Blues & Roots: Vieux Farka Toure w/ William Elliott Whitmore
It was a pretty quiet night on the hill in Boulder, CO at the Fox Theater, even though it was the beginning of the 1st annual Boulder Blues and Roots Summit Festival. This festival featured early shows at the Boulder Theater with guests like Leon Russell and Sheryl Crow, and concluded with late night shows at the Fox Theater, which this one was a part of. Several people in the audience were unaware that the festival was taking place and very confused as to why these two musicians were paired together. Their fans surely had very little in common.
As the opener William Elliott Whitmore walked on stage through the crowd, many revelers shook his hand, and greeted him excitedly. Whitmore himself seemed about as gentlemanly as anyone I have ever seen, although I cannot say the same thing about his fans. Most of them were really rude red neck types who had way too much to drink. But as the friendly folk hero set up on stage one could quickly differentiate the difference between the musician and the typical fan. He was very appreciative and humble. He had a banjo, acoustic guitar, and a bass drum on stage, and his music was a very bluesy alt country. He took breaks between songs to interact with the crowd even promising them whatever songs they would like. Someone in the audience yelled, “Friday night, fuck or fight.” The crowd laughed, and Whitmore replied, “Only one of those options is any good.” The Iowan, who was at the end of his tour, did a good job and calming the rowdies. He then played a sing-a-long song that the crowd seemed to appreciate called “Hell or High water.” His voice sounded like Bob Seger a lot. The one man show was a nice warm-up, but contrary to what the drunk red necks said in the bathroom, the show really did not start until Vieux and his crew came on to tear it up.
Vieux Farka Toure is the son of legendary Malian desert blues guitarist Ali Farka Toure. I listen to Ali a lot, and I even play the album called Ali and Toumani, for my daughter Isabella when she goes to sleep often. Vieux not only had the honor of playing percussion and adding vocals on the album, but accepting a Grammy for Best Traditional World Album on behalf of his late father and Toumani Diabate this past February at the 53rd Grammy Awards. Then, his career also sky rocketed this summer when he played for a billion people at the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I first heard Vieux himself play at Bonnaroo in 2009. I got to the stage a bit late, but I was amazed with what I heard. Since then, I have really wanted to see him again. I was really happy to see him coming to the Fox last Friday, May 13th. He opened with a really fast danceable song that sent the modest size crowd moving immediately. In his next song, which was slower, he really displayed his persona as an artist. Vieux has a very distinct sounding guitar and voice, which is angelic to say the least. His fingers fly on the guitar and make a clear, hollow, echo sound that allows one to recognize that it is the signature sound of either Ali or Vieux Farka Toure. In the middle of his set, when the show started to really get moving, the bass player, Mamadou Sidibe, started to invite several girls on stage to dance while the band jammed out. The girls stayed on stage for the song, and the venue all danced together in unison. The tempo stayed and the remainder of the show was upbeat and alive.
A lot of the set was played from his new album, which debuts on May 24 called The Secret, which is produced by Soulive and Lettuce’s Eric Krasno and features Ivan Neville, Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks, and John Scofield. My girlfriend picked up a signed copy on the way out of the venue, and I got a chance to tell him how my daughter falls asleep to his dad’s music. My girlfriend also insisted on a picture with the future legend.
Like Amadou and Mariam, Femi Kuti, Orchestra Baobab, and other under rated African musicians, many people need to start exposing themselves to this world of music. It is one of kind, and enlightening to get to know.