WILKES-BARRE — Jimi Hendrix the man may have died more than four decades ago, but as guitarist after extraordinary guitarist proved Sunday night at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, his music, style, spirit and legacy will live forever.
The eighth edition of the Experience Hendrix Tour, a one-month trek of mostly sold-out special events celebrating James Marshall Hendrix (Nov. 27, 1942 – Sept. 18, 1970), pulled into the Kirby Center for a crowd of 1,711 (just shy of a sell-out with a few single seats in the balcony empty).
Sunday’s performance featured bass player Billy Cox (the only surviving member of both the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys), drummer Chris Layton (founding member of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble) and guitarists Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dweezil Zappa, Brad Whitford, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II, Eric Gales, Ana Popovic, Mato Nanji, Dani Robinson and Stan Skibby.
Also appearing were vocalists Noah Hunt and Henri Brown, bass player Tony Franklin and a few others.
Janie Hendrix, Jimi’s sister and the president and CEO of Experience Hendrix L.L.C., welcomed the crowd to the “electric church,” and Cox, Layton, Robinson and Skibby kicked off the evening with “Stone Free,” as Robinson and Skibby channeled Hendrix nicely, playing with their teeth at times.
As musicians rotated on and off stage freely and swirling, psychedelic lights and pictures of Hendrix filled the video screen, Zappa took over for an electrifying performance of “Freedom.” Popovic, attracting lots of attention in her sparkly dress and high heels, then tore into “House Burning Down” and “Can You See Me.”
Johnson, a Grammy-award winner, took the lead for the next five songs, joined by Zappa for “Ezy Rider,” Gales for “May This Be Love” and Bramhall on keyboards for “Are You Experienced.” The first half ended with Johnson and Gales trading licks on “Foxey Lady,” with Gales singing about those “Wilkes-Barre foxey ladies.”
The second half began with Bramhall in a solo acoustic performance of “Hear My Train A Comin’,” then he grabbed an electric for “Angel,” which he noted he used to play in a band with drummer Layton.
Lang sang lead and played acoustic, while Whitford (from Aerosmith) and Nanji (from Indigenous) played some scorching electrics for “All Along the Watchtower.” Lang then showed his electric skills on “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Spanish Castle Magic,” trading runs with Whitford on both.
Shepherd took over for an amazing three-song set of “Gypsy Eyes,” “Come On” and a medley of “Voodoo Chile” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” with Hunt, his longtime collaborator, on vocals.
Then it was time for Guy, the 77-year-old Chicago bluesman, who played a Muddy Waters song he said Hendrix told him was the inspiration for “Voodoo Child.” Nanji, who played rhythm and lead guitar for many of the songs throughout the evening, sang lead on “Hey Joe” and Brown sang “Them Changes” to end the set proper.
With Guy and Whitford playing guitar, Cox came back out to end the show with “one of my favorite song’s to play, and one of Jimi’s, too,” and then unleashed a scorching version of “Red House.”
After more than three hours of electrifying music, Janie Hendrix and the full cast, anchored as always by Cox (whom Ms. Hendrix called the “last voodoo child standing”), thanked the crowd for keeping Jimi’s spirit alive, as the enthusiastic audience called out for more.