Steve and Lilly Winwood, Sands Event Center, Bethlehem, PA, March 15, 2018,

Apr 24, 2018 Web Exclusive
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It was all in the family for the Winwoods on the last night of Steve Winwood's Greatest Hits Tour in Bethlehem, PA, a tour which saw the artist joined by his 21-year-old daughter Lilly, who opened the show. The elder Winwood's musical legacy runs deep, spanning more than 50 years starting when he 15 years old and still known as Stevie, a piano prodigy with the Spencer Davis Group. His latest tour celebrates that legacy, traversing decades, from his time with Spencer Davis Group through his work with Blind Faith and Traffic, and on to his illustrious solo career highlighted by '80s hits such as "Higher Love" and "Back in the High Life Again."  His daughter, 6 years older now than when her father started his career, recently released her own debut EP, a stellar collection of singer-songwriter fare that highlights her own remarkable voice and introspective writing.

Lilly opened the show on this evening, playing solo to a sold out crowd. What could have easily been an intimidating affair seemed natural, with Winwood displaying a commanding stage presence and confidence that belied her age. Playing songs from her Silver Stage EP and a few new tracks, Winwood stunned, her spectacular voice captivating an audience that was largely biding time until the main act. Her songs, many which dealt with themes of travel and the road, sounded in this solo context like they could fit perfectly within the recent resurgence of classic country (albeit minus the twang), honest and relatable reflections of a young life.

The EP's title track was transfixing, a road song a la those of Bob Seger or Jackson Browne, fingerpicked beautifully despite Winwood admitting to having gotten drunk and shutting her finger in a trash can the previous night, which made the song significantly painful to play. Elsewhere, among tracks from her EP, a newer song, title not shared, was a set highlight, with a theme of the time on the road and a refrain where she laments not being able to return home, having "a few more records to sell."

In a particularly awkward moment, one particularly boisterous buffoon in the front row yelled, "Get some, young lady!" This was after Winwood urged the crowd to buy some of her merchandise post-show using the odd phrasing, "Get some sugar." It was unclear if this concertgoer's behavior was some bizarre catcall or simply a somewhat inappropriate vote of confidence, but Winwood took the comment in stride, saying "What?" and "I'm not going to respond to that," and continuing her set. It was an unfortunate distraction from a terrific set of songs by an up-and-coming songwriter who has clearly inherited some of her father's prestigious gift.

As for the main act, when the elder Winwood took the stage with his five-piece band and begun the 1966 Spencer Davis Group classic, "I'm A Man," which Winwood wrote, the crowd was quickly whipped into a frenzy. Over 11 songs and 90 minutes that spanned his entire career, Winwood showed the crowd that, at 69 years old, he has not lost a step.

"Pearly Queen," a track originally from Traffic's 1968 self-titled album, with its trippy extended psychedelic organ solo, sounded as vital today as it did 50 years ago. The title track of Traffic's 1971 album, Low Spark of High Heeled Boys was a vibrant 14-minute jam that had patrons dancing in their seats. Known primarily for his work on the keys, Winwood displayed his prestigious guitar chops on songs like Blind Faith's "Had To Cry Today" and this night's penultimate track, the unrivaled "Dear Mr. Fantasy." Winwood's shredding on the latter never ever gets old. One of the greatest cheers of the night came when Winwood broke into the opening acoustic guitar figure of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," which elicited fans running up the center aisle to take pictures before being hastily whisked away by a particularly overzealous security guard.

After Winwood thanked the crowd for giving his daughter such a warm reception earlier in the night, Lilly was brought out to sing back-up for a few songs at the main set's conclusion. The '80s staples "Roll With It" and an extra-funky "Higher Love" were rendered smooth and endlessly groovy, supported by Lilly's vocals.

But it was another track that gave chills. Winwood came out for the encore, sans band, flanked only by his flute player and started the acoustic picking of his 1970 Traffic reworking of the British folk staple "John Barleycorn Is Dead." The song alone was a highlight of the evening's performance, but after the first verse, when Lilly came onto the stage to join her father, the results were spectacular. Steve and Lilly's voices melded perfectly, Lilly no longer in a backup capacity but harmonizing with her father in a manner that made the song even more beatific. One only wished more of the set featured both artists in equal capacity, harmonizing and working off one another to heavenly effect.

By the time of the concert closer, "Gimme Some Lovin'," it was clear that the crowd felt it had gotten more than its money's worth. A grooving, danceable song, extended live, the track understandably prompted those in the first 10-20 rows to get out of their seats and dance in the aisles. In the evening's one buzzkill moment, however, security was having none of it. As if the 60-somethings wanting to dance in the aisle to their favorite song closing the night, of a show they paid a good chunk of change to see, was a risk to the performer. The shame of it was, during the final number of the night, arguably Winwood's most classic track, what you could hear as much as the performance was security reprimanding people to back up and return to their seats.

One could say, however, that this was an unfortunate, yet minor inconvenience on a night so full of music, soul, and outstanding talent. We will be hearing more of Lilly Winwood. Her future is bright. Hopefully her father's life on the road is not dimming quite yet either. The man was and continues to be a musical revelation.


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