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Playboy Jazz Festival Day 2: Review

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Playboy Jazz Festival

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George Lopez took the stage at 2:55 PM to welcome the crowd for the 2nd day of the Playboy Jazz Festival. At 3:00, the Esperanza high school Jazz band took the stage for 20 minute set. As the stage was turning for James Cotton Lopez said “This is a Bieber free weekend.” At 3:20 was Blues legend James Cotton, who played harmonica with Howlin’ Wolf in the early 50’s and the 70’s with Muddy Waters. As a solo artist Cotton has released over 25 albums. Even with the heat Cotton came out with signature look wearing a suit. Joining Cotton half way through his 45 minute set was 87-yearls saxophonist Big Jay McNeely. Although Cotton lost his voice to throat cancer, he still plays a mean harp. For those who came early enough, they got to witness two living legends. On The Muddy Waters’ classic “Got My Mojo Workin’,” The band traded off vocals with the audience. The heat wasn’t too unbearable, but was quite hot. After being in the sun for 3-4 hours at the festival alone it does wear you down. Many attendees had light colored clothes and big sun hats. Next up was Juan DeMarcos & The Afro-Cuban all stars. The whole band was dressed in suit and tie. If there was one group that made you want to get up and dance in the aisles, this was it. After a 45-miute set Jon Batiste and stay Human took the stage. They played a cover of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.” During the song, saxophonist Eddie Barbash came onto the catwalk dividing the pool circle form the garden boxes for a sax solo followed by the entire group coming down and playing from there. When Jose James came on at 5:35. it finally began to cool down.

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Unlike most festivals, the Playboy Jazz festival is all great musicians one after the next, rather than just putting bands to fill in the slots before the headliners. Just before Prism (Dave Holland, Kevin EuBanks, Craig Taborn, and Eric Harland) came on Lopez said “Smoke up, Drink Up.” Prism gave one of the best performances all weekend. For fusion, they’re at the top of their game. EuBanks was on fire with his solos. Following prism was legendary organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. American Idol winner Fantasia hit the stage at 7:50 and gave a stellar performance. Since winning the 3rd season of American Idol in 2004, Fantasia has been nominated for several Grammys and 2 Billboard Music Awards of which she won both for her number one single “I Believe.” Fantasia came right out the edge of the stage and sang from there right up close the crowd and also sang on the catwalk shaking hands with fans. 2nd to last was guitar greats George Benson and Earl Klugh, who should have been the headliners. With George Benson you get the best of both worlds, great singing and guitar playing. There were songs where George didn’t even play guitar and just sang. The addition of Earl Klugh is a match made in heaven. Benson and Klugh first released an album together in 1987. Last Year Benson turned 60 and Klugh 60 and haven’t aged much in looks and sound. Benson and Klugh were wearing matching outfits which was a white sport coat and black pants. The song that got the crowd on their feet was Benson’s hit “Give Me The Night.” As always Benson gave an amazing rendition of “On Broadway.” Klugh came out for a few songs then left and came back for “On Broadway.” Before the end of the set drummer Khari Parker (Destiny’s Child, Boz Scaggs) gave a great solo. Whether Benson plays an hour set or his full 2 hour show he give 100%, but for those who haven’t seen a full Benson show he’s someone you have to see. At 9:40 George Lopez announced the final band: Los Amigos Invisibles. They had a huge spot to fill being the closing performance of the festival and having to not only follow Benson/ Klugh but the tribute to George Duke the night before. Los Amigos Invisibles played until 10:25 and George Lopez came back to thank everyone for coming.

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