Grammy award-winning Santana takes over Forest Hills Stadium

For the third consecutive summer, the former tennis stadium at Forest Hills’ West Side Tennis Club has been used to host to a series of concerts featuring artists from all sorts of musical genres. On the bill this summer were two legendary bands that achieved American stardom at the original Woodstock Music Festival in 1969. Back in May, The Who finished the first American leg of their 50th anniversary tour at the stadium, briefly bringing up that famous gig in the middle of the show. On the eve of Woodstock’s 46th anniversary, guitar legend and Grammy winner Carlos Santana arrived in Forest Hills to kick off his latest U.S. tour to promote his first ever album recorded entirely in Spanish, Corazón.

In keeping with the Woodstock connection, the show opened up with a video montage of clips from the Oscar-winning documentary of the festival. During the intro, the band launched into the intense instrumental that turned Santana into one of the most dynamic guitarists of the 1970s: “Soul Sacrifice.” From then on out, he played a wide variety of songs from his 45-year career. Ironically, the band played very little material from his orginial Woodstock-era lineup. For the most part, he focused on material recorded after his massively successful 1999 comeback album, Supernatural.

In a span of two hours, Santana showed off his guitar versatility by mixing in various world music genres. While Latin rock is the emphasis for any Santana concert, he also incorporated elements of African tribal, traditional American R&B and even early rock ‘n’ roll into his guitar playing. Longtime fans may have been disappointed to see that he hardly touched upon the explosive combination of Latin music and jazz fusion that defined Santana as one of the 1970s’ key musicians.

For an artist that has garnered international fame and success both as a studio and live musician, Santana still manages to put on a show that still very much has the feeling of an intimate and down-to-earth local show.

Throughout the show, feelings of goodwill and peacefulness resonated both moments of banter between songs and during some of the songs themselves. This was most prevalent during the track “Samba pa ti.” The combination of a carefree yet silky smooth samba piece and a video montage of kids around the world expressing their happiness was enough to ensure that there was not a single frown in Forest Hills Stadium.

Adding to his sultry guitar playing was Santana’s backing band. Compared to the usual three-piece rock band, this group manages to tread the line between rock band and mini orchestra. The massive percussion section, two drummers, a congo drum player and a brass section helped to bring about the Latin style of music that sets Santana apart from other guitarists.

Unique to the lineup was not one, but two lead singers: Andy Vargas and Tony Lindsay. Vargas primarily sang the Spanish language tracks, while Lindsay performed the remaining English songs. Both singers were essentially tasked with filling the spots of an almost endless number of singers that Santana has worked with over the years, both official band members and special musical guests.

Both singers succeed in capturing the tone and feel of the original recordings. And in the case of the pre-encore number, “Smooth,” the song even managed to be surprisingly better than the original studio recording.

Halfway through the show, Santana introduced his son Salvador to the stage. For this leg of the Corazón tour, Salvador joined his father and the band to perform three tracks from his new solo album, Fantasy Reality. His inclusion in the concert was a mixed bag. While his own material is admittedly well-written and impeccably performed, he could have picked a better venue and event to share it to the public. It is definitely a warm sight to see a father and son both share a similar passion for music, but that impression seemed to have been shoehorned into the show, rather than naturally integrated.

Further adding to the intimacy of the show was the band’s overall performance. Santana could have easily taken a lot of time in the concert to indulge in long guitar solos, showing off fancy playing skills and all the other performance clichés of guitar legends. But from the first song to the last, he allowed his fellow band members and his son to move around on stage and contribute to the wall of sound that surrounded the band. Santana mostly refrained from overt guitar theatrics unless a song actually calls for it. Even then, the solos themselves were short and to the point, all while augmenting the overall music instead of bringing the song to a grinding halt. The rest of the time, he hung back and allowed the rhythm section, brass players,  vocalists and keyboardist add something to the show. The end result is a band that is very tight but free-flowing on stage.

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