Savannah Music Festival review: Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Even if I had lost the sense of hearing for the night, I think I would have enjoyed Robert Randolph’s virtuosic performance Friday on his pedal steel guitar.

He looks like a pretty big, strong guy, but his movements — including occasional leaps from his seat — are nimble, his hands unbelievably smooth as they slide, his face radiant. He was especially fun to watch since we were sitting right in front of him (one of these days other SMF ticket buyers are going to figure out they can buy first row center if they get them the moment they go on sale, but for now I’m just going to enjoy my luck).

The beautiful melding of funk, soul, and blues made for another stand-up show at Trustees Theater, and it was probably the loudest SMF show (but by no means too loud) that I’ve ever heard — new trends as the SMF expands its impressive reach with more contemporary acts. I wasn’t forced to stand in the front row just to see as I was during Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, when there was wall to wall dancing in front of the stage from beginning to end. For Robert Randolph, the crowd started by grooving in their seats and then some started standing at Randolph’s invitation. Then we sat for a while, and then we stood again, and not till the end did large numbers of dancers gather in front of the stage.

Randolph & two audience members: an unidentified guitarist and keys player Fred Hodge

Like Sharon Jones, Randolph seems to thrive on audience interaction; at one point there were 15 women dancing on stage in a line behind him and later he called up three guitar players from the audience — he liked the 3rd one pictured here (anyone know his name?) — and even local keys player Fred Hodge. It was an awesome bit of fun that made the space seem more intimate than it is.

I didn’t try to keep track of every song the band played in its long set, but one of the highlights was definitely “If I Had My Way.” The beat and lyrics are just infectious — by the time it finished I thought I could sing it myself. (Of course I couldn’t, but that’s how upbeat one feels listening to it.) Here’s the official music video:

I’m not much of a jam band fan, but it’s easy to see how Robert Randolph and the Family Band have become popular on that circuit. I’m glad that has helped buoy his career, although I do think he offers far more for the soul than the more typical jam bands.

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