Carlos Santana | YouTube screenshot
By Joe Livernois
Most of the rubble had been cleared, but the Central Coast was still edgy six weeks after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. There’s nothing like a good shake of the terra to worry your psychic firma. The damn thing shook our world on Oct. 17, 1989, but then Carlos Santana showed up about 40 days later to settle the vibe.
We all remember where we were when the ground shimmied and shook. I was barking orders at a bunch of scurvy reporters who were trying to sneak out of the office early to catch the first pitch of the Bay Bridge Series. The World Series was supposed to showcase the San Francisco region to legions of baseball fans. The earthquake changed everything in a moment. Buildings and bridges collapsed. People died. Infrastructure was de-frastructured. Tim McCarver shut up for once.
I also remember where I was when Santana rocked the Central Coast in a good way. In a healing-vibes way. That would be at the football field at the Watsonville High School on Nov. 26, about 40 days later.
Santana was one of three headliners at three different venues for relief concerts promoted by Bill Graham Presents. The concerts were referred to as “Earthquake Relief — It’s Everybody’s Fault.” The lineup included Bobby McFerrin, Neil Young, Pete Escovedo, Bonnie Raitt and Crosby, Stllls & Nash, among others, at the Cow Palace and in Oakland. Bob Hope even showed up in San Francisco. Tickets were twenty bucks a pop.
In Watsonville, in deference to the crowd and the location, entrance to the football field was only $5. To see Santana. With Los Lobos opening.
“People were ready for some entertainment,” deadpanned Lane Wallace, my go-to Santa Cruz rock swami.
This wasn’t just the new and allegedly improved Santana who got all woo-woo and collaborative on everyone. I know it’s bad mojo to write this out loud, but I’m not much into the synthesized Santana sharing the stage with some kid from some other band. Give me the hard-charging improvisational percussion-heaven messy Santana any day. He’d gone off on an experimental phase with all sorts of good intentions and odd consolidations for a while. But the good old Santana showed up in Watsonville on Nov. 26, 1986.
This was classic, vintage Carlos Santana and the band we all grew up admiring. Armando Peraza was on the congas. Brother Jorge kicked ass with solo after solo on his Fender. Alex Ligertwood was in was in full voice and full hair. It wasn’t the band he started off with back in 1966 in San Francisco, but it knew its way around the Santana classics.
There is great video of the show. All three benefit shows were broadcast live on KQED. (And, yeah, imagine something like that happening again.) The Santana video is generous with the crowd shots and there are plenty of sublime scenes. Half of the UC Santa Cruz student body was apparently there.
There was a time when the entire set was available on YouTube, but some jerk apparently got it removed. But you can still catch individual performances if you’re handy with a computer keyboard. “Toussaint Louverture” is my personal favorite. In fact, if you don’t care for what Carlos and his brother do on “Toussaint Louverture,” I don’t even want to know you. Just go away, you monster.
But I wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t at least throw in a paragraph or two about what my favorite guys did that day. What Los Lobos did was this: They opened for Santana and they nearly set off Loma Prieta, the Sequel. The day kicked off with accordion-crazy “Anselma,” and the band didn’t take a breath until they finished off the final bars of “La Bamba” about 60 minutes later.
And, in this case, I’m happy to report good news on the video front. The entire Los Lobos set is still available in one big snatch here. If nothing else, stick it out to watch Cesar Rosas work up a sweat while absolutely shredding the bomb out of “La Bamba.” Appropriate to the event, the band ended its eartrhquake relief set with “Shakin Shakin Shakes.” Of course.
At the end of the day, Earthquake Relief raised $2 million. But the main thing was the healing vibes; the Santana brothers were in the neighborhood for a day.
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