ON the Beat | Rock Stars Gone Rootsy

Jorma Kaukonen and Robert Plant, Rock Star Veterans Now in Rootsy Garb, Hit Santa Barbara This Week

Hot Tuna Acoustic | Credit: Jay Blakesberg / Courtesy Lobero

By happy accident or divine intervention, the stars — or unplugged rock stars — have aligned in the next week’s concert calendar in town. Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant returns to the Santa Barbara Bowl with his rootsy Alison Krauss project August 17, and ex-Jefferson Airplane-er Jorma Kaukonen’s Hot Tuna Acoustic blues grit returns to the Lobero on August 11.

By some coincidence, both of these artists’ original band names have aeronautical references, for those keeping track. Both parties have always been passionate about acoustic and rootsy musical genres, as well, and are following those passions into the sunset.

Plant’s innate attraction to acoustic and worldly folk sounds goes back to the often unplugged tracks of Led Zeppelin III and such songs as “Going to California,” as well as the inspired Krauss collaboration on a pair of impressive albums, 2007’s Raising Sand and last year’s Raise the Roof. I remember hearing a version of “Black Dog” at the Plant/Krauss Bowl show in 2008 and noting how perfectly the swampy bluegrass arrangement suited the Led Zep classic.


Kaukonen, whose searing electric style was a key feature of the Airplane’s “acid rock” trademark sound, has long tended his fascination with blues of the acoustic/country variety and electric approach with Hot Tuna. As he explained, “my success as an ‘acid rock’ player was in many respects incidental to my love for Americana. That said, it (the Airplane’s success and fame) certainly got the train rolling for me. Thanks, Jefferson Airplane.”

Finding jewels from blues history is part of the Hot Tuna mission. “It’s a deep well,” he said, “and it’s all about ferreting out the nuggets.” The mission continues, 50 years into the Tuna story.

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From the beginning of his meteoric rise to fame, Trombone Shorty (born Troy Andrews) has adamantly tended the duty of party-making, New Orleans style. He has clung to old school musical values from his native city while branching out into modern touches of hip hop and elsewhere, as heard again on his new album Parking Lot Symphony.

After riling up crowds at Campbell Hall and the Arlington, Shorty brings his portable party machine, with the tour called “Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown,” to the Bowl on August 13, joined by Tank and the Bangas, George Porter Jr., and Dumpstaphunk.


This year, I wasn’t able to make the local fiesta-ivities due to a call to cover the increasingly-respected Ystad Jazz Festival in Southern Sweden. I had to swap out my “vivala”s– ironic or otherwise — with toasts of “skål.” When in Scandinavia…

Some may know Ystad as the site of the Kenneth Branagh-starring Wallander series, in which dastardly deeds are going down in this peaceful harbor town. I didn’t notice any criminal activities lurking on these cobblestoned byways, although I heard many blue notes — the good kind. This lovely festival, launched in 2010, has arrived on the ever-thickening jazz festival map, making Ystad known as a jazz hot spot, for at least one week a year.

Stacey Kent at Ystad Jazz Festival | Credit: Josef Woodard

One dominant theme of this year’s program — the first mounted in three years — cast a deserved spotlight on masterful jazz singers not as well-known beyond jazz quarters as they should be. It began with an opening day noon set by acclaimed veteran Stacey Kent, who quickly demonstrated the supple magic of her delivery and nuance in collusion with her husband/creative partner, saxist Jim Tomlinson.

A Sunday afternoon post-festival concert, in the charming agricultural town of Löderup, featured the commanding Danish singer Sinne Eeg, whose big, superbly controlled voice works well with a big band (here, the Monday Night Big Band) but also, elsewhere, treads in inventive original modern jazz sounds. In between came Cyrille Aimée, the French-born New Orleans resident with a unique and fluid musical voice: she scats masterfully, plays originals on her ukulele, (wo)mans her looper setup with improvisatory panache: she’s the stuff.

All of the above singers are well worth checking out, and praying to the culture gods that they might alight a Santa Barbara stage at some point.

Another highlight of the festival was the great chromatic harmonica player Grégoire Maret, on the heels of the 2021 Americana album (which featured Bill Frisell), here with pianist Romain Collin and poetic guitarist Marvin Sewell. Maret can burn mightily, but in this moodier set, he mostly went “deep” and “emotional” (his words) on a setlist including “Wichita Lineman.” Jimmy Webb would shed a tear.


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