Sunday, April 24, 2011
By Ray Shasho
The Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater hosted a sold-out Johnny Winter concert last night.
The atmosphere was reminiscent of Bill Graham’s Fillmore East shows in New York City.
The Capitol first opened its doors in 1921, offering vaudeville and movie shows. Donald Roebling, the inventor of the amtrac (amphibious vehicle) was a frequent visitor there and had a double seat installed in the theater for his comfort.
The theatre was renovated in 1962, and over the years the theatre was owned and managed by various idealists.
In 2009, the City of Clearwater and Ruth Eckerd Hall joined forces to purchase the Royal Theatre and the adjacent Pat Lokey building after being in foreclosure, renaming it the Capitol Theatre.
The very first show at the new Capitol Theatre was pianist William Joseph. It was supposed to be classic rocker- Todd Rundgren but a city inspector found mold inside the building. Todd Rundgren played outside in front of the building on Cleveland Street instead.
The concert began at 7:30 with Tampa Bay natives- The Mojo Gurus.
After the Guru's finished their rocabilly set, Johnny Winter was escorted to a seat at the middle of the stage. Winter's appearence looked as good as I had seen in years. He actually gained a few pounds. His voice sounded good too.
But Johnny Winter’s performance reminded me of the great Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring when he was just passed his prime. Ali would be a bit sluggish at first but then after five or six rounds he came to life, bouncing up and down around the ring, shuffling his feet, bobbing and weaving, the crowd would go wild. But later in the fight, Ali reverted into a conservative stance with fleeting moments of attempting to knockout his opponent. The champion still won the fight but not the way he did in his glory days.
And that’s what Johnny Winter was missing in his performance, “The knockout punch.” He was still the “Champion of rock and roll” up on that stage, but he won by decision and not by a knockout.
His show started with a Freddie King- cover called “Hideaway.” Then Winter complacently jammed through his setlist until he reached “Johnny B. Goode,” sparking the crowd.
His next song, Ray Charles “Blackjack” was the highlight of the evening. It was Johnny Winter, the champion of rock and roll, Mr. Johnny B. Goode at his finest. And the audience was reminded that there was a legend on stage just a few feet from where they sat.
Another Freddie King- cover called “Tore Down” followed.
Nearing the end of his set, Johnny Winter looked again for the knockout punch with the Jimi Hendrix twelve-bar structure cover- tune called “Red House.” And the crowd was again on their feet.
The show concluded before the encore with “Bony Moronie” from the Saints and Sinners album, and “It’s All Over Now” a Rolling Stones- cover song written by Bobby and Shirley Womack.
After only one encore the show ended with Bob Dylan’s penned- hit “Highway 61.”
Johnny Winter won the show but not with a knockout punch. Perhaps an encore of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” or a rendition of Muddy Waters blues standard “Mannish Boy” would have knocked- out his audience. Or perhaps Johnny Winter cleverly left his audience wanting more.
Nevertheless, Johnny Winter is a rock and roll icon. There are very few musicians who have kept their roots in place without selling out to record companies and advertisers. And his Texas-sized reputation has kept him busy in the studio and on the road since 1969.
I want to thank the dedicated staff at the Capitol Theatre/Ruth Eckerd Hall for their wonderful hospitality. Katie Pedretty- Public Relations Manager, Pavlo Synadinos –Digital Media & Web Content Editor, James Raulerson- Capitol Theatre Manager, and especially Jeffrey Hartzog- Director of Operations.
Jeff filled me in on the entire history of the theatre and he’s very passionate about it. Jeff has worked for Ruth Eckerd Hall for about 14 years and at the USF Sun Dome in the 80’s. He started working as a stagehand in 1982.
The Capitol Theatre is an intimate venue with awesome acoustics, and if you wish to be transported to the days of Bill Graham's Fillmore- era than this venue is for you.
And Jeff was right; the best seat in the house was up on the balcony.
To buy tickets for upcoming shows at the Capitol Theatre, go to Ruth Eckerd Hall's website at http://www.rutheckerdhall.com/
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