December 08 2023 Los Angeles California by Andy J. Gordon

Grammy winning guitarist Eric “Kraz” Krasno put together a holiday fund-raiser performance at The Mint in Los Angeles to benefit CITYPAK. The show on December 8, 2023, included an array of guests including blues master Joe Bonamassa, Cool Cool Cool vocalist Shira Elias and actor/singer Craig Robinson. The crowd enjoyed a night of funky blues, soul and rock music, jam packed with impressive guitar solos.

Krasno steered guests to the merch booth where vinyl copies of his recent albums were on sale, but he emphasized that the night was about raising money for CITYPAK. The Los Angeles based organization provides custom-designed backpacks to individuals experiencing homelessness or in housing transition. That spirit of giving extended to the stage as Kraz led a group of superb musicians through some of his recent solo material and a diverse collection of classic covers. While Kraz held the spotlight with his blistering solos and soulful vocals, he generously shared the glory with his bandmates. Each artist had several opportunities to solo and provide exceptional harmonies.

The core band included Steve (Swatkins) Watkins on keys, Nick Campbell on bass, Curtis Kelley on drums and James Gray Dawson VIII (James The 8th) on guitar. James The 8th did a short solo set before Kraz & Friends took the stage. Kraz curated an inspired setlist with original compositions and a selection of covers that revealed his musical influences. The show got off to a roaring start with his instrumental “76” and the funky “Jezebel.” Kraz’s smooth vocals and searing guitar filled the room. James The 8th and Curtis Kelley took over lead vocals for a charming cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” Keyboardist Kiefer sat in for Kraz’s “Leave Me Alone,” from his 2022 Always album and the alternating keyboard solos from Swatkins and Kiefer were magical.

The band next paired Kraz’s “Please Ya” with “Unconditional Love.” Kraz got sweet harmonic support on the soulful, blues ballad and his guitar solo segued into the more up-tempo “Unconditional Love,” which was just released as a single from his new acoustic album, Wood and Strings. The original version appeared on his 2016 album Blood from a Stone. The first major guest was Joe Bonamassa who came out to enthusiastic applause. The band played Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Twenty-Four Hour Blues” which Bonamassa recorded and released recently as part of his Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 album. The song featured expressive vocals and scorching guitar solos by Bonamassa. Krasno jumped in to trade licks with the blues master. The amped up crowd got another classic, Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” as Kraz took over on vocals followed by another intense guitar duet with Bonamassa.

After Bonamassa left, Craig Robinson strolled onstage. The larger-than-life actor/comedian who dabbles in music, showed his impressive vocal abilities on a raucous version of Bill Withers’ “Use Me.” His brief appearance ended with that song, but Shira Elias took over on vocals for the Led Zeppelin classic “Ramble On” and the soul/R&B standard by The Isley Brothers, “Work To Do.” Elias’ voice was both powerful and passionate, so when she belted out the lyrics to both songs, the crowd showed their appreciation with loud applause and shouts.

Another special cover followed as Kraz introduced a young guitarist named Jaden Lehman who joined the ensemble for The Allman Brothers Band’s instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Kraz and Lehman traded impressive solos. Swatkins and Kelley each followed with solos before Kraz and Lehman finished the iconic song with a face-to-face guitar duet.

Kraz has shown his love for The Beatles over his career (in 2010 his band Soulive released the Rubber Soulive covers album), so it was not a huge surprise at The Mint show when he broke out an instrumental, funked up interpretation of “Get Back.”  While Kraz’s guitar assault was impressive, it was Swatkins wild talk box and keyboards solo that made the song distinctive.

Kraz ended the show by saying “I’m going to do a medley of songs by probably my favorite artist of all time.” The audience immediately knew that he was referring to Jimi Hendrix as he broke into the recognizable opening notes of “Fire.” Kraz’s guitar sizzled through the song and eventually it transitioned into a screeching version of “Power To Love (Power Of Soul).” Swatkins did another wild organ solo followed by another explosively imaginative Kraz solo to close the set. The band came back for a one song instrumental encore to close the impressive show.

Kraz asked the audience if they had fun and if he did other shows like this one, would they come back. The audience clapped and shouted an enthusiastic, collective “yes.” We agree and want to see more of Kraz, playing his original songs with his talented friends and covering more of the music that led him on his musical path.

Photos courtesy of Andy J Gordon ©2023

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