photos by Pete Mason
Robert Randolph introduced a generation of live music fans to the sound of Sacred Steel, that of the pedal steel guitar. Dating back to his performances at The Wetlands at the turn of the 21st Century and leading through the first two Bonnaroos and the rest of the past decade, through Randolph the legacy of a classic sound has found its way into the live music lexicon and numerous festivals at an increasing pace. With The Slide Brothers, presented by Robert Randolph, the sound of the Sacred Steel is brought to light by four impressive and iconic Sacred Steel players: Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, Chuck Campbell and Darick Campbell. On a balmy Friday night in Saratoga Springs, all but Darick took the stage for a rare treat; multiple pedal steel players rocking out on gospel and blues numbers dating back to the turn of the past century.
Opening for The Slide Brothers was Danielle Miraglia from Boston, a true Delta blues guitarist. With just an acoustic guitar and a hollow wooden riser nicknamed ‘Stompy’, she kicked her heel for the beat and played mesmerizing guitar on “Meet Me in the Morning”, a requisite off Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Later, two songs stood out among an enjoyable set, a soulful “It Hurts me Too” and “No One’s Listening.” The latter of the two had the opposite effect, as a rapt crowd focused on the gorgeous singer and her powerful vocals. She brought to mind an early Sheryl Crow, with potential for pop appeal based on her songwriting and performance. Check out one of her songs below.
After a spell of tuning, Ghent, Cooke and Chuck Campbell sat left to right in front of Phil Campbell on bass and Carlton Campbell on drums, both nephews of Chuck. The crowd moved closer to the stage as the band jammed out an instrumental “Jewel” with pace and patience. The night’s second version of “It Hurts Me Too” was soulful and layered. “Catch That Train” had deep guttural vocals from Ghent backed by middle Cooke along with Phil, whose bass was thick and Wooten-esque. While Aubrey Ghent’s steel guitar had a traditional sound, Calvin Cooke’s has a slight bit of reverb on it, making it stand out among the three; Chuck Campbell’s sound was so sharp it could slice right through the air with every slide of the left hand.
Calvin Cooke took the soulful blues route and sang a powerful “The Sky is Crying”, while Ghent and Campbell combined for a tandem duet as the two carried the beat as Cooke sang, hitting the high notes on the steel. The greatest moment of the night came with a base layer of “Green Onions” ilk, leading to a long, slow building instrumental of slide guitar jamming that extended for 20 minutes in the form of “Help me Make it Thru.”
A finale of “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” and “I’ll Just Wave my Hand” had truly deep bass to accompany the soul driven vocals of Aubrey Ghent. After a short walk off stage, the band returned for an encore initiated by oom-paa drum beats to work a jam into “When the Saints Go Marching in”, complete with a call and response as the crowd sang along with the band. To see a pedal steel player is one thing, to see three and dance to the layered rhythms is another. Great thanks goes out to Robert Randolph for assembling The Slide Brothers.
Setlist: Jewel, It Hurts me Too, Catch That Train, Don’t Keep Me Wondering, What Happen to Them, The Sky is Crying, Wade in the Water, Help Me Make it Thru, Don’t Let the Devil Ride, I’ll Just Wave My Hand
Encore: When the Saints go Marching In