Headlining the 8th annual Blue Bear Benefit is Robert Randolph & The Family Band, a group well known for their powerhouse live performances, and led by a pedal steel virtuoso who has been called one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone. Hailing from Orange, NJ, Robert Randolph started playing the pedal steel guitar - or "Sacred Steel," as the instrument is referred to in many African-American Pentecostal churches - as a teenager in his local church. He was discovered while performing at a Sacred Steel Convention in Florida, and shortly thereafter opened for the North Mississippi Allstars and Medeski, Martin & Wood in prestigious New York venues. Keyboardist John Medeski asked Robert to join an instrumental gospel/blues album with members of North Mississippi Allstars; calling themselves The Word, the band released an eponymous album in 2001 to critical and popular acclaim. Robert himself set the live music world on fire with his high-energy performances, and his style of incorporating a mix of funk and soul into his pedal steel playing, giving a new secular, multicultural element to the "sacred steel."
The first Robert Randolph & The Family Band album, Live at the Wetlands, was released in 2002 just prior to the legendary club's closing. The band's 2003 studio debut, Unclassified, caught the attention of Eric Clapton, who invited the band to open for him on tour and later guested on their 2006 studio album Colorblind. They worked with producer T-Bone Burnett on their latest studio album We Walk This Road, released in 2010 and featuring guest appearances from Ben Harper and Leon Russell. In Robert's words, We Walk This Road "is a celebration of African-American music over the past one hundred years and its social messages from the last thirty. Although we cover a whole timeline of different eras... what ties these songs together remain their message of hope, their ability to uplift." The band's newest release is the live album Live In Concert, which captures performances recorded all across the U.S. with special guests such as Susan Tedeschi, Joey Williams of Blind Boys of Alabama and more.
Robert Randolph & The Family Band have performed on the Late Show with David Letterman and the PBS television program Austin City Limits, opened for such artists as the Dave Matthews Band, Derek Trucks Band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe and Soulive, and recorded with Ringo Starr, Santana and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Elton John and Leon Russell, Los Lobos, Buddy Guy, and Dirty Dozen Brass Band, amongst others. To listen to tracks and for more info: robertrandolph.net