The Malibu Guitar Festival is in its second year and boasts an impressive list of musical artists, mostly and obviously guitarists, who have been influentially known for their craft or have been GRAMMY nominees and award winners, and who have reputations for delivering flat-out great performances. People were lined up for some unique musical experiences at this boutique festival that featured artist showcases, all-star jam nights and a big blow-out in Malibu Village which took place on Saturday. It was 4 days of exhaustively reverencing and celebrating the guitar and the guitarist!
Thursday night kicked off with a charity master jam with Fabrizio Scotti, Lyric Dubee, Robert Randolph, Randy Jackson, Albert Lee, The Empty Hearts and Kenny Wayne Shepard. Star-sighting included Minnie Driver and Owen Wilson who were there to enjoy the jams! To set the tone for the remaining festivities, the all-star jam was reported to be off the chain and rumbled to the wee hours with music and guitar fans getting a full dose!
Friday came quickly with the prospect of getting an up-close showcase of Richie Sambora and Orianthi, both recognized for their prowess. There was a step and repeat for red carpet action in the open patio area of Escobar’s. I spotted Minnie Driver hanging with family and friends in the patio area before she disappeared inside. Arrivals included Brook Halpin, Albert Lee, Lyric Dubee, Steve Ferrone, Laurence Juber, Orianthi and Richie Sambora. When Richie and Orianthi arrived, they immediately took a group shot with the kids before launching into the step and repeat activities. Richie and Orianthi posed separately and together before they slipped behind in the green room. I love the shot I took of Albert with his guitar. He and Laurence accommodated the photographers’ needs before their gig began too.
Openers were The Costello Band, Stone Age and The Maze with Michelle Wolf. By the time RSO – the combined forces of Orianthi and Richie Sambora – started up, the fans were properly warmed up and ready to go. The songs played by RSO that night were “Love Comes To Town”, “Higher Ground”, “Hard Day’s Night”, “Soul Shine”, “You Don’t Wanna Know”, their cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”, ZZ Top’s “Tush”, “Livin’ On A Prayer” and “Wanted Dead Or Alive”. Orianthi went deep and bluesy with “Soul Shine”. That song lingered in the air like a hot and humid Georgia summer day as she bent and worked those strings to the breaking point to lingered and burned through the number. Richie took control with ZZ Top’s “Tush” with a fitting and powerful tribute to the 70s Blues classic. RSO played tribute to Prince with their version of “When Doves Cry”. It was a generous set in the cosy setting of Casa Escobar that kept fans riveted for nearly an hour and a half. Next up was Albert Lee and he brought a nice follow-up set that references the best of roots rock and roll. You could feel vibing through his playing and the energy that set off early Rock and Roll artists like Eddie Cochran, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Cliff Gallup, Carl Perkins, Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley. Albert was engaging and authentic! He kept the energy up and going toward the close of the evening.
On Saturday, the Malibu Guitar Fest moved to Malibu Village with a larger presence of 2 stages and a large area where fans could mix and mingle. A small stage to the side for local artists and the main stage for attractions like: Zepperella, Albert Lee, The Empty Hearts, Dale Watson, Laurence Juber, the combined forces of Randy Jackson, Steve Ferrone, Alex Ligertwood, Robert Randolph as a part of Kenneth Brian Band and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
The show started for me around 3pm. I headed for the main stage after the credentialing process to find myself bathed in the sounds of an all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band from San Francisco named Zeparella. They were setting the afternoon on fire with some hot Electric Blues as they played raging guitar and skin-pounding versions of Led Zepplin’s classics. They were setting a great tone for the afternoon’s warm up for the headliner Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Zeparella delivered a pulsing version of Led Zeppelin’s catalogue that included “The Ocean” and “Whole Lotta Love” that closed their set. Next up was Dale Watson who skewed things in a completely different direction with his take on Country music called Amricpolitan. Upon taking the stage with a beer in hand, he jammed a bit before he spent little a quality time extolling the virtues of Lonestar beer. It was a fun moment as he went downhome and shook things up with a little Austin weird. After this reality break, he started blazing on the guitar with some fine picking and grinning. Eddie Money followed to deliver his hits and a wealth of schtick.
