By Bliss Bowen
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
As venue operators and artists gingerly navigate restrictions surrounding live music and anticipate California’s June 15 reopening, blues promoter Cadillac Zack has begun hosting shows again.
This Saturday, Southern California blues veteran Kim Wilson (best known as the harmonica-packing frontman for the Fabulous Thunderbirds) will give two performances backed by Nathan James & the Rhythm Scratchers on the outdoor patio of Matt Denny’s Ale House in Arcadia.
Those shows follow three others Zack presented across the Southland last weekend with blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher, including one at Matt Denny’s. The venue rebuilt the wall facing its patio after a windstorm last February tore down brickwork and cabinetry and otherwise damaged the space.
“It was a little bit under the radar,” Zack said of the shows. “They all sold out. People were really looking forward to seeing something, as you can imagine. It was outside, we took temperatures, and everybody had to present vaccine cards at the gate.”
Wilson is widely respected for his burly performance style and encyclopedic understanding of blues music and history. After moving to Austin from California in the 1970s, he was mentored by Muddy Waters, and in 1974 founded the Fabulous Thunderbirds with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan.
The band’s Dave Edmunds-produced 1986 hit “Tuff Enough” made them a commercial force for a time, but their most enduring legacy is how their dynamic live shows helped reignite interest in roadhouse blues. By the 1990s, Wilson was dividing his time between the T-Birds and solo recordings and tours. Hopefully Saturday’s sets will include songs from his gritty 2020 album “Take Me Back: The Bigtone Sessions.”
Wilson’s early show quickly sold out, and Zack expects the second will too (there will be a waiting list in case of cancellations). But more live blues shows are planned for summer. Other shows booked thus far in Arcadia and Monrovia feature Laith Al-Saadi, Guitar Shorty, the Atomic 44s, Chris Cain, Josh Smith and Jimmy Vivino; Sugarmill Slim is slated to play the Copper Still Grill in Monrovia June 19. Whether county restrictions will still mandate small audiences for those shows remains an open question.
“It’s all going to depend on the metrics of the 15th,” Zack said. “I can’t even make a prediction until they tell me because LA County, which has jurisdiction over that area, makes their own rules. They can override whatever the governor says, so I’m hoping they’re going to say, ‘Yeah, 100% capacity,’ but if you call people at the county, they say, ‘We won’t know until the 15th.’ … It’s a total guessing game as to what’s going to happen. It’s excruciating.”
Kim Wilson with Nathan James & the Rhythm Scratchers
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 12
WHERE: Matt Denny’s Ale House, 145 E. Huntington Drive, Arcadia
COST: Call for ticket information
INFO: 626-462-0250, mattdennys.com/live-music,
or text Cadillac Zack at 323-377-5291