Experience Hendrix shreds through Mondavi Center

By Paul Piazza

Experience Hendrix, the tour honoring Jimi Hendrix’s cultural legacy, made its first-ever Sacramento area stop on Thursday, Oct. 16 at the UC Davis Mondavi Center. It was a remarkable evening with three and half hours of music.

Here’s how it all began: In 1995, the Hendrix family organized a small Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Festival within the Bumbershoot Arts and Music Festival in Seattle. It was such a big hit that that they tried to make it happen again once every year or two in a few other U.S. cities. As more and more big name guitarists wanted to participate,the buzz around the show continued to grow. It finally reached such a peak that, in 2007, the Hendrix family decided to organize a proper national tour with Jimi’s old Army buddy and bassist from Band of Gypsies, Billy Cox, hosting the show.

The result has been multiple tours featuring some insanely fantastic guitar hotshots, who are more than happy to interpret shredding versions of some of the most well known as well as obscure favorites from the late guitarist’s repertoire. Often, they collaborate onstage in once-in-a-lifetime pairings, and the lengthy show turns out to be a marathon.

I first saw the tour in Reno in 2010 and it was a great chance to see guitar slingers like Joe Satriani alongside Vernon Reid of Living Colour, David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith.

This year, Billy Cox, who can still play a mean bass, was celebrating his 73rd birthday. However, that only made him a young whippersnapper compared to the show’s headliner, Buddy Guy, who is 78 and going strong. You’d never guess his age from the timeless and energetic way he performs. The guy is one of the world’s living musical treasures. He and Cox closed the show with a fiery “Red House.”

Billy Cox

Buddy Guy

Each artist played about three Hendrix tunes, and the evening featured all kinds of guitar tricks and techniques from shredders like Jonny Lang (“All Along The Watchtower”), Kenny Wayne Shepherd (“Voodoo Chile”), Eric Johnson (“Are You Experienced”) and others. The stellar talents of Doyle Bramhall II (Eric Clapton band), Rich Robinson (Black Crowes) and Eric Gale were also in full-effect; plus the rhythmic skills of drummer Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble) and bassist Tony Franklin.

Metal guitarist Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne) often stole the night though. He urprised the seated crowd by making multiple forays into the aisles with what must have been hundreds of feet of guitar cable in tow, to play head-banging solos during “Purple Haze” and a few other numbers. He also led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Cox at the end of the night.

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