Guest Feature: Malibu Guitar Festival – A Musician’s Perspective
Words by Pete Pidgeon
Photography by Paul Citone
Published May 6, 2016
Watching Prince videos on YouTube for the fifth-straight hour, Malibu Guitar Festival Gallery Coordinator, Dennis Lucido, and I are having a long text message commiseration session. At 3:40am Dennis calls me to reduce the risk of us getting carpal tunnel syndrome. “Fuck, if you showed up next week, I could probably get you in an all star jam. You could also lead the secret jams in my gallery.” It was 120 hours before the first day of music. “If there’s a cheap flight, fuck it, dude. Not kidding.” 41 hours later, my flight was booked. I was low on funds and taking a big risk that this would all pay off. Nothing was on paper and I was flying by the seat of my pants. The festival’s performers included Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Orianthi, Richie Sambora, Albert Lee, Robert Randolph, The Empty Hearts (featuring members of Blondie, The Cars, Chesterfield Kings, and The Romantics), Cody Simpson & Coast House, Eddie Money & The Sound of Money, Zepparella, Randy Jackson, Laurence Juber, Steve Ferrone, Dale Watson, Kenneth Brian Band, Dankrupt, Marcus Eaton, The Tearaways, Steve Costello & Amanda Hardy, Lyric Dubee, Mike Hayes, The Maze, Malibooz, Peter Asher, and others. If I had even a small shot at getting on stage with any of these greats, it was worth giving it a go.
Dennis picked me up at LAX on Thursday afternoon and we went right up the Pacific Coast Highway to Casa Escobar, where the opening night fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu, TheraSurf, and Mending Kids, was set to take place. Actor Owen Wilson milled about in a pair of wildy colored yoga pants. Bassist Randy Jackson – best known for having been a judge on American Idol – made his only appearance of the weekend sitting in for several tunes toward the end of the night.
On Friday, the party returned to Casa Escobar for a public admission concert, which went all night long. Wings guitarist Laurence Juber performed brilliant solo acoustic renditions of Beatles classics. RSO, featuring Richie Sambora and Orianthi, was a showcase for Orianthi – exhibiting her strong talent as both a vocalist and supreme soloist. “Dead or Alive” was a classic sing-along performed by the man himself. The alpha of the pack, Albert Lee, brought the energy up with barnburning versions of his classics and ended with a tempo-topping “Country Boy” that just wouldn’t quit. Lee can play circles around players one-third his age. The standout act of the night was ironically someone exactly that age: 24 year-old Steve Costello, and singer Amanda Hardy, of the Costello Band. They rocked with the pure energy and sincerity of 1980’s Guns & Roses. Their authenticity was a breath of fresh air and gave hope for the next generation of guitar-driven rock. At the end of the night, I spoke with Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Average White Band) – musical director and drummer for the event – about my involvement in the closing jam on Saturday night. He was warm and welcoming and suggested “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the “Peter Gunn” theme. It was a relief to have confirmation that my journey was not going to be in vain.
Saturday started early at noon in Malibu Village on the main stage. As the day got rolling, I played a solo acoustic set in the adjacent gallery on one of the many D’Angelico guitars that bespeckled the event – a reminder of their generous overarching sponsorship. Steve Costello and Amanda Hardy, along with fellow Canadian youngster Lyric Dubee, followed with their own intimate unplugged performances.
Back on the main stage, Robert Randolph led the crowd in a “Purple Rain” tribute to Prince with Albert Lee joining him on guitar. Eddie Money & The Sound of Money is a band that doesn’t take themselves seriously and most of the set featured interludes of comedy which flashed back to Eddie photobombing a selfie Dennis took of us on Thursday night. Backstage, his son introduced himself to me as “Eddie Money’s son”. I never did get his real name. The long list of acts rolled along smoothly and evenly without any real standouts, as had been the case on Friday. The event was scheduled to end with a “Closing Jam” featuring as many musicians as available at the time, including myself. I saw Steve again and he said, “Are you ready to rock?” in his Brighton, England accent. I gathered my guitar and pedals and positioned myself at the foot of the walkway up to the fifty-foot stage. Then the word came down: the closing jam would be canceled because the event was running long and there wasn’t time to fit it in before the 10pm sound curfew. Kenny Wayne Shepherd would close out the main event. Originally, the Closing Jam was going to be held back at Casa Escobar but rumor was that the stage there had been struck and it would just be an after-hours hang.
I didn’t lose hope and entered Casa Escobar to find Dankrupt playing a set of original ska-rock. Around 11:30pm, they wrapped up. Steve was sitting at the stage-left front table and I asked him what the plan was. “I think I’m done. I’m exhausted. I’ve been playing all weekend and it’s time to relax a bit,” he said cordially. The Kenneth Brian Band was sitting at the table as well and they were holding their breath to see if the jam was going to happen. Doug DeLuca – Director of the festival – wanted the night to continue and pressed Steve to get a second wind. After much prodding, Steve relented and agreed to take the stage. I wasn’t about to let this opportunity slide, so I promptly set up my equipment and selected a stage amp with the sound crew. The Kenneth Brian Band jumped up with another great guitarist, who none of us know to this day, and we dug in. The set was two hours of gritty blues, feeling, and real edge-of-your-seat rock and roll. Alex Ligertwood – longtime lead singer of Santana – joined us for a blistering rendition of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You” and several others. The music flowed like wine and people danced and let their hair down. The solos were respectful and not overdone. The camaraderie was palpable among a group that had never played together before, and may never again. At 1:30am, Steve had had enough. He leaned into the microphone and asked, “Are there any drummers out there?” They say a guitarist is a frustrated drummer and I am guilty as charged. I’ve played drums since I was in elementary school and often love them more than guitar. I wasn’t going to pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take the sticks from one of the world’s greatest drummers. I sat down at the kit and handed Steve his stick bag as he grabbed the center stage mic. “I Saw Her Standing There” was called and Steve lived out his lead-singer fantasy while I lived out mine. It was completely surreal to be backing him up, doing all I could to stay on top of the beat and take direction from bassist Paul Ill. We closed with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Look At Little Sister” and blew everyone away. The second I set foot on the floor, people clamored to tell me that we had put on their favorite set of the weekend. Their rationale was how organic, loose, and natural it all was. We were just having fun like musicians should. There was no setlist, pretense, time constraints, or expectations. We just rocked out with all we had. It was an incredible night of music and community – one that dreams could scarcely conjure up.
Sunday began with a wickedly early rise in order to make the 10am call at The Sunset for Beatles Brunch. The restaurant was positioned so close to the ocean that the beach sand had extended its reach to the entrance. Dennis – curator of the photography exhibits – scrambled to hang the framed artwork before the doors opened to the public at 10:30am. Brunch (still very much breakfast in my world) was served and Daniel Page kicked things off with a brilliant solo acoustic selection of the more complex Beatles compositions. How he could sing so well at such a rough hour was highly commendable. The Tearaways followed with a set of early-Beatles nuggets drawn from their first few albums along with a few originals. Andy Babiuk – author of the coffee table book “Beatles Gear,” and bassist for the Chesterfield Kings, did a long, extremely detailed presentation on the instruments the Beatles used in the studio and on stage. Andy’s direct access to Ringo Starr, and other members of the band’s inner circle, led to incredible revelations on how the band achieved such creative success and broke boundaries in the studio. The event was again running late and I had a plane to catch. As Laurence Juber’s encore performance astonished the Malibu elite, I jumped in a yellow cab and headed south, through the 70 degree sun and surf, eventually back to the blizzard wrapping up in Denver.
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