Raise a glass
Little Feat provides energetic soundtrack for well-attended brew fest
“Well they say time loves a hero,” was the lyric that opened Little Feat’s crowd-pleasing set that was the nightcap to the Saturday twi-night doubleheader that began with a Brew Fest—featuring selections from 17 different craft brewers, from little Ale Industries in Concord to big-time Sierra Nevada here in Chico—on the tree-lined lawn behind Manzanita Place. And while the band members would not call themselves heroes, the 500 or so in attendance—most of whom soaked up the selection of suds as well as the music portion of the mini-fest—showed a lot of love for the veteran Cajun rock, roots, funk and blues jam band.
Much like the Allman Brothers and Crosby, Stills & Nash, Little Feat has remained a respected, critically acclaimed touring act, despite the fact that their heyday and FM radio dominance came in the 1970s. Little Feat band members are also highly sought-after session players, appearing on countless records by some of rock’s and blues’ finest. Despite constant favorable reviews, Little Feat has always operated just shy of superstardom and slightly under the radar of many. But for the Brew Fest-and-concert attendees, the band’s heritage and legacy were visibly cause for celebration.
Classic Little Feat selections on this typically steamy Chico summer night included the aforementioned “Time Loves a Hero” as well as “Day or Night,” “Sailin’ Shoes,” “Walkin’ All Night,” an epic “Dixie Chicken” that contained within it a large portion of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed,” and a sweet, reverent version of the band’s (and the late Lowell George’s) most cherished song, “Willin’.”
Any discussion of Little Feat has to include George, the band’s original principal singer and songwriter who died way back in 1979. But unlike some revival acts that survive on the casino lounge scene with perhaps one vintage member and a bunch of much younger, soulless supporting musicians, Little Feat, which reformed in 1988, has been busy ever since, reinforcing the songs and jams that have exemplified them. Five of the six current band members (female vocalist Shaun Murphy left the band in early 2009 and was not replaced) have logged a cumulative 177 years with the band, and Saturday they all showed off the proficient chops that have been cultivated and fused together brilliantly over the years.
Little Feat co-founder, keyboardist and vocalist Bill Payne painted his bright barrelhouse and blues passages all over the canvas, and front man guitarist/vocalist Paul Barrere sizzled on his Fender and carried out most of the lead vocals. Bass player Kenny Gradney and conga player Sam Clayton, who also sang the sexy, funky “Spanish Moon,” did what they’ve done for their 38 years with the band, flawlessly delivering the danceable, boogie-and-blues bottom end. Late-comer (if 1988 can be consider so) Fred Tackett was impressive in his guitar duels with Barrere and contributed some nice mandolin moments. Drummer Gabe Ford, who of late has been filling in for founding member Richie Hayward, who stepped away in 2009 to concentrate on recovering from liver disease, did nothing to subtract from the band’s essence.
Kudos should go to North Valley Productions’ impresario Steve Schuman, who presided over the large multifaceted event that was well-prepared, well-managed and well-staffed, especially considering this was a first-time effort. The event also proved there is indeed room for more than one brew fest in this town, coming only one month after the 15th annual Soroptimist Microbrew Festival at the same location.
The beer-tasting component ran concurrent with a KZFR 20-year celebration, with a gathering of on-air personalities, sounds from DJ Spenny and cake for everyone. Chico Peace & Justice volunteers were on-hand to collect a modest $2 for parking, which likely turned into a nice sum of cash, given that the entire parking lot completely filled.