by Steven Sanchez
The month of April was a great month for live entertainment. So far 2023 has been flooded with good concerts and comedy shows, but April went to another level. Now that Spring is here, more shows will be appearing to satisfy all tastes, but this past month really set the tone. The Central Valley always offers a variety, but this time around there was quite a bit happening in Bakersfield. There were many options in terms of genres ranging from classic rock, jazz, and stand-up comedy. These are the shows that Kings River Life had the privilege of covering.
JOURNEY & TOTO
It was classic rock galore at the Mechanics Bank Arena in Bakersfield on April 22nd. Kern County is known for its country roots, but that night it was all about rock. Journey is currently on their 50th Anniversary Tour while being supported by Toto. Both are staples on classic rock radio and their music has been popular enough to be featured in film and television soundtracks, along with commercials. And in the sold-out arena, no matter who took the stage, they cheered equally loudly for both acts.
Toto took the stage first. They played as if their name were on the main marquee. They performed all their hits ranging from “Hold The Line,” “Rosanna,” and of course, their signature single, “Africa.” Even the newer material got the audience excited. The older members have kept the band going with Steve Lukather on lead guitar/lead and backing vocals/bass guitar, and David Paichon on keyboards/lead and backing vocals. They have been active since the band’s inception in 1977. Joseph Williams, lead and backing vocals/additional keyboards, has been with the band since 1986. The newer members are Warren Ham, saxophone/harmonica/flute/backing and occasional lead vocals, percussion; Dominique “Xavier” Taplin, keyboards/backing vocals; John Pierce, bass; Steve Maggiora, keyboards/backing and occasional lead vocals; and Robert “Sput” Searight, drums/percussion. They played so tightly and crisply that you could have believed that they’ve been playing together for decades.
Then came Journey. Everyone seems to know Journey, and has sung their songs for karaoke or with a group of people at least once. That night they proved why they’re still touring after fifty years. They played one classic after another. The momentum just built and built. It didn’t matter whether it was an anthem or a ballad, each song brought back nostalgic memories to the older attendees, and the cheers grew louder with each tune.
It was a Spotify playlist of all their defining hits, ranging from “Faithfully,” “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Wheel In The Sky,” and “Separate Ways.” The two songs that stood out to me the most were “Lights,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It doesn’t get cooler than seeing the entire arena swaying the lights of their cell phones to the song, and then having the whole crowd sing “Don’t Stop Believin.” Those were the highlights of the night.
Neal Schon, lead guitar and backing vocals, has been with the group since the beginning in 1973. The second oldest member is Jonathan Cain, who plays keyboards/piano/backing vocals/rhythm guitar/harmonica, and who has been with the band since 1980. The other members—Deen Castronovo, drums/backing and lead vocals; Arnel Pineda, lead vocals; Jason Derlatka, keyboards/backing and lead vocals; and Todd Jensen, bass/backing vocals—played as if they were in the original band.
Everyone was at the top of their game, but the man of the night was Arnel Pineda, who replaced the original singer, Hanford’s own Steve Perry, from 2007. From what I’ve heard, he sounds exactly like him, but I needed to see it for myself. And he was the real deal. Never missed a note. He was running around the stage, going left and right, mingling with the audience members. His energy was amazing, and he added a lot of heart and passion to the band’s performance.
Journey has been considered one of the pioneers of arena rock, music made for stadiums. They have love songs, hard driving guitar licks, and the drum beats to cause a frenzy. They’ve had that reputation since the ‘80s and by my own experience, I can confirm they haven’t wavered at all. Based on their performance no one should stop believin’ that they still got it, and their journey shows no signs of stopping.
GODFREY COMEDY SHOW
Plenty of laughs rang through the Fox Theatre in Bakersfield on April 23rd for the Godfrey comedy show, presented by CMAC Productions. Since 2019, CMAC has been known for bringing quality comedy entertainment to Kern County. They produce exciting, monthly comedy shows at the historic Bakersfield Fox Theater, Speakeasy Bar & Grill at 1933 and The Grotto Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. They’ve brought Sommore, TK Kirkland, and just recently, Godfrey.
Godfrey has had a stellar career. Ben Stiller cast him in “Zoolander,” and he has appeared in: “Johnson Family Vacation,” “The Cook Out” with Queen Latifah, “Phat Girlz” starring Monique, and “Soul Plane,” alongside Snoop Dogg. Godfrey is perhaps best known for his stint as the “7-UP Guy” in the 7-UP national campaign and has made many television appearances, including on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” He’s a constant favorite for interviews from DJ Vlad on VladTV. He recently starred in his own one-hour special for Comedy Central, “Godfrey: Black By Accident.”
The whole lineup was hilarious. There was Alphonso McAuley, Tania Estrada, Brett Riley, D’Maurier Johnson, Lito Iglesias; the show was hosted by Evan Lionel. No subject was off limits when it came to entertaining the intimate Bakersfield crowd. Relationships, sex, growing up, childhood, manhood, femininity, parenting, and even taking shots at the location of the theatre, based on the sirens passing by. Each comedian brought their own flavor and life stories to the mix. All the jokesters provided a good buildup until Godfrey took the stage.
He is a master impressionist. The one that had me and everybody rolling was his Bane impersonation, the villain from the film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” He got deep into politics, sociology, and was able to make fun of the pandemic. He let it all hang out and the result was laughter all the way. Overall, it was a fun and entertaining night of comedy. Looking forward to seeing what shows are in the future from CMAC Productions.
Want to catch a comedy show in Bakersfield? Check out their website for details: cmac-productions.com
The legendary soprano saxophonist appeared at the Visalia Fox Theatre on April 27th. It was one of the best shows that I’ve ever seen. How can an artist entertain a crowd with just music without any singing? I’m aware that he has been doing it for a long time, but how does it stand today? After what I saw, it’s by far one of the most entertaining and captivating shows I’ve seen.
Kenny G brings so much life to his music. He makes that saxophone sing. You felt his soul and passion through his playing. The times he did speak he told life stories and cracked jokes; he has a great sense of humor.
He started the show playing in the middle of the crowd with the spotlight on him. That up close and personal performance was a memorable moment and a dramatic way to kick things off. He was playing his high school saxophone and announced that it’s the longest lasting relationship he’s ever had. Two members of the band are high school friends, and Kenny specifically recounted old stories about the piano player as they attended Franklin High School in Seattle.
He had a great backing band. They are all accomplished musicians. The bongo player did a great solo and was followed by the drummer. Then they did a dueling drum set. The bongo player led off with a Brazilian flag covered tambourine. That got the crowd all pumped up.
They played classic ‘60s jazz, and Kenny gave a little jazz history lesson to the crowd. It was an improvisational set, and the audience enjoyed every minute of it. They played a song from the 1950s by John Coltrane. To me, one of the best moments of the show was his instrumental tribute to R&B music from the ‘70s with “Pick Up The Pieces,” by The Average White Band. I really like that song and the band was spot on while adding a little bit of Kenny G’s touch. But the saxophone solo completely won me over; it was that performance that, years ago, solidified it for me when I became a Kenny G fan. Next, the bass player did a solo and slapped those chords like nobody’s business. And then the guitarist riffed away and it was awesome.
There was a raffle with a saxophone from Kenny G as the prize. The winners were a couple, Sam and José. After they were introduced, Kenny sat them down and serenaded their victory. It was a romantic and heartfelt moment.
Then it was time for Kenny’s solo set. He didn’t just play, but he sounded like he was making love to his instrument, it was so sensual. He puts all his emotions into his playing, which is why he’s been doing this for decades and why he’s one of the best-selling artists of all time. The highlight of the night was him doing a cover of the Celine Dion classic, “My Heart Will Go On,” and man, that blew everybody away. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. There’s no doubt he’s the “G” when it comes to his own special way of playing music.
This show was presented by Perico Productions. They’re mostly known for putting on comedy shows with comedians like Felipe Esparza, Loni Love, Pablo Francisco, and Brad Williams, to name a few. This was outside the realm of what they usually do, but it was a great show. Leonard and Kathy Velasquez have always been good to us. We enjoy covering their shows, and we’re looking forward to covering more in the future.
Want to check out one of their shows? Check out their Facebook page for details: facebook.com/PericoProductions
“The Little Ol’ Band From Texas” made their way to Bakersfield’s Dignity Health Amphitheatre on April 29th. The three sharply dressed men brought their Southern swag and bluesy grit to the park’s stage. These guys have been going at it since the ‘70s and they’re still as cool as ever. They, of course, wore their signature beards. (It’s funny that the drummer’s name is Frank Beard, who doesn’t have a beard.) They played jams that helped define the early era of MTV with “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs,” “Tush,” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” to name a few.
They didn’t need pyrotechnics or fireworks to put on a good show. The trio sounded so precise, even when they were loud. When you see them play, they look so laid back that they seem almost to be napping. You wouldn’t think a band that looks so chill can muster such a booming sound. Billy Gibbons will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. Not a lot of people know this, but when Billy was younger he caught the eye of guitar royalty Jimi Hendrix, and soon became his favorite guitar player before the band broke big.
Unfortunately, they were without the original bassist, Dusty Hill, who passed away in 2021. Hill’s guitar tech, Elwood Francis, stepped in and did a really good job. No one can ever replace a legend of that magnitude, but Elwood did his thing and the band sounded just as good as ever. ZZ Top has been going strong for decades and judging by their performance and the crowd’s adulation, everything is indeed “bigger in Texas.”
For the Bakersfield concerts, everything was facilitated by Nick Wynne. Much appreciation for his assistance, and I am looking forward to attending more of his shows.