Photo and Article Credit L. Paul Mann
Hot, dry winds buffeted the Vina Robles Amphitheater during a sold-out Steve Miller concert. The crisp August night came just a week after unusually cold temperatures enveloped a sold-out Avett Brothers concert at the same venue. The weather may be unpredictable at the beautiful mountainside amphitheater, but a good time is almost always guaranteed for concert goers at the most pristine concert venue in Central California. The concert billed as “Classic rock meets classic country,” actually included a good helping of Blues music. That was most evident during a stunning short acoustic opening set by Canadian singer guitarist Matt Andersen. The masterful songwriter may be relatively unknown in this country, but he has been recording powerful music for nearly two decades north of the border. The full-throated singer astounded the audience with authentic original Blues songs leaving the crowd screaming for more at the end of his short set.
Concert goers celebrated the warm summer evening with glasses and bottles of wine from the onsite winery, local microbrew beers and sumptuous treats like wood-fired pizza and gourmet chocolate cake. Marty Smith and his Fabulous Superlatives took the stage next as a setting sun painted the venue in pastel hues. Stuart is a multi-Grammy-winning singer-songwriter with Mississippi classic country roots. Fittingly, he mixes rockabilly, honky-tonk, and traditional country music to create his sound. In the early 1990s, he had a steady string of country hits. Stuart played an hour-long set of his country classics backed by hihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockabilly band, the aptly named Fabulous Superlatives. The group of veteran musicians took turns showcasing their immense musical talent. The set was filled with 16 songs, including a lead vocal turn for each of the band members. Drummer “Handsome” Harry Stinson sang a classic cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.” Lead guitarist Kenny Vaughan sang “Hot Like That” while playing wailing guitar riffs. Bassist Chris Scruggs sang Bob Wills’ “The Brain-Cloudy Blues.” While Stuart allowed the other band members to shine, he managed to shine brightest with his witty banter, humorous lyrics, and exquisite picking skills. The veteran performer got his start playing in Lester Flatts’ and Johnny Cash’s bands. His solo mandolin version of “Orange Blossom Special,” showcased his picking skills.
After another break in the music, the summer sun faded, leaving a crystal clear night as a backdrop for Steve Miller’s headline 90-minute set. Miller tours relentlessly, having played the same venue with Peter Frampton last summer. Nederlander Concerts will be bringing Frampton to perform his Finale tour to Vina Robles on October 3rd. Miller’s 17 songs setlist was filled with the classic hits that his fans expect to hear at one of his shows. But the 75-year-old guitar wizard has a way of reinventing each live performance offering up a fresh improvisation on every tour. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer led a quartet of veteran rockers opening with a Blues drenched version of “The Stake” from his 1977 album Book of Dreams. Miller used his classic toy ray gun to spice up the hit “Jungle Love,” followed by yet another hit “Abracadabra.” A harmonica drenched version of “Living In The USA” gave the nod to his 1960’s rock roots. The 1969 hit “Space Cowboy followed that.” Miller mixed it up with a deep cut of “Serenade” from the 1977 Fly Like an Eagle Album. The music switched to Texas Blues on the next song a cover of “But Only You” by Jimmy Reed.
The show then took a turn towards country music as Miller invited Stuart and his band back to the stage to join his group for a mini-set that included Millers “Lovin’ Cup,” “Going to the Country” and “Dance Dance Dance.” Miller seemed to revel in the moment, bantering with the crowd about the intersections of rock ’n’ roll, country music and the blues. He expressed his admiration for Stuart and the Superlatives before announcing that they had agreed to tour together again next year. Stuart picked away on his mandolin trading riffs with Miller and Superlatives guitar ace Kenny Vaughan.
After Stuart and his band left the stage, Miller launched into a moody “Wild Mountain Honey” followed by a 10-minute jam of the classic “Fly Like an Eagle,” featuring keyboardist Joseph Wooten. The set included several other songs before ending with a bang highlighting three of Miller’s biggest rock hits, “Take the Money and Run,” “The Joker” and “Jet Airliner.” It was a fascinating night of American music history with a bit of Canadian Blues music thrown in to spice things up.