetz
My coverage of Doheny Blues Festival 16 was originally published in The Orange County Register on May 19 and 20, 2013.

Here is my review that was published on May 19, 2013:

Doheny Blues Fest shimmers on Day 1

May 19th, 2013, 10:44 am ·

The teaming of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite caps off a perfect first half.


Day 1 at Doheny Blues Festival was one of the most perfect in the 16-year history of the event with sunny skies stretching from morning to nightfall and a shining musical lineup to match. The long day's headlining act, a teaming one-two punch from Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, lived up to its top billing. The duo's 2013 release Get Up! is that rare disc where everything is as it should be – meaning the songs, performances and integrated styles of the artists gel completely.
That chemistry proved itself to be just as persuasive on a beautiful night in Dana Point, with singer-harmonica legend Musselwhite and singer-songwriter-guitarist Harper and his solid three-man backing group tore up the Doheny Stage for just over 100 minutes before a near-capacity crowd.
Opening with "I Don't Believe a Word You Say," a fiery blues tune that has Harper's blistering vocals and Musselwhite's equally potent blues harp work exchanging blows, the set never let up. Even when performing quiet material ("Don't Look Twice," "Get Up!") there were so many dynamics courtesy of Harper's slide work, Musselwhite's harp blasts and the band's groove that the intensity never wavered.
The performance reached its zenith near the end of the rewarding set when the ensemble ripped through an extended cover of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" boasting loads of Musselwhite's harmonica attack amidst the fire of Harper's slide.
James Hunter. Photo: Bob Steshetz
Saturday's lineup was truly an exhibition of the wide range of artists whose sounds are inspired or rooted in blues music. The James Hunter Six, led by British singer-songwriter-guitar master Hunter, definitely got a huge crowd positioned in front of the Sailor Jerry Stage dancing and grooving to its blend of blues, R&B and soul. Playing cuts off the newly released "Minute By Minute" ("The Gypsy" definitely hit home), he also explored his back catalog. On an uptempo take on "Jacqueline," Hunter showed off his guitar playing when he did some smart licks in tandem with his two sax players.
One of the toughest choices for concertgoers was deciding whether to see Tedeschi Trucks Band on the main Doheny Stage or Mark Hummel's Blues Harp Blowout on the intimate Backporch, since both sets overlapped. This writer opted to take in the first four songs of Tedeschi Trucks before running to catch the harmonica-centric tribute to Little Walter.
Guitarist Derek Trucks solos. Photo: Bob Steshetz
As evidenced when husband Derek Trucks and wife Susan Tedeschi last performed at Doheny Beach in 2011, the 11-member troupe is a powerful force that has a full arsenal thanks to Tedeschi's mighty soprano, Trucks' power on the slide guitar and a mix of backing singers and other players that got their collective moments to shine, too. Of the songs I caught, "It's So Heavy" impressed as a blues-drenched ballad showcasing Tedeschi's range and the nuanced performance by the large ensemble around her.
Another promising performance yielded big returns with a well-timed tribute to Little Walter. With the recent release of "Remembering Little Walter," the majority of the collection's players joined forces to pay tribute to the late harmonica giant before a crowd that cheered, often danced and genuinely seemed ignited by the power of many of today's best blues harmonica players.
While Musselwhite watched from the wings, Hummel, Billy Boy Arnold and Sugar Ray Norcia performed their versions of many of Little Walter's best-known tunes. Little Charlie Baty inflicted some skilled guitar playing throughout the long set as well. Highlights came via Hummel's gentle take on the extended instrumental "Blue Light," Sugar Ray Norcia's blazing "Mean Old World" and Arnold's original song "Wandering Eye."
Of the day's first seven performances, Harry Manx (joined by fellow Canadian Steve Marriner of the group MonkeyJunk) was the most impressive. His blend of blues, folk and world music was a welcome expansion on the wide-ranging spirit of day one. His "Coat of Mail" was among a number of outstanding original songs that connected.

Photo: Bob Steshetz

The other standout was singer-guitar virtuoso Joanne Shaw Taylor (pictured on the left). A British blues guitarist whose hard-hitting and dazzling chops recalled those unleashed by a young Joe Bonamassa or Walter Trout, she will likely be a future returnee to the fest based on the enthusiastic reception from the Doheny crowd packed in front of the Sailor Jerry Stage.
Bring on day 2.

Here is my review that was published on May 20, 2013:

Doheny Blues Fest among strongest ever

May 20th, 2013, 11:34 am ·

The diverse lineup included guitar virtuosos Joe Bonamassa and Robert Randolph, closing with a rocking set by George Thorogood.


Doheny Blues Fest 16 ranks as one of the greatest in the history of the annual event, with the range and power of so many of the performances drawing comparisons with the 2007 fest when Al Green and John Fogerty were the headliners.
But in terms of diversity, 2013's blues fest even had that year's running beat.
Guitar Shorty in action. Photo: Robert Kinsler
After a strong Saturday (May 18, 2013) capped by a performance from Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Sunday offered two great options at 11:30 a.m. I opted to catch Guitar Shorty on the Backporch first, where a huge crowd was on hand for the so-called "Hangover Set." The 73-year-old singer-guitarist pioneered a blistering style that influenced a number of guitarists in the 1950s and '60s, most notably Jimi Hendrix.
As evidenced by the first half of his set, the Houston, native still has the ability to thrill. Using speedy runs as well as the various knobs and the whammy bar on his instrument he created all kinds of sound and effects in the support of solid vocal performance on an ambitious 15-minute version of "Too Late." He offered up many of his guitar theatrics while venturing out into the crowd.
I then ran over to the main Doheny Stage in time to catch 15 minutes of Gino Matteo and his five-member band. A strong singer and guitarist, he impressed with his blend of roots and blues styles.
Cindy Cashdollar. Photo: Robert Kinsler
Other Sunday highlights also featured guitar greats showcasing their talents on the fest's three stages. First came the Louisiana-tinged "Toast of the Coast" set featured slide guitar great Sonny Landreth joining forces with steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, singer-pianist Marcia Ball and Zydeco hero Terrance Simien for 75 glorious minutes. Memorable turns included the beautiful instrumental "Salvation" with Ball and Cashdollar shining, and "Hell At Home" with Landreth and Cashdollar showing off licks while Simien kept time on his frottoir (a Cajun washboard).
Shemekia Copeland, a blues singer with a thundering soprano, delighted a big crowd gathered in front of the Sailor Jerry Stage. A highlight was the forceful ballad "Ain't Gonna Be Your Tattoo," on which the mix of power and nuanced delivery showed her artistry.
The first of Sunday's best two performances came courtesy of singer-guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa dazzling untold thousands with his set on the Doheny Stage. Over the past six years, since I first caught the Malibu-based guitarist in concert, his abilities continue to impress. His dexterity, ability of play with incredible speed while articulating each note and putting those runs together in artistically-rewarding ways is unique.
On the opener "Slow Train," which boasted a heavy groove, and subsequent "Dust Bowl," Bonamassa was fully in control of his instrument while his solid backing trio provided the perfect groove for his dynamic forays. "Midnight Blues" was distinctive for his strong vocal performance, where he sprinkled short guitar fills and runs that amazed.
The other outstanding performance of the day was the return of guitarist David "Kid" Ramos to the stage, where he joined singer-songwriter Janiva Magness for part of her set on the Backporch.
Anaheim-based Ramos, who has been fighting a well-publicized battle with cancer for more than a year, was introduced about mid-way through Magness' set and received an immediate standing ovation from the crowd.
"Thank you so much; I'm so happy to be here," Ramos said. "I just started chemo two days ago."
Ramos likely drew strength from the big welcome, and fully proved that his mighty talents on the guitar remain as strong as ever. Magness, a powerful singer whose style effortlessly blends soul and blues, has an approach that was perfect for Ramos' stellar lead guitar work to be featured over the course of just over 20 minutes.
Next came Robert Randolph & the Family Band, a group that immediately got the blues faithful moving with Randolph's amazing runs on his pedal steel guitar. With temps finally cooling, many got to their feet in the grassy area in front of the Sailor Jerry Stage and danced to Randolph's mix of blues, rock, soul and gospel.
It is fitting that the long weekend closed out on a festive note. Those coming for the party could raise a drink (or their fists) and sing along with George Thorogood & the Destroyers throughout the quintet's 90-minute set. There was little depth in the group's rock 'n' blues attack, just an invitation to live for the moment courtesy of "Who Do You Love?," "I Drink Alone," "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" and "Move It On Over."
Thorogood was a gracious host and rocked the beach armed with his electric guitar and distinctive slide guitar. His set came to an end with a rollicking "Madison Blues," with Thorogood soloing while videos of him in the early days of his career flashed on big screens.

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