Sunset Beach is a lovely, local secret. It’s a wonderful, beach community of about 1,300 in North Orange County that runs about a mile long. The town is very comfortable and welcoming. I was briefly bewildered to find the major thoroughfare didn’t have metered parking in contrast to just about every other beach town in California.
The annual chili cook-off was held at the staging area for the 12th Street Firehouse to raise money for local children’s charities. There were about 15 entrants, so I got a Corona and started tasting. My favorite was a black bean chili.
Brad Wilson and his band provided the musical entertainment of the day. They played a few sets between raffle giveaways and cook-off announcements. Wilson leads a trio comprised of Devin Lebsack on drums and Michael Cullen on bass guitar. Together, they crank out some kick ass, electric blues and rock. Lebsack is a very proficient and economical drummer.
He keeps the songs moving along with a sure, steady beat, allowing Wilson to stretch out on his guitar solos, yet he never wastes a stroke. Cullen makes a fantastic sound with his bass. With Lebsack keeping the beat, Cullen is able to add some extra flourishes. He always seemed like he was about to crossover into some type of intricate prog-rock bass noodling, yet he consistently remained within the song’s confines, illustrating a great mastery of his instrument.
The first song I heard was “Sundown and the Cowboy,” an infectious rocker. Wilson’s raw vocals captured the passion of the lovers, as did the controlled frenzy of his guitar playing. “Cruising The Coast” is a great, laid back instrumental that recreates driving with the windows down on an open highway as the sun sets. It was a perfect tune for kicking back on a sunny Sunday afternoon with a beer in your hand. Brad’s versatility shined through as he made the guitar sing slowly and sweetly.
Normally, when they play their own gigs, they focus more on original material, but the majority of the sets were covers since the band was supporting the charity event, so they saw themselves as the jukebox for the party. They sized up the mostly over-35 crowd and played a good portion of classic rock hits, such as Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” and Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.” They stripped off the Latin jazz of Santana’s “Evil Ways” and revealed the blues that is at the song’s core. They played a rollickin’ version of “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath were still in the minds of everyone across the country as the images of survivors and devastation filled televisions around the clock. Without drawing attention to it, Wilson and the band performed “Born on the Bayou” and “Sweet Home Alabama”. It was a wonderful tribute that allowed some to reflect on the recent events and was made even more impressive by Wilson wisely refraining from talking about it and bringing down the mood of the event.
Brad is one of the most gracious and fun-loving musicians I have ever seen. He had an infectious smile on his face the whole day. In between sets, he got no rest and was very gracious as fans kept approaching him to pass along their enjoyment of his work. During “Brown Eyed Girl”, some kids close to the front of the stage began to dance and blow bubbles. While some might have been distracted and annoyed that attention was shifted slightly, he continued smiling and played his heart out. Wilson even made event announcements without any hesitation or rock star pretense.
If you enjoy going to your local bar and listening to some great blues music, I highly recommend that you go to see Brad Wilson and his band when they come to your town. Their latest string of dates sees them touring California.
Friday, October 7 – Laguna Beach Brewing, Laguna Beach
Sunday, October 9 – Mother’s Tavern, Sunset Beach
Friday, October 14 – Laguna Beach Brewing, Laguna Beach
Saturday, October 15 – The Palms, Carpinteria
Sunday, October 16 – Angel’s Roadhouse, Yucaipa
Friday, October 21 – Mr. Rick’s, Avila Beach
Saturday, October 22 – Harley’s Grill & Bar, Fresno
Sunday, October 23 – Sequoia Brewing Co., Fresno
Wednesday, October 26 – Cooks Corner, Lake Forest (Trabuco Canyon)
Friday, October 28 – JJ’s Blues Club, San Jose
Saturday, October 29 – Torch Club, Sacramento