Caravanserai’s sensational Santana tribute at Hard Rock

Kurt Johnson/ Tahoe Onstage

Caravanserai rocks Vinyl during its debut at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe on Jan. 20.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Kurt Johnson

The sizzling, searing sounds of Santana poured out of Vinyl at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Saturday night, with the zesty Latin groove spilling out onto the casino floor, attracting a steady stream of concertgoers as the night went on.

Bay Area Santana tribute band Caravanserai played a high-energy set in its first appearance at the year-old venue. The seven-member band featured a variety of percussion, bass, keyboards, and of course, electric guitar, tearing through a wide selection of the legendary guitarist’s greatest hits. The combination of spicy Latin beats and blazingly fast electric guitar made for an enjoyable evening for a Vinyl crowd of all (adult) ages.

Leo Herrera did justice to all of Santana’s hallmark licks, shredding away on a pair of lovely Paul Reed Smith electric guitars, fingers flying over the manufacturer’s signature flying bird fret markers. I particularly enjoyed Caravanserai’s rendition of “Samba Pa Ti,” the tune that first attracted Herrera to Santana’s playing, he said. From cascading arpeggios to hovering notes of seemingly endlessly sustain, the bandleader offered up a dazzling display of virtuoso guitar work.

Frontman Alfredo Lazo brought an excellent energy and intensity to the stage, particularly as this was his first show with the band.

“We found him on the way up on the side of Highway 50,” Herrera joked to the crowd. “We hired him because he said he would put on chains for us.”

The singer stomped around stage, pointing at the crowd and playing an assortment of hand percussion instruments as he growled out vocals to songs like “Smooth” and “Corazon Espinado,” a black fedora pulled low over his face.

Numerous band members contributed, with Herrera, bassist Ray Uribes and keys man Bernie Bersamina providing background lyrics and lead lines as well. Bersamina sang lead on “Primavera” from Santana’s absurdly platinum, Grammy-devouring 1999 album “Supernatural.”

Caravanserai shares some home roots with Carlos Santana; Bersamina and drummer Vernon Eakin grew up in San Francisco’s Mission District, home to the famed guitarist, playing music in the same venues and barrios where Santana got his start. Aiken played in a band with Santana’s brother for several years.

The house system in Vinyl sounded great, blasting out the intricately varied and layered percussion, the thumping bass, and the driving, rolling organ and keys, with Herrera’s soulful guitar notes cutting through the mix at will. The stage’s stark metal scaffolding and swirling lights painted a picturesque backdrop for the colorful characters of Caravanserai.

The up-tempo, exotic blend made for an irresistibly danceable evening, as couples twirled and swayed. An excited crowd featured Tahoe’s usual assortment of fun-loving concertgoers, including a gal with 4 feet of dreadlocks who filled out a considerable chunk of the dance floor with wild gyrations and contortions, even knocking over a few dance partners at times. Best outfit goes to the gentleman in a seasonally festive two piece suit; it was bright blue, with horizontal red and white bands of snowflakes, elk, and other winter patterns crossing the outfit from collar to heel.

“Do we have time for one more?” Bersamina called out to Herrera as the show neared its end.

“Let’s do that one song you like,” the guitarist said with a chuckle.

Just like that, the slow, sultry organ notes of “Black Magic Woman,” began to flood over the audience. Fans roared and began to move their bodies in rhythmic, spirited fashion.

To see more images of this show, visit Kurt Johnson’s website HERE

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About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

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