Booker T turns back the clock as Suffolk Theater looks forward

Booker T, left, along with lead guitarist of the Booker T Band, Vernon "Ice" Black.

Booker T, left, along with lead guitarist of the Booker T Band, Vernon “Ice” Black.

Nine years ago today, current owners Bob and Dianne Castaldi purchased the Suffolk Theater. And close to a year ago, the East Main Street venue opened its doors to the public for the first time in over 20 years.

On Sunday night, the theater took another welcome step back in time as music legend Booker T. took the stage. Meanwhile, the theater as a whole has its sights set on a stronger sophomore year moving forward.

“Things are on the way up,” said Mr. Castaldi after the show.

The house was nearly packed with cabaret tables full of attendees — “pretty good for a Sunday night,” he said. Mr. Castaldi also pointed to an improved sound system up on stage after hearing some feedback following the Johnny Winter show last weekend, which brought another full house, and at the very least, a more than recognizable name at the venue.

And Booker T., a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee who — with his band, Booker T. & the MG’s — earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, had several more big names to recall for the audience during his Sunday night performance.

Switching between organ and guitar throughout the night, the 69-year-old Booker T. told the crowd how his role in Bob Dylan’s original recording of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” came about, spoke about collaborating with Bill Withers, and remembered the music that first inspired him growing up in Memphis — the blues.

Just before the intermission, the Booker T. Jones Band — also comprised of lead guitarist Vernon “Ice” Black, drummer Darian Gray and bassist Melvin Brannon Jr. — performed Booker T.’s most famous track “Green Onions,” followed by covers of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Hey Joe,” and “Mannish Boy.”

The second set brought a couple tracks from Booker T.’s new album, “Sound the Alarm,” in addition to classics “Time is Tight” and “Soul Limbo” before coming out with a cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya” for part of the encore.

“This is my kind of music,” Mr. Castaldi said, and the crowd seemed to agree, offering the band a standing ovation after the show.

While the theater recently welcomed its third general manager in less than a year, Booker T. is just the first big name that will be performing in downtown Riverhead in coming weeks, which speaks to Mr. Castaldi’s optimism. Grammy-winners Shawn Colvin and Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks (who performed at the theater’s opening last year) will be playing in the next two months, while comic Nick DiPaolo — often seen on Comedy Central roasts — will be performing as well.