It has been duly noted that show biz is like flying an airplane. If you have a good take off and landing everything in the middle will often just take care of itself. This didn’t happen on the Main Stage on the second day of this year’s Doheny Blues Festival. The Festival’s producers put on two acts that sadly had much in common. The show opened with a twelve year old and ended with Steve Miller. Before you could say abracadabra, the prestigious main stage at this festival turned into a carnival side show for much of the day. Joe Louis Walker’s hour and ten minute set, that started at 1:15pm, was the lone exception.
Presumably the same people who enjoyed hearing a twelve year old singing about a Sweet Little Angel and how he loved the way she spread her wings, got a kick out of Buddy Guy. Guy’s live shows have devolved into a grotesque burlesque act as he let loose a barrage of “F” Bombs and other expletives at the audience. It is part of his shtick and has been a staple of his act now for years. The redeeming part of his show is that you can be in the presence of a man who used to play some truly great blues music which is more than you can say for Steve Miller. These days Guy gives his audience tiny snippets of that brilliance which makes listening to his live shows all the more frustrating.
Getting back to Steve Miller... he is the poster child of boring. His bland, pop-rock is some of the most watered down, contrived musical pablum to infect ear holes on a mass scale in the past 50 years.
The most painful part was when Miller got in touch with that blues man that lies in the hearts of all men who grew up in high society and went to private schools and made millions of dollars following the sage advice of A&R men at large record companies. The Space Cowboy’s reading of Otis Rush’s and Bobby Bland’s All Your Love (I Miss Loving) and Further on up the Road respectively were absurd and bordering on camp. The cringe factor just went off the charts during his three song blues set in the middle of his note for note renditions of his greatest hits album. Maybe next year we can have Cher do her take on Hoochie Coochie Man. Since the audience doesn’t demand any more of its headliners why not, as Miller say’s, oh, oh take the money and run.
As far as the kid goes, it was pointed out to me by many observers, “The kid is good for his age” I accept this assessment at face value, since I haven’t heard that many 12 year olds play and sing the blues. The problem is the venue. It would be like putting the winners of the Little League World Series on the field of Yankee Stadium during a major league game and explaining to the stunned audience, “It’s OK they are good for their age”. I truly wish the twelve year old a long life of happiness, fulfillment and success in whatever field he chooses. I also hope if he chooses the life of a blues musician he spends as much time as possible honing his craft and zero time reading about his own career from me or anyone else for that matter.
The good news is there were two other stages at the huge festival and again it was on those bandstands where most of the great music took place on Sunday. Marcia Ball got things kicked off on the Back Porch stage with her irresistible Louisiana/Texas Gulf Coast sound. She, as always, came equipped with not only her great Professor Longhair influenced chops, but a great band that featured guitarist Mike Schermer.
Like last year’s International band B.B. and the Blue Shacks, the Sunday crowd got a chance to hear another set from this year’s blues travelers from Europe, Trickbag. This continues to be a festival highlight each year as Jeff Scott Fleenor brings in international acts to the Doheny Blues Festival. Without exception these bands have been outstanding.
While Joe Louis Walker was over on the main stage, a huge crowd gathered at the Back Porch to hear Otis Taylor and his unique brand of blues. The multi-talented Taylor admitted he was a bit under the weather but gave a great accounting of himself none the less. His band includes violinist Anne Harris who mesmerized the crowd with her soulful playing and stage presence.
The reunion of Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers with the very accomplished musicians who played together from the mid-eighties through the mid-nineties was a treat to hear again. It is an example of another creative booking by the festival’s organizers. Current Mighty Flyers Rod and Honey Piazza were joined by guitarist Alex Shultz, bassist Bill Stuve and drummer Jimi Bott for this reunion. Then the latest incarnation of Mighty Fliers that includes guitarist Henry Carvajal, drummer Dave Kida and bassist Norm Gonzales got back up onstage and played with the old crew.
It would not be the last reunion of the afternoon, as a band that went on a ten year hiatus, The Paladins reformed for this festival. San Diego high school buddies guitarist Dave Gonzalez and bassist Thomas Yearsley, along with drummer Brian Fahey, make up this exciting band. There is simply nothing in the world of American roots music that can match the sheer intensity of a performance by The Paladins. I will admit that the original Blasters reunion last year at this same festival came awful darn close. The sheer power and passion that was dished out on Doheny’s Back Porch stage on Sunday make The Paladins the reigning heavyweight champs. The show they put on at this year’s Doheny Blues Festival was, for me, the highlight of the entire weekend. The Paladins displayed a level of both musicianship and showmanship that is unrivaled.
Through the years when people have asked me what kind of music The Paladins play, my answer is, “any kind you want it to be.” It has elements of blues, rockabilly, surf and old fashioned rock and roll. They throw this concoction in a blender and hit the button that reads “High”
Trombone Shorty was another great booking as his brand of New Orleans funk is always welcome at these events. He is a very talented young man whose music I admire very much. As the Saints came marching in, it should have been time for me to head out but I had to catch Steve Miller and try and figure out what I am missing.
About an hour later I started hearing a long synthesizer intro into a song. That signaled to me it was time for me to fly like an eagle towards the sea and along the bike path that parallels the shore break. The relatively short walk back to my hotel through the Doheny State Beach Park is as pleasant a stroll as can be had exiting a venue. I have made this walk 30 times in the past fifteen years and often I stop at a park bench where Capistrano Creek runs into the Pacific Ocean. From this vantage point I can see the waves break and see the crescent shaped beach that runs down the coast to San Clemente. I can reflect on how fortunate I am to be here in this beautiful place listening to the music I love with the people I love. I can write these words and have a moment of solitude before the after parties begin. I can also hear thousands of people singing along to a song they have heard thousands of times in their lives as it remains after forty years on a heavy rotation on classic rock radio. Steve Miller is making these people happy and that is good enough for me. I just wish he would do it somewhere else.
All in all the festival had enough variety to please virtually every fan of blues and other forms of American roots music. Whether or not festival organizers have to pander to this audience to the degree they do with their classic rock headliners and novelty acts is debatable. I have never missed a day at the Doheny Blues Festival in the fifteen year history of this event and on balance this was one of the most artistically gratifying festivals during this run. Congratulations to Rich Sherman and Omega Events for a job well done. A couple of key questions remain... What does this purple wrist band mean and how do I get it off? I’ll bet there is a twelve year old that can figure these things out.
- David Mac
San Pedro Slim
Jay Sieleman presents Marcia Ball with her BMA
Otis Taylor & Shawn Starski
Anne Harris & Todd Edmunds
Anne Harris, Todd Edmunds & Otis Taylor
The Otis Taylor Band
Joe Louis Walker
Joe Louis Walker
Rod Piazza & Honey Piazza
Dave Gonzalez & Thomas Yearsley