Road Blog – Oklahoma City (9/16/08) Chester Thompson Night & A Night In Denver (9/13/08)

Chester Thompson Night (9/16/08)

For everyplace else in the United States, yesterday was September 16, 2008, but for the thousands who attended the Santana concert in Ford Center in Oklahoma City, last night was Chester Thompson Night as keyboardist extraordinaire and supreme, Chester Thompson, returned to his hometown with Santana for only the second time in the past two decades. Last night was truly a festive occasion and a celebration of a musician who has been the harmonic heart and soul of Santana and Carlos’ chief collaborator ever since he joined the band in 1984 after a well-known and highly influential career with the Bay Area’s Tower of Power.

When Carlos made an early announcement tribute to Chester, the crowd erupted into boisterous applause and loud acknowledgement of this special son of Oklahoma City. And when Chester caught fire- as he almost always does – on his solo on “Savor”, there was no holding them back. It was that kind of night.

For such a special crowd on this singularly auspicious evening, Santana outdid itself. From the debut of the new Carlos Santana composition “Peace, Light, Love & Joy”, announced by Carlos as a song with country & western (!) and reggae roots, to the return to a Santana staple of the 1990s, “Make Somebody Happy”, this concert was truly memorable. Add the rocking’ rendition of “Right On Be Free”, a gospelesque rouser popularized by the 1960s group Voices of East Harlem and Chester Thompson Night was an evening of total triumph, exultant celebration, and unrestrained joy.
A Night In Denver (9/13/08)

It was a chilly autumn night in Buffalo, New York, with all the signs of an incipient winter in the air and………

Actually the Santana Band spent Saturday the 13th in Denver where the Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre only seemed like it was in Buffalo in winter because of the near-freezing rain that pummeled the crowd all evening long. And those 12,000 plus faithful took Mother Nature’s best shot and refused to budge and expressed nary a complaint because Santana Was In The House and on fire.

Faced with this kind of determined crowd whose enthusiasm was almost palpable and whose response to every song was the stuff of legend, Santana did what they do best by giving one of their absolute best shows.

There were several eligibles for the most outstanding song performance-of-the-evening award and certainly among them was a lengthy and soulful “Umi Says/Sunshine Day” that featured lead vocalist Tony Lindsay, and “Stronger Than Before” from the Miles Davis songbook that spotlighted a stirring trumpet solo from Bill Ortiz and an equally moving musical soliloquy from Carlos Santana. Also, very much in the running was the “Apache/Smooth/Dame Tu Amor” composite that was distinguished by an impromptu intro sparked by Carlos that the entire band picked up on and ran with in spectacular fashion. Arguably the winner of the night just might have been the long shot that came out of nowhere, the Henry Mancini song “Lujon” that the band and especially Carlos performed seemingly in tribute to the hardy bunch of die-hard Santana fans who were there for the duration.

Showing that virtually nothing in the band’s book is sacred or immutable, Carlos engaged keyboardist Chester Thompson in a moody balladic improvisation that eventually morphed into a funky riff when bassist Benny Rietveld and drummer Dennis Chambers [the eighth, ninth, and tenth wonder of the world] brought their firepower to the jam. When Carlos played a familiar snatch of melody, the fans erupted into applause and cries of delight and the entire band launched into “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” [2008]

By the time Carlos had introduced the band and exhorted the audience to continue the pursuit of “peace, love, joy, and compassion”, the final strains of “Into the Night” were resounding throughout the amphitheatre and the wet and thoroughly chilled fans were ready for their exit well aware that Santana had once again delivered everything and more that they had hoped for. And like the final song itself, Santana had moved on “into the night” as they savored the good feeling and excitement of the evening and as they looked forward to the next night’s challenge to do even better in Albuquerque.

Hal Miller