Wheels of Soul 2019 featuring Tedeschi Trucks Band, Blackberry Smoke and Shovels & Rope.
With the summer music festival season approaching its zenith, let’s turn to a somewhat compact, single evening summit with a consistently appealing lineup and purpose.
This weekend marks the return of Wheels of Soul, the annual midsummer run spearheaded by Tedeschi Trucks Band. Unlike the multi-day music gatherings peppering the region – such as last weekend’s Forecastle and this weekend’s Master Musicians Festival – Wheels of Tour limits itself to a three-act, single evening bill with Tedeschi Trucks Band as its host and headline attraction. From there, members of the three acts mingle and jam with each other.
For instance, when the tour visited PNC Pavilion in 2015, TTB co-leader Susan Tedeschi, along with her band’s three-member vocal team, joined the co-billed Los Lobos for a version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” that let Wheels of Soul live up to its name. Then there was a return visit to PNC Pavilion in 2016 when show opener Hot Tuna, still with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady at the helm, jammed with TTB on “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” a psychedelic relic from the duo’s late ‘60s tenure with the Jefferson Airplane. Memories of the latter are all the fonder this summer, as Kaukonen and Casady performed the song with the Airplane at Woodstock, the famed music festival that will celebrate its 50th anniversary next month.
Here in 2019, Wheels of Soul is on the road for its fifth summer run as well as its fifth stop at PNC Pavilion. TTB’s allies this time will be the Atlanta rockers of Blackberry Smoke (which played a pair of sold out acoustic shows at the Lexington Opera House in March) and the husband-and-wife folk/rock duo Shovels & Rope.
As for TTB itself, its performance template remains based around a very old-school design – specifically, the large ensemble rock and soul sounds that distinguished the early ‘70s music of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends and especially Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen band with Leon Russell.
Not surprisingly, TTB’s sets so far on the tour have been peppered with covers of rock classics from that era. Among them, Elton John’s “Border Song,” Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” (another tune that helped define the 1969 Woodstock fest in a set that essentially introduced Santana to the world) and Russell’s “Stranger in Strange Land.” Also appearing regularly on current Wheels of Soul setlist is “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” an early classic of the Allman Brothers Band. TTB co-chieftain Derek Trucks served as one of the Allmans’ two guitarists during the final 15 years of the champion Southern rock troupe’s career, ending with its dissolution in 2014.
But TTB is hardly a band rooted exclusively in the past. This year’s Wheels of Soul tour comes in the heels of the 11-member ensemble’s fourth and finest studio album “Signs.” The record is a rich, rootsy and inventive affair, from the way a massively combustible rumble rockets of the solemn, brassy blues-soul groove of “Shame” to the smoldering global requiem “All the World.”
▪ If you missed the way Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder let loose with its world class bluegrass sound last December at Rupp Arena, then head to Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, 2380 Richmond St. in Mt. Vernon on July 20. There the Lawrence County-born country and bluegrass star will put over four decades of scholarly musicianship on display, from his early years with legends like Ralph Stanley and Central Kentucky’s own J.D. Crowe to his career-breaking visibility with Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band to solo recordings and tours that defined his commercial and artistic capabilities from the early ‘80s onward (8 p.m.; $32-$38). For tickets, go to renfrovalley.com.
▪ It’s round four for Chris Isaak, the expert song stylist with an encyclopedic understanding of vintage rock, rockabilly, pop, swing and country traditions as well as the know-how to put them together in a concert program full in immediacy, vigor and considerable humor. A veteran of Lexington shows in 2010, 2012 and 2017, Isaak returns to the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short, on July 23 with a program boasting vintage hits like the Roy Orbison-esque “Wicked Game” along with nuggets from his 2011 Sun Records tribute recording “Beyond the Sun.” His most recent album remains 2015’s “First Comes the Night” (7:30 p.m.; $85.50). For tickets, go to ticketmaster.com.