By John Parks
The Coronado Performing Arts Center has not been utilized nearly enough since earning landmark status and going through renovations. Gone are the days of multiple rock concert bookings during the fall and winter months. And while there may be an occasional classic rocker or comedian to play the grand room, it is generally used more for symphonies than wailing guitars.
Having said that, it is always a good idea to circle the date on the calendar when a great artist plays Coronado, and even better when two great artists like Jonny Lang and Buddy Guy pull into town, as they did Friday, Sept. 20.
The first thing evident when walking through the doors is just how popular this ticket was in town, as the entryway was packed with smiling faces and employees trying to help everyone in.
Jonny Lang, the North Dakota-born young guitarist who blew up radio and set the rock scene afire as a teen-ager, hit the stage with a killer band.
Jonny really didn’t speak too much and instead let his guitar do most of the talking for him — save for band introductions and some polite “thank yous” to the crowd.
The band was amazingly tight, and Jonny’s voice and guitar tone were perfect. His skills and soulful delivery were very well received by the crowd here in Rockford.
A quick inventory of the Jonny Lang T-shirts in the crowd proved it would be safe to say there were many folks in attendance who already came to the show as Lang fans, but after his performance, there were no doubt a few more.
His set list could have been a little longer or tweaked to include a few more up-tempo numbers; many of Lang’s selections were of the slow and soulful style, despite the fact Jonny is more than capable of rocking.
The amazing “Blew Up The House,” a song from Lang’s new album, Fight For My Soul, went over very well toward the end of the set, but led to the feeling that Jonny was just getting started as he was leaving the stage.
Perhaps Lang understood more than anyone that he was setting the table for a true guitar legend in Buddy Guy. Having seen countless concerts over the years, this was my first time seeing Buddy Guy, but it will certainly not be the last. From the moment Buddy and his band hit the stage, there was not a single second that he was not entertaining.
Buddy Guy is more than an amazing guitarist — he is one of the best all-around entertainers I have ever seen grace a stage with his presence. Whether telling funny stories to the audience, interacting with his bandmates, or simply handling a routine broken guitar string, Buddy is hilarious and flat-out fun.
The band, particularly keyboard player Marty Sammon, was jaw-droppingly good, but never took the focus off Guy. To be honest, it’s hard to image anyone being able to do such a thing; there’s a reason Buddy is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This 77-year-old man rocks harder than most any artist I saw in 2013. When you watch Buddy perform a standard classic of his like “Damn Right I Got The Blues” or “Somebody Else Is Steppin In,” you are transfixed because he plays it as if he still has a point to prove and it’s the first time anyone is hearing it.
One of the best things about seeing Guy is his overall looseness on stage and in audience interaction. It feels like he is making up the show as he goes along and playing specifically to the crowd he is facing, which, in turn, makes the audience way more invested and truly entertained. It’s a skill very few performers have, and no doubt takes decades to perfect, but Buddy Guy and his band have it big time.
Toward the end of the set, Buddy and his wireless guitar roamed the Coronado aisles, bringing his music literally right to the fans in their seats. It was clear you were watching a man who loves his job when Buddy then took his guitar to the Coronado lobby, wailing away while the band was on stage playing. He proceeded to go up to the balcony levels as well, just to make sure those folks upstairs got the same treatment.
I literally saw countless things live that I have never seen done to a guitar or an audience, and can safely say I have never seen a performer who brought as much energy or joy to a performance at Coronado. Thanks, Buddy, from all of us.
From the Oct. 2-8, 2013, issue