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Joe Bonamassa Has Grown From Guitarist to Entertainer as He Wows Sioux Falls Again Tuesday Night

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Joe Bonamassa’s fourth Sioux Falls appearance on Tuesday night (April 15) was a reminder to any doubters that he has grown beyond being a guitarist that can play all the notes into being a full blown entertainer.

Make no mistake, there was little room for any additional notes in the 2 1/2 hour, two set performance he and his amazing band put on for a nearly full house at the Washington Pavilion, but his growth as a performer is truly inspirational to up and coming musicians. I don’t say ‘blues’ musicians, because Bonamassa’s shows can’t be categorized that simply. The show we witnessed definitely had some blues, but there was rock, R&B, soul, funk, Irish country music, and I swear I heard some flamenco licks in there as well.

Bonamassa and his six man touring band gave us two sets Tuesday night. Opening with Joe seated center stage surrounded by eight acoustic guitars, he ripped into so many notes that I got a text from a friend at the show asking where the second guitarist was and simply “Holy S*@!” Fresh off his release “An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House”, the first set was all acoustic, but the sounds that filled the Great Hall at the Pavilion were more than any acoustic evening I’ve ever spent. He was joined on stage for the second song through the rest of the first set by absolutely great musicians as you would expect.

Keyboardist Derek Sherinian was a nice surprise as I didn’t realize he had joined Joe’s band. The pair worked together briefly in Black Country Communion, but long before that, he had been dubbed the “Caligula of the keyboards” by his boss Alice Cooper and also worked in Dream Theatre. Percussionist extraordinaire Lenny Castro absolutely captured the crowds attention with his multi-instrument repertoire which has seen him work with Eric Clapton, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and the Rolling Stones among many others. He was also part of the Grammy Beatles tribute band. The man can flat out play any percussion instrument and was a great addition to the band. Mats Wester from Sweden is known for his mastery of his homeland’s traditional instrument the nyckelharpa, as well as the mandola. And Gerry O’Connor from Ireland rounded out the acoustic group by playing the violin, banjo AND mandolin. To say this is a talented group is an understatement as they tore through an 11-song opening set that saw Bonamassa play nine different guitars.

After a short 15-minute intermission, they ‘plugged in’ with Sherinian and Castro remaining on stage and joined by longtime Bonamassa bandmates, bassist Carmine Rojas whose career started in 1972 as a roadie for Sly & The Family Stone and had him keeping the low end through David Bowie’s 1980′s peak years followed by 15 years with Rod Stewart. He’s been with Bonamassa for the past decade and the pairing works beautifully on recordings and live shows. On drums is Tal Bergman whose resume’ finds a diverse background ranging from Billy Idol to LL Cool J. Again, a smoking band that Joe lets loose on numerous occasions during the second set.

From his first appearance in Sioux Falls in 2004 when he opened for George Thorogood at the Pavilion (a show he seemingly can’t remember, but considering he literally tours the world nine or ten months a year, who can blame him for not remembering being in Sioux Falls before!) to his opening set for Buddy Guy at 2005 JazzFest, he was still finding who he was as an artist. He was a child prodigy on guitar and could play all the notes and as much as we were all mesmerized by his talents in the early days, you could tell there was going to be much more from Bonamassa. His next appearance here came six years later in 2011 when he was back at the Pavilion, and the suits and sunglasses were a standard part of his wardrobe. He played about a dozen different electric guitars that night and again, blew us all away with his talent as a blues/rock titan. But over the past three years, doing the shows at Royal Albert Hall, the Vienna Opera House, the Grammy nominated album with Beth Hart and so much more, Bonamassa has become the entertainer that I think he has always wanted to be in the vein of some of his heroes like B.B. King and Buddy Guy. He was engaging with the audience when introducing his stellar bandmates, he joked about the Sioux Falls/Sioux City ‘rivalry’ when he said he spent the first day in town referring to us as Sioux City until he said the woman at the hotel kindly informed him that he was in “f-ing Sioux Falls!” which got the crowd laughing and on his side (Joe’s next show by the way is Thursday in Sioux City)

The growth and maturity I’ve seen as he approaches his 37th birthday next month (yes, by musician standards, he’s still a ‘kid’) is amazing to watch. Every time one of his shows run on PBS, I tune in, his CDs are standard in my car for road trips, and I simply can’t wait to see him live again to see where his musical journey takes him next. The ‘establishment’ of the Grammy’s and even the Blues Music Awards may overlook him for some unknown reason, but make no mistake, Joe Bonamassa is an amazing talent, and in my book, the best guitarist on the planet right now. Can you imagine how good he’ll be, playing as much as he does, when he’s 40 or 50 years old? If you get the opportunity to see Joe Bonamassa live in concert. Go. No matter the price, you will not be disappointed.

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Photo Courtesy of Bill Tetrault
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