Santana Thrills at SPAC

Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana and his band delighted fans at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Friday, August 23 on part of his Supernatural Now Tour.

Coinciding with the anniversary of Santana’s 50th anniversary at Woodstock, the Supernatural Now Tour initially felt like a substitute for the long-promised (and repeatedly canceled) Woodstock concert.

Playing after the Doobie Brothers, who got the crowd on their feet dancing and singing along for a solid hour before the main event, Santana came out at 8:45 pm after showing a montage of Woodstock photos accompanied by some sultry, jazzy guitar, trumpet and keys. The photos started with a hand-painted sign from the 1969 concert stating “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”

Not only did the photos serve as a reminder that the then 19-year-old Santana shocked the world with his talent on the guitar at Woodstock, but that he has spent the last 50 years impressing crowds – and is still impressing them – with his passionate commitment to using music to empower others to do right by the earth. To top it off, the montage was accompanied by the music of one of Santana’s influences, Miles Davis.

Opening with one of Carlos’s earliest compositions, “Soul Sacrifice,” Santana and the band began the night with a heavy emphasis on jazz fusion with elements of rock. Santana’s soulful signature sound came through immediately as he shared the stage with other incredibly inspiring musicians. His wife Cindy Blackman Santana, a creative percussionist and legend in her own right, was captured by overhead cameras demonstrating precision and strength on drums that was inspiring. Ray Green and Andy Vargas were on vocals, Benny Rietveld, perhaps best known for his touring with Miles Davis, was on bass, and David Mathews was demonstrating how keyboards can lend swing to the melody. Rounding out with Karl Perazzo and Paoli Mejias, also on percussion, and Tommy Anthony on guitar, the Supernatural Now Tour appeared unnaturally gifted with musical genius.

While better known for a few of his popular hits in the 1990s, Santana is powerful in his intuitive fusion of rock, Latin and jazz. He’s expanded interest to African music, recently releasing Africa Speaks. The combination of styles was the right formula to get the crowd dancing, and to show off the creative aptitude of the band. Their performance of “Jin-go-bo-la,” accompanied by a video of African men and women dancing in traditional garb, intensified the high energy of the crowd. Smoothing into “Evil Ways” right afterwards, the vocalists shone while demonstrating flexibility in pitch, style and presentation.

The diversity of music styles kept fans guessing about what would happen next. From hosting the Doobie Brothers back on stage for “Some Kind of Wonderful” to instrumentals featuring Carlos Santana’s ever-evolving but still consistent signature sound, the concert was constantly shifting, expanding musical styles and blowing through boundaries.

Of course, the crowd went wild for “Oye Como Va,” a popular favorite. Dancing in their seats, fans were inspired by the powerful drumming and compelling vocal performances.

And then there was Santana on guitar, vital and creative as ever. The 69-year-old was spry as he moved across the stage, still curious about music, still passionate about sound and movement.

The musicians used bongos, whistles, maracas, tambourines, trombones and, of course, their voices, drum sets and guitars to really shake up the sounds. It was more like attending a world music concert than a pop or rock concert, which is just what Santana wants. Honoring Coltrane and Davis, he reflected on his love of jazz but also moved to include some Latin and African roots music too.

Carlos Santana is passionate about peace, children and saving rainforests. He was proud to have his family on stage with him, and his smile and brief words reflected a man who has found his place in the world. He’s passionate about music and expanding boundaries. And from listening to the songs from his new work, Santana’s passion is keeping him as vital and youthful as ever.