Ben Harper plays the Santa Barbara Bowl. (Sept. 19, 2015)
Paul Wellman

On Saturday, September 19, Ben Harper returned to the Bowl, but this time reunited with The Innocent Criminals. And they stunned all, showing youthful energy and corroborating years of unison. Starting the night with “Jah Work,” a classic 18-year-old Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals song, it was clear how the night would go: Everyone would assemble in a stress-free, musical bubble. As the sun went down and people trickled in, the seemignly sold-out venue was ready for hours of feel-good music and dance.

Audience members swooned when the chorus of “With My Own Two Hands” began. The song, which features Jack Johnson, reaches back to 1999, when the two met at the Bowl. Following the exchange, aspiring singer/songwriter Johnson was signed by Ben Harper’s then-producer.

Harper played powerful songs both old and new including “Brown-Eyed Blues,” “Burn One Down,” “Forgiven,” and “Steal My Kisses.” And when he played Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing,” the very few still glued to their seats stood and joined the others in jive.

Before the band started “Don’t Take That Attitude to Your Grave,” Harper shared a story: “When I was 7 or 8, Pops was driving on a narrow road when another car pulls up next to us. The guy starts yelling at my dad and his dog keeps barking at us. My dad turned to him, the dog stopped yapping, and he said, ‘Don’t take that attitude to your grave,” winked, and drove on.” Moments like these influence how he writes songs, he explained, and the crowd seemed more spirited and jazzed, if possible.

It’s no wonder Harper returns regularly to the Bowl. He explained in song, “I’ve been coming to S.B. all my life…Dreamed of playing here all my life.” Needless to say, “Dance with me, dance with me into the colors of the dusk” is exactly what happened.


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