Event Reviews
Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa

Red Rocks Amphitheatre • Morrison, Colorado • August 6, 2023

Red Rocks has long been on my concert bucket list, and I finally got to experience the thrill of this iconic venue. The mountain amphitheatre first opened in 1941, and it has been stunning audiences ever since with its monumental beauty and ultimate sound. There are over 900 steps to the top (no, I didn’t climb it!) and every angle is pristine. When I saw the right combination of back-to-back concerts, I knew it was time to take the trek.

The first night of this magical Red Rocks experience featured Joe Bonamassa. Moments before the 8pm start, the rain decided to make an appearance. But even the cold, harsh weather couldn’t dampen the anticipation of the evening. Most of the concertgoers were seasoned Red Rocks pros and came prepared with raincoats and ponchos. As the rain fell, “The Waiting” from Tom Petty played throughout the venue, and the band took the stage. This tour featured Josh Smith (guitar), Calvin Turner (bass, replacing the late Michael Rhodes), Lemar Carter (drums), Reese Wynans (keys), and Dannielle DeAndrea and Jade MacRae (backing vocals). There was no horn section this time, and the set list covered a wide range of albums.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre Crowd
by Michael Yanko
Red Rocks Amphitheatre Crowd

Dressed in head to toe black with his signature shades and armed with an SG, Bonamassa was off and running strong with “Evil Mama” (Redemption, 2018) featuring one of many keys solos from legendary phenom Reese Wynans. There were the usual guitar changes for every song, showcasing a small fraction of Bonamassa’s vast guitar collection. He also allowed each member of his band to shine in the spotlight, highlighting the true respect that Bonamassa has for his band.

Joe Bonamassa and Band
by Michael Yanko
Joe Bonamassa and Band

Following with the title track off Dust Bowl (2011) and then “Love Ain’t A Love Song” (Different Shades of Blue, 2014), the collective then performed a stirring version of “Self-Inflicted Wounds” (Redemption, 2018) with an opening bass solo from Turner. MacRae delivered a piercingly soulful solo and was joined by DeAndrea to close out the song.

Debuting this year for a forthcoming release, the Ronnie Earl cover “I Want To Shout About It” was a fun, upbeat version complete with solos from Wynans and Smith as well as a crowd clap-along/sing-along. It was the perfect segue into one of the show-stopping highlights, “Last Matador of Bayonne” (Dust Bowl, 2011), a deep, killer blues cut that elated fans.

Joe Bonamassa and Band
by Michael Yanko
Joe Bonamassa and Band

The “will he, won’t he” buzz permeated the audience as many of the savvy ticketholders wondered if former Allman Brothers Band guitarist and current Gov’t Mule frontman Warren Haynes would be sitting in. Haynes and company were scheduled for evening two of my Red Rocks pilgrimage to perform originals and pay homage to the mighty Pink Floyd with a Dark Side of The Mule set. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening was the opener. It was a mighty happy house when Bonamassa introduced Haynes, who joined in a staggering cover of “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” (Al Jackson Jr./Timothy Matthews).

Some people today asked me, “you going tomorrow, is he coming here?” I said “well I can’t make it tomorrow but I’m sure it’s gonna be f-cking fantastic.” My friend Jason Bonham is here tonight. I don’t give this man enough credit because over the course of the first hour of this show he’s probably written down 20 things that I’ve f-cking stolen from him on the guitar, including this version of this song by Albert King called “Breaking Up Someone’s Home” and we’re gonna bring out Warren Haynes right now to play it.

The dueling axes were just tremendous while the backing vocals from DeAndrea and MacRae added the perfect balance. There were cheers and standing ovations all around as Haynes made his exit and Bonamassa introduced the band.

Thank you very much for coming. This year the weather is a lot better than we had last year. Sold out tonight! Thank you very much on a Sunday night! I see you brought your f-cking ponchos. Nobody was taking a chance of that!

Bonamassa mentioned that he has been playing Red Rocks for nine years and thanked the crowd, stating that it means the world to him. He also described how he had never played at the Hollywood Bowl but would be doing so later that week, getting to “tick the Hollywood Bowl off” his own bucket list. He rather proudly declared that it would be a proverbial F.U. to a lot of people who never believed in him.

After intros, Bonamassa absolutely slayed the epic, Led Zeppelin/Kashmir-esque “Curtain Call” (Time Clocks, 2021) followed by his incendiary cover of Barbra Streisand’s “Prisoner (Love Theme from Eyes of Laura Mars)” (Karen Lawrence/John DeSautels, Dust Bowl, 2011). The guitar and keys work was remarkable.

One of the most poignant moments of the evening happened during “The Heart That Never Waits” (Time Clocks, 2021). Following a lengthy blues solo, Bonamassa offered up a hint of Jeff Beck’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” giving a brief salute to The Maestro as the crowd cheered. It was truly a moment in time that I will never forget.

“Lonely Boy” (Royal Tea, 2020), written with Dave Stewart and Jools Holland, was a drum/bass-driven gem with yet another fierce solo by Wynans and blazing guitar work from Smith.

Rounding out the set with the ZZ Top cover “Just Got Paid” into Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” which is often a show staple, most of the band exited the stage while Carter did a five-minute drum solo. The entire band stepped off briefly at 9:55 pm and returned shortly after for the apropos encore, “Mountain Time” (So, It’s Like That, 2002). Bonamassa mentioned that someone posted on Twitter, “Man, I really hope you play ‘Mountain Time’ on the mountain!” He shared that he didn’t plan it, but that it just makes f-cking sense. It was the obvious perfect choice for the ending of a beautiful concert.

Joe Bonamassa and Band
by Michael Yanko
Joe Bonamassa and Band

Few performers on today’s contemporary blues scene offer more bang for your buck than Joe Bonamassa. Together with his outstanding band, they give it everything they’ve got at every single performance and leave fans walking away with a truly memorable experience. If you’re a blues fan and you’ve never seen a live Bonamassa performance, you truly are missing out. Catch up with his tour dates and get yourself to a show. It will change everything you think you know about contemporary blues. I guarantee it.

While you’re at it, put Red Rocks on your bucket list as well. You will not regret it.

Joe BonamassaRed Rocks


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