During the 90 minute drive up to Grand Casino in Hinckley I noticed the first signs of Autumn with a scattering of tree tops just starting the brilliant color changes from light greens to yellows, rust and gold. The sky was overcast and there was a light mist falling throughout most of the 3 plus hour show with temperatures dropping to the point where I wished I had brought some gloves. The musicians on stage may have been wearing jackets but their performances were anything but cool.
by Ray Stiles
Shane Henry opened the three-set show (followed by the Fabulous Thunderbirds and then B.B. King) with a 45 minute performance that left many in the audience pretty impressed by this new young guitar player, singer and songwriter. An Oklahoma transplant now living in the Twin Cities Shane cites Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy and BB King as his 4 main guitar influences -- and he displayed a little bit of each in his playing.
Even though Shane displayed some adept, fiery guitar fretwork, I was most impressed during this performance by his handling of some sweet ballads that showed depth and maturity in his soulful guitar playing. He was also ably backed by Matt Kassanchuk on keyboards, Greg Schutte on drums and Scott Nelson on bass.
Shane is a well grounded young man with an unspoken intensity and enthusiasm that is readily apparent when you talk to him. He also is a person with a clear idea of who he is and what he wants to accomplish. When I asked him if he considered himself a "blues" player he gave the following answer.
"The music that I'm making right now I wouldn't consider straight blues music. I have a very strong background in blues. My first CD that I put out (at the age of 16) was pretty much a blues CD. I wrote 12 songs that I recorded in a little home studio. I've been influenced by all the big blues players. I've gone through that stage in my life where I was a huge Albert Collins fan, Albert King, BB, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson. I've gone through that, where all those players still influence me. I still listen to the blues, I'm a big blues fan but I don't really consider myself just a straight blues player…the sound and the style that I'm going for is using elements of blues but also using elements of other styles out there too, like rock and funk and stuff like that. From age 15 to about 17 that's all I really listened to was blues guitar players. Since then I've started listening to all different styles of music, like Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Ian Moore. But I have such a strong blues back ground that it will always come out in my music."
At the tender age of 15 two events occurred that changed the course of Shane Henry's musical career -- his father took him to a B.B. King show and he bought his first electric guitar. Now just four years later Shane was actually touring with the B.B. King Blues Festival and perhaps helping, along with B.B., to inspire some other youngster to take up the blues guitar. One of the footnotes of any B.B. King biography will be the remarkable number of people who have seen him perform and subsequently been inspired to pick up the guitar and play the blues. Shane Henry is following in the footsteps of many of today's blues guitar luminaries who did just that.
Guest appearance by Kenny Wayne Shepherd
by Dave "Doc" Piltz
After Shane Henry's exciting opening to the festival, the Kim Wilson-led Fabulous Thunderbirds took the stage, opening with "Hope & Pray" on the cold, dreary afternoon. With Wilson and the band dressed in their signature black attire, The Thunderbirds worked hard to warm up the audience with their hot Texas blues.
With Kid Ramos having left the band earlier this year to pursue a solo career, guitar duties have been assumed by Troy Gonyea without any noticeable loss of quality in the band's sound. The other members of the Fabulous Thunderbirds current lineup, Gene Taylor (piano), Jimi Bott (drums) and Ronnie James (bass), drove the songs, helping to keep the Thunderbirds legacy of powerful music and memorable shows alive.
The visual images during the Fabulous Thunderbirds' set were numerous; Gene Taylor pounding out his piano solo on "My Babe," Ronnie James removing his black leather jacket to reveal the green dragon adorning his black shirt along with his heavily tattooed arms, Troy Gonyea's stinging guitar solo on "Judgment Day," a "Sing-A-Long With Kim" on "Rock This Place" and the hard edged harp sound provided by Wilson on "Telephone Blues."
During the well known T-Birds classic "Tuff Enuff," the band was joined mid-song by young guitar slinger, Kenny Wayne Shepherd who was appearing at the festival without his band. With much shorter and curlier hair than when I saw him last, Shepherd's flamethrower guitar actually fit in well with The Thunderbirds' powerful blues-rock sound. Shepherd took over the lead guitar duties on several familiar Fabulous Thunderbirds tunes like "She's Tuff," along with some of Wilson's solo material, including "Good Time Charlie" from his latest solo effort, Smokin' Joint.
The powerhouse set ended with an instrumental that featured an extended harp solo by Kim Wilson that would have left a more common harp player gasping for air. At one point, the band left Wilson completely on his own and, for a time, with only drummer Jimi Bott to accompany him. Gene Taylor spent a portion of the solo dancing a little jig and waving his hat at Wilson to try and keep him "cool" as he continued to burn up the stage. The band and Kenny Wayne returned to the stage to finish the song, leaving the stage to a thunderous ovation from the crowd, demonstrating their appreciation of another fine performance by The Fabulous Thunderbirds. To return the favor, The Thunderbirds came out to the merchandise tables shortly after the set to sign autographs and talk with their fans. Given the always friendly atmosphere at the Grand Casino Amphitheater, this made the day's event even more special for everyone in attendance.
(Postscript: I personally would like to express my sincere thanks to the entertainment staff at Grand Casino (especially Cherie) who allowed me to go backstage after the show to meet B. B. King. Mr. King proved himself to be a very kind and gracious man who took the time to talk to me in a very personal way, signing several autographs for me and letting me have a picture taken with him on his tour bus. Thank you so much Mr. King and thanks to everyone on the entertainment staff at Grand Casino; you made this day most special for me!)
by Rich Benson
Despite admitting to the age of 77, with six plus decades playing blues, B.B. King can still bring enthusiasm and passion to his performances and work a crowd better than any blues man around. And he does it with style, dressed in a black patterned silk tuxedo with his band all decked out in black tuxes. As a concession to age and bad knees, B.B. performed mostly seated, gyrating, swaying, and leaning back with emotion as he played with his rich, distinctive sound on his black guitar nicknamed Lucille. B.B.'s voice sounded a little huskier and harsher than usual, which the raw, damp weather did little to help. Yet his guitar licks were sharp and piercing with a style and showmanship that only B.B. King seems to have mastered. Backed by an excellent, veteran band that followed him closely wherever he went, B.B. played a mix of his well-known hits like "Bad Case of Love" and "Thrill Is Gone." He got the crowd into it right away, exhorting the full house to sing the refrains. Leaning back, looking skyward, his mouth open with joy, B.B. seemed to be feeling younger than his years as he played. Along the way B.B. played some interesting covers, including "You Are My Sunshine" and the closing number, "When the Saint Come Marching In."
Always talkative and a born storyteller, B.B. talked a lot more to the crowd than he normally does. B.B. mentioned he and his band have played in 90 different countries over the decades as he has been the most well known and respected ambassador of the blues. On most songs he would play a guitar intro, switch to vocals only, and then finish with a few guitar licks. While the years may have slowed him some, he has lost none of his passion for the music and his fans. Due to the weather, there was no encore, and neither B.B. or the crowd seemed to mind as he stood tossing guitar picks and gold colored chains to the crowd jamming up close to get one more look up close and personal with the King of the Blues.
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