By Lee Zimmerman - Photos by Alisa Cherry
When the Tedeschi Trucks Band brought their Wheels of Soul tour to the Artpark Amphitheater in Lewiston New York they not only brought with them special guests Los Lobos and a solo set by their keyboardist Gabe Dixon, they also brought great vibes and the added inducement of performing at a wonderful venue where nature plays a prominent role. A premier place to see music and enjoy the wonders of Western New York, Artpark offered the opportunity for the audience to bring their lawn chairs and spread out on the hillside overlooking the stage or to grab a reserve seat and follow the festivities from an unclose perspective.
Of course even without these added accoutrements, a concert featuring the headliners would have been magical to begin with. All three acts are so compatible that when Dixon resumed his regular role within Tedeschi Trucks’ 11-person lineup and Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks sat in with Los Lobos, the segue was flawless and all the players performed perfectly in sync. That, of course, is part of the populist approach that each ensemble has carefully nurtured over the years. There are no formalities, no scripted stage patter, but instead, simply tightly-knit performances and astute musicianship that leaves their audiences awes and amazed.
Dixon set the mood early on, and even in a stripped-down trio setting, his soulful strains made an emphatic impression. A take on Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue” went over well, and when he introduced a new song, “Ain’t It About Time,” its lyric that asked “Ain’t it about time, we had a good time,” was received with approval from the crowd. Fueled by funk, it was an ideal way to set the mood for all that would follow.
Los Lobos are of course a natural crowd favorite and with Hidalgo & crew still at the helm, it’s a natural continuum. The band kicked off with a wailing and rocking intro and when David Hidalgo joked, “The last time we were here was in 1920… or maybe 1957 or something,” the audience acknowledged that indeed it had been awhile since live music had been served up in such abundance. Nevertheless, their classic south-of-the-border sway remains intact. Naturally, several Los Lobos favorites were served up in the mix — “Kiko,” “Native Son” and the like — but when they went into a rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha,” the populist appeal was at its prime. Further evidence of that fact was found when Trucks, Tedeschi and Dixon sat in at various times, ensuring a communal bond that’s obviously indelible.
Happily then, Tedeschi Trucks not only held their own, but managed to take the festivities to new heights. The two people at the helm clearly rank as rock’s premiere guitar couple, and while Trucks is dazzling given his prolific prowess, Tedeschi proved she’s also adept when it was her time to take the lead. Her vocals are rich and riveting, but to the couple’s credit, they also have backing singer Matt Mattison to take an occasional lead vocal as well. In fact, it’s a sprawling ensemble, one that includes a three-piece horn section, three backing vocalists, two drummers, bass, keys and the two principals, for a total of a dozen musicians in all. Drawing their material from familiar favorites, their four current I Am the Moon releases and an occasional cover, they put on a spectacular performance that integrated elements of rock, blues, jazz and funk, and made it all sound seamless at the same time. Kicking off with a pair of powerhouse entries, “Anyhow” and “Made Up My Mind,” the set took off from there with a decisive delivery. So too, when they launched into a pair of classic covers — Derek and the Dominos’ “Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad?” and the otherwise obscure Cream gem, “Outside Woman Blues” — their skill and savvy were clearly in sync.
So too, the locale added to the overall effect. Artpark is a perfect place to enjoy a summer’s afternoon and evening given an idyllic setting that makes nature the perfect backdrop. Located near a river that adjoins Niagara Falls, surrounded by a trees and trails, and spread across 150 acres, it’s an ideal setting when it comes to comfort and tranquility. Under the guidance of president Sonia Clark, who’s been at the helm for the past seven years, having previously worked at Lincoln Center and for jazz artist Meredith Monk, Artpark has become a premiere venue in Western New York, drawing audiences from throughout the region and well beyond.
Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks concert, Artpark, Lewiston, New York on July 12, 2022.