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Joe Bonamassa at San Jose Civic

In Music
NON-STOP: After a studio album in 2020 and a live album in 2021, Bay Area bluesman Joe Bonamassa kicks off the return of the San Jose Civic.

NON-STOP: After a studio album in 2020 and a live album in 2021, Bay Area bluesman Joe Bonamassa kicks off the return of the San Jose Civic.

When the pandemic forced touring musicians off the road in March 2020, few thought the disruption would last more than a few months. Now over 16 months later, life is still only incrementally returning to something approximating normal.

This Friday, the San Jose Civic ends their extended dark period by hosting celebrated Bay Area blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Not counting collaborative projects, the prolific musician has released 15 studio albums since his 2000 debut, A New Day Yesterday. His most recent studio album, 2020’s Royal Tea, top-tenned the charts in five countries.

Yet, as well-received as his studio work has been, Bonamassa’s reputation has largely been cultivated on the strength of his live performances. The musician’s plethora of live releases—18 and counting—underscore an important quality of his music: it’s always changing.

Obviously, you don’t want to make a studio record that’s full of eight-minute jams and meandering solos,” Bonamassa says.

He pauses, adding with a chuckle, “Obviously, you don’t want to do a live show like that, either.”

Bonamassa characterizes live performance as “a conversation among the musicians, based on a conversation with the crowd.” That real-time interactivity feeds the creative expression—and fulfillment—of everyone involved, on stage and off.

Like most every other musician worldwide, Bonamassa was sidelined by 2020. Asked how he spent his time through the second half of last year and the early months of this, he laughs heartily.

“Not playing guitar, I can tell you that!”

He did, however, stay quite busy hosting his Live from Nerdville podcast. The show’s simple format—conversations with fellow musicians—is a winning one, and Bonamassa has now welcomed many notable figures in blues to the program. Selwyn Birchwood, Fantastic Negrito and Alligator Records founder Bruce Iglauer have all been recent guests. As with his music, though, he also looks beyond the blues for his podcast’s inspiration. Alice Cooper, David Coverdale and Peter Frampton have all appeared on Live from Nerdville this summer.

For most musicians, releasing a studio album, a live album and dozens of podcasts would be enough activity for two or three years. But in the last 12 months, Bonamassa says he has also co-produced five albums by other artists. He’s also been busy with his Fueling Musicians initiative, a program administered by his nonprofit Keeping the Blues Alive Foundation.

Prior to the pandemic, Bonamassa says the foundation raised nearly $700,000 for schools and music programs. But when COVID took away the livelihood of working musicians, it channeled its efforts into the new initiative, raising a half million dollars and awarding $1500 relief packages to bands hit hard by the loss of performance opportunities. 

“$1500 isn’t life-changing money,” he admits. “But it helps. It can help pay the mortgage.”

If all that wasn’t enough, as Bonamassa’s five-man “expanded trio” gears up for a run of live dates, the guitarist is also delving into the new world of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, beginning with the auction of his “One Song Record Company” on July 31. The winning bidder will own an original master recording of a new and unheard song, “Broken Record,” along with publishing rights to the song, plus a 1959 Gibson Les Paul guitar, a 1963 Fender Vibrolux amplifier and other valuable “tokenized” items.

Since the beginning, Bonamassa has charted his own path, largely sidestepping the machinery of the music industry. He characterizes his NFT as a “proof of concept” endeavor, saying his pilot project for a fan-funding model is structured so that “whoever buys the NFT gets something very unique.

“There’s only one of them in the world. I hope it inspires other musicians to get involved so they become more independent and self-sustaining.”

Remarkably, against the backdrop of all this activity, Bonamassa insists that he takes life at a slower pace than he did a decade ago. Back then, he says, he used to tell people: “I’ve got this place in Laurel Canyon, and I hear it’s really nice!”

Joe Bonamassa
July 30, 8 p.m. $79-$249
San Jose Civic, San Jose

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