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.