On exhibit: Jose Feliciano's enduring appeal in Fairfield Museum performance
Jose Feliciano, showcasing the legendary musicianship that prompted Fairfield Museum and History Center officials to include him in their "Rockin' Top 10" exhibit, performed live at the museum Saturday night.
The Grammy Award-winner's show was planned in conjunction with the exhibit, on display through April 28, which celebrates musicians who shaped the community's musical legacy. The audience included Feliciano's family -- wife Susan and children Melissa, Michael and Jonathan -- as well as musicians Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, author/musician Robert Steven Williams and Selectman Cristin McCarthy-Vahey.
"I'm so excited my father can be a part of this," said Melissa Feliciano, visitor services manager for the museum. "He doesn't usually perform for a small group acoustically. It will be special for everyone involved."
Michael Jehle, the museum's executive director, welcomed the audience by noting that it provided an opportunity to "be with someone internationally acclaimed and also our neighbor." He added the performance is another way the museum is "pulling out all the stops for the 375th" anniversary of Fairfield's founding.
Tom Perkins, who came Glastonbury for the performance, recalled seeing Feliciano perform on TV's "Ed Sullivan Show" many years ago, performing The Doors' "Light My Fire". "The way he did it, on Spanish guitar, finger picking ... I was amazed," he said. "His style is a hybrid of rock, jazz and Spanish guitar, and just a joy to listen to."
Born blind in Lares, Puerto Rico, Feliciano came to New York as a child and launched his career in Greenwich Village. At 68, he now is a Weston resident and remains humble, boyish, mischievous and full of humor. Wearing his trademark sunglasses and seated on a stool at the front of the room, he joked with the audience, "I just got done smoking a joint, so I'm ready to go. I'm just joking. I don't do that before a show. People ask me if I smoke cigarettes. That's the only thing I don't smoke."
The remark set the tone for the evening as the performer mixed anecdotes with songs that conjured memories and masterful guitar skills.
He opened with "California Dreamin,' " which he recorded in 1968, after hearing the Mamas & the Papas play it. He also played an original Spanish tune, noting, "I like to connect people with my roots. I can't get away from being Latino. It's important to be who you are."
Remarking that he wanted to be a banjo picker, he played Earl Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" in that style. And expressing sadness over the recent death of folk legend Pete Seeger, performed Seeger's classic "If I Had a Hammer".
The program continued with an instrumental, "Affirmation," inspired by a chapter in a meditation-oriented book written by a yogi. Other songs on the evening's bill included the Kingston Trio's "Greenback Dollar," Hoyt Axton's "Never Been to Spain," James Taylor's "Fire & Rain," Frankie Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" and Feliciano's own "Nina," dedicated to his daughter.
Closing with The Doors' "Light My Fire," Feliciano offered prayers for the victims of the recent landslide in Washington state; hope that the lost Malaysian airliner would be found; peace to the world and, in a last gest, that Gov. Dannel Malloy would legalize marijuana.