Saturday at Steppin’ Out — The Lee Boys, Sol & Funk Root, 3 Minute Lovin’, Josh Charles, The Ministers of Soul, Savannah Shoulders
Saturday was just gorgeous in the valleys — a little hot but not too much humidity, and the occasional cool, middling breeze made it a fine time to be outdoors. And thousands were taking advantage at Steppin’ Out Blacksburg.
Good music in a lot of styles was happening on stages all over downtown. Here are some quick breakdowns of several main stage acts.
The Lee Boys: The headliner, a Miami, Fla.-based “sacred” steel guitar band, delivered funky, soulful church grooves to the folks on Saturday night. Jams came tight and fast, fueled by steel guitar man Roosevelt Collier and the sly complementary chords of guitarist Alvin Lee.
The rhythm section, drummer Earl Walker and bassist Alvin Cordy, laid down thick-as-molasses grooves with plenty of hot syncopation and an unmovable sense of time. Singer Derrick Lee kept the crowd in it with shouting, testifying and quality tenor work.
The musical highlights included set-opening “Going to Glory,” a hyperspeed, cut-time romp that featured down-home harmonies; a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that mashed-in a bit of Parliament’s “Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)”, then launched into a jammy excursion anchored by rich 7-string bass lines; wildly grooving “So Much to Live For” and “I’m Not Tired,” the latter summoning Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got A Woman”; and a cover of Robert Randolph’s “Going in the Right Direction.”
This band never fails to bring great vibes and even greater ensemble playing. Collier gets better and finds deeper layers of subtlety each time out. And Lee’s rhythm guitar work is a largely unsung marvel of time feel and slinky chord work. We’re lucky to have this band in the valleys with some frequency.
Bonus: The Lee Boys’ set is posted at archive.org. Check it out if you missed it, or even if you didn’t. I heard this music only a couple days back, but that hasn’t kept me from streaming the set today.
More to come tomorrow. Top Tickets prep ruled my day.
Sol & Funk Root warmed up the crowd with a batch of uptempo funk, starting with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Singer/guitarist Sol Creech was biting as ever with his Telecaster work, dropping shards of chords as drummer “King” George Penn and bassist Jake Dempsey put down a deep-pocket groove. Special guest Janiah Allen, of Alliens, sat in on percussion, and percolated nicely on his 27th birthday.
Penn’s mile-wide grin was set to automatic as he drove the band through the hot funk of “Sweet Sugah Mama” and the loping shuffle of “Give Me That Stank.” Dempsey made liquid bass grooves spiced with fat thumping.
3 Minute Lovin’ put down greasy, grinding honky-tonk music, much of it original. These days, the band’s style translates as Americana, but it’s perfect for the type of down-and-dirty bars with chicken wire posted in front of the stage.
In addition to some good originals, the band covered Hank Williams’ “If You Loved Me Half as Much As I love You” and Merle Travis’ “16 Tons.” Good harmonies abounded, as did sometimes smoking-hot steel guitar work, courtesy of Bob Chew. Singer/rhythm guitarist Lee Worley kept things lively up front.
Josh Charles, a Dr. John-influenced piano player and singer, turned out to be a real ambassador for his adopted hometown, New Orleans. He told the crowd that 10 percent of the sales from his new CD, “Love, Work & Money,” go to a foundation to help New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, which still needs it after Hurricane Katrina. And all profits from a single, “Healing Time,” have gone to a New Orleans preservation resource center.
Musically, he was good, too, killing the 88s while his band grooved smartly behind him.
The Ministers of Soul did what the band always does — groove well on classic soul and R&B tunes. And the high school boys of Savannah Shoulders showed some good songwriting and performance chops while covering such tunes as The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind.”