Experience Hendrix in Newkirk, Oklahoma

Experience Hendrix
First Council Hotel & Casino
Newkirk, OK 10/04/14

By Jeb Wright

Set 1:
Stone Free | Power of Soul | Message of Love | Up From the Skies | Crosstown Traffic | Ain't No Telling |Ezy Ryder | Are You Experienced? | Manic Depression | Little Wing| Purple Haze

Set 2:
Hear My Train a Comin' | Angel | Gypsy Boy | All Along the Watchtower | Fire | The Wind Cries Mary | Spanish Castle Magic | Gypsy Eyes | Come On (Part I) | Voodoo Chile / Voodoo Child (Slight Return) | Who Knows | Louisiana Blues | Big Leg Woman | Rock Me |
Let the Door Knob Hit Ya | Hey Joe | Them Changes | Red House

Little Newkirk, Oklahoma had no idea what freight train guitarist Zakk Wylde was going to bestow upon their usually quiet city.  But they found out… oh, how they found out… more on that later. 

Before Zakk unleashed his inner and outer beast, however, the casino crowd was at capacity.  The show had long been sold-out, as even small-town Okie’s understand the importance of Jimi Hendrix’s music and his legacy.  They were a packed house, eager for action on a Saturday night as the tour known as Experience Hendrix filled the casino stage with more amplifiers than one thought could safely fit.  It was going to be a rocking, and loud, night of Hendrix-fied rock and roll spilled off the stage by many members of elite rock royalty. 

The crowd in Newkirk was witness to an ensemble formed by Band of Gypsy bassist Billy Cox, iconic bluesman Buddy Guy, drummer extraordinaire Chris “Whipper” Layton” and guitarists Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Zakk Wylde, Jonny Lang, Doyle Bramhall II and Rich Robinson among others…and this is just the tip of the iceberg, as I have not even mentioned vocalist Noah Hunt or bassist Tony Franklin.

Truth be told, the crowd was in a bit of awe as the members on the stage were substituted in and out.  The crowd, as could easily be predicted, was more into the big hits than the rare cuts.  This was not a die-hard Hendrix gathering.  Most folks were there to hear “Crosstown Traffic” and “Purple Haze.”  There were two other factions in the audience as well, who refused to make Hendrix the number one reason for their attendance.  One was Team Buddy Guy and the other was donning BLS t-shirts, tattoos and facial piercings… they were obviously present to experience Zakk Wylde. 

The musicians were there for only one reason, and that was to honor Jimi Hendrix and his legacy.  Every person that took the stage gave it their all, and each had something unique to bring to the festivities.  Whether is was Jonny Lang, who showed what Jimi’s material would have sounded like with an amazing vocalist in tow, or Wylde who soloed with such fierce intensity he left the stage to take his six string attack into the front rows; this was a powerful night of music. 

The first set was a bit slower, and the show’s pace started off dragging just a touch.  The highlights of the first set were the instrumental version of “Crosstown Traffic” delivered by perhaps the most technically talented musician in attendance Eric Johnson and, of course, Wylde’s manic guitar heroics.  It is a good thing the organizers went to intermission after Zakk’s performance as nobody, and I mean nobody, would want to try to upstage or follow his performance.  “Manic Depression” seemed to last forever, as Wylde played the guitar behind his head and faster than a comeback NASCAR victory.  “Little Wing” was tastefully done and “Purple Haze” brought the crowd to their feet.

The second set, however, blew the crowd away with both vocal and musical virtuosity.  Doyle Bramhall II jammed out “Gypsy Boy” and “Angel,” delivering the tunes with the unique musicianship that only this playing-my-guitar-upside-down man can.  His hair was wild and fuzzy and he wore a scarf looking more like the Tom Baker version of Dr. Who than a rock star. 

Jonny Lang joined Wylde on stage for a blistering version of “All Along the Watchtower” and the two axe men stole the show.  Between Lang’s pained facial expressions and vocal performance and Zakk’s metallic soloing, the song was given to the Oklahoma audience with both reverence and passion.  “Fire” was cool as well, with Lang again knocking the vocals out of the park.  Eric Johnson joined Lang for an emotional performance of the ballad “The Wind Cries Mary” that earned a standing ovation. 

The song “Spanish Castle Magic” was, as it has been in years before, a huge musical hit from the evening.  Jonny Lang, Doyle Bramhall II, Rich Robinson, Scott Nelson and Chris Layton simply tore this mutha up.  The song, while not the first tune one thinks of when discussing Jimi’s best, comes across live in a huge way and allows those partaking of the song onstage to deliver the best jams they have inside them—tonight was no exception. 

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band took the stage for “Gypsy Eyes” which, for lack of a better description, totally freaking rocked.  He should do a remake of this one, as vocalist Noah Hunt sounded, and looked, like a young Paul Rodgers on this cut.  The rhythm section of Layton and Franklin is just scary-good, and that blond-haired guitar player named Kenny Wayne may not be the most exciting guy on stage, but holy shit, can he play guitar.  His set kicked it up two notches, and by the time the band performed “Voodoo Chile / Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” they rivaled Wylde as the best performance of the night.  Shepherd was on-fire, taking it all in and emitting torturing sounds out of his guitar. 

Now, this is where it got a bit weird.  Next up, Billy Cox and his band returned to the stage, and then Buddy Guy was introduced.  Now, suffice it to say I know what a legend Buddy Guy is and I realize he was an influence to the playing style of Jimi Hendrix.  As much as he deserves to be last on the bill, the evening would have been better served to have Buddy and Billy do their part before Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s performance.  These guys, while great, simply could not out-perform the energetic youngsters (well, compared to them they are youngsters).  It was good… it was fricking Buddy Guy, but it was not so much the Experience Hendrix modus operandi. 

The evening ended with the entire cast taking the stage, with Billy and Experience Hendrix founder Janie Hendrix saying a few words.  It was a fine way to end the show. 

This is a show worth seeing twice, well probably three times to be honest.  The talent level is impressive and the tunes are performed amazingly well, start to finish.  Before ending this review, however, a special note must be made concerning the performance of Chris Layton.  This guy stayed on stage virtually the entire three hour plus show, and drummed up a storm.  His talent and dedication to the music of Jimi Hendrix and to the men sharing the stage with him is as huge as his musical heart. 

This evening’s excursion left this writer excited to see what Experience Hendrix comes up with for 2015.