Steve Miller gets fair off to rocking good start

July 22, 2011

Steve Miller


For Central Coast music fans, does it get any better than late July at the California Mid-State Fair? Where else except maybe the Chumash Casino do we regularly get headliner entertainment year after year…with plenty of corn dogs and funnel cakes to boot.

Opening night in balmy Paso Robles brought out classic rock fans young and old as Milwaukee native and Bay Area-inspired Steve Miller hit the stage for the second time in five years at the main grandstand Chumash Arena.

That may explain the half-capacity crowd but those in attendance were treated to a 105-minute show that ran the gamut of the 67-year old Miller’s long and storied rock and roll career.

Opening with “Jet Airliner,” Miller and his five musical cohorts breezed through classics like “Take the Money and Run,” “Abracadabra” and others before diverting into a five-song blues medley.

At heart, Miller and most of his peers are rhythm and blues guitarists and he displayed ample ability along with the vocal stylings of Sonny Charles, who handled most of the singing on these numbers.

But the show lost a bit of its mojo as the crowd’s enthusiasm and energy waned during this interlude. I realize bands want to mix up their gigs musically but they often forget that at a festive summer fair, concert goers want to party and hear the big hits. A couple of new and obscure songs are fine but more than that is pushing it.

Still, Miller was able to get back on track with the elegant and inspiring “Serenade,” the dreamy “Fly Like an Eagle” and the catchy, upbeat “Dance, Dance, Dance”. He even brought out Burton Cummings, who opened the show earlier, on a lively rendition of “Swingtown.”

Cummings is no slouch in his own right, having penned several classics like “American Woman” and “These Eyes” as co-leader of the Guess Who. Playing mostly keyboards, his band was sharp and tight during their 40-minute set.

But clearly the highlight of the evening was a young guitarist named Dylan Brown, who recently graduated from musical academy “Kids Rock Free,” a new community program that Miller passionately supports to fill the void from elimination of music curriculum at many public schools.

Brown even looked the part of a classic rocker with his thin frame and long hair and the kid could shred, jamming on stage with Miller on “Rock N Me” and “The Joker”. It was obviously a thrill for him and a nice gesture from Miller, who has to be the most down to earth rock star out there.

He’s the kind of guy you could sit down with, have a beer and chat about life. But instead the audience mostly stood and cheered while having a few drinks of their own.

Everyone seemed just fine with that.

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I was in attendance, fifth row from the front. If the concert waned at all, it wasn’t musically. It was when Steve decided to do his 10 minute commercial for Kids Rock Free. Worthy cause and all, but it definitely was inappropriately timed and was a real bring down.

10 minute commercial for Kids Rock??? What is that?

I’ve seen Miller a few times. He’s been pretty good each time except once. One time we drove down to Thousand Oaks to see him, bought great seats, cost an arm and a leg as it was a great venue. He played not one song that anyone in the audience recognized. I guess he was experimenting with jazz. I love jazz, I don’t mind jazz. But when you go to a Steve Miller concert you expect to hear the Steve Miller that you know. During this concert he didn’t do any vocals, the entire show was instrumental. I would never have driven down there and paid that money for that. The entire audience was pretty mad. I guess he listened to the audience because I’ve seen him after that and he went back to his old stuff and he was very good.

It’s too bad that because of the big names that the fair gets that they couldn’t raise the stage a few feet. The floor seating is so bad unless you are in the front. Everyone always stands up and if you’re short like me then you miss the entire show. They need to raise the stage.