Henry St. Clair Fredericks Jr. was born on the heels of The Harlem Renaissance in Upper Manhattan. The son of an Afro-Caribbean jazz composer and professional pianist his house was always full of music and song. His father died in a traumatic construction accident when Fredericks was just 11 years old. After borrowing his stepfather’s guitar at the tender age of 13 he took lessons from local bluesman Lynwood Perry. After a short stint as a farmer in his teenage years he continued in the family business, but it was only after dreaming about Gandhi that he chose the stage name Taj Mahal. On the cusp of his 80th birthday this living legend continues to tour and lead an amazing band far and wide. Fans scrambled for the few remaining seats and pockets of standing room as the show began promptly at 8 PM with a solo opening performance from Cary Morin.

Morin’s brand of Americana is gritty and raw, full of emotion and anchored by his mesmerizing finger picking approach. Folk music can take on all forms from blues to rock to acoustic and Morin keeps all of those tools at his disposal. His songs were a blend of those root forms of music but from a distinctly Native perspective. He played “Dawn’s Early Light” which is a look back on a different time and a different culture in this country. He performed “Blue Delta Home” and “Jamie Rae” his latest album Dockside Saints to close out his 45 minute set. Mr. Morin was a solid addition to the lineup and his music gave everyone a chance to pause for some deep reflection.

Taj and his Quintet took the stage close to 9 PM as he marched to his chair to sweeping adulation. This was a sit-down affair for both band and crowd and for the most part everyone was very attentive. The bar was a different story. They opened with a perfect rendition of “Blackjack Davey.” Taj’s voice is unchanged from the last 60 years of touring. His graveling vocals bounced off the walls of The Boulder Theater as his band danced between the standard  instrumentation and a country and western drawl. He kept the hits coming early with the fan favorite “Corrina” originally from his 1968 release Natch’l Blues. “Queen Bee” was another early surprise followed by a cover of the traditional “Sittin’ On Top of The World.” At this point Taj introduced his band with Bill Rich on bass, Rob Ickes on dobro, Trey Hensley  on guitar and  vocals, Kester Smith on drums and Bobby Ingano on steel guitar. I sang “Lovin’ In My Babies Eyes” with Euforquestra to my wife on or wedding day and the version performed in Boulder was much better. He gave a shout out to Ma Rainey before a soulful rendition of her classic “CC Rider.”

The next few tracks could be described as Hula Fusion. Bobby was all smiles as his sacred steel alternated between traditional island sounds and an exaggerated country twang for “New Hula Blues” into “Twilight In Hawaii.” Next Taj got the crowd buzzing with a pair of classics “Fishing Blues” and “Giant Step.” The set lasted an hour and he closed it down with his anthem of positivity “Everybody Is Somebody.”

I can’t stress how amazing it is to see your heroes live. Taj Mahal still has that magic and sparkle that made him a star of the stage in 1959. It was an intimate performance that allowed not only Taj to shine but his band as well. If Taj and his traveling circus happen to float through your town get yourself a ticket.