Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival w/ Cyrus Chestnut, Dee Daniels and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival Gospel Choir & The Taj Mahal Trio
University of Idaho Kibbie Dome 02/26/10
Words/Photos by thenaturalstoner
I definitely picked an interesting (see: not great) show to make my first Concert Confessions review, and in hindsight I should have picked a different one, but we all make mistakes in our lives. The evening wasn’t terrible, but the crowd was, which I suppose is partially my fault.
Last night I went to the University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome for the 44th Annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and left thinking I should have just saved the 45 bucks and punched myself in the face a couple of times instead. Little did I know, but the Jazz Festival is primarily about music education in our local area (Washington/Idaho Palouse region) schools. Thus, as I walked into the Dome last night, I immediately found myself surrounded by thousands of 12-16 year olds, something I hope to never have happen again in my life. There is one benefit to this, which I will touch on in a bit, but it felt like torture sitting there among those masses for much of the night.
The Kibbie Dome is an interesting venue to hold a concert. This is where the Idaho Vandals host their home college football and basketball games, but last night they had the Jazz Fest setup instead. Curtains were hung and the large Dome was cut into a fraction of its normal size. About 4,000 people were there I would estimate, but it didn’t stay that way throughout the night. I don’t know how Lionel Hampton of all people ended up throwing gigs in Moscow, Idaho, considering the racial/social mixup of the people that live here (95% white, mostly farmers), but this area is much better off that he did.
Friday night at the Jazz Fest this year was dubbed “Blues and Sacred Roots” night and The Taj Mahal Trio was the headlining act. I will admit that the blues are one of my least favorite genres of music, BUT Taj Mahal is someone I particularly like, so I was pretty pumped going into the night. Of course, finding my seat surrounded by rows and rows of kids going through puberty immediately started the evening off on the wrong foot.
The first act of the night was Cyrus Chestnut, a solo pianist that was a bit too mellow for my liking. Like, nodding off at my chair mellow. It wasn’t terrible, but after 30 minutes of southern piano (and no vocals) I was ready for something different. My girlfriend may have had the comment of the night when she said to me “he looks like a cross between Carl Winslow and Urkel from Family Matters”. That had me cracking up for a good while, mainly because she was spot on.
After Cyrus finished his set we witnessed a 10 minute promotional video showcasing the history of the Festival and its goals for the future. During this video the stage was setting up to host Dee Daniels and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival Gospel Choir. This set was better than the first, mainly because we had some vocals and upbeat rhythms to pick up the pace not only for me, but the entire crowd as well. Nevertheless we were instructed to remain seated during the entire night, so the energy in the Kibbie Dome was close to zero (except for all the 13 year olds trying to be the coolest kids in the world. Oh did I forget how old I have become). Dee Daniels has a great voice, but it’s another one of those where you want something else after the first 4 or 5 songs. I believe the Gospel Choir consisted of high schoolers from Lewiston High School (Lewiston, ID) and other local musicians and they played about 45 minutes before exiting the stage. A 15 minute intermission followed, and Taj Mahal was on deck.
Earlier I mentioned that there was one benefit of being surrounded by 12-16 year olds…. they have CURFEWS, and as the night grew longer, hundreds of kids were leaving left and right. Most of these departures were local school bands that had busses to catch, which was honestly the best thing to happen all night. As soon as the Choir set was over, approximately 40 kids directly in front and behind us all got up and had to leave! FINALLY I was not surrounded by kids talking and flirting and I could sit back and relax! And they just kept leaving, every song or two more groups would get up and go. I am curious how these headliners feel about this, as Taj was playing to an ever-dwindling audience (bad for him, great for me!). I assume the Festival lets the headliners know about this crowd situation, which I overheard happens every year, but it was an odd sight to me.
The Taj Mahal Trio started off his set with some Caribbean sounding roots music and blues standards. It really wasn’t until a few songs into the set when we got some of his hits that brought the remaining crowd to life. Queen Bee > Fishin’ Blues > Corinna back to back to back was THE highlight of the night. 3 of my favorite Taj Mahal tunes in a row really brought a sense of excitement to the Dome and the rest of the set fed off of that.
As it was Blues night, we were hit with some classic blues traditionals and some of Taj’s own personal tunes. As the night grew longer and the crowd grew smaller, I thought this show got better! We got a little piano, got a little banjo, the set was actually pretty good! After an hour and a half of good times the Trio bowed and walked off the stage to large cheers. They returned to play a one song encore, the only other Taj Mahal song I wanted to hear “Lovin’ in My Babies Eyes” and called it a night. Since he played the 4 or 5 songs I really wanted to hear I considered his set a success. I am not sure it made up for the prior sets or the crowd, but the evening ended up not being a total loss.
I don’t know when I will go back to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival again. Looking back I feel like I have now “done it” and it will take an exceptional headliner to get me back there. Now that I know the crowd makeup, expectations and reality are much different than before. I can only wonder how much more fun I would have had if Taj had played a local club instead of this Festival. A night with the Taj Mahal Trio at John’s Alley Tavern could have been exactly what the doctor ordered, instead of the mixed bag I was dealt.
You live and learn in Moscow, Idaho….