Concert review: Johnny Winter roars at the Wildey Theatre, Wednesday, September 12
Winter has definitely not let anything get in the way of living up to his guitar hero status. He and his brother Edgar have been playing rock and blues since their early teens. Edgar went off in the direction of rock while Johnny has always had a greater focus on the blues. While growing up in Beaumont, Texas, Johnny taught himself electric slide blues by listening to Elmore James and Muddy Waters and other blues greats. He was able to play with B.B. King at the age of only 17 and has since been a principal player in keeping the blues alive.
This was my first experience being in a movie theatre for a concert. The Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, Ill. is a blast from the past with popcorn and soda available at the concession stand on the way to your seat. On this evening, Samantha Fish from Kansas City took the opening slot. She can play guitar with as much fervor as she can belt out soulful blues with her commanding voice, which belies her physical stature. She certainly helped get the night started in a blaze, kicking her shoes off as she urged the crowd to keep up with her guitar playing. She ended her set with her song “Runaway” — a fast groove that won over the house immediately.
Johnny Winter took the stage with the haste and deliberation you would expect from most 68 year olds, but as soon as he started playing his guitar and singing there was a transformation: A wall of guitar hit me and I was floored by how hard he could still rock. Winter opened his set with his rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” then followed it up with “Good Morning Little School Girl” and “Got My Mojo Workin’.” When he played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” the audience intensified their cheers and the song went into an extended jam during which Johnny traded solos with the rhythm guitar player, playing a medley of rock tunes in the process. This brought the house to its feet in an ovation.
To my horror, as Winter and the band filed of the stage, I realized that he had not yet played a single song with a slide. A couple of minutes passed, and the crowed began to chant “Johnny, Johnny…” The legend reemerged, carrying his Gibson Firebird, which had also been missing from the act up to this point, and dived right into “Dust My Broom.” There is nothing like hearing Johnny Winter play slide; I was certainly far from disappointed as he ran the pipe down the neck of the Firebird making it scream and howl.
Johnny finished the night by playing Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” before again proceeding off stage at the same pace he had taken the stage. It’s not often that one gets to experience a blues legend, let alone a blues legend in a movie theatre. There is no substitute for the real thing when it comes to the blues — and Johnny Winter is most definitely one of the all time greats.