Kicking off the evening to the sold out Centennial Concert Hall with Elton John’s Your Song, Rodriguez made the song his song, done in a style that only he could do.
His unique guitar playing, reminiscent of Jose Feliciano and other great singer/songwriters of the ’70’s, blended very well with his straight to the point lyrics. His original songs dealt with many issues of the time when they where written in the early ’70’s, issues that are still relevant today.
Sugar Man talked of the dangers of drug abuse. After playing the song he said, “Stay off the drugs. Stay smart, don’t start.”
His is a pretty amazing story. After recording two albums in the United States, the Detroit native gave up music and worked as a labourer most of his life. Unbeknownst to him, copies of the albums were widely copied and redistributed in Africa.
His music there was so popular that he became a phenomenon not unlike the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Comparisons to Bob Dylan also arose because of his folksy and social commentary type lyrics.
It wasn’t until years later after a fan, Stephen Segerman, from Cape Town, South Africa, tracked down Rodriguez and told him of his popularity. A documentary, Searching For Sugarman, about his life, was made in 2013. As a result, Rodriguez’s music and songs spread like wildfire resulting in tours.
His latest tour, which started in Victoria about a week ago, has been selling out quickly.
Hearing the 74 year old’s music live was quite an amazing and memorable experience for this writer. It was nice to watch him grooving to his own tunes as well as the covers that he played.
It’s quite apparent that those songs he wrote came straight from the heart. He comes across as a very humble, caring type of person.
Proud of his Mexican roots, he stated that, “My mother was Mexican so I’m a Mexican,” and that, “Mexicans are Indigenous people.”
He also commented on the Presidential candidates before launching into Establishment Blues (aka This Is Not A Song, This Is An Outburst).
Some of the other covers were Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody To Love, Sam Cooke’s Chain Gang, Lou Rawls’ Dead End Street and Little Willie John’s Fever.
After playing 16 songs in 50 minutes he left the stage to a standing ovation of thunderous applause from the very appreciative audience.
He returned to the stage for a 17 minute four song encore starting off with The Rolling Stones song (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction which I don’t believe for one minute. It looked to me like he was just as satisfied playing for us as we were listening to him.
A fiery and passionate version of The Doors’ Light My Fire was next. He ended the evening with the very beautiful Street Boy.
After watching him play, one wonders what could have been, had he received the recognition in the ’70’s he so rightly deserved. What classics would he have written?
Arum Rae from Manhattan played a very delightful 35 minute opening set. Her velvety vibrato voice reverberated nicely through the venue.
Reminding me of Norah Jones and Amy Winehouse at times, you could also hear the influence of people like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. She told me after the show she was also a Tom Waits fan.
After being in an indie band whose van broke down mid tour she ended up working at a diner in Austin (a job she wasn’t happy with).
One day at work she got a call from a TV show which wanted to use as their theme song a tune she had written, recorded and forgot about. Needless to say she quit the diner job and never looked back. She admitted that she’s never seen the show though.
Accompanied by her at times twangy Stratocaster and well crafted musings of relationships, love and life, the audience really enjoyed the stories she shared. So much so that the box of CD’s she brought with her was near empty by the end of the evening. She came out during intermission and at the end of the show and chatted with people as she signed CD’s.
Her very personal songs included one called Heaven about losing a friend to addiction. “You don’t have to die to go to heaven,” she lamented.
She ended her set with the Louis Armstrong classic What A Wonderful World. And what a wonderful world it would be if we could have more shows like this one.
The evening was presented by the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Wouldn’t it be nice if either one of these performers came back for the festival.
My sister is one of the Folk Festival volunteers. After working in the Children’s Area for 19 years, she’s now part of the Hear All Year crew, who help out at shows throughout the year. She told me that both performers sold quite a few CD’s and albums that night.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer