Carlos Santana, Las Vegas' hometown guitar hero

Carlos Santana
While the musician prepares for a new two-year residency at the House of Blues on the Strip, he's also pondering a joint project with ... Gustavo Dudamel?

Just for a moment, as Carlos Santana was outlining the philosophy underlying his latest business venture, it started to sound as if he might be branching out into the food service industry.

“What we do is focus on making everything fresh," the veteran musician and bandleader said. “I remind people: 'Ooh—don't bring last night's leftovers! Make it fresh and new and people will feel it.'"

He's not launching a new Subway sandwich franchise but a two-year residency at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, where beginning May 2 he'll be holding court for 80 nights a year with a reimagined show he's calling “Greatest Hits Live: Santana—Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow."

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist and bandleader had the notion of freshness on his mind during recent swing through Los Angeles, because this new engagement comes on the heels of another residency he wrapped up last year down the Strip at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

The House of Blues show promises to be different because its 1,500-person capacity makes it less than half the size of the 4,000-seat Joint. Santana's also looking for a regular infusion of fresh ingredients in his new enterprise from his vast network of friends and collaborators.

“Tomorrow is the unknown, so how do you rehearse the unknown?" the 64-year-old musician born in Jalisco, Mexico, said while sitting back in a comfortable chair in his hotel room overlooking Beverly Hills, looking sharp in a gold-and-black houndstooth suit and crisp straw fedora (more than likely from his own Santana hat line). “To me, the unknown is inviting African musicians to join us, or Buddy Guy or Derek Trucks or Ben Harper, people from Phish, Warren Haynes—that's what 'Tomorrow' is bringing to the House of Blues.

“I call it a living laboratory," he said. “We play the beginning [of a set] and we play the end, but in the middle, we're going to create some experimentation so you can witness a backward flip into the unknown. In other words, there's no set list in the middle. We will create something so you can just close your eyes and go on a journey with us."

Santana's journey has taken him from Mexico to his musical coming-of-age in the Bay Area, where he assembled the group that combined strains of rock, Latin, African and Cuban music into a heady, percolating blend. It fit well with the extended-jam mentality that was emerging from the region with the Grateful Dead and Moby Grape (Santana, in fact, played Woodstock) but actually drew from the long traditions of the native music of other lands.

The global reach of Santana's music is something he sees fitting perfectly into the entertainment mix in Las Vegas, even though Sin City might seem at odds with the spirituality that's been a key part of Santana—the man and the band.

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