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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 5:14 am | Fair 46º


Paul Mann: Steve Miller Band, Los Lobos Share Four Decades of Music

The veteran rock groups belt out classic hits at the Santa Barbara Bowl

After an unusually long pause, the Santa Barbara Bowl’s summer concert season got back on track July 10 with a veteran rock double bill.

Fans enjoyed the area’s first bit of sunshine in a long while, as an unusual monsoon weather front swept away the nagging fog. A rare sun shower mixed with bright, billowing clouds created a double rainbow over the bowl, just as iconic Californian rockers Los Lobos played their opening set.

Perhaps the hardest-working American Chicano rock band ever, the group has been performing and recording since the 1970s. Known as a consummate live jam band, its various members have performed with countless legends in American pop music.

The band sauntered onstage in the midafternoon sun and began to play for a small, sleepy crowd still stumbling toward their seats. But by the time the band was an hour into their jamming set, most of the fans had found their seats, only to shed them again in a dancing frenzy. The three-time Grammy Award-winning band showed no signs of slowing down, as they mixed their classic hits with some songs from their soon-to-be-released album Tin Can Trust. Click here for a free track of the new album.

The Steve Miller Band followed exactly at the 8 p.m. scheduled time, even though the lingering summer daylight blunted the intricate and dynamic stage lighting. But to complete his marathon two-hour set, Miller chose to forgo waiting for the darkness to envelope his surreal guitar tunnel set, and put the focus first on the music.

The American king of guitars, Miller hit the stage with his guitar wailing, playing some of his biggest hit songs from the 1970s. Starting with songs such as “The Joker,” he proceeded to flash through an array of American music classics, stopping only to don a new guitar for nearly every new song.

A classic story teller, Miller would occasionally pause for a good story, such as the one about his favorite acoustic guitar. The guitar, stolen on a flight by a baggage handler, turned up three years later when a cousin tried to pawn it. When the FBI called Miller to notify him, the bewildered musician thought he might have been caught smuggling Cuban cigars —like the one he had in his mouth.

He also paused to dedicate a song to his longtime bandmate Norton Buffalo, who died last year. Since he formed his first group in 1965, the Steve Miller Band has included no fewer than 50 musicians, many of whom went on to become rock legends. His current band includes Gordy Knudtson, Kenny Lee Lewis, Joseph Wooten and Sonny Charles, legendary lead singer of the soul group Checkmates, Ltd. Charles led the group through several classic soul, blues and R&B songs, singing and dancing like a performer half his age.

The old songs paid tribute to the early days of the Steve Miller group when they opened shows in Chicago for many of the biggest names of soul and blues music in the 1960s. Toward the end of his hit-packed set, Miller played his 1968 protest anthem “Living in The USA,” and dedicated it to U.S. troops overseas. He mused about how that heady time in history was eerily similar to today’s world with many of the same challenges.

During his encore finale, Miller again paused to talk about a topic dear to him: his nonprofit charter school set up to teach children music — the Fenders Kids Rock Free program. To emphasize the importance of his charity, he introduced pint-size guitar-playing prodigy Dillon Brown to jam with him on the final songs. The young teen seemed right at home jamming away with the American king of guitars.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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