The ornate and hallowed hall in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee was the perfect place for the worship of a pantheon of guitars gods who once again gathered to honor the master of the telecaster – Jimi Hendrix via the “Guitar Event of the Year” known as Experience Hendrix. On February 29, 2016 guitar fans assembled in the Laura Turner Concert Hall to observe an ample line-up of axe men that included Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Eric Jonson, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dweezil Zappa and original Hendrix bandmate Billy Cox on bass to present an evening of Electric Church in Music City.
To add to this already richly impressive slate of six-stringers the evening also saw two very special unannounced guests – Rich Robinson and Richie Sambora – join the cast to celebrate what Jimi himself called Electric Church. This term relates to the era when artists treated each performance as a unique interaction with their audience and The Experience Hendrix Tour fully embraces this approach, presenting multiple opportunities for artists and audiences to witness unique collaborations among the participating players. It is also the title of a recently released live DVD documenting a Jimi Hendrix concert at the Atlanta Pop Festival on July 4, 1970.
Headlining this year’s edition of the Hendrix tribute was blues guitar legend and Jimi contemporary Buddy Guy who emerged sharply dressed with a shiny white Fender to enthusiastic applause. Guy is a multiple Grammy-winner and 2015 Kennedy Center honoree. He was both an inspiration to as well as a personal friend of Jimi’s and was partaking in his sixth Experience Hendrix Tour. Guy’s set featured a jolting rendition of “Hey Joe” and a surprise appearance by the previously mentioned ex-Bon Jovi Guitarist Sambora. They capped off the three-hour plus Experience extravaganza with the house rockin’ “Red House”.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Noah Hunt were introduced as the only act to have played at every instance of Experience Hendrix since its founding in 2004. KWS proceeded to prove why he’s been such a crowd favorite at this event over the years by putting on a blistering display that honored the legacy of the Seattle guitar hero.
Hunt commanded the crowd to “clap your hands” leading into “I Don’t Live Today” before giving way to the trademarked antics of KWS during his patented cover of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that saw the Louisiana native attack his axe and rhythmically writhe before mock gunning down the crowd while holding a note and the audience in rapt attention.
Blues/gospel/rock guitar prodigy Jonny Lang has played every tour since 2008 and he had the honor of kicking’ off the second set of the evening with what is perhaps Jimi’s best-known song – his cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. For this number Lang was armed with an acoustic and he called Eric Johnson back to the stage to help with the heavy lifting.
Lang strapped on an electric and revealed his fiery chops on a hot “Fire” and kept the crowd stoked with a cool version of the “The Wind Cries Mary” with a little help from Black Crowes co-founder Rich Robinson and the much acclaimed Mato Nanji of Indigenous. Together the three traded licks back and forth on a magical version of “Sand Castle Magic” that explored and expanded on Jimi’s mystical journey.
Closing out set one was heavy metal mainstay Zakk Wylde best known as Ozzy Osbourne’s sidekick for more than two decades before declaring full time membership in his own Black Label Society. Wylde who was simply wild brought things to a fever pitch with his arena rock acrobatics. Zakk opened his portion with an anything but depressing “Manic Depression” that scorched with help from his earthy vox and frenetic fingers. Zakk made it a point to play to the front and back of the house at the Schermerhorn before taking flight into the audience during an uplifting and soaring version of “Little Wing” that found him stalking the aisles of the Symphony.
“Nashville, Tennessee chapter of Experience Hendrix… can you dig it?,” Wylde enthused after his breathtaking return to the stage. The man clearly G.I.F.D. on this night and brought the crowd to its feet during his show stealing excursion. He continued by leaving the attendees in a colorful daze with his authentic version of Jimi’s “Purple Haze”.
“What was so great about Jimi was he was a great guitarist but more importantly he was a great musician,” said Austin’s Eric Johnson during his segment at E.H. “And he had these beautiful songs and lyrics and I think that’s why he’ll be around for many hundreds and hundreds of years.”
Johnson captivated with both his fancy fretwork and earnest delivery of Jimi’s words. He was joined during his set by Dweezil Zappa, Noah Hunt, Rich Robinson and Zakk Wylde taking over the keyboard chair for a song. Highlights included “Wait Until Tomorrow”, “One Rainy Wish” and a tune he said first reminded him of a far-out cosmic vacuum cleaner “Love or Confusion”.
The evening’s festivities began with a legitimate connection to the Hendrix legend as Billy Cox (The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Band of Gypsys) on bass and vocals set things in motion with an anthemic rendition of “Freedom”. Cox was soon joined by Dweezil Zappa for a rock solid “Stone Free” and a sexy “Foxy Lady” that got things off to a powerful and energetic start in Music City.
Prior to the show Jimi’s sister Janie Hendrix – the Executive Director of Experience Hendrix – thanked the fans for their continued support of her brother’s music and legacy. She then turned over the stage to a representative from tour sponsor Fender Music Instruments who made a special presentation to one lucky young fan in attendance.
The Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville continues to host a wide array of musicians and world-class artists such as those feature at Experience Hendrix, Upcoming events in March and April 2016 include The Irish Tenors, Meat Loaf, Chris Botti and A Very Intimate Acoustic Evening with Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo.