Last weekend marked the 13th occasion of the Doheny Blues Festival, which featured 23 blues-ish kind of bands performing Saturday and Sunday at just about the most scenic venue in Orange County: Doheney State Beach in Dana Point.
Check out our slideshow before you read nine things we learned at the festival after the jump.
1) Rust may not sleep, but it certainly creeps on you: Why dinosaur rockers Crosby, Stills & Nash were the Sunday headliners is anybody's guess. Historically significant? Yes. Hall of fame worthy? Absolutely. As classic as classic rock can get? Yup.
But blues? Whatever the reason (maybe the big contingent of over-50 white people who showed up?) CS&N held up quite well--no thanks to David Crosby, who seemed more like a wax statue than a sentient human being, and the insufferable mugging of Graham Nash. But a great backing band certainly helped fill in the gaps and Stephen Stills once again demonstrated why he might be the most underrated guitarist of his particular era.
There were great axe-men throughout the two days (the guy who preceded CS&N, Robert Cray, being a perfect example) and while they could break your heart or lift your soul with one note, Stills brought something more narrative to the proceedings. He may not be as technically proficient as other players, but every lick and solo did something wonderful: It told a story. Next year, how about just bringing him back?
2) Beer and cell phones don't mix. Everybody's got a cell phone these days and most everybody has a kick-ass camera in said phone. But lots of people still have a hard time figuring out how to balance the responsibilities of documenting the moment, and getting fucked up. I must have counted a dozen people who, in the rush to capture the intensity of some guitarist's face during a frenzied solo, lifted their phone to snap a picture, only to dump the contents of their plastic cup all over their chests.
3) Smell, don't tell. There were a fair share of ganja smokers in the crowd and plenty of uniformed officers of the Orange County Sheriff Department. But though seen, the deputies were pretty cool. I asked Deputy Northhart on Saturday if it was cool to light up and he said, "Well, we've smelled it all day, but we haven't seen any. As long as we don't see it, what can we do?"
4) Old meets new makes for an enjoyable experience. Booker T brought the most illustrious resume to the festival: As the leader of the Stax Records house band, Booker and his band, the MG's, supplied a great deal of the soul soundtrack of the 1960s. He still tours with the MG's, but this was all about him and a killer backing band. He did play his trademark Hammond organ to great effect on a couple of tunes (particularly his 1962 instrumental classic Green Onions) but this was mostly Booker playing guitar frontman. What really energized the crowd, though, was a couple of excursions into hip-hop from Booker's drummer Darian Gray, who busted out rhymes during large stretches of Al Green's Take me to the River, and Sam and Dave's Hold On, I'm Coming. Instead of feeling forced or incongrous next to the legend of soul, the pairing seemed to make perfect sense.
5) Festivals are a good place for free haircuts! Employees of Hawleywood's Barber Shop, a Long Beach and Costa Mesa barber shop and shaving parlor, were on hand near the Back Porch Stage and giving out free haircut and shaves to anyone who asked.
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6) Make-up can fetch a hefty price. Maybe Crosby's deer-in-the-headlight persona Sunday night had to do with a backstage fall he took a couple of hours before his set. Jill Lloyd, who handles media relations for the Orange County Marketplace, happened to be kicking it in the VIP area when a man burst out from the band's trailers and said Crosby had just fallen and cut his chin, and did anybody have make-up. Lloyd offered hers and the guy ran it back to Crosby. A few moments later, someone else approached her and asked her how much she wanted for the make-up. She said nothing, but asked for an autograph--to no avail.
7) Chris Robinson is all grown up. Many, many years ago, I saw a band no one on the West Coast had heard of open up for another called Junkyard at a place called the Bandstand in Anaheim. That place become Cowboy Boogie, and that opening band was the Black Crowes. And they absolutely stunk up the joint. Sure, it was more than 20 years ago, and maybe it was an off night, but I've never been able to shake the incongruous memory of a world-class band with that shitty performance. But on Saturday, the Crowed showed they more than deserved the headlining spot. Chris Robinson: you are hereby forgiven.
8) Scrawny white guys can play the blues. Jackie Green, who performed both Saturday and Sunday, absolutely kicked ass, whether playing a psychedlic cover of the Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows to his own stuff. The straw-hat wearing, sleeveless shirt pale guy with long brown hair may not look like the blues, but he had it streaming out of every pore.
9) Big black guys can play the blues, too. The festival's first day featured better musicians top to bottom, and a big reason was Big Sam's Funky Nation. The New Orleans-band brought a big booty dose of Crescent City funk to the Backporch Stage, led by trombonist Sam Williams, who emphatically proved that his band's sub-title, King of the Party, is absolutely apropos.