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Carlos Santana Brings Generations Together With His Guitar at Turning Stone

Mark Bialczak

World music.

Worldly music.

I hang both those tags on Carlos Santana, a man born in Mexico who played the Woodstock Festival of Art and Music down the road from us in the mud of Max Yasgur's Bethel farm at the age of 22 years old in August, 1969, and has amazed all with the sounds that come out of his guitar and the sense that comes out of his mouth ever sense.

  He did it again Sunday night to a sold-out crowd of 5,000 appreciative upstate fans at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino Event Center in Verona, a venue just off the New York State Thruway, the major artery that peace seekers clogged when Santana and brethren electrified a generation 45 years ago.

The moment Santana walked to the center of the stage, surrounded by a 10-piece band, wearing a black hat, looking younger than his 67 years, the music that came from his guitar to fill this all-purpose space was wild, wonderful, thrilling and soothing. Comforting.

Smart man, this Carlos Santana, to bring a caravan of talent for a tour called "Corazon," two lead singers who also played hand percussion up front, two percussionists to add power to the drummer's beats on the back line, a trumpeter and trombonist for flavor, a bassist-singer for foundation, keyboardist and second guitarist for flair. All showed endless heart as the 90 minutes of music pulsed on.

They are all name-telling worthy, vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas; percussionists Paoli Mejias and Karl Perazzo and drummer Jose "Pepe" Jimenez; trumpeter Bill Ortiz and trombonist Jeff Cressman; bassist-singer Benny Reitveld; keyboardist David K. Mathews; and guitarist Tommy Anthony.

My favorite singular moment, band wise, came when Ortiz stepped forward to stand beside his boss for a spine-tingling guitar-and-trumpet call-and-response string. In my decades of concert-appreciation, I do believe that was a first.

Santana's classics were just that. I closed my eyes for a bit during "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" and could picture myself back in my bedroom when I was in high school, my parents shouting at me to turn it down as I wore out the 1970 album Santana "Abraxas," or with the black lights on in a college dorm room, because that album, which also included "Oye Como Va," the sweet instrumental "Samba Pa Ti" and joyful hit "Hope Your Feeling Better," was a monster with legs. I opened my eyes quickly, though, because I did not want to miss seeing Carlos as he is now on stage, still loving this, as he led the band immediately into the familiar strains of that Tito Puente composition he turned into a household standard, just like they were sequenced on the vinyl, "Oye Come Va."

Credit Mark Bialczak
Carlos Santana command attention at center stage in a trade mark hat.

Santana did not look old, and the music did not seem stale. The video screen behind the band alternated shots between the Carlos of then and the band of now.

When Carlos Santana spoke to the crowd, he told them that one of his sayings is that "It's the first time ever, for everything." He said he likes to keep things "virgin-esque and pristine." He vowed to make this night "significant, meaningful and most memorable to you."

Indeed. Carlos Santana knew how to add touches, little and big. At the end of songs, he'd throw in the melody of a famous riff. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

During the intoxicating beats of "Jingo-lo-ba," the video screen interspersed film of real African dancers wearing traditional clothes moving with exotic and exacting steps to the primal sound of the song by Babatundi Olatunji that Santana famously covered as "Jingo" on his debut album and at Woodstock, and fans around the stage throbbed and pulsed right along.

During "Smooth," the Rob Thomas-era collaboration that came more than three decades later, the crowd moved together in more modern rhythm to close the set proper.

Then came "Soul Sacrifice" in the encore, more generational time-traveling, without an smidgen of discomfort for anybody in the hall.