The Tinerfeños are an incredibly easy going bunch of people. Other than when they’re behind the wheel of a car, they appear in no particular hurry to do anything and are quite happy to watch visitors (particularly those from a northern European country beginning with the letter G who are known for their penchant for queue jumping) make arses of themselves by jostling for position at every venue that requires waiting for service. It’s one of the endearing features of Canarios and long may it remain so…unless they’re waiting to be served at the bar of JC Murphy’s when The Robert Cray Band is about to take to the stage and I happen to be standing behind them.
This weekend was the opening of the annual Blues Festival in Santa Cruz, ‘Santa Blues’; a FREE festival financed by the City, and The Robert Cray Band were headlining the night on a stage below the iconic 18th Century tower of Iglesia de la Concepción at the start of the trendy Noria District of the city.
I arrived just before 10pm for a scheduled 10.30pm start which I was fairly sure would fit the usual pattern of Tenerife timekeeping and kick off somewhere around 11/11.30pm.
Having spotted a nice little gap underneath the tulip tree within touching distance of the left side of the stage, I set off to find the beer tent.
There were already a couple of hundred people milling and chatting around the venue, plastic beakers of beer in hand. As I made my way through them I noticed how ‘cool’ they were; here was long hair, dreadlocks, tattooed feet, hippies old and young, Boho chicks and students. Laid back styles, laughing eyes and languid hips belonging to people who were behaving as if they were at an open air party amongst friends. The warm night air carried the unmistakeable scent of good grass and I felt myself relaxing and smiling as I headed around the corner in search of a beer.
After much confused wandering and a failed attempt to get to the backstage beer tents, I finally discovered that the beer was being dispensed from inside JC Murphy’s and joined the queue for the bar. Unfortunately, the man I was standing behind was being resolutely Canarian and letting any number of people push in before him so I moved to the other side of the bar where a couple of lads appeared to be ordering drinks for the entire festival. By the time I got served and headed back to the stage area, the band was already on stage and had begun their opening number; clearly no-one had briefed them on the ‘mañana’ culture; not the first time such an oversight has occurred on this island.
Amazingly, my little spot by the side was still there and I had an uninterrupted view throughout the set which included ‘Poor Johnny’, ‘I’m Walking’ and ‘Twenty’ from the album ‘Twenty’; ’12 Year Old Boy’ and ‘Phone Booth’ from the album ‘Live – from across the pond’ and the classic ‘Right Next Door’ and ‘Smoking Gun’ from the early ‘Strong Persuader’ album.
Robert Cray’s voice was as strong as ever and his fretwork had the audience in raptures. Although looking like someone’s dad and doing a distinctly ‘dad dance’ to the Memphis rhythms, the keyboard player Jim Pugh provided sublime backing while Karl Sevareide kept a funky bass riding the air waves.
Ironically, although they clearly loved the set, the audiences here on Tenerife seem unaware of the need to ‘persuade’ the band to do an encore and my hands were sore by the time I’d illustrated the practice hard enough for those around me to take up the chant. But they soon cottoned on and shouts of “¡Otre!” (literally ‘again’) brought the band back for a three number encore ending with ‘Time Makes Two’.
In that intimate setting amongst those cool people, I had to keep reminding myself that it was real; that I really was watching these Blues legends from my formative years, live in Santa Cruz on a Friday night and I was just feet from the front of the stage. No jostling, no crowding, no idiots, just great Blues.