Joe Bonamassa has been playing guitar seemingly since the day he was born. In fact I first saw Joey B play when we were both prepubescent growing up in Upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley. Even then he had a natural knack for the blues. There is no real explanation for his innate emotional response to a genre so filled with passion, heartache, pureness, and an ability to make people both remember and forget the shit happening in their own world. Perhaps someone sold their soul at the Robert Johnson’s Crossroads to become the greatest blues guitarist of this generation and they were reincarnated in this young kid from “the city that God forgot.”
On this particular evening JB played tribute to the three Kings of the blues, Freddie, Albert, and B.B. Starting out with six Freddie King numbers including a Bonamassa favorites, “Going Down” and “See See Baby”.
It was a cool night and the amphitheater that was recently voted the #1 outdoor venue by USA Today was as full as I could have ever imagined for a blues performance with no openers. Though Joe Bonamassa is possibly one of the best marketing minds in the music industry and chose a Monday night in Saratoga, in August. For those that don’t know, August in Saratoga means track season, the thoroughbred horse track is a major attraction and Tuesdays the track is closed. Therefore Monday night IS the weekend night where people can let loose and sleep in the next day. Even though the show ended at 10pm, it was a smart move on the tour’s part.
After Freddie’s set, JB and company focused on Albert King, playing one of my favorites “Cadillac Assembly Line” and “Angel of Mercy” that was cause for a standing ovation of nearly every one of the 4000+ in attendance. After the ovation Joe took the time to introduce his band, and if you’ve ever been to one of his shows he always brings along an all-star cast. The SPAC show was no exception. Anton Fig was up on the kit, and has played with JB before. At least on one occasion in 2009, Eric Clapton joined Bonamassa and Fig onstage to sit in. The Saratoga crowd also had the pleasure of hearing the amazing Reese Wyans on the black and whites. Reese was recently inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame from his time with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble. Mahalia Barnes was one of the three backup singers for the evening, and Syracuse locals, Paulie Cerra and Lee Thornberg were joined by Nick Lane to round out the horn section.
The night went from Albert King to B.B. King. Starting out with “Let the Good Times Roll” the over 50 crowd were dancing in the aisles, in their seats, or even up on the lawn in the light drizzling rain that cooled the air to make for a very comfortable night in August. Highlights of B.B.’s set were an Anton Fig solo, and Bonamassa’s incredible rendition of the black spiritual “Ole Time Religion”.
The night ended after two solid hours of inspired music with a three set encore of the Kings’ most notable tunes. Freddie’s “Hideaway”, Albert’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”, and B.B.’s version of the Roy Hawkins song, “The Thrill Is Gone”.
As people filed out to their cars to go home, there was that emotional aura in the air that only a live concert can conjure. People were smiling, couples were walking arm in arm, there was a little spring to the step of even the oldest fans. While the blues can be heartfelt and convey a message of hard times, it can also give people hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Bonamassa gave people a gift, a rare look at three legends, on his own path to become a legend in the blues community. Filling a venue as large as SPAC less than a year from playing Albany’s Palace Theater, a short distance away, shows the dedicated following Joe Bonamassa has amassed over the years. While Joe might not be a King of the blues, because honestly Joe King wouldn’t work, he is definitely a prince of the genre that he fell in love with over three decades ago.