Gary Clark Jr. Spotlights Familial Austin Talent in Blues On the Green’s Return
“Everybody is listening to the guitar man”… and his friends
By Kevin Curtin,
11:45AM, Wed. Jul. 28, 2021
Under the stubborn 8pm sun, Zilker Park’s filling up.
A scan of the surrounding multitudes remind us that Blues on the Green, more than most concerts, attracts all walks: couples on blankets sipping rosé, packs of teenagers in coordinated outfits, circles of friends with fashionable coolers, old hippies who dance with their hands, intact family units, and curly haired dogs – labradoodles, bernedoodles, and probably some other kinds of doodles too.
Generational as it is general, BOTG’s broad audience illustrates the 30-year institution’s cachet as a community event, undiminished by a pandemic gap year. Appropriately, Tuesday’s musical curator stands as a reliably loyal community figure. Gary Clark Jr.’s already well-established commitment to amplifying local now culminates with his Handpicked Homegrown All-Star Revue, where he and his band back a seven-act parade of local talent.
Music, you know, it’s a familial bond. There’s groove-blues generators Alex and Glenn Peterson Jr., akin to Clark’s preternaturally talented younger brothers, commencing the show with “Give Me Your Love.” Now, he and his musical sister Eve Monsees reverberate verses of 13th Floor Elevators’ “Roller Coaster,” which the pair recently covered for a Roky Erickson tribute album.
“I was born and raised in Austin, Texas – a unicorn in this bitch,” Kydd Jones announces, after he and guitarist Bomani Ray Barton float through the poetic “James Baldwin.” Clearly that’s a commentary on the city, not BOTG’s stage, which tonight’s almost entirely populated with bonafide townies. The exception, talented singer Suzanne Santo, formerly of Americana duo Honeyhoney, lands an exceptional appearance, unsurprising given that she and Clark share a backing band: keyboardist John Deas, guitarist King Zapata, drummer JJ Johnson, and bassist Elijah Ford – all of whom deserve halos for anchoring the night’s extensive musical sequences.
ACL Radio DJ and BOTG host Andy Langer had earlier lauded Clark for taking fellow Austin artists on the road with him. Now frequent tour mates Blackillac are getting the audience unprecedentedly hype with the energetic, clever trap of new single “Super Smart.” Singer-guitarist Jackie Venson, ever emanating contagiously joyous vibes, hits the night’s ultimate highlight with the patient and reflective “Rollin On,” impregnated with a soulful solo from Clark.
“Give it up for Gary Clark Jr. for bringing Austin artists out on tour,” she prompts. “That was a big part of my career.” Vice versa for Jimmie Vaughan, who’d brought a young Clark in front of national artists years ago. Tonight, as they trade solos over boogie blues, the younger musician's most impressive guitar work emerges.
The complimentary musical role Clark’s inhabited all night flips to supreme command as he burns down a coruscating version of “Bright Lights” before closing with the funk earworm “Guitar Man” from 2019’s career album This Land.
“The last time we played a gig in front of people like this was right here at ACL Fest 2019,” he reflects. “It’s kinda crazy.”
Crazy for us too in that mass numbering tens of thousands. For most everyone, it’s the largest crowd they’ve experienced in a year and a half.
Blues on the Green continues tonight, 8pm, with Mobley and Kalu & the Electric Joint
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Blues on the Green, Andy Langer, Alex Peterson, Glenn Peterson, Jr., Suzanne Santo, Jackie Venson, JJ Johnson, Elijah Ford, Eve Monsees, Gary Clark Jr., Jimmie Vaughan, Zeale, John Deas, Kydd Jones, King Zapata