Doheny Heritage Music Festival

Dana Point, Calif. 5/22-23/04

Music Reviews Doheny Heritage Music Festival
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Doheny Heritage Music Festival

A note at the bottom of the Doheny Heritage Music Festival website homepage notes that this two-day concert was/is not in any way affiliated with the Doheny Blues Festival—even though its inaugural staging was held on the very same plot of grass that was home to the annual blues-music gathering. And since every artist to tread these three stages has either been touched by the blues, or touched upon blues elements during their performances, this was most certainly a blues concert—albeit, one without the buzzword “blues” in its title.

Nevertheless, who wants to argue over such silly semantics, when there was so much great music on the festival’s expansive buffet table? And while the first day offered a few old timers, such as James Brown and Etta James, day two presented a much more eclectic mix of blues and blues-inspired performers, ranging from the twangy, countrified sounds of Lucinda Williams to the delightful Latin flavor of Los Lobos (pictured top right).

The latter closed out this fulfilling festival with a sloppier-than-normal set of old favorites and new songs from its latest, The Ride. New tunes included the chunky guitar rock of “Charmed,” and “Rita,” which, with its strummy guitar work, was refreshingly out of character for this veteran—and normally more rootsy—outfit. The band also revved it up for the “Don’t Worry Baby,” and blended the spiritual with the practical on “The Neighborhood.” There were a few missed notes and some long passages between songs, but once Los Lobos got into gear, the music was on.

Just before sundown, everyone’s favorite cowgirl, Lucinda Williams, spoke about her love of the blues, and played a generous selection from her abundantly fine singer/songwriter repertoire. She opened with the empathetic “Drunken Angel” and closed with a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Come to Me Baby.” But the title of the song “Righteously” summed up her performance best; Williams channels something from the great beyond whenever she cuts loose with a vocal.

And speaking of heavenly revelations, Robert Randolph’s performance was equally otherworldly. Sitting at his steel guitar, which sounded much closer to a hand-held axe when he played it. Randolph covered classic-rock-and-soul chestnuts like Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and The Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and he also had the crowd giving him a hearty amen to his plea for more affection on “I Need More Love.” Randolph’s entire backing band was sporting Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n Waffles T-shirts during the set, and smiled from ear-to-ear throughout. You can’t be completely certain if the music inspired these giddy grins, or if the musicians just had a particularly memorable Southern-style lunch earlier in the day. Regardless, it was a true joy to see them enjoying themselves while they played.

Earlier in the day, jazz trumpeter Olu Dara rapped/sang much more than he blew his horn. He did this, he said, because he’d lost his oil. Also, Robert Cray played his own brand of quiet storm-smooth blues and The Dirty Dozen Brass Brand burned it down with its funkified horns. These brass-ers were particularly popular chaps with a few of the other artists on the bill, as they also joined both Randolph and Los Lobos. Doheny Heritage may not have been a blues festival by name, but everything this weekend was saturated in the genre’s deep-south mojo and subsequently turned golden.

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