Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Doheny Blues Festival 2015 concert review

photo by Robert Kinsler
When the 18th edition of the Doheny Blues Festival began on Saturday, many people were compelled to pay tribute to the late B.B. King - who had performed at the Dana Point event three times in the past – in various ways. 

Some wore the legendary bluesman’s t-shirts, bought his CDs from an on site music vendor and rushed to sign walls in King's honor.

Candye Kane’s standup bassist Bobby Abarca (seen below) taped up the back of his instrument to read “R.I.P.” Eric Lindell, performing on the Backporch stage, did a cover of “Rock Me Baby,” the old blues standard that King had a top 40 hit with in 1964. Other musicians on the bill dedicated their set to him.

Light rain threatened to put a damper on the festival, but the wet weather didn’t last long. By afternoon, the festival area at Doheny State Beach was packed. As long lines snaked outside the entrance before opening, Ben Powell did a pleasant breakfast set to keep the throngs in line entertained.

Held at the gorgeous Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, Calif., it began in 1997 and has gained a reputation as one of the region’s (if not the nation’s) most prominent showcases for blues, classic rock and beyond. King, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Little Richard, John Fogerty, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Brian Setzer have all appeared there over the years.

Having never attended Doheny before, I was impressed by how smoothly everything went. All the acts that I witnessed played exactly or close to their scheduled times. Bonnie Raitt even started early. The sound was great everywhere. Many festivalgoers spread out folding chairs and blankets early to get a good vantage point. In between the music, they could browse a dozen or so vendor booths, partake in Microbrew tastings or visit the wine lounge.

A majority of the 11 acts on three stages had blues elements in their back catalogs (with the exception of The Mavericks, who still prompted a dancing frenzy) and the median age skewed older. Indeed, as I waited for Shari Puorto Band to kick off the Backporch festivities, one guy asked apropos of nothing, “Is anyone here under 30?”

Puorto, based in Hermosa Beach, got her slot as the result of a contest. Clad in a black lace outfit and heels, the feisty singer opened with “Pack Your Bags” from last studio album Real and recalled Janis Joplin at times. She had attitude aplenty. That was especially true during the boogie of “Outta My Mind,” where Puorto walked on the picnic benches that jutted from the stage. “Six Months Sober,” off forthcoming effort “My Obsession,” boasted more of a rock edge. 

photo by Robert Kinsler
Candye Kane was first up on the main Doheny Stage. Sporting gold lame clothing, fishnet stockings and feathers in her hair, the SoCal native’s solid mix of rockabilly, blues and surf music was a sheer delight. Impressive guitarist Laura Chavez had ample room to shine, particularly amid the humorous “I’m the Reason Why You Drink” and “I Put a Hex on You.”

Turning serious, Kane – who has battled serious health issues – talked about using all your power on reserve before the inspiring “Superhero” (key lyric: “I’ve always been a fighter”). She also gave props to her record company chief who recently passed away.

Eric Lindell’s breezy blend of R&B, blues and rock proved to be perfect for a mid-afternoon slot. The California-born, New Orleans-based singer/guitarist just released The Sun and the Sea EP last week and did several songs from it.

All sounded sharp bolstered by tasteful electric guitarist from Anson Funderburgh, especially the title track’s laid back groove, “Wrong Too Long” and “Milk and Honey.” Lindell had no trouble getting an enthusiastic response. Other highlights included “I Lost You” and a set-ending twofer, where North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson guested on wicked slide guitar.

Five minutes later, Dickinson was back on the adjacent Sailor Jerry stage with his own acclaimed group, whose fiery pure blues set was a wonder to behold. Dickinson gave quick musical nods to several bluesmen (including King) and his fingers constantly flew over the fretboard. At one point, he exclaimed, “This little guitar is taking the abuse today!”

The three guys even did vocal and instrument tradeoffs. Drummer Cody arrived front and center onstage for a little electric washboard action. Later, he engaged in some call and response action with the crowd and his bandmates on the spastic “Granny, Does Your Dog Bite.” They formed a drumline, went out into the crowd and returned to the stage. Luther banged so hard on his drum that the stick was bent. Standouts included “Sitting On Top of the World” and “You’ve Got to Move.”

photo by David Bro
Los Lobos eschewed most of their best known tracks and fittingly did several bluesy ones, plus several songs in Spanish (concert staple “Volver, Volver”). They overcame some initial sound problems and annoying distractions from an inflated ball that kept landing onstage.

Still, there were enough familiar numbers (the always intriguing accordion-accented “Kiko,” a jaunty “Don’t Worry Baby,” led by Steve Berlin’s sax, covers of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and Grateful Dead’s “Bertha”) to satisfy casual listeners.

Right before The Mavericks took the Sailor Jerry stage, someone asked me if the band was rock or blues. I said they were neither. At Doheny, the quartet (expanded to an eight-piece concert lineup with horn section, accordionist and James Intveld on standup bass) did a thoroughly enjoyable performance encompassing Americana, Tex-Mex, old school rock ‘n’ roll and beyond.

photo by David Bro
Providing a total party atmosphere right around sunset, leader Raul Malo and company had people dancing up a storm. 

