The Samples

Mile High Music Festival Turns Three Years Old

I have to admit, when I heard several months ago that the Mile High Music Festival would be recycling headliners, and only a few years into its tenure on the festival scene, I rolled my eyes and considered skipping the whole thing this year.  I mean, Dave Matthews is only one of thousands of musicians suitable for headlining a festival with

After 20 Years The Samples Call it Quits

photos by Tim Hurley- for the Grateful Web

The rough road of the music industry has taken its toll on yet another talented rock band.  After touring for over 20 years and releasing over 20 albums, The Samples have decided to officially part ways.  Though the group has gone through many lineup changes since forming in Boulder, Colorado in 1987, primary songwriter/singer/guitarist Sean Kelly had continued to perform and release albums under The Samples moniker.

The band gained popularity early on by blending elements of breezy pop, reggae, and jam-rock.  They generated mass appeal as one of the mainstays on the early H.O.R.D.E. festival tours that also included emerging acts like Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, Phish, All Good, and more.  Their well-received albums "No Room" and "Last Drag" saw heavy rotation through college radio stations during the mid-90s, and their live concerts were always full of incredible energy.

Determined to keep the band alive, Kelly carried on the Samples name after original members Jeep MacNichol, Al Laughlin, and Andy Sheldon left the group to pursue other interests.  Though their popularity waned over the last the few years, many die-hard fans still packed venues to hear their favorite tunes.

The following is a message from Sean Kelly's MySpace page describing his love for the band and ultimately his decision to move on:

I want start by saying that I may be able to write songs and play a guitar but my spelling and grammar has never been my best asset. I am usually pretty good however in getting my point across none the less. So if you notice some words out of place go easy on me. I am writing this email on a beautiful spring Vermont night way up on the 45th parallel. Lake Champlain is outside sleeping and I have a few updates regarding The Samples.

The long and winding road for The Samples has ended. Outside of possibly playing a few rumored dates with the original line up next fall, The Samples will be no longer. I have also canceled any and all upcoming Samples dates. I sincerely apologize for the recent cancellations, I have only canceled two shows in 22 years and I always do my best to prevent this anyway possible.

From all the beautiful landscapes across America, to the bus engine roaring under my bed, it's been a long and beautiful ride with endless and difficult ups and downs that I would not trade for anything. I put my heart and soul into every show, and on every record. I hope that it translated. I feel a bit like Forest Gump when he stopped running, turned around and said "I think I am going to go home now". I have been such a driving force in The Samples that I never stopped to notice how I have neglected many aspects of myself and many of the other things that used to really make me happy.

Such a beautiful thing so unprotected, endangered, rare and one of a kind!

I welcome change, perseverance and any ideas to incorporate into my solo career. I am very much exited to pursue many different and new challenges.

Still The Samples After All These Years

photos by Tim Hurley- for the Grateful Web

The first time I saw the Samples perform was at a tiny little bar in Des Moines, Iowa called Z-International (long gone now) in 1991.  I was a freshman in high school, and to me and my friend's delight it was an all-ages show.  Even at sixteen years old, I could tell I was seeing a band that was unique and ahead of their time.  Their blend of roots, rock, and reggae was on the cusp of the indie rock explosion.  I was hooked.

A lot has changed since those days.  While I went on to graduate from a small private college in Minnesota and eventually move to my current home in Colorado, the Samples went through many ups and downs.  The original gang consisting of Sean Kelly, Andy Sheldon, Al Laughlin, and Jeep MacNichol broke off and went their separate ways in 1997, essentially ending the band as most knew it.  However, singer/songwriter/guitarist Sean Kelly would not let his musical dreams lie easy, and vowed to continue performing under The Samples name.

Kelly has gone through a host of backing musicians since then with varying success, none as great as the days before the release of Outpost (the last album recorded by the original band members).  Nevertheless, as I learned recently at a show in Denver, Sean Kelly and The Samples have persevered and continue to write and record new material while still performing to large, devoted crowds.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the inception of the Samples, and what better way to celebrate than with a pair of home state shows.  Before their well-received performance at majestic Copper Mountain, they played at a relatively new venue in Denver called The Walnut Room, where I was fortunate to see the current lineup play.

Although I was none too excited about the layout of the venue, the sound quality was very good.  And to my surprise, the music room was filled to near capacity with twenty and thirty-somethings all braving a late Thursday night to hear some old favorites and hopefully catch on to a new one.

Even after twenty years, Sean Kelly's voice and guitar work is still excellent.  And I must say that the current lineup he has assembled (Bill Mutchler on drums, Jared Johnson on bass, Karl Dietel on keys/vocals, and Dan Blondin on guitar/vocals) complements his music very well.

The evening's set list was full of songs old and new.  Fan favorites such as "Did You Ever Look So Nice" and "Feel Us Shaking" were played with almost the same energy as in the days they were written.  Other gems performed included "Weight of the World", "Taking Us Home", and the catchy pop-folk track from Outpost, "Indiana".  More recently written tunes like "Black and White", and "Young and Free" peppered the show and proved that Sean Kelly is still a great songwriter.

It was reminiscent, refreshing, and just plain fun to hear the music of The Samples again.  Sean Kelly continues to find musicians that play his music so well, and I have no doubt that the band will forge ahead and enjoy some moderate successes as they are still one of the most unsung artists of my generation.