New/Old Home Of The Blues

Austin-based singer Malford Milligan yelled out, "I love my city!" to the 20,000+ crowd on the "Road to Austin" concert stage in Auditorium Shores on May 19, 2007. And what a night of non-stop music it was, featuring host Bonnie Raitt and road-tested warriors like Delbert McClinton, Kris Kristofferson, Eric Johnson, Ian McLagan, Bobby Whitlock, Joe Ely, and outstanding newcomers like Bob Schneider, Ruthie Foster, and especially Carolyn Wonderland, and much, much more!

The free concert took place on a particularly gorgeous evening with very comfortable humidity levels and pleasant temperatures, a perfect Texas night for an outdoor show. Musical director/guitarist Stephen Bruton and his house band celebrated the Bluesy sounds of Austin's colorful past with the musicians of yesterday and today, setting the tone with dynamic grooves that makes Austin one of the premier musical cities to add to your list of places to visit.

Right on time, at around 7 p.m., a short film produced by concert sponsors Freescale Semiconductor Inc. preceded the music and built context for the show, highlighting such legends as Roky Erickson, Janis Joplin, and, needless to say, the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan.

After Bruton opened the gig with an excellent instrumental Blues, Ruthie Foster played a solid funky favorite from her new CD The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster titled, "Heal Yourself," which set the tone for what was looking like a perfect start to what turned into the a nearly perfect evening of very high level music.

With actor Turk Pipkin serving as master of ceremonies, house band organist Ian McLagan (who previously was with the Stones, Small Faces, and Bonnie Raitt) sang "Date With An Angel." McLagan also introduced a brief appearance from headliner Bonnie Raitt. Strong vocalist Malford Milligan turned Auditorium Shores into his personal Blues club serving up a particularly funky and tasty "Don't Change Horses In The Middle Of The Stream," made famous by Tower of Power.

Guitar God Eric Johnson played a short solo set with his band, then sat in with former Domino (as in Derek & the Dominos) Bobby Whitlock and his musical partner Coco Carmel. Whitlock, Carmel, Eric Johnson, along with guitarist David Grisson, performed "Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad" and "Layla," which had to have been one of the highlights of this show, as Whitlock's entire band literally scorched through both of these Derek & the Dominos classics, left no prisoners, and had the crowd screaming for more.

But it was the unexpected acts that surprised best, especially Bob Schneider's high-energy set and an incredibly gifted Carolyn Wonderland, whose vocals and facial expressions recalled Janis Joplin, and her guitar playing was riveting, too!

Kris Kristofferson showed good humor when he spoke about his weak voice and sang a laid-back set that consisted of "For The Good Times" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down," both of which were backed by the Tosca String Quartet. W

Delbert McClinton brought his excellent pianist Kevin McKendree with him and they delivered an outstanding set that at times featured Bonnie Raitt, and McClinton returned the favor to Raitt when he sat in on her performance as well. Their highlight came when they revisited "Good Man, Good Woman" from McClinton's Never Been Rocked Enough CD. Raitt and McClinton were so cool onstage together, especially when they invited the crowd to the next night's show at Antone's for the Austin Blues Society event, as McClinton was not a scheduled performer, but he told the 20,000+ crowd that he would be at Antone's, which was pure class!

It should be well noted that McClinton sat in with several of the evening's early performers and Bonnie Raitt was also a featured side performer at least five or six times throughout the evening. Raitt in particular was extremely gracious, and proved the perfect host and featured guest.

The concert concluded when all of the performers came together onstage for a heartfelt version of "Me & Bobby McGee," led by Kristofferson, which started with a vintage clip of Janis Joplin talking about this talented young songwriter (Kris Kristofferson) whose song she had just recorded. A very touching moment for sure and it was obvious that the crowd was moved as was a very emotional Bonnie Raitt who was in need of a tissue. All in all, it was an extremely professional event that was a free concert that took place at the world's live music capital of Austin, which for me had to be one of the best concerts I have attended in some time, and perhaps ever, it was that good!

Also very noteworthy to mention is that the music rarely stopped as the Stephen Bruton (who received the keys to the city of Austin) Band stayed on stage and backed just about every artist that performed, thus making this most extraordinary event more incredible and magical. By the way, the Road to Austin Concert ran for nearly four hours!

There was a lot of outstanding video recording going on throughout this event, which was displayed on two very large screens, so one would hope that The 2007 Road to Austin Show will turn up on TV and DVD in the not too distant future. Stay tuned!

The following afternoon I hooked up with the young and talented singer/guitarist/songwriter Seth Walker for brunch and we went to check out a young lady I had wanted to see while I was in Austin, LZ Love. Love did not disappoint leading what she labeled as her "Hippie Gospel Brunch" where a packed outdoor patio danced their brains out to Love's soulful and funky groove. Tommy Castro put me on to LZ Love and told me that "LZ definitely kicks serious butt." She does kick butt live as well as on the last two Castro recordings, plus you can hear Castro returning the favor on Love's latest CD, My Higher Ground.

The Musician Ensemble Next it was on to Antone's, the appropriate Home of the Blues, where the Austin Blues Society was having its inaugural kickoff to the first ever Austin Blues Society event. The aforementioned Seth Walker opened the event with a flawless performance, which featured several songs from his current self-titled CD. Other highlights of this very Bluesy evening included Ruthie Foster's set and yet another dazzling performance by (my favorite find of the weekend) Carolyn Wonderland, who tells me she will soon be releasing a new CD, which, based on what I heard from both of her two solid performances, should prove to be a very strong recording.

The Texas Horns were in the mix all night at Antone's and it was great to sit and talk with their leader, outstanding sax player and producer Kaz Kazanoff, who is also the society president. It was special for me to see W.C. Clarke perform in his hometown as he does not get on the road as often as he used to. Marcia Ball and her entire band were also at their usually exciting best and Delbert McClinton dropped in to perform a few songs with Ball, too. Then McClinton brought out his pianist Kevin McKendree and they took over Antone's. McClinton seemed to be having the time of his life! Jimmy Vaughan's band closed out the night, which was a perfect ending to my outstanding musical weekend in Austin, Texas.

Best wishes with the good intentions and endeavors of the Austin Blues Society whose board includes the previously mentioned Kazanoff and Seth Walker, plus Denise Boudreaux, to whom I owe a great deal of thanks to for making my weekend in Austin so very special. Judging from the long lines at their signup booth, it looks like The Austin Blues Society is off to a very strong start and I am proud to say I am a card-carrying member!

Bob Putignano: