Words by Samantha Buckman
If you have never heard the name Kenny Wayne Shepherd, either you don’t listen to music, or you live as a hermit in an off the grid location somewhere. He first burst onto the global music scene in 1995 with breakthrough album “Ledbetter Heights,” which was shortly followed by his seminal album “Trouble Is…” in 1997. 25 years later, the five-time Grammy-nominated guitarist decided to celebrate this achievement with a complete reimagination of this unforgettable opus. Not only has Shepherd released “Trouble Is… 25,” but the release is accompanied by a live DVD filmed at The Strand Theatre in Shepherd’s hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. As noted in our recent interview with him, in this new release Shepherd strives to capture the timelessness of the album and its hallowed place in the genre’s history.
What better place to celebrate this reignition of the blues-rock scene and its evolution than the live stage? Shepherd has committed to bringing “Trouble Is… 25” to life beneath the spotlights and to audiences around the world in a year-long promotional tour. Samantha Fish, an American blues and rock artist, was chosen as the opening act for this multi-month cross-country trek. This tour began in 2022, but as shows have sold out and venues have been packed to the brim, additional dates have been added. With everything from festivals to his own tour awaiting Shepherd in the months ahead, there was nothing but anticipation in the air as Shepherd approached the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Samantha Fish made for a strong opening act, a near-perfect fit for both genre and atmosphere. Fish and her chosen set-list included both cover songs and material from her recent album “Faster.” There is little question “Faster” was built for the stage, and Fish’s natural charisma made the audience hungry for more – she truly came swinging for the fences. Her tall stature and confident persona matched the vibrancy of her leather pants and pink high heels, as well as the two microphones positioned on either side of the stage. A backing band was there to accompany her, but the spotlights remained on Fish throughout the night, and rightfully so. The audience devoured every note from her guitar, and they kept asking for more, culminating in a standing ovation. She simply demanded nothing less that everyone’s full attention, and she got it.
Her set-list was relatively short, consisting of only eight songs, three of them being covers. This included a cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” which she honored in spirit while giving her own creative interpretation. There was passion abound in her performance, and her engagement with the audience appeared genuine as she balanced the technical proficiency required of her chosen songs. “Twisted Ambition,” taken from “Faster,” appeared to have particular attention paid to its flawless execution. What may have appeared a modest opening act on paper, Fish gave Shepherd some serious energy and excellence to meet.
SAMANTHA FISH Photo Gallery:
For any other artist, it would have been a challenge not to be upstaged by this young and charismatic artist. But Shepherd, rightfully heralded and expertly practiced, more than earned his titular spot on the bill. Everything about his performance, from his opening track “Trouble Is…” to the encore “You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now” was an exemplar of the genre and live musical skills. It was also a display of excellent personality, as Shepherd was no stranger to talking to the audience between songs. This included chatting about “I Found Love (When I Found You)” becoming a common wedding song – with Shepherd even remarking that perhaps it was the wedding song of someone in the audience – and the thrill of his record-smashing “Blue on Black.” Some may recognize the more modern rendition of this song brought to light by Five Finger Death Punch, a cover in which both Shepherd and Queen’s Brian May also take part.
The first half of the set was the entirety of “Trouble Is…” arranged in a different order than the album’s original running order. The second half of the set was other songs from Shepherd’s fabled discography, and each half was met with equally enthusiastic reception. As though to call back to a more youthful time in his life, Shepherd performed without his now-signature hat, contributing to a more youthful look, resembling his appearance around the time that “Trouble Is…” caused his global rise to fame, when he was merely a teenager. His skills as a guitarist were unparalleled, and although there was an entire band supporting him, there was little doubt this was Shepherd’s show. Vocalist Noah Hunt did as superb as usual to give breath to each song, particularly the more emotional endeavors, and those more vibrant stars like “Chase the Rainbow.” That’s not to obscure the magnificence of the whole band, who gave each melody and rhythm their all. It appeared throughout to be a faithful rendition in both style and in spirit, from Shepherd himself to the other musicians joining him.
Shepherd wasn’t shy to stay at center stage, coming right up to the edge and playing with soulful intent. His eyes sometimes closed; gaze drifted down, entirely caught up in the spirit of his work. It was the spirit that first kindled his fame, and the drive that has carried him through more than a quarter of a century, that made Shepherd so captivating. With more than a fifteen-song set, a revival of blues-rock gone by, and expert musicianship, Shepherd’s performance is one that must not be missed. It entranced and captivated, and it exemplified just what has brought him to the top of the charts again and again for the better part of three decades. As KWS continues his globe-trotting, you would do well to carve out some time to see him in action.