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Concert Review: The 13th Annual Doheny Blues Festival – Dana Point, CA – 5/22/10

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Nestled along Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, The Doheny Blues Festival returned for its 13th year, which is certainly lucky in the concert world. I am curious how the blues purists reacted to having The Black Crowes and Crosby, Stills & Nash as headliners, but it didn't stop Day One of the two-day event from selling out, which was evident even before getting in the gates. Parking at the beach was hampered because a third of the spots were lost due to anticipated high surf conditions. Those who didn't arrive early like myself were sent beyond walking distance to Dana Hills High School, which was near capacity by 3pm, and bussed in for $5 a head round-trip.

Arriving mid-afternoon caused me to miss the swing-blues of Flattop Tom and His Jump Cats and the Cajun/zydeco of Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. I also wasn't able to appreciate the music's universality made evident by the harmonica-led Chicago blues by way of Canada's Bharath and his Rhythm Four (with Jr. Watson, Richard Innes & Fred Kaplan) and the West Coast Swing from the eastern coast of South America played by Brazil's Igor Prado with Lynwood Slim. As I anxiously searched for parking, I could hear The Fabulous Thunderbirds' performing their hit, "Tuff Enuff."

When I finally got inside, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears were playing the second song of their hour-long set on the Renaissance stage, which included selections from their brilliant debut, Tell Me What Your Name Is! Most of what they played was high-energy funk and soul, like "Sugarfoot," that had a lot of people dancing and a few murmuring amongst themselves around me in approval.

Backed by The Phantom Blues Band on the main stage, Taj Mahal filled the role of elder statesmen. In contrast to the intensity of Lewis & the Honeybears, Mahal and company simmered until the music smoldered. He incorporated Caribbean and African sounds and rhythms into the arrangements and briefly played banjo.

Backed by a trio, Jackie Greene proved such an impressive guitar player that it was momentarily disappointing when he put the instrument down to sit at the piano. His set was filled with originals and covers with the latter getting a bigger reaction from of the crowd. Time spent touring with Phil Lesh has no doubt helped him perfect his rendition of the Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie." The audience was especially delighted with his Beatles' medley that included "Tomorrow Never Knows" and "Taxman."

The Black Crowes closed the main stage with a hit-filled set geared towards a festival audience, although some of the slower songs led to crowd chatter. The air was unusually smoke free in comparison to their own concerts even though colorful visual effects on the video screens were geared toward those under the influence. They sent the audience off into the night amped up from the rollicking "Remedy."

I personally had a wonderful time at my first Doheny Blues Festival. Sharing drinks and very good music with friends on a pleasant Southern California day is hard to beat. Single-day tickets were $56 online, which is an excellent value in comparison to some music festivals. Without knowing the line-up, I am already of a mind to return next year.

The only negative aspect of the event was the food-and-beverage concessions. Unfortunately, someone made the decision that the only way to pay for refreshments was by putting money on a card and then using that card to pay instead of the traditional means of cash or credit card, which these businesses otherwise accept in other places. Likely no one put exact purchase amounts on the cards, and I know a few people who had unused money wasted by the end of the night. If there was a way to get that unspent money back, it wasn't evident, but this scam was the only blemish on the day.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • Dan Vesely

    There was a HUGE CARD MONEY REFUND booth near the exit. If you missed it you had too much fun.


  • Eric

    Great coverage of a great day, El b! I checked out the Black Joe Louis record and it doesn’t quite capture the live vibe but still sounds quite strong.

    Dan, it may have been HUGE but I didn’t notice it either, and I made several loops around the event during the day. Also still doesn’t prevent the card-for-food/drink move from being super LAME. 🙂

  • Well done, my good man. I’m envious. Taj Mahal is very, very high on my list of bands to see as are Black Crowes. Twice I’ve tried getting tickets to their show and twice I was thwarted. I need to see both these acts. Aside from the concessions shenanigans, this seems like a real cool little festival for the checking out.

  • It was great running into you and Eric at Doheny, my friend! Glad you liked the music. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with Black Crowes as you were, but then again, I was in the crush at the front of the stage (people were aggressive and rude and…ugh). Josh, save your money, honey. Save it for Taj.

    As was mentioned by Dan, the event card refund tent was right there by the exit. Also, if you went to one of the event card stations, they’d have made sure you knew exactly where you could find it. While I’m not enamored of the event card system, I’ve grown accustomed to it and even see the wisdom in it.

    Overall, the festival was very well done, with the exception of using the Black Crowes and CSN to anchor the event. Yes, Doheny brought in the numbers because of them, but it wasn’t the same crowd you’d normally see there nor was it necessarily a good thing for that “same crowd you’d normally see there”, you know, the fans who return year after year. At the same time, I do understand that you can’t bring in B.B. King every year, nor even every other year and hope to get the sort of attendance every time. I just don’t know that it’s worth alienating your core audience with stunt casting.

    By the way, even at $170 for the early order two day VIP admission, it’s well worth the price. For the headliners alone, were they appearing elsewhere, you’d easily spend that much for a couple tickets.

    Oh, and next year? We plan to meet up ahead of time so we can enjoy a brew or two over at the Backporch Stage.

  • Good running into you as well. Let a person know next time you are in the county. Maybe I’ll see you next year.

    We got only close to Jackie on the stage right side, but that’s because it was right off concessions area. Didn’t seem like that young of a crowd do I am surprised you had problems in the front. Sounds like people needed to get high.

    It’s all about selling tix. I’d be curious if that was why they went for bigger names outside the genre.

    Still not buying the need for the event card.

  • Ken in Irvine

    This was my 10th. Once you learn the ropes, there are no imperfections. This is America’s best under the radar musical event. The location, the weather, the food, the music, the vibe. The problem is it’s no longer a secret.

  • Jackie’s new CD comes out on Tuesday. You and Joan have me about convinced I need to go ahead and pre-order that right now.

  • Careful. We have been know to corrupt quite a few in our time