Garrett Wheeler rocks his face off at the Santa Cruz Blues Fest.
By Garrett Wheeler
If Al Green is losing steam in his old age, it wasn't apparent during his set at the 16th annual Santa Cruz Blues Fest last weekend. In fact, the right Reverend appeared as energetic as ever as he cruised through a set chock-full of his classic R&B hits, along with a string of covers from what he called "my era," including songs by the Temptations ("Sugar Pie Honeybunch"), Sam Cooke ("Bring It On Home to Me") and Otis Redding ("Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay"). Green even made the girls blush like it was 1972, handing out roses while crooning gushy soul originals like "Let's Stay Together" and "I'm Still in Love With You." It wasn't until Green exited the stage after his hour-long set that it became clear the soul maestro ain't getting any younger. Fatigued, Green clambered down the stairs, his arm draped around an assistant for support. As the small crowd backstage offered their applause, Green managed a smile and a wave before climbing into a van and being promptly whisked away. Still, you've got to give him credit: Al Green's still got it after all these years--nobody who was at the show will argue with that.
Perhaps Green should give Bonnie Raitt a call for tips on how to slow the aging process. Raitt, who is Green's junior by three years, proved she's running as strong as ever, playing through an energized set of her iconic blues-rock. The nine-time Grammy Award winner was animated on the stage and off, ripping through a few slide-guitar solos with as much gusto as she did during her time on the early-'70s club circuit. To end Saturday's show, Raitt invited Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith back onstage for a blues-jam finale, which was something of a nostalgic tribute linking the past-generations bluesmen to contemporary followers.
Bonnie Raitt wasn't the only blues player in debt to the elder musicians. A few local rockers proved they had studied up on their pentatonic scales as well. A highlight performance by 'Mighty' Mike Schermer kicked off the "Legends of the Blues" portion of Saturday's show. After a couple original tunes, Schermer had the honor of providing backing guitar licks for the Pinetop, Sumlin and Smith--no doubt a helluva thrill for the Santa Cruz guitarist, who regards Sumlin as one of the greatest blues guitarists ever. Also backing up the Legends was the multitalented Dale Ockerman, formerly of the Doobie Brothers. Ockerman's lightning-fast piano runs were a key ingredient to the set, which turned out to be a crowd favorite.. OK, so you missed the Blues Festival because you were visiting your in-laws in Bakersfield and now you're ready to call the divorce lawyer. Just hold on a minute there, Skippy, there's more bluesy goodness coming this way. In case you haven't heard, the "Nuge," a.k.a. "Motor City Madman," a.k.a. Ted Nugent, rocks his way to the Catalyst on June 18. More roots-inclined blues fans should check out Tony Joe White on June 11, and Allman Brothers alum Les Dudek on June 27, both at Moe's Alley. Hot damn, that's some fine upcoming music, ain't it?
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