The Empty Hearts, a band named by Steven Van Zandt or as he is better known as Little Steven. I had a few minutes to speak with Clem Burke, of Blondie, about The Empty Hearts and here are a few of things he had to say:
“Steven Van Zandt, is a long time friend of mine and Andy Babiuk’s. I worked on an album with the Romantics called 6149 as one of the drummers. Coincidentally, when Steven was starting up his underground garage radio station on Sirius I went to the opening party in New York at the Hard Rock. As I said, coincidentally, was when The Romantics album was coming out. I saw Steven there and actually Andy Babiuk was also there. Steven was a big proponent and fan of the Chesterfield Kings. So I said, Steven, obviously he knew The Romantics, and know about “What I Like About You”: A classic garage rock 60’s British influenced sound. I said Steven! The Romantics have a new album, which basically is everything your format is going to be about. You ought to check out their album, which he did do and he subsequently started playing it. The Romantics went on one of Steven’s Underground Garage Rock tours. After this he became very friendly with The Romantics. Then I had a band called Checkered Past with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, Nigel Harrison our bass player from Blondie. On our national tour and our label EMI America was the label Steven was on when he left the E Street Band. We did a tour with Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul were touring his second album, “The Voice of America”. Dino Danelli of the Rascals, is a favorite drummer of mine, was in that band. So I got to hang out with Dino too! There was a connection there, besides we are all from Jersey. So what we were doing with The Empty Hearts were championing a certain kind of genuine Rock and Roll. So the way he was like connecting the dots, the exception of Rock and Roll with Alan Freed in the 50’s, to whatever bands he’s finding now, not Rock music, not Pop music, he calls it Garage Rock, but it’s basically grassroots Rock and Roll. One thing let to another, we tried to get him to co-write with us: which is going to come up with us in our next record because he’s going to work with us. He came up, he had a list of names and The Empty Hearts was one of the names on that list.He come to see the band a bunch of times.”
After that, Clem and I separated because he had some drumming to do! The Empty Hearts, comprised of Clem, Andy Babuik of The Chesterfield Kings, Wally Palmer of The Romantics and Elliot Easton of The Cars, hit the stage and played an energized set of Garage-inspired Rock and Roll with “(I See) No Way Out” and “Meet Me ’round The Corner.”
Robert Randolph with The Kenneth Brian Band boasted two other heavy hitters with Steve Ferrone (Average White Band and Tom Petty) and Alex Ligertwood (Santana). Robert manned the steel guitar and shared vocals with Alex Ligertwood. There was a stunning version of “Purple Haze” by Robert played on steel guitar, a first for me! Alex Ligertwood took over vocal duties to cover the Prince tribute of “Purple Rain” with a lot of grit and soul that closed out their set.
Laurence Juber put on a solo acoustic set featuring Beatles’ numbers including “Strawberry Fields” and “I Am The Walrus” both offering moments to showcase his talent as a guitar player and demonstrating why he was hired to play in Sir Paul McCartney’s band Wings.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd was up next and was to close the show for Saturday night. Kenny brought it in spades with a delicious, deeply bluesy version of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” and scorcher version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile”! “Shame Shame Shame” throbbed and lingered as the audience stood in silence and awe. Noel and Kenny got down and dirty with it, in a good way of course, to close the set and Saturday night.
Sunday came quickly with a lazy and sumptuous Beatles Brunch at Sunset restaurant. The sun was bright with the slightest haze lingering as the waves crashed upon the shore and folks gathered to enjoy a nice brunch spread and fine musical entertainment. This all took place looking out at the Pacific Ocean from Point Dume. Daniel Page, The Tearaways were part of this easy opening as people enjoyed their brunch and mimosas or coffee set to their music. Andy Babiuk of The Empty Hearts took the stage to offer the most complete and exhaustive presentation on the history of The Beatles, based on his book, “Beatles Gear: All the Fab Four’s Instruments from Stage to Studio – The Ultimate Edition,” featuring the instruments and equipment they used in their illustrious path to becoming legendary superstars and the band that defined the 60’s! Andy’s presentation offered fun stories and details about The Beatles’ career, rarely heard stories with the unique perspective of an insider. Lyric Dubee, Albert Lee and Laurence Juber all laid out acoustic sets. Albert Lee, Brooke Halpin and Laurence Juber gathered up front to close things out with The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”: sung beautifully and with great passion. From there, things defused into the languid “Sunny Sunday.”
The 4 days of Malibu Guitar Fest had intimacy, energy and variety with an enthusiastic embracing of music makers and the love of an instrument that made it all happen. The festival was paced well, with a great arch, a brilliant decompression and ending with Sunday’s Beatles Brunch. It was the kind of musical experience rarely attained by a festival, where there was a balance between commerce, artistry and an authentic and intimate experience with the music. The Malibu Guitar Festival delivered a premium experience for the music lover and guitar aficionado in one remarkable weekend!