Carlos Santana on the Power of Live

Dean Budnick on July 30, 2020
Carlos Santana on the Power of Live

In this moment of social distancing and turmoil, many of us are yearning for the collective inspiration and joy that is unique to the concert experience. In a special Power of Live section that appears in our new issue, a number of singular voices chime in with their thoughts on the importance of in-person gatherings.

You can look back at previous Power of Live interviews with Trey Anastasio, Jon Batiste, Mickey Hart, Warren Haynes, Jason Isbell, Robert Mercurio and Bonnie Raitt.


It’s about the symbiotic collective energy that goes into every note we play. It’s the collective intentionality that comes from all of us—the musicians, the bus drivers, the cooks, the security, everybody. It starts with a deep gratitude and respect and honor for everybody, and then the concert goes to another level.

The power of live music ignites your molecular structure to remind you that you are light beyond being Mexican or Irish or Catholic or Muslim. All of those things are clothes that you can wear, but when you stand butt naked with your light, that’s what it’s really about. I first experienced it when I heard the Tony Williams Lifetime. I’ve heard many great musicians in my life, from Buddy Rich to Sun Ra and Cream, but I’ve never heard anything as powerful as Tony Williams, John McLaughlin and Larry Young. The best way I can describe it is like when you see somebody having a heart attack and they’re almost dead and they put those jump-starters on their chest, those defibrillators. That’s what it did to me.

I had heard Javier Batiz and B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix, but I had never heard music that took me to that place. I was dizzy and kind of lightheaded because I wasn’t prepared to hear Tony Williams, John McLaughlin and Larry Young play music that was so high energy. I love Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Metallica— I love all my brothers. But I’d never heard anything close to those three musicians.

I’m still grateful for the person who took me there. He was the valet for B.B. King and, somehow, he wound up at the Santana concert at the Fillmore. He said, “Hey, do you wanna come with me?” and I said, “Where are you going?” He said “I’m going to Harlem to see Tony Williams.” I said, “Tony Williams?!”

I experienced them in a little room— a closet—and they were loud! I was watching musicians who were highly evolved.

Live music is like being in church on a real good day when the Holy Ghost takes over and people are both laughing and crying.

It changes your molecular structure.