Photos by Chris Eason, Review by Chandler Mays.
When it comes to outdoor concert venues, Atlanta Botanical Gardens is superior when measuring sheer beauty and atmosphere. As soon as I arrived, I was immediately distracted by the lush greenery and flowers growing all around the footpaths that wind throughout the gardens. I wandered around in a vegetation-induced haze for twenty minutes, then remembered I was there to see some of the finest blues and soul music this country has to offer. I grabbed a glass of wine, settled down on the well-kept grass, gazed at the stage from behind the lily-pad pond, and patiently waited for Keb’ Mo’ and Aaron Neville.
Keb’ Mo’ is an extremely talented blues musician whose sound is directly reminiscent of the Delta blues slide-guitar era, but he also infuses modern rock and folk stylings into his songs. Constantly switching between an acoustic guitar, and a very shiny resonator guitar, Keb’ picked his way through a setlist of blues songs that melted my bones and turned my blood into Mississippi River water. His lyrics, most great blues songs, are understated, yet they speak volumes about love, social issues, and the human condition. He would sing, “If nobody loves you, and you feel like dust on an empty shelf, just remember you can love yourself,” and then he’d sharply pluck his strings while quickening his slide along the frets, unleashing a glorious blues sound that would make your spine tingle. My favorite song Keb’ Mo’ performed was The Whole Enchilada, a groovy number about how to treat the woman of your dreams after you’ve acquired her love. “Are you gonna be any better than the man you had to be to get her? Now thatcha’ got her, whatcha’ gonna do? Whatcha’ gonna do? Whatcha’ gonna do?” After his set, I resolved to add Keb’ Mo’ to my vinyl collection, and I might as well add some Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Lead Belly while I’m at it. You can never have too much blues, right?
With just enough time to hit the restroom, grab another glass of wine, and chat with my neighbor a bit, Aaron Neville and his band walked on stage, immediately ready to liven up the crowd. Aaron grabbed the mic, “Good evening. We are the Aaron Neville quintet,” and then, it was business time. A satisfying bassline kicked in, a jazzy saxophone tune immediately followed, then the bass, drums, and guitar filled out the jam, causing everyone to slap their knees and tap their feet. Neville’s soulful voice is tender, delicate, and utilizes a very expressive vibrato. Once he began to sing, everyone in the crowd was put under his spell. We were helpless against it. He went through a slew of original numbers as well as some very impressive covers, including Peggy Lee’s “You Give Me Fever”, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, and a “Three Little Birds/Stir It Up” medley by Bob Marley. The highlight of his set was when he sang “Ave Maria” a capella, which was stunningly beautiful.
With the stars twinkling in the sky, the city skyline raising up behind the stage, and a slight breeze sweeping through the gardens, I couldn’t help but acknowledge how lucky we “ATLiens” are to have so much beautiful, organic scenery in such a bustling major city. I now intend take a walk through Piedmont Park and Botanical Gardens more often.
Full Gallery after the jump…