"Transmogrify" Review - Carlos Santana at Ravinia: Woodstock plus 48 years

The mood on Friday evening, August 11, 2017 was joyous in the Pavilion at the Ravinia Festival, an acoustically complex and stylistically simple indoor-outdoor theatre with a roof/cover over 3 huge screens and an auditorium-wide stage, as well as on the spacious sold-out lawns. The celebration was evident from the instant Carlos Santana, as part of his 19-date “Transmogrify” tour  opened with a line-up that included David K. Matthews, keyboards; Andy Vargas, vocals; Karl Perazzo, percussion; Tony Anthony, guitar/vocals; Paoli Mejias, percussion; Ray Greene, trombone/vocals; Benny Rietveld, bass; and Carlos’ spouse, Cindy Blackman Santana, drums.


The image for the "Transmogrify" Tour

 For the next 2 ½ hours, Santana rocked Ravinia, surely one of the most lovely and aurally spectacular venues for music on earth, the oldest in North America and the summer home of Chicago's world-renowned Symphony (Chicago Symphony Orchestra). The gorgeous, smooth and sexy Latin/Carib/African jazz, rap and rock wailed and beat its way out over the entire park, filled as it was with apparently blissed–out Baby Boomers clapping, calling, swaying and bopping to the beat.

Santana, who traditionally talks to his audience about his favorite humanitarian/spiritually-based concerns, had to encourage the sedate audience in the Pavilion to get up and participate, but once he did, there was no turning back! It would be difficult to say who had a better time- the jubilant artists or the delighted viewers.

Carlos Santana with Cindy Blackman on drums and Paoli Mejias, percussion

  Since at least the summer of 1969, (“the summer of love”) when this Mexican- American headlined at Max Yazgur’s farm in upstate Woodstock, New York, Santana has been recognized as one of the world’s finest lead guitarists. During his show, the three screens mounted on either side of and behind the stage, flanked by psychedelic lighting, revealed the current band members as well as clips of a wild-haired, lean and intense Santana at Woodstock, leading hard while flower children cavorted nearby.

The album “Santana”, released that same year hovered at the top of the charts for almost 2 years. Probably his most famous album was “Abraxas”; his newest projects are “Santana IV”, released October 21, 2016; and “Power of Peace”, with the Isley Brothers, released July 28, 2017. In 2000, he swept the 42nd annual Grammy awards:  


“Mr. Santana was unbeatable. In every category his group, Santana, was nominated, it won, including the night's top honors -- album of the year (''Supernatural''), record of the year (an award given to his single ''Smooth'') and song of the year (''Smooth'' again). By night's end, Mr. Santana had walked away with eight awards, tying Michael Jackson's 1983 record for the most Grammys won in a single year. Santana's ninth award, for song of the year, was presented not to Mr. Santana, but to the song's writers, Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 and Itaal Shur.” (The winners were selected by the 10,000 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.)” Neil Strauss for The New York Times, February 24, 2000

A joyous Santana before the standing, clapping audience

This coming weekend marks the 48th anniversary of the concert at Woodstock, and the 20+ songs performed by this incredibly intense and passionate man and his virtuoso bandmates included 3 pieces that were on the setlist then- the driving “Jingo Lo Ba”, sultry “Evil Ways” and mesmerizing “Soul Sacrifice”. Along with other perennial favorites, such as “O Paradiso”, which opened the concert, “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen” and “Oye Como Va”, both part of the encore medley, “Corazón Espinado”, and “Smooth”, the band performed a stellar version of Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, a heavy rockin’ and rollin’ cover of Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction to Your Mind”, a very hot “Mona Lisa”, and Cindy Blackman on lead vocals sang her lovely ballad “I Remember”.

Ray Greene on hot vocals

Carlos and Cindy Blackman Santana married in 2010, after he proposed to her on stage. She’s an incredibly accomplished drummer- in Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Drummers of All Time”- and along with the other 2 percussionists, the rhythm they laid down this night blew the roof off the Pavilion. Santana was supportive and gave credit and star power time to all the band members; it was very special, however, to note the way his attention- verbal and gaze- kept returning to his beloved. At the apex of the evening, this wildly talented jazz/rock drummer cut loose with an extended solo riff that brought down the house.


 It was a never-to-be-forgotten night of great music, exhortations on behalf of racial equality, a plea for peace, and a reminder by Santana that Chicago has given blues “saints”- such as Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Chuck Berry, KoKo Taylor, Junior Wells and James Cotton to the world of music.

Santana on lead guitar; the "Corazon" concert, Ravinia, 2015


For more information and tickets to all the great entertainment at The Ravinia Festival, go to  the Ravinia festival website


All images/photos courtesy of Ravinia/Russell Jenkins

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