Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings absolutely lit up the stage at the second-ever Sonoma Mountain Village concert on Thursday night. The concert series marked the end of a brief 2014 season, which also brought in the rock band Goo Goo Dolls in July. According to Petaluma’s Second Octave Talent agency, which books the bands for SOMO, some 1,100 people were in attendance and next year promises to bring 10 more outstanding festival-like shows to fill the 3,000-person venue.
Guatemalan singer, and 2014 Latin Grammy award winner, Gaby Moreno opened the evening with a blues-infused Southern folk set that showcased the powerfully sultry, and sweetly gruff, voice that has made her the darling of Latin American folk rock. Dressed in a Western dress and tiny heels, she rocked a vintage-style Gretsch guitar as if she were a country star on a Nashville stage. But tacking down Moreno’s style is like trying to stop a butterfly to ask about her favorite flower. To my ears, her sound falls somewhere in between the finger-picking melodies of Norah Jones and the whimsy of Patsy Cline, with the vocal dynamism of Etta James and a touch of Lilly Allen’s flare. Yet the songs she sings in Spanish are perfectly Latin; a bit of bossa nova, traces of Mexican banda, the alternative pop that defined many Latin females in the late 1990’s.
Under Thursday’s setting sun, Moreno varied her set flawlessly. Tempos and moods switched between smoky jazz ballads like Blues del Mar, off her latest release “Postales” (2012, Metamorfosis), and groovy blues/rock tracks like “Greenhorned Man”, from her first album “Still the Unknown” (2008, indie release). It was a marvelous opening performance that surely garnered hundreds of new North American fans.
Between acts, the promoters gave ample time to get up and stretch, refill wine and beer glasses, and chat with neighbors sitting close enough to practically share blankets. A few vendor’s booths were set up to attract wanders, as well as a semi-stocked bar for general admission ticket holders. Food offerings were cafeteria-style, catered by the Sally Tomatoes restaurant inside. The interior venue is well-known in local comedy circles as being the go-to spot for great up-and-coming acts. While the wine was good and the service was friendly, the food got less than stellar reviews. VIP ticket holders on the other hand, were treated to a fully-stocked bar and outdoor seating area complete with tables and heating lamps. While the GA grassy area offers excellent views of the stage, it could be worthwhile to purchase VIP just so you don’t have to drag in chairs and blankets. The space is intimate, with two-story buildings bordering the lawn area, and giant redwood trees framing the stage. Yet, the adjacency adds to a close-nit community vibe. And once Sharon Jones got on stage, there wasn’t a warm body to be found in a sea of abandoned lawn chairs.
The Dap Kings band formed in the early aughts under the digs of Brooklyn’s Daptone Records. Their premise was to revive the tradition of analog recording and pressing vinyl records, while bringing back the funk/soul sounds of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Sharon Jones, who grew up singing gospel in her native Augusta, Georgia, was working a day job at Rikers Island prison when label owners discovered her singing backup vocals for various bands around New York City. Soon the Dap Kings became her backing band and she went on to record five studio albums with them. With incredibly successful performances at festivals across the country, a new album to be released, and European tours in place, Jones’ career was on the rise.
But in the spring of 2013, Jones was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and spent the summer undergoing chemotherapy. The treatments would sideline her from nearly all musical activity and essentially threaten her life. New Year’s Eve 2014 was her last chemo treatment and she’s been cancer free ever since. On the SOMO stage last night, she belted out the tune “Get Up And Get Out” off her 2013 release Give The People What They Want (Daptone), exclaiming to the crowd “I told my cancer to get up and get out! And I told my cancer, if you ain’t gonna get out, I am gonna shout you out!” Needless to say, Sharon Jones is way beyond having cancer and it is obvious her immense energy and sheer passion for life are what got her through it all.
The performance opened with an instrumental introduction from the Dap Kings eight-member, tailored-suit-clad band before Jones’ fabulous backup singers came on to sing three groove-inciting numbers. When Sharon Jones finally came on stage, the audience exploded in applause. She opened with the super up-beat “Stranger To My Happiness,” then brought up 10 ladies from the crowd to dance on stage for “Keep On Looking,” which must have made those girls entire summer. Of all the shows I’ve seen this year, I have not experienced a performer so in love with her audience, so passionate about making every fan feel special. Jones’ went on to sing a slow, sexy rendition of “Long Time,” an afro-beat inspired “How Do You Let A Good Man Down,” and the dark, jazzy soul tune “I Learned The Hard Way.”
The second half of Jones’ set included some beautiful harmonies on “There Was A Time,” a wild impersonation of Tina Turner for “Making Up And Breaking Up,” and a 10 minute showcase of 1960’s dancehall moves like the boogaloo, the pony, and the swim—the crowd thought that was a riot and all kinds of people over 60 where swinging their arms and winding their hips without a care in the world.
Sharon Jones only did one song for her encore: a brilliant take on the original Woody Guthrie ballad, “This Land Is Your Land.” It was the defining moment of the show, a stellar interpretation of an American classic. Jones ignites the spirit of American music’s golden age—the decades that challenged the cultural status quo, brought music to the heart of the civil rights movement, and blended the colors of society in a tangled-up mishmash of incredible musicianship, neighborly conviviality, and the love for an American art form. If anyone is going to remind us that American music is steeped in a rich, passionate history, it is going to be Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings.
Tags: Gaby Moreno, Rohnert Park, Sharon Jones, Sonoma County Concerts, Sonoma Mountain Village, The Dap Kings