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Review: Tampa Bay Blues Festival brings Stephen Stills home with the Rides



Watch out, Buffalo Springfield and CSNY. You’re no longer the only supergroups on Stephen Stills’ block.

We now have the Rides, a blues combo featuring ace axeman Kenny Wayne Shepherd and veteran sideman and songwriter Barry Goldberg, who headlined the 23rd Tampa Bay Blues Festival on Saturday in Vinoy Park.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I have a habit of finding younger, skinnier, taller guitarists to play with who are better than me,” Stills said of Shepherd.

He’s selling himself short. The crowd, it was announced from the stage, was the biggest Saturday turnout in Blues Fest history, and Stills, who spent part of his childhood in Tampa and St. Petersburg, was a big reason why.

Looking a bit professorial as walked onstage chomping his arms like a Florida Gator, Stills, 72, wasted no time pointing out the Renaissance Vinoy St. Petersburg campus across the street, where he once attended Admiral Farragut Academy.

“Looking at that building, who’da thunk I’d be playing in the yard 60 years later?” he mused. “Nineteen-fifty-and-six!”

The years have worn on Stills’ pipes a bit, it’s true, but his guitar playing remains compelling. Stills and the decades-younger Shepherd traded fiery solos all night -- the elder axeman’s prickly and raw, the younger’s precise and piercing. When they worked together, they worked wonders, like on the combustible Can’t Get Enough or Game On, where Shepherd’s sinewy solos pumped fuel into Stills’ world-weary rasp.

There was a hiccup on Virtual World, a song Stills said was about the “rude as s---” omnipresence of the smartphone, when Stills and Shepherd were a little out of sync, lyrically. But otherwise, the Rides -- including Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton -- played well off each other throughout. Shepherd’s piercing solos gave way to a rollicking run by Goldberg on Elmore JamesTalk To Me Baby. Stills’ gritty voice lent depth and texture to Shephard’s youthful yowl on the devilish By My Side.

They nodded to the work of others, with Shepherd leading a flaring cover of Iggy Pop’s Search and Destroy and a juke-joint shuffle through Willie Dixon’s My Babe. And they played a few of each member’s own bluesy numbers, including Shepherd’s Blue On Black and Goldberg’s I’ve Got to Use My Imagination, a 1973 hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, which brought more dynamite guitar interplay from Stills and Shepherd.

Stills dipped into his catalog, too, bounding through springy, funky versions of Love the One You’re With and Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth (“It’s probably sad we still need this song,” he said). Both were retrofitted for a blues-minded audience, which, along with Stills’ local-boy status, was enough to stir up applause, sing-alongs and a standing O for the encore.

Preceding the Rides was soulful bluesman Coco Montoya, who spliced in among his many gnarly, stylistically diverse solos the John Mayerish I Want It All Back, as well as a slow-burning tribute to Louisiana/Chicago blues legend Lonnie Brooks, who died this week.

“Lonnie was a great cat,” Montoya said somberly as he began to play Nothing But Love, a song he’s written for Albert Collins. “He took the time, all the time, for the young players.”

Montoya was among a handful of musicians who stopped by Ringside Cafe and the Ale and the Witch for after-parties. Stills probably didn’t stop by to jam. But hey, he’s got enough supergroups already, including one that's doing all right right now.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Sunday, April 9, 2017 1:08am]


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