The first local concert casualty courtesy of COVID was Joe Bonamassa. The blues guitar hero, who was slated to perform March 12, 2020 at the First Interstate Center, is still irked by how the cancellation was handled.
“We were on our way toward Spokane when we were in Green Bay,” Bonnamassa recalled. “We played Milwaukee the prior night but the governor of Wisconsin canceled the Green Bay show. We were waiting on the promoters in Spokane, Boise and Seattle. It was a strange week to say the least. I learned something very important. No matter how much intestinal fortitude you have, you can be derailed by politicians. The politicians in those cities we were going to couldn’t make a decision to save their lives.”
Bonamassa, 45, was aggravated by the lack of decisiveness. “I lost a lot of respect for some people in Spokane and Boise,” Bonamassa said while calling from Washington D.C.. “I asked what was going on and I was told they weren’t canceling the shows but they highly recommended canceling the concerts. I remember saying, ‘How can I read these tea leaves?’ ”
Ultimately Bonamassa pulled the plug. “I had to do it since the information I received was incredibly vague,” Bonamassa said. “If I ran my business the way these people run their cities, I would be in trouble.”
The prolific and popular independent recording artist has put it all behind him. “It’s been almost three years since I almost played Spokane,” Bonamassa said. “I love Spokane and I couldn’t be more sincere. We’ve done well there every time we’ve played there since, like you said, it’s a loving audience that’s very much into guitars.”
Bonamassa, who will return Friday to the First Interstate Center, has been obsessed with six-string instruments since he was a child growing up in Utica, New York. The multi-instrumentalist, who also plays the mandolin and banjo, has an impressive collection of vintage guitars.
“Guitars are what I’m into,” Bonamassa said. “They give me great joy. The reason to own all of these guitars is because I like the sound and feel of the guitars. I love the Les Pauls. They make a great guitar. I love Fenders. They also manufacture a great guitar. There’s something about an old guitar, but the reality is that they don’t sound any better than a new guitar. They just feel different. I love the old guitars because I’m preserving history.”
However, Bonamassa can’t help but notice that teens are gravitating toward another side of the music store. “It’s obvious that the biggest selling music section in a music shop is the DJ section,” Bonamassa said. “I can’t say that I blame them. The guitar is not an easy sell for a kid who wants to play music. One option is to work on mastering an instrument that takes years to learn how to play adequately. That will kill your social life. I know what it’s like to play alone in a room and practice over and over again. I don’t think that’s so appealing for kids today.”
Bonamassa understands that Generation Z embraces technology. “They’re born with iPhones in their hand,” Bonamassa said. “It will take them years to be proficient with a guitar but it takes no time to pick up a Macbook Pro and load some sounds into it and they’re making music. I’m all for artistic expression. There’s no right or wrong. I’ve been playing guitar for 40 years and I still haven’t figured it all out. I wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to making a Billie Eilish record. I don’t even know what machine to use. I just know how to play instruments like the guitar.”
But Bonamassa is just fine going the old school route. Bonamassa has crafted 15 albums since 2001. “Time Clocks,” Bonamassa’s 2021 release, is filled with passionate and poignant songs, which channel elements of Pink Floyd. There are nods to Floyd’s David Gilmour and Eric Clapton. Regarding those long of tooth influences, Bonamassa, who was once a teen guitar sensation, is actually on the edge of elder statesman status.
“It’s so strange but true,” Bonamassa said. “It’s so weird since I remember playing B.B. King’s 80th birthday celebration in 2005. B.B. was still doing it but Mick Jagger was 62 then and now guys like Mick and Jeff Beck and Ringo Starr, all of our heroes are either about to turn 80 or are already in their 80s. Time moves along quickly. I’ve been around for so many years and I’ve released so many albums but I’m still trying to write that great song. That keeps me hungry and I never want to stop just like those guys I mentioned like Mick Jagger. I never want to stop writing and recording and touring. I just hope another pandemic doesn’t get in my way.”
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