May 6, 2012
Blacklake Golf Resort
Nipomo, CA USA
Review by L. Paul Mann
Photos by L. Paul Mann
The inaugural Festival Blacklake brought a diverse line up of East Los Angeles roots rockers to the Blacklake Golf resort in Nipomo. The first concert ever held at the natural Amphitheater venue, took place on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, (May 6th), amidst a patch of old oak trees perched on a rolling green hillside right on the golf course. In an amazing showing of tolerance, local residents shared their back yard view with several thousand perfectly behaved strangers for the day. The diverse crowd of concert goers were treated to free parking, also right off the golf course, a choice of full alcohol bars, yummy food vendors, and a full afternoon of nearly five hours of rocking music. The venue could be the most beautiful and comfortable, in all of the tri -counties. A steady sea breeze, kept the air cool, while the hot afternoon sun warmed the ground between the towering trees. The spot was reminiscent of the old glory days of the Santa Barbara Bowl, before the corporate takeover and technical transformation to a modern day concert venue. Back in the 70's and early 80's shows at the bowl, (which looked a bit like an abandoned Colosseum in Rome in the 1800's, with crumbling walls and weeds growing in the lawn section in front), took place during the day sans the elaborate lighting equipment of recent times. Neighbors would gather at most every show with tickets costing little more than a movie for a social outing. Patrons could pack their own picnic basket complete with wine and beer in plastic containers, and layout a blanket on the front lawn section. The crowd would socialize and dance and enjoy the natural setting. The same was true of the ethnically and generationally diverse crowd that arrived for the Cinco De Mayo celebration at Blacklake. The well behaved crowd , with only one visible law enforcement figure in sight, chatted, feasted, drank and danced in a pre-summer celebration of life, just like the community aware members of headline act Los Lobos, envisioned it.
The show began right on schedule with an opening set by the new Latin hybrid band Mariachi El Bronx. Born from the roots of the original Los Angeles hard core punk band, The Bronx, the new group has evolved into a fusion of different types of Mariachi music such as, norteno, jorocho, juasteka, bolero and corridos, with a hint of punk and other more modern rock sounds. The band consists of the five musically schizophrenic core members of The Bronx, plus three more members playing various horn and stringed instruments. The ethnically diverse group of musicians, all clad in traditional Mariachi outfits, actually play music close to the roots of the traditional Mariachi sound. The crowd, most of whom arrived early, responded gleefully to the traditional sounds, singing, shouting, clapping and dancing along during the entire hour set. The band has recently released their second album, Mariachi El Bronx II.
As the hot afternoon sun began to wane, the alcohol infused crowd began to fidget excitedly in anticipation of the next act, the legendary punk band X. The bands impressive pedigree began like all the other groups on the festival roster in East Los Angeles. One of the key players in the early California punk movement, the group had already achieved commercial success by 1980. In that year the band toured across the country and played at the Arlington theater in Santa Barbara. The concert was the first of many appearances in the city, including later headline shows at the Santa Barbara Bowl. X quickly established themselves, along with a few other bands as the new face of a distinctly Los Angeles punk scene. Although that initial scene, and the subsequent hard core punk movement a few years later, produced a wealth of bands and music, X has survived as one of the very few groups from that era to still be playing viable music on a regular basis. Their punk sound, unique vocals, and poetic songwriting, have influenced countless musicians in the last thirty-plus years. The band widely known for their seductive live performances did not disappoint. Exploding out of the gate, the band kept up a rapid fire pace, playing their short punk anthems, like bullets in a Gatling gun. In just over an hour they managed to squeeze many of their most popular songs from their extensive catalog of albums. The set list included a heavy dose of songs from their classic first two albums. It may be no accident that you could hear the ghost of Jim Morrison and The Doors in the unique vocal exchanges between Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe. In fact the bands first album, Los Angeles, released in 1980, was produced by Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors. The original line up still features the astounding psychobilly guitar work of Billy Zoom. With his trademark grin like a Cheshire cat, he poses stoically throughout the show like the eye in a punk hurricane that swirls around him. Meanwhile DJ Bonebrake lays down a thunderous drum beat, which seems to channel the ghost of John Bonham of Led Zeppelin fame. Exene and Doe would occasionally pause to throw in a sarcastic comment here and there. Exene commented that it was their first time ever on a Golf course, while Doe chimed in "And it will probably be our last". Doe also stirred up the crowd a bit when enthusiastic members of the crowd began slam dancing in front of the stage, blocking the view of the reserved seating section. "Whats the matter?" he asked, when security guards made a feeble attempt to move the crowd back, "Are they blocking the view of the rich people seats?" "Maybe they will stand up for Los Lobos", he quipped. He then thanked the headliners for bringing them along before launching into a dramatic version of "The Hungry Wolf", that had three generations of music fans pogoing in front of the stage.
X embarked on a tour of Europe in June opening for Pearl Jam. The bands representing two generations of American music, first toured together in South America last summer. From home grown Punk to Grunge it will be a real American music treat for audiences across the continent of Europe.
As the sun began to wane and the cool breeze kicked up headliners Los Lobos took the stage. Their two hour and ten minute set was an all encompassing fitting finale to the musically diverse day. The band began with a set of Latin songs, playing traditional musical instruments. But they ended with a full on amplified hard rock, jamming double encore, and played a variety of sounds and covers in between. Los Lobos is touring in support of their latest album, "Tin Can Trust", their 19th release. The East Los Angeles group has been creating their own unique brand of American Chicano rock since the 1970's. Their ever evolving sound has encompassed a wide array of musical genres including, rock, country, Tex Mex, Blues, and R&B Music. They also incorporate a variety of traditional Spanish and Mexican music into their sound. The band evolved out of the same neighborhood and at the same time as the early Los Angeles punk movement. In fact, their first gig was at the legendary Los Angeles punk venue, The Olympic Auditorium, in 1980, opening for Johnny Rotten's Public Image Ltd. The crowd responded in a dancing joyful frenzy, for the entire set. The band has altered the line up as of late, including adding new drumming sensation, Enrique Gonzalez to the line up, and moving veteran drummer Louie Perez, to the guitar line up, alongside guitar masters David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas. Other original members included bassist Conrad Lozano, and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire, Steve Berlin. Berlin nailed the flute solo on a magnificent cover of the Traffic classic, "40,000 Headmen". They were also joined by percussionist, Oscar Bolanas, for the opening set of traditional songs from, "La Pistola y el Corazon", their 1988 album consisting of Mexican folk music tracks. The band continued with a cross section of material from their vast catalog of music, interspersed with covers of classic rock songs. Versions of guitar classics from Santana and The Allman Brothers could be heard in innovative jams meshed with the groups' own material. By the time the band got to classics like their trippy trance like version of "Kiko and the Lavender Moon", and their hit remake of "La Bamba", the exhausted crowd was on the verge of collapsing. However, a spirited guitar drenched double encore brought everyone back to life until the very last note. The band members stuck around until after sunset signing merchandise for grateful fans who had waited patiently for the chance to meet them. What an awesome inauguration concert for Blacklake Amphitheater. I hope they invite us all back soon for another round.