Steve Murray

Performing Arts Reviews

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Garrin Benfield Live at Point San Pablo Harbor Club

Garrin Benfield

Point San Pablo Harbor Club

18 October 2019

Singer/songwriter Garrin Benfield has been championing the acoustic guitar since he first picked one up at age 12. He’s attached a pickup to his Martin and with the use of his sophisticated Loop station, Benfield can incorporate a wide variety of influences into his improvisational explorations of originals and crowd favorite covers. In his atmospheric rhythms, he’ll set a melody, loop it, add in a backbeat loop, then overlay the two with his trademark soaring leads that tend toward the Jerry Garcia jam base environment.

His strong songwriting blends elements of folk, country, blues and  jam-based rock. In his opener, “Cortez the Killer”, Benfield sings of the conquest of Montezuma and the Aztecs in a straight up folk tale that morphs into an electric jam that envisions the chaos and destruction of an empire. Originals “The Colors in You”, “Hungry Ghost” and “Another Hour to Kill” display Benfield’s skillful songwriting and clear, precise vocals that draw you in to his compositions and set you free with their improvisational flow.

It makes total sense that he’s an avid Deadhead, counting Jerry Garcia as a huge influence in Garcia’s blending of styles. From the Dead’s catalog comes “Friend of the Devil”, about a rakish bigamist and rogue and a masterful performance of the iconic “Dark Star”.  Little Feat’s “Easy to Slip” comes via Bob Weir’s solo CD Heaven Help the Fool and another traditional song performed by the Grateful Dead, “Jack-A Roe,” also known as “Jack Went A-Sailing befit the yacht club setting.

To show his early influences, updated with Garrin’s contemporary audio landscaping, was a lovely interpretation of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the very country “Wichita”. Such diversity allows Benfield to straddle multiple genres following the arc of Americana music from folk tales, blues, country and rock. It’s a satisfying blend that appeals to all lovers of fine musicianship.

Benfield tours relentlessly, spreading his schedule through word of mouth and his large network of admirers and fellow musicians. He steadily gains attention and has received his share of critical acclaim. His 2000 song “What You’re Hiding,” which tells the story of   Matthew Shepard, who was beaten by anti-gay assailants and left to die, won the best out song award at that year’s Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards. Garrin was named “One of the Artists You Must See Live” by the internet’s premier source of information for live and improvisational music, and his CD Where Joy Kills Sorrow was awarded the “Best Release of 2004” in the Male Singer/Songwriter Category by the Indie Acoustic Project. Garrin’s CD “Nowhere is Brighter” was named a ‘Top 10 CD of 2002’ by Acoustic Guitar and Performing Songwriter Magazines.

Benfield closed his second set with a looping exercise called “Give Peace a Loop” which rides a steady funk beat then explodes into lead guitar lines that sear and burn into your psyche. It’s an exclamation point to an emotional roller-coaster ride that is Benfield’s great strength.

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