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Robert Randolph & the Family Band headlines Downtown Summerfest

Robert Randolph has turned playing the steel guitar on its head.

Randolph can keep up with the best of the best blues, rock, soul and other genre guitarists, all while sitting down. Randolph learned it all attending church.

“That’s just from growing up in my church, which was sort of this Buena Vista Social Club of steel guitar,” he said. “It’s been going on, it’s an 80-year-old tradition in our church, where guys have always played the instrument and it was basically the organ of our church, you know, steel guitar. For years and years, all those guys who came before me were sort of my mentors, and those were really the great ones to watch. That was really fun to be a part of that and to grow up into that and just be able to spread so much love and joy through the music.”

When he was growing up, Randolph’s mentors at the church were his equivalent to B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Albert King and Albert Collins. As an adult, he would share stages with some of those blues legends.

“For me, it was always great,” Randolph said. “I always understood it. I never really got intimidated, because it was just like me playing in a church. You know, I would always have to play in front of the older guys who I learned from and was trained to not be intimidated, because you didn’t want to mess up the service. You know, so once I started getting around Eric Clapton and B.B. King and Buddy Guy and all those guys, it was just like, well, I just gotta do what I can do and not try and do what they do. That’s always the rule. That’s why they appreciate me, because I’m not trying to be like them. I’m just trying to channel some version of those guys, and that’s what keeps music going and keeps everybody inspired.”

Robert Randolph and the Family Band takes the opportunity on tour to test new songs on audiences.

“That’s the fun part about it: You get to go out there and you get to perform and do other things and yeah really test out and see how the audience responds to them,” Randolph said. “… Everybody’s got so many different musical elements and different parts, but we kind of make them all come together. It can work and kind of brings it all into one place. It’s really fun to test out. Some things may be a little bluesy. Some things may be a little more rock ‘n’ roll. Some things may be a little more soulful, so we kind of mesh all three together to make it fit.”

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