Benise will heat up Packard Music Hall with ‘Fuego!’

As a street musician in Los Angeles, Benise got immediate feedback on what caught a listener’s attention.

“If you don’t get someone to stop as they’re walking by, you’re not making money, you’re not eating, you’re not paying rent,” he said during a telephone interview. “You have to write music that captures people and captures them right away.”

Benise has turned that knowledge into a career that has included more than a dozen CDs, several concert DVDs that have become PBS specials and a book (“The Notes Less Traveled”). He brings his latest production, “Fuego!,” to Packard Music Hall on Tuesday as part of the Warren Civic Music Association’s 2018-19 season.

Benise plays a Spanish guitar, but that’s not how he he started. He was born in that hotbed of Latin culture — Nebraska — and got his first guitar at age 11.

“I grew up playing rock guitar,” he said. “My guitar idols were Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue music there. I ran across Spanish guitar there and knew that’s what I should be doing. I switched to Spanish guitar and started performing on the street because no club or bar was paying for a Spanish guitarist.”

Benise built a large enough following as a street musician that he put together his first theater show, which caught the attention of PBS and launched his current touring career.

The other performers he met as a street musician — Cirque du Soleil-style performers, ballet dancers, African drummers — helped shape the shows he took to theaters.

“I thought I’d put them all together to perform around my music,” Benise said.

“Fuego!” features 12 performers (seven dancers and five musicians) drawing from a variety of cultures and musical styles.

“There’s Spanish guitar and flamenco dancers, but they also do salsa, waltzes and sambas,” he said. “It’s a journey of music from around the world.”

And he hasn’t abandoned his first musical passions. The show also includes a bit of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC as well.

“With this one, I really wanted to celebrate what got me into Spanish guitar and the beauty of flamenco and do a fusion of styles with a little rock ‘n’ roll,” Benise said. “The audience loves that. It’s something fresh, something new.”

One number in “Fuego!” features a dancer wearing a dress of 1,000 red roses. Another carnival-inspired segment bring the dancers out into the crowd and throwing beads to the audience members.

When Benise started, the music came first, and the live shows involved creating the best way to complement them visually. After creating several shows, Benise sometimes comes up with visual ideas first then creates the music to accompany them.

“I’ll create a beautiful vignette and compose the music around it,” he said. “It’s really like writing the soundtrack for a movie. You’re telling a story. Every song tells a story, and the music has to have highs and lows, same as the show.”


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