It’s been 10 years since Robert and Elise Norman purchased, remodeled and reopened Crystal Bay Casino. And the casino’s Crown Room should be in full swing Saturday night, with Robert Randolph & the Family Band taking the stage to celebrate the occasion.
“It was 10 years ago at the end of July that this place opened,” Crystal Bay General Manager Bill Wood said. “We’re doing a series of shows for the remainder of the year. We had Grace Potter and then we’re doing this one. We’re just bringing in some special guests to celebrate for the 10th anniversary.”
The Family Band is Robert Randolph (guitar, lap steel guitar, vocals), Danyel Morgan (bass, vocals), Marcus Randolph (drums, vocals), Lenesha Randolph (backup vocals) and Brett Haas (guitar, vocals). Haas is the only member of the group not related to Randolph.
The funk and soul group first drew attention with its debut record, 2002’s “Live at the Wetlands,” and has since released four more studio albums. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named Robert Randolph No. 97 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitarists
“Lickety Split,” the band’s newest album, was released July 16. It has received enthusiastic praise from USA Today, Rolling Stone and The New York Times, according to Randolph.
“It’s a really cool record featuring Trombone Shorty and Carlos Santana and Buddy Guy,” the frontman said. “You know, it’s just got real good old school, new school, Family Band flavor and lots of energy. It’s just a record that brings a lot of joy to everyone’s hearts.”
The album was recorded in Los Angeles and Nashville under the guidance of Eddie Kramer, an audio producer known in the recording industry for his work with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Jimi Hendrix and others.
“Basically Eddie Kramer is the guy that invented almost all the sounds that we hear in studios these days,” Randolph said. “It was great to have him in the studio just to give us that sense of freedom.”
Kramer’s oversight of the recording process allowed the Family Band to focus on the music.
“He was like, ‘Hey, get back to the energy and the dancing, what you guys used to do. That sound, powerful, energetic, joyous sound,’” Randolph said.
Recording sessions represented a return to the bands roots in a sense, abandoning a strict and organized approach in favor of looser, more spontaneous structure.
“I think it was just about going back really to the beginning,” Randolph said. “Sort of just everybody get in the studio and just play and let song titles and lyrics and things like that come to you after we sort of got the music going. That’s how a lot of the cool rock bands, a lot of people do. It starts with the music, for us especially, so we were able to get back to that.”
Randolph also credited the sense of freedom in part to the band’s new label, Capitol’s Blue Note Records. He noted that Blue Note’s executives, producers and other management clearly understand and accommodate the musician’s point of view, unlike other labels he has worked with.
“If you look at it, I mean, that’s been the history of Capitol Blue Note, a long rich history of original music,” Randolph said. “Guys being themselves and having that free space to create, and that’s really been the great thing about being on this new label.”
Randolph has been creating in another capacity, working to establish the Robert Randolph Music & Arts Charter School in north New Jersey, where he grew up.
“We got the curriculum and everything down. We’re on the verge of closing on an old closed-down school building,” the musician said. “It’s basically going to open from 6 a.m. to 11:30, midnight. We’re going to do everything in there, show kids music, arts, dancing, photography.”
Randolph hopes the school will address increasing criminal and gang activity in his hometown.
“Where I’m from in New Jersey, Newark, the surrounding areas, the kids have just kind of turned into gangs, because there’s no music and arts and stuff to enrich them,” he said. “I’m just stepping up for my own community.”
This summer has seen the band on tour. They spent two weeks of June in Europe before kicking off their West Coast tour in early July. This run brings them to Crystal Bay Casino, where the band has appeared in the past.
“It’s just a cool little space man, I like it,” Randolph said of the casino’s Crown Room. “Usually always a good crowd in there, sounds good, feels good. It’s a good place to go to.”
Robert Randolph & the Family Band is known for encouraging audience participation in its lively shows, a possibility at the Crystal Bay show.
“We usually someway, somehow include the fans; either get them on stage singing or playing the guitar or something,” Randolph said, noting that this has led to less than skilled guest guitarists being led offstage in the past, perhaps sooner than they would have liked.
Regardless, expect a lively, high-energy show Saturday.
“It’s a great blues, rock, rootsy show to come to; sort of this gospel, church, rock ‘n’ roll experience all in one,” Randolph said. “Come with your dancing shoes on and be ready to rock.”