It was guitar night at ZooFest Friday.
Starting with The Mezcal Brothers’ Ben Kushner, who took the stage at 3 p.m., the Zoo Bar’s street festival showcased four superb players over 7 1/2 hours, each coming from a different roots music tradition.
Kushner’s rockabilly comes out of rock’s roots. Tinsley Ellis is from the blues. The astounding Junior Brown’s guit-steel work is country based. And The Paladins’ Dave Gonzalez throws all of the above into a blender.
“You’ve got to play what you feel,” Kushner said. “If you feel any of the styles deeply, you’re going to do well. But there’s differences even within a style. Then you look at Junior Brown, who throws in rock and surf, and what Dave does. When you bundle it like that and do it as well as they do, it’s extremely powerful and moving.”
For Gonzalez, his playing is based on the band with which he’s working. The Paladins played Lincoln for the first time in over a decade Friday. In the intervening years, Gonzalez has co-led five- and four-piece country-soul bands, the Hacienda Brothers and the Stone River Boys.
“We try to mix it all together, but we’re still just a trio,” Gonzalez said. “In the other bands, I could kind of lead people up, play something and them going. Now, I’m playing lead and rhythm at the same time. I’m not really playing melodic guitar. It’s playing every lick and the rhythm and letting it flow. It’s a workout.”
Another key, each of the guitarists reach back to those who have come before. You could hear that in Friday’s covers: The Mezcals rumbling through Link Wray’s “Rawhide,” Ellis putting a psychedelic stamp on Freddie King’s “Double Eye Wammy,” Brown putting an instrumental twist on Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man” and then closing with some blazing picking on Hank Garland’s classic country instrumental “Sugarfoot Rag” and The Paladins encoring with a blistering version of The Collins Kids’ “Mercy.”
Brown had the most jaws dropping Friday. If you’ve never seen him before, he’s mindboggling great and a fine showman. But each connected and, as indicated by Gonzalez’s praise of Kushner -- “anybody who has to come after him better be good” -- it was mutual admiration between the string benders.
There are, without question, bigger “names” who play guitar. But I’m pretty sure that there couldn’t have been a better grouping of guitarists anywhere Friday.
ZooFest 2013 concludes Saturday. The music starts at 1 p.m.