Santana at the Hollywood Bowl

August 1, 2019
Santana at the Hollywood Bowl

Photo credit: Steve Rood

The summer of 2019 marks milestone anniversaries of perhaps the two most significant moments in Santana’s illustrious history.  The first is the 50th anniversary of the band’s career-turning appearance at Woodstock.  The second is the 20th anniversary of the release of Supernatural; the album that would go on to sell over 15 million copies in the U.S., alone, and catapult Carlos Santana into the stratosphere of rock icons.

The guitarist and his group celebrated both, almost evenly, with a sold-out tour stop at the Hollywood Bowl that divided a setlist into classics from Santana’s halcyon days as a Fillmore West favorite in San Francisco and that worldwide hit record from ‘99.  With a large video backdrop flanked by several rectangular strips of additional screens, the vividly colorful show began with an excerpt from the Woodstock film: the famous chanting in the rain that preceded Santana’s legendary performance.  On cue, the band synced with the clip in real (and reel) time, launching into an abridged “Soul Sacrifice” to open the evening in a burst of retro fire.

The ultra-talented ten onstage transitioned to Santana’s first single ever, the percussive “Jingo,” and then a stinging “Evil Ways” that included references to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” before shifting to a pair from the multi-platinum monster that is Supernatural.  There was the festive dance of “(Da Le) Yaleo” and the brooding “Put Your Lights On,” before a return to the golden days on an incisive “Hope You’re Feeling Better,” as Carlos repeatedly blistered the fretboard with vintage charisma and style.

The mix of eight entries from Supernatural and two from its follow-up, Shaman, were conspicuously countered with expected Santana gems.  For every “Love of My Life” there was “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen.”  For every “Maria Maria” there was “Oye Como Va,” the latter with a wink to Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move.”  When they took on “The Calling”- a Supernatural track originally featuring Eric Clapton- they balanced it with a throwback nod, welcoming Patrick Simmons from The Doobie Brothers (openers on this tour), detouring the twin-guitar pyrotechnics into Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).”  Even the encore married the time machine with the moment, zooming back to the Chambers Brothers on “Are You Ready”- featuring Cindy Blackman Santana’s explosive drum solo- and a final “Love, Peace and Happiness” bookending the band’s modern mega-hit, “Smooth.” 

In a way, Carlos Santana has become one of the last vestiges of the Woodstock ideal, and seems quite comfortable carrying that torch.  Yet, within and beyond his multi-generational, multi-cultural ensemble, he has evolved into something much more than a hippie relic from those three days in the mud.  He’s become a conscious and dedicated ambassador, globally, spiritually, for people in need, for social awareness, for an impact that reaches from Africa to Spanish Harlem.  Whether it’s fifty years, or two decades, what Santana is really celebrating with each performance is the enduring and influential power of music.