Benjamin Booker has been on the ACL radar for a couple of years now. So we were thrilled to finally host the singer/songwriter/guitarist for his debut taping, which we streamed live around the world. The New Orleans-based Booker gifted us with a soulful, standout show, featuring plenty of songs from his highly anticipated sophomore album Witness, out in June.
But first Booker revisited his acclaimed 2014 self-titled debut with a quartet of rocking tunes. He and his four-piece band kicked off the show with the galloping “Have You Seen My Son?” The rhythms stayed blazing for “Old Hearts,” before slipping into a shuffling boogie for “Chippewa,” Booker’s husky croon taking on a playful cast. The band grabbed hold of a sexy groove for “Happy Homes,” highlighted by a bluesy guitar solo. Booker put down his guitar for “Off the Ground,” a Witness tune that started as a lush soul ballad but transformed into a snarling rocker. Speaking of which, he re-donned his guitar and launched into the familiar riff of his radio hit “Violent Shiver,” garnering cheers from the crowd. He then brought on “someone I’ve never performed with before but I’ve known for a long time” – his big sister Nicole, who added harmonies to the fast-choogling “Wicked Water.”
“This is my first time with backing singers,” Booker commented. “I’ve made it, people!” Three vocalists joined Nicole for a set from the new record, starting with the relaxed and funky “Overtime.” The hip-swaying “Slow Drag Under” followed, setting itself up as a cut likely to be in his repertoire for the rest of his career. Rock & roll returned to the menu with the rollicking “Right On You,” before Booker once again set aside his axe for the new record’s single, the gospel-soaked anthem “Witness” – already a clear crowd favorite. He continued channeling his inner soul man for “Carry,” before strapping on the guitar once again for the accordion-laced, set-closing ballad “Slow Coming.”
The audience wanted more, of course, and Booker was ready, bounding back onstage. Bringing on a string section to accompany himself and the band, he manned the mic for the soul-stirring anthem “Believe.” “I just want to believe in something,” he sang, “I don’t care if it’s right or wrong.” The song was definitely right, and the crowd showed its appreciation quite loudly. One group bow later, Booker and band quit the stage to a rapturous reception. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you to see it when the episode airs this fall on your local PBS station.