Rock Am Ring

When Santana last played this festival in 2000, it was a truly triumphant event, played before a crowd of almost 100,000 and culminated with a guest appearance on Smooth by vocalist Rob Thomas. At that time Supernatural had just reached #1 on the charts and Smooth –soon to be followed by Maria- would soon follow as a breakthrough single. The Rock Am Ring Festival proved to be one of a long series of European successes for a band whose star at that time was still very much in ascendance.

With the release of Santana’s long-awaited follow-up cd still delayed and considering their low profile for the past eighteen months, the result of Carlos’ decision to back off and recover from all the frenzy over Supernatural and his understandable desire to spend more time with his family, there was some uncertainty about what kind of reception the band would face at the Rock Am Ring Festival. Those doubts and uncertainties were almost immediately erased as soon as the band bus pulled in at the festival grounds. Yeah, there were more than 50,000 screaming folks here and this was definitely a Santana crowd.

Even before the band went on, it was clear that this was going to be a good night. Backstage, headliner Lenny Kravitz approached Santana’s Chester Thompson recounting his joy at watching Chester in performance with Santana a few years before and even reminding Chester of his [Lenny’s] subsequent attempt to recruit Chester to do something with his band. As they chuckled about this they were almost oblivious to the growing crowd of Kravitz fans and onlooking media people staring in awe as their idol continued to heap praise on one of his musical favorites, our own C.T.

Around the same time, there was another reunion of sorts going on between Kravitz’ drummer, Cindy Blackman, and Santana’s Dennis Chambers with Cindy referring to him as “Uncle Dennis” and explaining that she’s his biggest fan and has known him since she was fourteen years old.

When Carlos emerged from his dressing room wearing a new and magnificent John Coltrane t-shirt, that was the signal that it was time to make music, and make music they did.

The crowd began to roar at the first sight of Carlos as he stepped onto the stage and the band launched into its Spiritual opener followed by a rendition of Yaleo which unequivocally announced to all that there was no rust on this band! What followed in this abbreviated show was ninety minutes of non-stop unleashed musical mastery which riveted the attention of all the backstage on-lookers from the other participating bands such as Jewel, Counting Crows, Michael M., Faithless, and, of course, Lenny Kravitz who stood twenty feet from C.T. seemingly cheering his every note. And rising above all was the sight and sound of the cheering, hand-waving, singing hoards out front.

This new Santana Band opened its All Is One European tour the night before in Copenhagen to a similarly adoring crowd who were absolutely enthralled with the never-to-be-forgotten solo performance of drummer Dennis Chambers, the rendition of new favorites such as Africa Bamba, Maria, Smooth, and Put Your Lights On, and the introduction of new songs like Foo Foo [formerly entitled Cadans] Adouma, One of These Days and a Fela Kuti number entitled [and spelled as] Truth Don Die. The addition to the band of Dennis Chambers along with former-bassist Myron Dove now playing rhythm guitar has added even more punch to this dynamic assemblage. It was clear that after the long layoff Santana was ready to roar.

Maybe the word has already begun to spread: Santana is coming. First Copenhagen, and then the Rock Am Ring in Nurburg and later today the Rock Im Park Festival in Nurnberg. All Is One has begun and excitement is in the air. It feels good.

Hal Miller
Cologne 5/18/02