Rock 'n Blues Festival

August 2, 2013
Grove of Anaheim
Anaheim, CA

Review by LA Butler
Photos by Kimberly Annette

New rock factoid: guy rock fans of a certain age (50+) wear polyester Hawaiian print shirts. Yep, rock and roll meet Tommy Bahama. There was a sea of them for the Rock N’ Blues Fest at the City National Grove of Anaheim.

The lineup card was a Wikipedia of rock 'n roll history; Canned Heat, Pat Travers, Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter Band and Ten Years After. The eager audience was a mix of those rockers in Hawaiian shirts and more rock-ready fans of all ages — men, women, and teens.

Woodstock vets Canned Heat kicked off the night with one of their jazzy rock anthems “On the Road Again.” It got some in the crowd, like me, foot-tapping and ready for more. But most of the audience was uber mellow, probably full from the dinner and dessert service the Grove offers at its events. In what would be a theme of the set, bearded bassist Larry Taylor killed it. I mean killed it with a capital K. He put the fun in funk; his finger’s owned those strings and flew over those frets. Taylor made it look easy and he made it look sexy. Still, after all these years.

Vocalist and harmonica maestro David Spalding filled the room with his rich tones and his bluesy down-to the bone riffs on his harmonica. Lead guitarist Harvey Mandel and power-drummer Fito de la Parra took great turns when solo time came. But it was Taylor that owned the set, hooking us in with those masterful bass beats, rockin’ us through Canned Heat’s iconic songs.

The slow-mo audience finally got moving, singing along and head-bobbing in their seats, when the Heat closed out their set with “Let’s Work Together." The band made the classic song fresh but familiar at the same time. The audience cheered at the end, finally, awake and collectively humming the tune all the way to the well-staffed bar for the break.

Which leads me to the next rock factoid: the Hawaiian shirt wearing guys drink their beer like Raider football fans. You know what I’m saying? They buy their two-limit brewskies and pound them down as they make their way back to the end of the line to buy more beer.

TThe boozy intermission between Canned Heat and the concert's second act, Pat Travers, worked in Travers' favor. The hammerheads in the audience loosened up a little more, giving the rock master a wide-eyed round of applause when he took the stage. Travers took charge right away with his fierce guitar playing and throaty-growl vocals. His one-of-a-kind voice is like a good whisky, it gets fuller and richer with age. Travis opened his set with one of his classics and yeah, the cozy crowd was digging it.

But the next song in the set "Diamond Girl" from his newest drop Can Do proved Travers can and should be doing more. Backed by Kirk McKim on guitar, Koko Powell on bass and Jason Carpenter on drums, Travers' got ‘em rocking and nodding in their seats with his layered ballad. He actually had a pair of mini-skirted chicks in the back swooning to this vocal aphrodisiac. The song itself is a perfect trio of rock, blues and soul. If this one is an indicator, sounds like there's plenty of great stuff on Travers’ new album.

You knew a Travers set wouldn’t be complete without the bust-up jam “Snortin’ Whisky.” Travers and band seem to have the most fun with this, complete with electronic slides, guitar wah-wahs and Jason Carpenter’s dynamite back-beat drums, there were some great solo moments for the band too. The audience didn’t need an invitation to jump in on the chorus, making the house finally feel like a party.

Travers finished it up with his Top 20 hit "Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights)," a real get up and dance groove. But this laid back crowd didn't dance. At all. Sure they sang "boom-boom" on Travers' direction, and got off their butts to whoop and cheer when the jam ended, but what the hell was wrong with these guys? Rock 'n roll is for dancing, moving, feeling it. The most these OC rockers did was lean forward in their seats. Maybe it was the venue, the rules, who knows. But aren't rules meant to be broken or maybe just bent a little anyway?

Next up, Mr. Rick Derringer. Derringer and his first band the McCoys are known in rock history as the “Beatle Bumpers.” When Derringer was only 17, he and the McCoys displaced the Beatles mega hit “Yesterday” at Number 1 on the charts with their grove-alicious song, “Hang On Sloopy.” So I was pumped up to see the Sloopy one perform in person, and so were the other fans in the crowd. But I have to tell you I was a little creeped out when Derringer came to the stage in this crushed velvet, Nehru smoking jacket kind of thing that looked way too Phil Spector murder trial-ish (minus the crazy wig).

