Live Review: The Santana Project in Detroit, MI

Material: The Santana Project (TSP) is a Detroit-based ensemble that celebrates the music of Carlos Santana—from the Woodstock era to his contemporary hits. This eight-piece outfit performs letter perfect renditions of the Santana legacy, yet also delves into classic rock, with a strong rhythmic core, that seamlessly crosses over into, and is influenced by, the guitar master’s Latin-infused orbit. 

Musicianship: All members are first-call players. However, from the very first downbeat, it is clear the prime focus is on the music and not the individual. Each musician brings something vital to the table. Lead vocalist Counts is an enthusiastic showman who is the perfect conduit between the band and the audience. He enunciates extremely well and is also an effective utility person on guitar and hand percussion. 

Lead guitarist Quiroz is in the hot seat and delivers the “Santana” role with passion, aplomb and taste. Porenta’s keyboard work is totally on point and simultaneously enhances as it inspires the band. The heart of the group is in their rhythmic bank of drums, percussion and bass. Slitti, Villaruel and Arnet dovetail nicely on congas, timbales and shakers. Tomlinson and Maisano complete the picture and lock in every groove for maximum dance ability and feel. 

Performance: It was a warm summer night in suburban Detroit and TSP illuminated the famous Lincoln Park band shell—graced over the years by so many famous Motor City acts, from MC5 to Bob Seger. They performed a two-hour set that began with the uplifted and gyrating “Everybody’s Everything.” They followed with a smooth percussion breakdown and segued into the mainstay “Evil Ways.” On a more contemporary side they tipped their hat to Steve Winwood’s collaboration with Santana doing the staple “I’m A Man” and morphing into the soulful and socially observant “Why Can’t We Live Together?” Counts picked up a guitar at the beginning of the second set for some harmonic and inspired dueling with Quiroz on the song “Open Invitation.”

Summary: TSP has been on the Midwest music scene for a couple years now and really seem to be picking up steam in terms of notoriety and bookings. And it’s easy to see why! They have tapped into a portion of the tribute market that is not overexposed and they present the music honestly and with panache.

Contact: [email protected]

Web: facebook.com/thesantanaproject 

Players: Darian Counts, lead vocals, guitar, percussion; John Quiroz, guitar, backup vocals; Monte Porenta, keyboards; Tom Arnet, percussion; Ernesto Villaruel, percussion; John Slitti, percussion; Hank Tomlinson, bass guitar; Gino Maisano, drums.

Photo by Eric Harabadian