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Robert Randolph Expands The Family at Innsbrook



Dressed in a Mets jersey, jeans and trademark fedora (soon exchanged for a black doo-rag), Randolph, 27, sat down behind a pedal steel guitar painted with his name and launched into a blazing slide guitar instrumental. Ten minutes had passed when he flowed into his popular Sly and The Family Stone-influenced song "I Need More Love," alternating between high-energy steel guitar wizardry and slow bluesy riffs.

With his right hand picking, his left working a metal slide, and with key changes requiring foot pedals and knee levers, Randolph charmed the crowd of about 3,500 with his jam style of gospel-influenced, funky steel guitar. A few dozen dancing female concertgoers were invited onstage for one song, including some ladies who appeared to have watched too many "Girls Gone Wild" clips. By the time Richmonder and Dave Matthews Band keyboardist Butch Taylor bounded on for a guest spot, the swaying crowd had surged five-deep in front of the stage.

Despite the guests onstage, Randolph and company's musical virtuosity was the show's star. Randolph, who started playing drums in a New Jersey Pentecostal church and didn't take up the guitar until age 16, traded places with his drummer by 9 p.m., beginning a segment where everyone switched instruments at least once. The family was extended when "Dan from Callao," as Randolph introduced him — picked out of the audience at random, along with another audience member — ran to the stage for a "dueling guitars" segment.

The bouncing-like-jumping-beans crowd at the front inevitably gave way to some rudeness, the night's only down note.

"God bless you," Randolph admonished the crowd at show's end, "... don't let nobody take your joy." Fortunately I hadn't let a few rude people take mine. S

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