With a bright full moon positioned over the waters of the Pacific, Bonnie Raitt brought a magical close to the 11th annual Doheny Blues Festival on Sunday night.
Her 90-minute set capped more than two dozen performances that played out at the two-day festival staged at Doheny State Beach over the weekend. For those – and I count myself in that camp – who had only seen the 58-year-old singer-guitarist play in an indoor venue, watching Raitt perform at an outdoor event was a decidedly different affair.
Her trademark skills as a slide guitarist and nuanced vocalist were on display, but there was a casual attitude that goes with being at a blues fest that found Raitt inviting a fan on stage at one point and bantering back and forth with members of the crowd. Indeed, at one point when one fan yelled out a request for a favorite song, Raitt good-naturedly replied, “I can’t play them all. I’ve been around too long.”
However, few in the capacity crowd seemed anything but thrilled with the song choices and their presentation in Dana Point. Whether performing radio favorites such as the upbeat blues-rock of “Thing Called Love” and “Something to Talk About” or bringing many in the audience to tears with the beautiful “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” her set was truly outstanding.
Earlier in the day, the full scope of roots and blues music was showcased via a wide range of artists. Those arriving by 11:15 got to see singer-guitarist Shawn Jones kick things off on the Main Stage with an accessible and infectious blend of original blues-rock. His guitar playing, voice and songwriting won over many who didn’t know this newcomer from the Inland Empire. Songs such as the confessional “Glorybound” and high-octane rocker “Savin’ the Best for Last” were among the highlights of his 45-minute set.
And from the excitement and overheard comments from everyone positioned around the Main Stage, few will forget their introduction to Joe Bonamassa. The 31-year-old Bonamassa is this generation’s real life guitar hero, a fret master who has a vast number of musical ideas and an arsenal of electric and acoustic guitar chops to express those dreams in full.
On Sunday afternoon, his style of heavy blues recalled strong guitar players such as Walter Trout and Gary Moore, but Bonamassa showcased his own voice with original material such as the beautiful rocker “Sloe Gin” and Delta blues-tinged “High Water Everywhere.”
Although it’s anyone’s guess when Watermelon Slim & the Workers will find their way back to Orange County, the talented and original blues quartet performed an enjoyable 45-minute set of blues on the Backporch stage. Watermelon Slim proved to be both charismatic and engaging in the intimate setting, singing, playing harmonica and slide guitar with fervor.
There was an authentic, retro quality across the troupe’s fiery set, with “Devil’s Cadillac” and “Ash Tray” illustrating the loose and freewheeling style the commanding ensemble has made their own.