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Los Angeles native, Claremont to be exact, Ben Harper brought an ensemble of musicians and famous friends to Southern California this past weekend for a pair of shows in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles where he played the Santa Barbara County Bowl on Saturday followed by a Sunday night show at the Hollywood Bowl.
When given that choice of venues I always take the Santa Barbara Bowl. No offense Angelenos. The Hollywood Bowl for a rock concert is nice, but the folks up in SB just know how to rock a little harder than y’all. Harper tacitly agreed and proclaimed it his very favorite venue to play, period. Who am I to argue? Ill take the Santa Barbara Bowl any day over any place else on Earth. So I made the road trip up from L.A armed with my cameras for a rousing performance by Harper who always brings his “A” game to S.B.
The show began with a quiet soulful set of songs with Harper playing solo on the slide guitar, which looked like the rare Weissenborn slide, one of the most rare guitars in the world. Harper’s strength has always been the slide guitar, which is his signature instrument. A violinist for a number of songs joined him onstage before he broke into a full on electric set backed by a rockin 5-piece band.
The electric set crescondo’d with a rousing improve groove of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” which had this Pearl Jam junky elated. I was expecting some special guests to appear and was not disappointed. Ok maybe a little. Harper’s Pal Eddie Vedder is over in Europe so that was a no go.
Santa Barbara favorite Jack Johnson joined Harper on stage for a set. Harper actually met Johnson at the County Bowl and was responsible for helping him get his first album made. Even more interesting was the introduction of Natalie Maims from “The Dixie Chicks” who joined Ben on Pink Floyd’s “Mother”.
Harper is one of the most eclectic and diverse musicians of his time. He has penned pop hits, and had his greatest albums with his first band “The Innocent Criminals” who played a collection of rock, soul, reggae and gospel. He introduced the world to “The Blind Boys of Alabama” on a tour several years ago, has joined Pearl Jam on stage many times as a guest and pal of lead singer Eddie Vedder. His last band “Fistful of Mercy” was a collaboration of Harper, singer songwriter Joseph Arthur and Dhanni Harrison, son of the late George Harrison.
There’s not much Ben Harper can’t do musically. It’s always astonished me that Harper has not had massive fame in this country. I chalk up it up to the Popular Music scene being utter sh*t in this country. So I wouldn’t take it too personally Ben. Harper is a multi Grammy award winner with a steady following. Harper is a nice man with a big heart and monster talent all of which was on display at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday.