Joe Bonamassa at NYCB Theatre at Westbury
Joe Bonamassa was a child prodigy. He opened for B.B. King at 12 years of age. He was profiled on NBC's Real Life With Jane Pauley in 1991. Though not yet 40-years-old, Bonamassa (born on May 8, 1977), has shared the stage with artists such as Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Buddy Guy, Steve Winwood, Stephen Stills, Warren Haynes, Blondie Chaplin, Derek Trucks and, of course, King. Since 2000, the blues-rock guitarist has released twelve studio albums, three collaboration albums (two with Beth Hart and one with Mahalia Barnes), thirteen live albums and twelve DVDs/Blu-rays. His CDs have reached number 1 on the Billboard Blues Charts numerous times.
On a unseasonably warm Saturday night in late November, Bonamassa fulfilled what he described as one of his life's ambitions -- "playing in the round and selling-out Westbury! I always wanted to do it and see all the faces in the crowd." Appearing on stage at just after 8pm, Bonamassa was backed by two singers (Lisa Richards and Charlotte Mckinnon) and a 5-piece band that featured late-night TV veteran, drummer Anton Fig (who held that position for 29 years in the Late Show With David Letterman's house band), Reese Wynans (who was a member of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble) on keyboards, Michael Rhodes on bass, Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Paulie Cerra on saxophone. The guitarist and his band then proceeded to, burn their way through a mixture of original songs as well as covers of the B.B. King classics "Never Make Your Move Too Soon" and "Nobody Loves Me but My Mother," covers of Albert King's "Angel of Mercy" (featuring a Tasty drum solo from Fig) and "I Get Evil" (with its boogie-woogie shuffle), a lively version of Howlin' Wolf's "Hidden Charms," a fantastic version of Moloch's "Going Down" and an almost fifteen minute version of Led Zeppelin's "How Many More Times" that would have done Jimmy Page proud.
With the exception of the occasional "Thank you!," it wasn't until after the eighth song that Bonamassa addressed the crowd. At that point he thanked the audience for coming, mentioned that "the first time I played here, I opened for B.B. King 25 years ago. I've played here in the past but never in the round." He then thanked the crowd and "all the friendlies out there" for coming and introduced the band. And, then it was back to business.
The NYCB Theatre at Westbury is a cozy and intimate venue that less than a month prior to Bonamassa's show, it was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. On this night it was filled (with nary a single empty seat) with members of what can be called Bonamniacs or Bonamassa nation. The faithful sang along, played air guitar in the aisles, cheered, hooted and hollared and were rewarded with a performance that lasted for approximately two hours. In addition to the choice covers, the set list included "Love Ain't A Love Song" and "I Gave Up Everything for You, 'Cept the Blues" both from Different Shades of Blue (J&R Records, 2014). The performance leaned heavily on the 2016 J&R Records release Blues of Desperation release offering five songs: the title track, the show's opening tune "This Train," "Mountain Climbing," "No Good Place For the Lonely" and "How Deep This River Runs." The show ended with a killer encore of B.B. King's "Hummingbird."
To the uninitiated, Joe Bonamassa looks like he could be your accountant. A very cool accountant in a well-tailored blue suit with stylist glasses, but an accountant just the same. An accountant...yeah if your accountant was an amazing guitarslinger that could make his six-string sing, howl, soar and moan. In addition to his guitar skills, this unlikely virtuoso has the voice, original material and reverence for the legends of the genre and the history of the blues to bring it back to the masses and give it the renaissance that it needs.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon
Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon