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On February 7, 2003, renowned artists across music genres and generations commandeered the stage atNew York City's Radio City Music Hall to pay tribute to their common heritage and passion: the blues. Shared with thousands of fans in attendance, legendary performers from the roots of rock, jazz,and rap joined forces for a once-in-a-lifetime salute to the blues benefit concert whose proceeds went to musical education. Executive produced by Martin Scorcese, produced by Alex Gibney and directed by Antoine Fuqua, LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE captures the night's magic and weaves a history of blues through the juxtaposition of performers, backstage interviews, rehearsals, and archival clips of some of the greatest names in American music, from blues royalty like Buddy Guy and B. B. King to theirmusical heirs ranging from John Fogerty and Bonnie Raitt to Mos Def and Indie.Arie.
Part concert, part history lesson, part summit meeting, and all blues, Lightning in a Bottle puts a bright spotlight on this quintessential American music. There are some heavy hitters at work here, both behind the camera (Martin Scorsese executive produced, while the film was directed by Antoine Fuqua of Training Day and King Arthur) and especially in front of it, with a superb house band and a mind-boggling array of musicians (including B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Solomon Burke, Keb' Mo', Macy Gray, the Neville Brothers, Robert Cray, and John Fogerty, to name but a few) performing at New York's Radio City Music Hall in February, 2003. The idea was to trace the music from its beginnings; thus we get an African song (by Angelique Kidjo), some early gospel blues (the great Mavis Staples), acoustic Delta blues, and so on, right up to blues-drenched electric rock and even some rap (a riveting version of Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" by Chuck D.). Virtually all of the immortals who defined the blues (Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and even Jimi Hendrix, whose fiery style is re-enacted by Buddy Guy) enter the picture, either through vintage film clips or new performances of their songs. One might wish for more insight into the influence of the blues on jazz (Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," sung here by India.Arie, is a fine song, but it's not a blues tune) or country, but overall, Lightning in a Bottle is an edifying and, most important, highly entertaining portrait of the music and its heritage. --Sam Graham