How It Went: The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band Rocks Sacramento
Once again, I didn’t fit in. It wasn’t because I was only one of about six African Americans at this classic rock/blues show. It was because of the age of the crowd. I’m used to going to metal shows, where the ages range from preteen to senior. But at the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band show at the Woodlake Hotel in Sacramento, most of the audience was in their forties, fifties and sixties. Yes, I realized that chronologically, these were my peers, but it just didn’t feel right. It was a hot summer night. Most of the men were dressed in cargo shorts or jeans topped with tee shirts or short-sleeved shirts. Besides a few Hendrix shirts, there wasn’t a rock shirt to be found. There were more Harley-Davidson shirts, even on the women. And some of the women wore summer dresses and strappy sandals. A woman with a conservative short gray haircut surprised me with a full leg tattoo below her modest shorts. This definitely wasn’t a metal crowd. What was I doing here?
The show started promptly at seven-thirty, which meant that this wasn’t even going to be a late night out. The stage was set up in front of some foliage. It reminded me of the last time I was here, probably about twenty years ago to see Spyro Gyra at what was then the Radisson Hotel. I thought back to that show. It had been a hot summer’s night and I had worn a dress. Yikes!
The opening act was a local musician, Johnny “Guitar” Knox. Knox was pretty good, but his organist (who’s name I never got) was even better. The only person I color I would see on stage all night, he rocked his Hammond in a manner that would have made the late, great Jon Lord proud. Many in the crowd were familiar with the band, as they were well known by the members of the local Blues Society. At the end of the set, there were a few sound problems, which I hoped would be cleared up before the headliners hit the stage.
And it didn’t take very long between sets. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band took off from the moment they hit the stage. Vocalist Noah Hunt is truly a master of modern blues, with a melodic, yet gritty voice. I wasn’t very familiar with guitarist Shepherd, but after a few minutes, I understood why he has garnered so many accolades over the years. Bassist extraordinaire Tony Franklin provided a fine accompaniment to Shepherd’s fretwork, demonstrating why he is one of the rock world’s best four-stringed musicians. Riley Osborn, the band’s keyboardist, had played with Willie Nelson and drummer Chris Layton had played with the late Stevie Ray Vaughan – rounding out a band that had been perfecting their craft for twenty to thirty years. The sound problems continued at the beginning of the set, causing Hunt to comment that after only four songs, the band was blowing out the speakers. They played songs from the latest release, How I Go, as well as songs from previous albums. Even though the only song I knew was “Deja Voodoo,” I enjoyed the music and the blues songs of love gone good or turned bad.
The audience was immediately enraptured by the music. And so was I. It’s easy to lose track of time when the music is this good. The band was on fire. I soon found that I didn’t miss the lack of black tee shirts in the crowd. I loved this band. After leaving the stage for a few minutes, the band came back to entertain the standing, roaring crowd, giving them Shepherd’s biggest hit, “Blue on Black.” They also did some rock standards that I recognized – Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” blues standard “I’m a King Bee,” and Hendrix’s classic “Voodoo Child.” Near the end of the show, I think I caught Noah throwing some devil horns. In spite of the crowd’s demographic and apparel choices, the intensity of the music reminded me of a metal show. Shepherd was flashy, but tasteful, and the band was hot, but not loud. They filled the Grove with a sacred groove without blasting it with sound. Maybe I did fit in with this crowd, as least for a few hours.
Before I knew it, the show was over. Even though it had been a fabulous show, I still wanted more. And isn’t that what a great band does – leave the audience satisfied, but not sated? As soon as I got home, I checked online to see where the band would be playing next. August in Wheeling, West Virginia? October in Sparks, Nevada? A road trip may be in order.
(Thanks to 96.9 The Eagle in Sacramento for the tickets! You guys rock!)