But the creepy Phil Spector vibe disappeared the minute Derringer’s hands banged the opening chords of “Still Alive And Well.” In three words, Derringer smoked it. The rockmeister can work the rails of a guitar like a god. Crazy. Backed by the wonderfully playful and talented Doug Rappoport and cowboy hat, sunglasses wearing Koko Powell, the guitar guys made it look like all play and no work for the next 20 minutes.

The great thing about Derringer is that his good-old rock 'n roll partying days haven’t fried the hell out of his brain. He has stories and anecdotes that are as funny as they are interesting. When he shared a tale of working with Ringo Starr, a couple blotto guys kept interrupting him by shouting their incoherent song requests. Derringer went with it, at one point asking if they would let him finish his story so he could get to his song. Showed that he’s a class act all the way.

Derringer closed out his portion of the show with back-to-back audience pleasers; “Hang On Sloopy” and “Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo,” two songs the guy has to have performed a gazillion times before. But he played and sang both like they were new breakout singles hitting the charts for the first time. The audience clearly hated to see him go.

Some of the crowd took off after Derringer’s set and probably the same amount arrived late, just in time to see the white-maned rock lion take the stage, Edgar Winter.

Winter bounced in and got things going with his 2008 release “Rebel Road.” Loud applause from the crowd accompanied the first minutes of the song, making it known that Winter was the man they’d obviously come to hear. Records don’t do justice to this magic man’s musicality. It’s an impressive sight to watch Winter move effortlessly from keyboards to drums to sax. Props also go to the his generous demeanor on stage, taking a back seat to give guitarists Doug Rappoport, and KoKo Powell, along with drummer Jason Carpenter, their best stop-solo moments of the night.

Rock accessory factoid of the evening: Edgar Winter is the man who invented the neck strap to make it possible to move the keyboard around the stage like it was a guitar, something the mobility inspired musician demonstrated when he thrilled the fans with his funk-fabulous classic “Frankenstein.” Musically, this was the bang-out, rock-awesome piece of the night. Powell plucked it raw on guitar, Carpenter let loose on the drums like a soul canon, but it was the musical duel between Winter and Rapopport that brought the mellowish crowd to their feet, hand clapping for a good long time.

Again, showing his generous ability to share the stage (unlike some rockers we all know who shall remain nameless for now), Winter invited Derringer back to round out his set with “Free Ride,” a foot-stomping, booty shaking, sing-along way to close up a fantastic set.

Legendary Woodstock band Ten Years After completed the night. I was curious to see how the band would be after co-founder Alvin Lee’s sudden and untimely death earlier this year. Leo Lyons addressed Lee’s passing by dedicating the second song of the set to his former band mate. “I’d Love to Change the World,” the socially conscious rock anthem co-written by Lee, was the perfect choice to honor his talent and get the audience singing along in their seats. Pretty cool that this late into the evening the audience remembered the classic lyrics so well and sang along till the very end. Lee must have been watching from above thinking, "Damn, I guess that was some pretty awesome writing."

I wish I could say that this was the beginning of a really terrific set, but I can’t. I can say that bassist Leo Lyons is amazing. His energy on stage, that bobbing head, the thump-thump wah-wahs he picks on his instrument, just amazing. And Chick Churchill on the keyboard played it out a thousand per cent. Drummer Ric Lee was feeling it too. But no one could understand the lyrics. I mean no one.

The audience seemed willing to go along with it at first, at least give it a two song try, but after “I’d Love to Change the World” when they realized Joe Gooch’s mumble-style vocals were going to be it for the rest of the night, people politely started to leave. It was even difficult to watch and try to read Gooch’s mouth for the lyrics on the monitor because the shadow from his hat blocked out half of his face. Again, if it weren’t for the powerful Leo Lyons on his finger-flying bass, dancing and moving on stage, I think more would have left.

By the time the set was over and people were streaming from the theater, I heard person after person bitching about how they couldn’t understand a thing in the last set. Not a great way for a rocker of any age to leave a show. Classic rock concerts like this are a draw for peoples' connections to music from days past – part of that interest are the personal meanings of the lyrics. Rock classics of this era in particular had a lot to say. It’s a shame some of the great stuff that Ten Years After did got lost in Gooch’s mumble or the ineptitudes of the sound guy that maybe had too many of those beers during the breaks.

Over all, a great outing, if not a low-key one. The Grove should loosen up on the rules a bit, particularly for the more intimate rock concerts. I noticed they booted a couple of photogs out of the pit for no apparent reason – bummer. These great musicians deserve as much press as they can get. If these guys end up coming to your area, go see them. Well worth the price of a ticket.


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