Photo by Jay Blakesberg
Rain for two days prior left not a drop on the grounds of the Doheny Blues Festival as, gladly, at least on the opening Saturday of this weekend party, Southern California resumed living the dry life. Beach chairs and blankets. Board shorts and bikinis. 72 degrees and sunny, with only the occasional wispy, white, candy floss cloud drifting overhead. A beach ball, oversized and rainbow-striped, bopping above the clumps of thousands gathered on the slopping knolls of matted grass, carried the day’s universal sentiment etched in permanent-marker print: We Love B.B. King.
With the passing of the 89-year-old master less than 48 hours earlier, the tributes, dedications, and evidence of his indelible influence were expressed deservedly throughout- in the stories of old from Mud Morganfield, son of the late, great Muddy Waters, working his mojo in a purple, satin-smooth suit. Or The Mavericks’ black-hatted cowboys illuminating in twilight the omnipresent reach of the blues into myriad musical forms. Or headliner Paul Rodgers’ song list laden with selections from his exceptional 2014 release The Royal Sessions– recorded with acclaimed studio veterans in King’s adopted hometown of Memphis.
Upbeat, yet commemorative, among the more vocal of those extending gratitude was the North Mississippi All-Stars’ Luther Dickinson. Early into a mid-afternoon appearance, the guitarist/singer acknowledged King vociferously, his name first in a shouted litany of blues icons past and present, including Charlie Musselwhite, Gary Clark Jr., and Taj Mahal, rattled off during a barrage of head-nodding Delta honk. Mahal, unfortunately, had to cancel his own appearance at Doheny, as well as the balance of his May dates, and his bow-out shifted the foot-stomping Mississippi trio from the Backporch stage to the larger Sailor Jerry stage. Arriving fresh off a Thursday performance at Hangout Fest in Alabama with The Word, the undaunted All-Stars, with bassist Lightnin Malcolm, mounted an 80-minute homage to the roots and fruits of the genre, zig-zagging from Charlie Patton’s “Mississippi Bolweavil Blues” to Walter Vinson’s “Sittin’ on Top of the World” to their own raucous “Let It Roll,” flavored with whine and grind slide and Hendrix-inspired overdrive.
Los Lobos, subsequently moved from Sailor Jerry to the main Doheny stage, dedicated their nearly two-hour set to the legendary Beale Street Blues Boy. Though they preserved their trademark eclectic merging of styles and sounds, the quintet from East L.A. leaned into the blues with more weight, linking Howlin’ Wolf’s wily “300 Pounds of Joy” and Jimmy McCracklin’s pulsating “Georgia Slop” with its own charring “Chains of Love.” A two-pair of cumbias (“Chuco’s Cumbia” and “Cumbia Raza”) and Mexican folk standards (“Soy Mexico Americano” and “Volver, Volver”) off-set the Chicago rumble of “Don’t Worry Baby” and guitar pile-up of “Mas y Mas” before one final tacit homage. This one as an encore, to the delight of the dancing, connected blues disciples Buddy Holly and Grateful Dead with a thundering “Not Fade Away” into a show-closing “Bertha.”
B.B. King had wowed Doheny in his own right, last headlining in 2009. There were very few places he hadn’t reigned, in fact, and very few musicians he hadn’t touched. Be it in the All-Stars of B.B.’s Mississippi birthplace, the musical education of the west coast Lobos, or nearly every one of the day’s other performances, the legacy of B.B. King was everywhere. As it should be.