Annual SummerStage Gala Honoring The Music of Jimi Hendrix @ Central Park, 6/5/2012

[slideshow id=3]“We know you spent a lot of money, but you can still have a good time,” Living Colour lead singer Corey Glover told the business casual crowd right before he and guitarist Doug Wimbish left the stage and took off into the area where the mild audience was seated at dinner tables. Living Colour’s set was exciting to watch, including a rambunctious version of “Cross Town Traffic.” Glover’s screaming vocals coupled with the band’s all-out, fast-playing energy made for a great last-act of the lineup at Central Park.

City Parks Foundation’s annual fundraising SummerStage Gala on Tuesday, June 5 was held to support the plentiful parks programs available in the city. This year the concert was a tribute to singer-songwriter and legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

The tent in Central Park was set up to protect the guests seated at dinner tables from the threatening weather. Luckily it turned out to be a pretty calm night in the sky and an electric evening under the tent.

Wyclef Jean kicked off the evening by playing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which Hendrix famously performed at Woodstock. The Roots were up next with a couple songs including “Fire.” With screaming guitars and jam sessions, their song styling was appreciatively reminiscent of Hendrix.

Pop singer Bebel Gilberto sang in her sexy rasp, followed by G. Love who performed with the night’s house band, Soulive. They played a couple songs including a good-fun, upbeat cover of “How would You Feel?” complete with G. Love on guitar and harmonica. When the warm-voiced Keller Williams took the stage, his music wasn’t in the same vein as Hendrix’s, but his smiley, head-bobbing style and happy sound was a welcome addition to the night’s entertainment.

Touching comments were spoken by soul and R&B singer Amel Larrieux when she called Hendrix an angel before singing his song, “Angel.” Later she grabbed at her chest and said she was, “Feeling me some feelings up in here.” With her powerful voice, Larrieux easily conquered high notes as her performance overflowed with emotion.

Watching the show reminded me just how good Jimi Hendrix’s music really is. Karl Densen did justice to “Spanish Castle Magic,” and John Scofield tried out some of Hendrix’s trickier guitar work. Most of the evening’s performers took the stage en masse for a grand finale before the crowd filtered out of Central Park and into the summer.

It’s impossible to listen to all of these artists perform Hendrix’s songs and not be reminded of the qualities that make his music so great. I wasn’t lucky enough to enter the world before Jimi Hendrix left it, but from the videos and recordings of his work, I’ve learned a few things about the artist. When he played electric guitar, there was an ease about it that made it look effortless. He took time with his music, a guitar solo often turning a song into something much greater than the canvas originally anticipated. With his transcendent expression and the way the music enveloped his whole body’s movement, it’s hard to imagine anyone who was their music more than he was.

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