Robert Randolph and the Family Band
New Jersey Homecoming Birthday Bash Is a Blast
A SoundPress.net Feature Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

Robert Randolph and the Family Band returned home for a special birthday gig on the Morristown Green when the group performed at the Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) in New Jersey on August 8, 2013. Randolph and company were in a lively and celebratory mood for their 90-minute performance that proved this band is only getting better with age.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band - New Jersey Homecoming
Robert Randolph and the Family Band at the Mayo PAC in Morristown, New Jersey.

Frontman Robert Randolph learned to play the pedal steel guitar at church. For many years, Robert was unaware of secular music as he remained focused on gospel. Then one day he heard Stevie Ray Vaughan, which inspired him to approach his instrument the way SRV had played the guitar. In time, Randolph discovered funk and incorporated the influences of Earth Wind & Fire, Sly & The Family Stone and other styles into his songs.

Robert recruited some family members to form a band. Soon they were thrilling audiences with their animated and innovative brand of funk, gospel, rock and soul. Today, Robert Randolph and the Family Band's music still melds the "sacred steel" of Robert's upbringing with his secular interests. The results are rousing tunes with some religious messages.

Around 9:15 p.m. Robert took his chair in front of the pedal steel conjuring strange haunting sounds from the instrument. The pace picked up as the band joined in. Randolph called out to his fans to "get your hands up" and the rousing revival of rock and roll had begun. Next, they performed "Foxy Lady" with the steel adding a completely cool and different spin to the Jimi Hendrix classic. At this point, Robert was deep in the groove rocking to the music before kicking his chair away and falling to his knees to play his guitar.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band - New Jersey Homecoming
On this night Robert Randolph was the bandleader and birthday boy!

"How you all feeling?," inquired Robert before asking his sister Lenesha to handle lead vocals on "New Orleans" one of their newer songs from their recent Lickety Split release. Ms. Randolph was powerful and the band with the steel punctuated the passion of the lyrics that she was singing.

Robert declared that the next one was an old song and he invited people out into the aisles and near the stage for "The March". This song can go in so many directions. On Thursday, it had a jam band feel like something the Allman Brothers might play. Folks were on their feet having a great time.

That mood continued as Randolph announced that today was his birthday and The Family Band went into "Shake Your Hips" with Robert inviting some ladies to dance on stage. The group was rocking as Robert went through his rap to his brothers about doing their thing with them responding to the banter with spry solos. Later on, Robert continued his tradition of picking an audience member to join the group on stage to play guitar. They found the very capable Dan Karlick of Roselle Park who quickly fell into the groove as The Family Band jammed.

"All American" was a new track with upbeat instrumentation. At this point, Robert mentioned that he wanted to come home for his birthday recalling watching the Giants and hanging out at some local watering holes name-checking defunct Morristown nightspots like Double-D's and The Funky Monkey. This led into "Ain't Nothing Wrong With That" from the Colorblind record. The tune was expansive with layers of instrumentation, vocals and plenty of spirited pedal steel guitar. One by one the band members strolled off the stage leaving Robert alone as he played a few quick lines of Led Zeppelin and Hendrix tunes before exiting also.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band - New Jersey Homecoming
Robert Randolph is known for his explosive and expressive pedal steel guitar technique.

During the encore Robert invited Big Sam from the opening act to join them. They closed with two new songs the funky "Brand New Wayo" and the lively "Lickety Split". The tracks were engaging and energized and very much in line with Robert's classics. Robert Randolph and The Family Band brought elements of the church to their live performance. They conveyed joy, passion and spontaneity through the music and they made it a point to reach out to the audience encouraging almost commanding fans to participate.

Robert Randolph's birthday bash truly became a family affair in Morristown and a fun time was had by all. The party continued after the show as well when Randolph invited audience members to join him downtown at Grasshopper Off The Green to continue the celebration.

The festivities actually started with the opening act Big Sam's Funky Nation. This band from New Orleans brought a party atmosphere to their set. At first, we thought they were a power trio but then two more men walked out and started talking-singing and blowing a trombone and a trumpet. Wow - it was a unique combination of hard rock with horns.

"Funky Donkey" was funky and dynamic with the band members scanning the crowd and convincing a lady to stand and dance along to their funky grooves. Like Robert, Big Sam believes in interacting with the audience and he made it a point throughout his set to get people to clap and participate.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band - New Jersey Homecoming
Robert Randolph continued his tradition of showcasing random guitar players from the audience like Dan Karlick.

"Peace, Love & Understanding" showcased joyful jamming and gave people an opportunity to do the peace sign and a heart at the catchy hook line. Their tunes blended an array of musical styles amongst sizzling solos. Big Sam's Funky Nation performed an up-tempo set that ended with a New Orleans flavored song that was feisty and had the crowd on their feet. Towards the end of it they played a piece of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" adding funk and horns to the metal anthem. We were glad that we had arrived early to catch Big Sam's Funky Nation as they were first-rate and fun.

Speaking of which, the MPAC is a first-rate venue in the heart of vibrant Morristown, New Jersey. They continue to showcase a wide range of artists such as Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Upcoming shows at the theater include Cheap Trick, The Queen Extravaganza, Don Felder, Kenny Loggins, Jay Black, Potted Potter, Tower of Power with War, The Waterboys, Celtic Thunder and Michael W. Smith.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band: Robert Randolph - pedal steel guitar, vocals; Danyel Morgan - bass; Marcus Randolph - drums; Adam Smirnoff - guitar; Lenesha Randolph - vocals; Brett Haas - guitar; Jason Crosby - keyboards

SETLIST: Amped Up / Foxy Lady / New Orleans / The March / Shake Your Hips / The Way You Make Me Feel / Get Ready / Take Me To The River / All American / Ain't Nothing Wrong With That / Encore / Happy Birthday / Brand New Wayo / Lickety Split

Robert Randolph and the Family Band - New Jersey Homecoming
Big Sam's Funky Nation got the party started with some horn-enhanced funk!

Related Links: For more information on ROBERT RANDOLPH and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Robert Randolph | Big Sam's Funky Nation | Mayo PAC

(Originally Published on August 09, 2013)

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