They surely won over many converts too. Mostly concentrating on great new album Mono and its equally fine predecessor In Time, Malo was in top vocal form.

Animated keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden shuffled around while playing and did his own little dance, coming across like Flea meets Pee Wee Herman.

Among the multiple highlights: a sway worthy “Back in Your Arms Again,” “Dance in the Moonlight,” “As Long As There’s Loving Tonight” and festive closer “All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down.” The rarely played cover of Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” spotlighted the heavenly pipes of Malo, who noted they just had to play it in this setting.

Headliner Paul Rodgers closed the first day of music on the Doheny Stage with an impressive run through 40+ years of rock radio staples. There were also a couple selections from last year’s album tribute to Memphis R&B, The Royal Sessions, thrown in for good measure.

Personally, I would have liked to see more of those cuts aired live here, considering the setting. But the logistics of bringing in a horn section and backing vocalists probably wasn't worth it. Yet Boz Scaggs and The Mavericks made large ensembles work at Doheny though.

photo by Bob Steshetz
Backed by a three piece band (featuring ex-Heart guitarist Howard Leese), Rodgers, 65, sang with a soulful grit that was strong as ever.

A consummate professional, the veteran rocker howled from behind the stage and coolly strolled to the front to start “Louisiana Blues.” Then came the first of several of his trademark microphone stand twirls. 

Early in the 90-minute set, he did an appropriate “Live for the Music.”

More lean 'n' mean Bad Company, Free and The Firm classics aired live: “Running with the Pack,” an ominous “The Sky is Burning,” rocking “All Right Now” and the sing-alongs “Shooting Star” and “Can’t Get Enough.” But the stellar show could easily be summed up by another selection: “Satisfaction Guaranteed.”

Bonnie Raitt closed the Doheny Blues Festival festivities on Sunday night with an outstanding 95-minute set.

The veteran singer/guitarist gave props to songwriters, paid tribute to the late B.B. King, reminisced about past tours and growing up in Southern California. She was definitely among the most enthusiastic musicians at the annual event. 

Raitt was obviously happy to be return again after seven years away from the festival. “Boz Scaggs, I love you,” she exclaimed, about her predecessor on the main stage. Although the pair does a duet on “Hell to Pay,” from Scaggs' new album A Fool to Care, a rumored onstage collaboration sadly never materialized.

photo by Bob Steshetz
The 16-song performance opened with three tracks off Raitt’s solid, Grammy-winning 2012 album Slipstream. She immediately got down to business with some tasty bottleneck slide guitar work. Before a laid back, reggae take on Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line,” Raitt urged people to check out catalog material by the musician, who died in 2011.

As usual, Raitt had ace accompaniment from longtime sidemen George Marinelli, Hutch Hutchinson, Ricky Fataar and Mike Finnegan. Seated on a stool with acoustic guitar, she talked about her hero Sippie Wallace (“there’s not enough good people to go around”) before doing the blues singer’s advice tale “Women Be Wise” (Raitt tackled it on her eponymous 1971 debut LP).

Fans really got riled up during a strong version of her hit “Something to Talk About,” a truly funky “Love Sneaking Up on You” and signature cover of John Prine’s “Angel of Montgomery.” Raitt returned to acoustic guitar for the latter; it began acapella and Raitt turned in an emotional delivery.

Finnegan, a noted session keyboardist since the late ‘60s and sometime member of Taj Mahal’s Phantom Blues Band, got a lead vocal spotlight during a tribute to King (“I’ve Got News for You”), where he relayed a nice story about recording with the blues legend.

Another standout came during the encore section, when the artist was seated for a tender “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” the band played softly and the crowd was surprisingly quiet – surely in awe of the aching delivery. Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” featured prominent backing vocals from Hutchinson.

Early in Boz Scaggs’ smooth, laid back Sunday set, he said, “We’re going to move all around the music map, playing things you might know from radio or your old eight tracks,” which many older festivalgoers could sure relate to.

photo by Bob Steshetz
Supported by a six-piece band, the veteran blue-eyed soulster kicked everything off with “Runnin’ Blue,” from the 1971 self-titled LP.

Monet Owens added supple backing vocal support during selected songs, most notably Willie DeVille’s “Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl” (among the best tracks off 2013’s Memphis album and Doheny set highlight) and the mellifluous “Miss Sun” (where the lady and her boss engaged in sultry to and fro tradeoffs).

“I’m a Fool to Care” was short and sweet, driven by sax and barrelhouse piano work. Scaggs’ mega-successful 1976 LP Silk Degrees was well-represented.

The set featured solid live renditions of “Georgia” (directly followed by Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” as Scaggs sang in a gravelly lower register), the instantly recognizable hits “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” plus “What Can I Say?”

Lest anyone forget that Scaggs could play the blues and still amaze on guitar, he gave a fine example amid the intense, epic encore closer “Loan Me a Dime,” originally recorded in 1969 with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. 

All told, Doheny Blues Festival lived up to the hype and I look forward to returning in the future.

My review of Day 1 originally ran at in a shorter form. Special thanks to Bob Steshetz and Omega Events. For another view of the festival, go to

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