Photos by Tim Dwenger
The Scene: What a night at the Denver Botanic Gardens! The weather was picture perfect and the late afternoon sun was shining on the Chihuly glass exhibit that inhabits the gardens through the end of November. Music fans sipped wine as they strolled the paths, chatted with friends, and took in the stunning glass that is expertly woven into the natural surroundings. Summer concerts at the Gardens are always special, but this summer it’s even better.
Taj Mahal Trio: Woohoo! Sure, Taj Mahal came down the hill to the stage on a golf cart (at 72 years old he’s earned that ride) but musically and vocally the man hasn’t lost a step! He’s a living Blues legend and has played alongside some of the biggest names in the business including Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Ry Cooder, Lightin’ Hopkins, and Muddy Waters, but tonight Taj was the center of attention and was backed by the formidable rhythm section of Kester Smith on the Drums and Bill Rich on the Bass.
From the get-go it was clear that Taj had come to wow the crowd with his deft finger picking and spot-on vocal delivery as he delivered favorites like “Fishin’ Blues” and “Corinna, Corinna” very early on in the set. As Taj and the band got deep into the Blues and things got a little hot under the collar, the dancing area in front of the stage filled up with Baby Boomers trying to get their groove on to the Blues.
I say “trying” because after great renditions of “Wild About My Lovin'” and “Little Red Rooster,” Taj took to the mic to tell the dancers “you guys don’t know how to the dance to the Blues!” He went to give a little lesson on the rhythms of the Blues by letting us all know that “the Blues is always on a triplet bounce.” After dedicating a tune called “Annie Mae” to all the women in the crowd who were “the first generation of Grandma’s to wear mini-skirts” you could see him shaking his head in disapproval at the dancers who hadn’t followed his dancing instructions. It was comical, but those folks up front just didn’t give up and they danced their way right through to the end of the under the disapproving eye of the one and only Taj Mahal.
John Hiatt & The Combo: Taj had warmed up the crowd expertly, and the wine had been flowing for a couple of hours, so when John Hiatt and his band The Combo emerged on the stage the crowd went nuts (in that tame sorta way that the Gardens crowds do). There was raucous applause, some whistles, and most importantly, the ever important dash to the stage to secure some dancing room front and center.
The first time I ever saw John Hiatt was way back in 1990 when he opened for Little Feat at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York and it seems he’s only gotten stronger as a performer over the last 24 years. Early on in the set Hiatt dropped the gems “Your Dad Did” and “Crossing Muddy Water” and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand as he moved around the stage like a man half his age; clearly enjoying every second of the performance. One of the most memorable moments of the night came when Hiatt alluded to apparent contradiction between his age (62) and his vitality and energy on stage by introducing the song “Old People” from his most recent album, by saying “I don’t know much about old people. I tend to hang out with folks my own age.” He went on to get the crowd engaged in a sing-a-long on the chorus of “old people are pushy and they aren’t mushy
/ old people are pushy cause life ain’t cushy.”
Hiatt’s got quite a discography of his own, but many of his songs have been made famous by others over the years. Sure I like Bonnie Raitt delivering a soaring version of “Thing Called Love” but it’s a true treat to hear Hiatt deliver it in his own gruff way. After all that’s the voice it was written in all those years ago. He followed that classic up with two more; a rockin’ “Memphis in the Meantime” that brought everyone to their feet, and finally a tender “Have A Little Faith In Me” that rounded out the night and proved that Denver still has faith in both these two legends
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: B-