Written by James Killen
It’s been a few years since Houston’s Pacifica listener-supported radio station, KPFT, has had a proper birthday celebration, but this year they made up for it at the Heights Theater. For years, I attended the birthday parties in the St. Patty’s Day tent behind the Mucky Duck with some fantastic entertainment and then- POOF- they were gone! This year the folks at the Heights Theater stepped up to the plate to carry on the tradition in their excellent facility with one of the best sound systems in the city of Houston and six great acts donating their time and energy to the cause.
All of the most popular DJ’s (Roark, the V’s and Nancy, Susan Darrow, Rick Heysquierdo, Larry Winter, Nuri Nuri, Sandy and more) were there wandering the crowd and introducing the acts. The lobby was busy with silent auctions and raffle ticket sales. Music fans were everywhere.
The day’s music kicked off at noon with Folk Family Revival and their own brand of Psychedelic Country Jam. They play a mixture of Johnny Cash and Dick Dale guitar leads with a swing drum beat and vocal styles that range from Chris Isaak to Jim Morrison. Much of their set was spent on a trial run of a number of their newest songs from the upcoming album. The band did close out the set with “I Drew a Line” from the Water Walker CD.
Next at the mic were Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines dishing out their healthy helping of good will and love with Favorites like “Wallet”, “Love You Strong” and “I Found the Lions”. Lloyd knocked it out of the park with his acoustic guitar, Dobro and mandolin licks while Terri wowed us with her vocals and harmonica riffs. They closed out their all too short of a set with “What is the Color of the Soul” and “Ain’t it a Shame”.
Lisa Morales was introduced next as having participated in every one of KPFT’s birthday celebrations. Thinking back, it’s true that I’ve seen her every time that I’ve attended, playing her own special style of Texas and Spanish language folk. She has just released her latest, Luna Negra and the Daughter of the Sun. Her new tour band includes Paul Ramirez on guitar, who played some innovative leads which included some treatments that had his axe sounding like Caribbean steel drums. He also did an amazing Spanish guitar solo for a cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. The set ended with Lisa’s classic, “I am the Weakest”.
Next up was a power trio that I have managed to miss at several festival occasions and never will again, the Peterson Brothers. They started out with a version of “Don’t You Lie to Me”, featuring a guitar solo that was like Curtis Mayfield on steroids and flashed their well-honed timing with rests that killed the audience with anticipation. Alex Peterson owns that 5 string bass like Stanley Clarke in a seriously funky way. They pulled off an amazing cover of “Take Me to the River”. Later Alex plied the violin for a touching instrumental version of “Amazing Grace”. They closed out one of the highest energy shows that I have ever seen with “Got my Mojo Working” while walking into the crowd using remote connections to their amps. They played all the way into the lobby, up the stairs, around the balcony and back down to the stage before taking their final bows.
Ruthie Foster was the next to take the stage. She immediately connects to the audience drawing on that sense of community that seems to come to her so naturally. She kicked it off with “Brand New Day”, which is a song of triumph played to the rhythm of a chain gang spiritual. Next, she borrowed Terri Hendrix’s “Hole in my Pocket” to inspire the first of several of her sing-a-longs. Ruthie moves so easily from a folk song to a blues tune to a gospel anthem, she amazes and inspires everyone. She played “Phenomenal Woman”, inspired by Maya Angelou and dedicated this day to friend and percussionist, Samantha Banks, who is recovering from a stroke-like incident. She ended her set with gospel tune “Stayed on Freedom”. Ruthie will be back to Houston on June 21st to play Discovery Green with the Peterson Brothers opening up for her. That’ll be a show not to be missed.
Kevin Russell stepped up with his Soul Sisters to do a solo show with back-up singers and take the event to its 6PM conclusion. I’ve heard Russell with the Gourds and with Shiny Ribs, but this is the first time that I’ve caught him alone with his mandolin. He’s always been a great vocalist, but you don’t get the full effect until you see him skinned back to the bare minimum. He started with “I Got Your Medicine” and moved to “Take Me to Lake Charles”, featuring some of his lyrical improvisation and jamming. Russell brought some of his own gospel stylings from the Golden Triangle before leaning into Gregory Porter’s “Take Me to the Alley”. Kevin wrapped the show with the appropriate, “Your Birthday’s Over”.
The mood was high for all the folks as we walked out of the theater after what my friend, Sheron Taweek, so aptly described as “a musicpalooza” into a world still full of daylight. Thanks were due all around to those participants (the venue, the musicians, the volunteers and the contributors) for making this fund raiser such a fun raiser and pitching in a nice chunk for the radio station that stands for peace and community communication. If you missed it, I am sorry, but keep your eye out for next year’s party. It will be a music show to catch!