Jorma Kaukonen presents low-key but still dazzling show at Mt. Tabor Tabernacle

JORMA kaukonen review


Jorma Kaukonen performs at The Tabernacle at Mt. Tabor.

More than half a century ago, Jorma Kaukonen rose to fame as a trailblazing guitarist during the psychedelic heyday of rock ‘n’ roll. But there is another side to his celebrated persona that was on display during a recent stop on his current tour of small venues — the world-weary troubadour.

Armed with just an acoustic guitar, Kaukonen, 83, strode on to the stage of The Tabernacle in Mt. Tabor, April 16, and launched into a nearly two-hour set filled with favorites from his stints with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, as well as several solo albums.

With an intense gaze, he quickly broke into “True Religion,” a spiritual song of sorts from Burgers, the classic Hot Tuna album released in 1972. He used the opener to quickly establish that not only did the sound the same as he did back then, but that his dexterity on the frets has not diminished in the slightest.

The song set the tone for the rest of the evening, as Kaukonen darted back and forth along the decades to play crowd pleasers, giving each one a comfortable, old-timey feel as if he had just wandered off the street and felt compelled to share a few stories with friends.

The examples were numerous. Among them was “Letter From the North Star,” a jaunty tune from 1973’s Phosphorescent Rat, and “Sleep Song,” which first appeared in an electrified version on America’s Choice, which was released in 1975. Another was “Requiem for an Angel,” which appeared on his second solo album back in 1979.

The feeling was enhanced by the Tabernacle, an eight-sided building that was erected in 1885 and resembles a Quaker meeting tent. The unusual venue, which is located alongside a small park in the quaint village and seats about 350 people, provides a familial warmth that makes concerts resemble an intimate gathering of old friends.

Kaukonen, who has played there 17 times over the years, took advantage of the atmosphere. He spoke little, but astutely paced his performance, alternating between revered originals and a few songs penned by some of his own favorites, who are well known to his fans. These included “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” by The Rev. Gary Davis, and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.”

The evening went quickly. Toward the end, he ran down more crowd pleasers — “Good Shepherd,” a Jefferson Airplane tune; “Genesis,” from Quah, his heralded 1974 solo album; and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out,” the 1920s vaudeville blues standard. And he closed with “Water Song,” the infectiously melodic instrumental from Burgers.

Then the troubadour grabbed his guitar, waved his thanks and left the low-slung stage, headed for next gig.


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