Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes was the first act to take the main, HullabaLOU stage Friday at the HullabaLOU music festival at Churchill Downs. And despite the list of famous artists that will come after them this weekend, they proved to be a tough act to follow.
Playing Steve Van Zandt's Forever was the perfect choice for this band so closely intertwined with Little Steven himself. Off Van Zandt's debut Disciples of Soul CD, Men Without Women, Forever still sounds fresh on record twenty-eight years after its release, and the Jukes made it sound just as good live. Southside Johnny Lyon belted out the catchy chorus with great conviction, the band was tight, and the four-piece horn section added a soulful punch.
There was also a cover of Aretha Franklin's Without Love, which they recorded in the 70s and made their own again on Friday, with a rock and soul dose of vitality that even the Queen of Soul couldn't muster. There was also a solid version of Talk To Me, the Bruce Springsteen penned song off the Jukes' critically acclaimed 1978 album Hearts of Stone.But the band didn't rely on just covers. Off their new albumPills and Ammo, they ripped through Cross That Line, Woke Up This Morning, which included Lyon's fine Blues harmonica playing, and they closed their set with a rousing One More Night To Rock. This trio of songs certainly suggests that Southside Johnny's new material holds up against his work thirty years ago.
At 61, Lyon still has a great energy on stage. The Jukes' upbeat rhythm and blues flavored rock was a great way to kick off the festival's shows on the big stage. Unfortunately, the constraints of the festival were the only disappointing part of the performance. At just under 40 minutes, the set was much too short. It almost felt like the band was just really getting started. Obviously, it's not their fault.
Used to multiple sets in bars back in the Garden state, they probably barely broke a sweat even in the 90 degree heat. But pre-determined set list times are inherently a part of any music festival. Still, it would have been nice to see the Jukes get a longer time slot. They have toiled around the clubs along the Jersey shore long enough to earn a spot on the big stage for longer than 40 minutes.
But in that short amount of time, they proved that although they are considered a bar band by many, their sound can still translate to a much bigger stage. It's funny that on a race track, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were sprinting around the first turn, but the race stopped before they could turn down the stretch and head for home.