March 13, 2019
As the fireworks inside NRG Stadium subsided Wednesday night, the screens above the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's star-shaped stage began playing clips from the original Woodstock Festival. It was there in 1969 that Santana (the band) catapulted themselves into the public eye with an 11-minute instrumental of "Soul Sacrifice."
While fans onscreen were diving into mudslides, Carlos Santana (the man) was strutting out onto the stage with his band to cheers from the crowd. Dressed in all black, sporting a bright red guitar and nonchalantly chewing bubble gum, the 71-year-old Mexican-American music icon looked totally at ease ahead of his RodeoHouston debut.
And why not?
The 74,161 fans in attendance notwithstanding, Wednesday night was nothing new for the Grammy Award-winning, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member. Most artists gush during their inaugural HLSR performances, thanking the crowd in between every few songs as they take in the spectacle from the stage. But not Santana.
Having sold more than 100 million albums over his 50-year career, the man of the hour was content to focus on his instrument, occasionally singing a bridge or providing harmonies throughout his set. He ran his spry fingers up and down the neck of his guitar, standing firmly in the middle of the stage as his bandmates corralled around him and beckoned fans to their feet.
With 31 studio albums to his (and his band's) name, Santana had plenty of material to pull from for Wednesday night's show, and he didn't disappoint. On top of performing plenty of his own hits — "Evil Ways," "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va," and "Smooth," to name a few — he also paid reverence to a few other classics, including the Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Tambourines, bongos, trombones and a bevy of other instruments abounded, but Santana was always at the center of it all, even when he wasn't. He seemed to eschew the limelight often in order to give his fellow musicians space to shine.
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It wasn't until about halfway through the show that the band stopped playing and the spotlight shone on Santana. He walked to the edge of the stage for an electrifying solo that segued into his latest singe, "In Search of Mona Lisa." As his band joined in, he shuffled back to the center of the stage, in front of the percussionists and behind the singers.
Save for this solitary moment, Santana was but a piece of a larger unit. An integral one, to be sure, but the legendary guitarist was intent on showcasing more than his own prowess Wednesday night. He wanted his band, which included his wife Cindy Blackman on drums and boasted plenty of skill themselves, to have space to flaunt their own talents during their first RodeoHouston concert.
Most importantly, his debut left fans clamoring for more, even though we all knew there just wasn't enough time for an 11-minute guitar solo.
A Love Supreme
Black Magic Woman
Oye Como Va
The Game of Love
In Search of Mona Lisa
Are You Ready
Love, Peace, Happiness