For any musician, getting an opportunity to perform in an arena or venue that he or she has only dreamed about, is truly indescribable and surreal. The esteemed Carnegie Hall in New York City is most likely on every top five list for any musician in any part of the world. Getting to be a part of this monument’s illustrious, rich, and timeless history is something every major performer strives for. For blues artist Joe Bonamassa “This is the last one on my bucket list, I always wanted to play Carnegie Hall.” Even at twelve years old in New York, and already performing and recording, Joe had high aspirations to one day play at the iconic theater. After embodying the old joke on how to get to Carnegie Hall (practice, practice, practice) Joe Bonamassa realized his and many other musician’s childhood dream and performed on January 21st and 22nd 2016.
After being warned of the “accelerated” acoustics of the room and hearing just the acoustic guitar in the hall, Joe decided his “Les Paul was not going to be his best friend” and made the two shows, and the entire tour exclusively acoustic. This way, Joe got to feature some of his “old friends” a few stunning Gibson acoustics from 1908-1923, and was able to “celebrate the history of Gibson and the beautiful instruments.” However, for this historic moment Joe didn’t want to play just another traditional acoustic set. Instead, he found nine incredible musicians from all different backgrounds and experiences and created something truly amazing. Bonamassa kept on stellar drummer Anton Fig and keyboardist Reese Wynans, from his touring electric group. He also added Chinese erhu/cello player Tina Guo, Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, Eric Bazilian of The Hooters on banjo and mandolin and three backing singers: Gary Pinto, Mahalia Barnes and Juanita Tippins. This shows that in music “it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your language is, it’s still music and getting people from all over the world together is incredible.” For musicians like Tina Guo who grew up playing classical music and having little experience with the blues, this style of improvising and adapting on the spot is quite challenging. But when you listen to her fierce and captivating playing with Joe, her overall musical experience and technical prowess is evident. As Joe states “Tina exceeded my expectations, going from an arena that’s very structured, to being very aware of sudden changes and listens to the call and response.”
“Getting nine musicians in the same direction is very hard, but when it gels it’s magic.” Getting to express your musical gift with various musicians from unique cultures is very rewarding. Being in a very large ensemble is like “being in a big conversation,” with everyone influencing the other musicians.
Although Joe Bonamassa has had the opportunity to play in many venues all over the world, this concert was very special to him. This is one of those events that puts artists in a whole different category and is backed by a lot of respect in the music industry. For Joe, a successful and great performance is all about “portraying the joy you are feeling about playing there.” If you have ever seen Joe perform, he is always overjoyed to be on stage and these two mesmerizing performances were no exception.