KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD: A Night of Blues Nirvana at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale (October 28th, 2021)

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It seems like just yesterday that the critics and fans were calling Kenny Wayne Shepherd a “prodigy.”  He was just a kid with a big guitar and an even bigger blues sound, following in the footsteps of his idol and mentor Stevie Ray Vaughan – a meeting between the two when Kenny was just seven lit the spark that set his music career a-blazing.  And six years later, the kid was already wowing audiences throughout the South.

Photo by Joel Barrios

30 some years have passed, yet KWS’ accolades haven’t waned. He’s not that kid anymore; but a contemporary blues-rock giant with several staple hits under his belt, a successful career and known for electrifying live performances. His studio album “Trouble Is” holds the distinction of being the longest running album on the Billboard’s Blues Chart and is among 9 of his albums that have achieved #1 status on that chart, three of which have been RIAA certified Platinum along with one Gold album. He’s received five Grammy nominations and his “10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads” album and filmed documentary combination won both a Blues Music Award as well as a Keeping the Blues Alive Award.

Shepherd’s current tour graced a three of South Florida venues this week, and one of his performances happened at the beautiful Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Centrally located in downtown Fort Lauderdale, this spectacular venue with exquisite acoustics is my favorite amongst the ones I frequently visit for live shows, and witnessing KWS’ show there was an utter treat.

Photo by Joel Barrios

There are very few things I can say about Kenny Wayne Shepherd as an artist and a live performer than haven’t been printed time and time again. From the opening salvo of “Woman Like You,” the cut that coincidentally led off his last studio album “The Traveler,” there were zero reservations about where he stands: unquestionably at the top of his game. Backed by a truly impressive band, Shepherd traveled with painstakingly poise through guitar leads and fills, showing how he can balance shred with nuances and subtlety, his axe wailing and crying the notes out.

As mentioned above, KWS’ band-mates rounded up the magic coming from the blues-man’s guitar. Noah Hunt’s singing is undoubtedly a special component in the band’s sound, his unique – and at times gritty – delivery wrapping the notes with an aura that felt just tailor-made. Ex-Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton and bassist Scott Nelson’s backbone was precise and multilayered, and the horn section of Joe Sublett (sax) and Mark Pender (trumpet) provided fullness and texture to the astounding musicianship on display.

Photo by Joel Barrios

Highlights of the night were the cover of Joe Walsh’s “Turn to Stone,” including a quiet section with interplay between the Joe Krown’s piano and KWS’ axe, where he let loose, the 1998’s massive hit “Blue on Black,” a true crowd favorite which had the entire theater standing on their feet and applauding; and Shepherd’s usual finale: the homage to one of his heroes Jimi Hendrix via “Voodoo Child (Slight Return):almost 11 minutes of pure blues-rock ecstasy. 

A dazzling guitarist with the blessing of blues’ greatest radiating from his guitar strings, Kenny Wayne Shepherd stock in trade is simply exceptional musicianship and blues-rock at its finest. And I’ll happily bet on him any single time he comes to my neck of the woods.

KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD Set-list:

Woman Like You / True Les / I Want You / Diamonds & Gold / Heat of the Sun / Talk to Me Baby (Elmore James cover) / Shame, Shame, Shame / Turn to Stone (Joe Walsh cover)

Encore:

Blue On Black / Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (Jimi Hendrix cover)

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