At age 62, Edgar Winter no longer inhabits America’s popular music mainstream. That chunk of the music turf has always been driven by the tastes of a younger demographic.
Winter though is still as good or better a musician, vocalist and performer as he was during his 1970’s popularity peak.
Case in point- Last night my wife and I went to see Winter and his band perform at the Capital City Ribfest in Lincoln. It cost just $4 apiece for admission. Our blazing, hot weather had gratefully given way to a breezy evening, with temperatures in the upper 70’s.
Winter took the stage around 9:45 and immediately launched into “Keep Playing that Rock and Roll.” My wife and I were standing about 60 yards in front of the stage. We looked at each other… and grimaced. The sound mix was too hot. Winter’s vocals drifted in and out. His band, while animated, sounded badly out of sync.
A few folks in the crowd began drifting away. We were tempted to follow. I was thinking to myself; “Is this another once great musician who’s living off the past, paying bills and dumping lousy performances on audiences?”
Fortunately, the answer was “No!”
Technical problems with Winter’s keyboard and sound system brought the show to a halt. Winter apologized for the technical snafu and briefly exited the stage so crew members could scramble for a fix. Within a few minutes the show resumed with sound system and instrument mix working on cue. Suddenly, the talents of Winter and his band mates came into focus. They were a sight to behold.
During his 70’s hit “Frankenstein,” Winter displayed his musical virtuosity by playing the synthesizer keyboard, slung around his neck so he could move across the stage, along with the tenor sax and drum.
About halfway through the performance, my wife and I worked our way to the front of the stage where we had a great view of the band. It was obvious to us that these guys are great musicians and showmen. Much to the pleasure of their audience, they seemed to enjoy working hard, pushing each other and playing together. The band often acknowledged each other and the audience as they traded riffs and seemed not to miss a note or beat.
My favorite performance of this night was Winter’s rendition of “Tobacco Road.” Several years ago, Winter reworked his 70’s version of the blues song, so that it allowed some fine-tuned interactions that showcased the talents of his band mates and Winter’s vocals.
Last night, Winter began the song with thunderous waves of bass and guitar music driven by Carpenter’s drum beats and Winter’s tenor sax riffs.
Winter then broke away from the “Tobacco Road” refrain to do some vocal/instrument duets during the song. Winter started with guitarist Rappoport, challenging him to repeat his vocal bid-del-de-doops on his guitar.
This amazing duet went on for several minutes with the vocals ranging longer and higher, followed by Rappoport capturing every note to perfection on his guitar.
Next, Winter pulled along side bassist KOko Powell who thumb-thumped bass notes like a machine gun firing bullets.
When it was Jason Powell’s turn to match Winter’s vocals, the drummer put on a percussionary tour de force. Powell smartly matched the pacing and pitch of Winter’s vocal notes with a snappy combination of drumming power and deftness.
Winter wrapped the performance with another 70’s hit, “Free Ride.” The song went through the nostalgic motions with the audience, but didn’t break any new ground. That was OK. I was pleased to see that Winter is still putting it out there as he approaches his mid-60’s.
I suspect that has something to do with Winter’s rearing in a Texas family whose parents performed music and encouraged the musical interests of Edgar and older brother Johnny at a very young age.
It’s one thing to do something. It’s another thing to do something with passion.
Forty years after his popularity peak, Edgar’s passion for music still shines. He’s not afraid to press the creative envelope and still seems to enjoy taking his audiences, whatever their ages, along on his musical journey.