Mon, 11/19/2012 - 10:49 am

When Papadosio took over the Fox Theatre Thursday night and turned it into a hypnotic display of light, sound and video projections, the crowd and band both knew that something special was in store. This was documented at the end of the show when lead guitarist Anthony Thogmartin called Colorado a second home for the band to mass cheers and rooster crows. Chants of “O-H-I-O” broke through, and what was on display was a coming together of music lovers from around the country partaking in one of their favorite hobbies, and the same can be said for the band. If it’s true that music brings people together, it was on full display during Papadosio’s marathon long performance that churned at times like a quiet caravan squeaking through desert sandstorms and at other points roared like a locomotive at full bore barreling down the tracks.

In an age where we’ve been spoiled and somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of talent pouring forth from the evolving blend of the crunchy jam band scene and the bass pounding, fist pumping electronic scene, it’s always a pleasure when a band comes along and continues to keep audiences on our toes. Papadosio has seemingly embraced that notion and run with it, birthing a non-stop touring monster during their six years together.

Formed in Athens, Ohio, home to a wide variety of madness (Google Ohio University Halloween), Papadosio has been cutting their teeth on the road while crafting an intricate new double album years in the making called “T.E.T.I.O.S.” or “To End the Illusion of Separation.” Despite being based out of Asheville, North Carolina, they make their way to Colorado often, and are rewarded by an ever-growing fan base that has seen them elevate from the old B-Side Lounge, most recently the now defunct Shug’s, to opening the Fox Theatre. On Thursday night in Boulder, they took the stage as the headliners they’ve deservingly become in front of an energetic audience blitzed with glitter and sequins, flat-billed Grassroots hats and accompanying crystals and lot pins.

Despite an abundance of similar acts, Papadosio has crafted their own niche, refusing to be slapped with the Jamtronica label that so often attaches itself to their style and musical counterparts like STS9. When you hear the splices of reggae, jazz-fusion and tribal drumbeats, you realize how basic and big of a copout the jamtronica label can be. Papadosio can carry you to a different time and place throughout their sets, and at times on Thursday night they did, leaving little else to be desired from the audio and visual spectacle that took place.

With Denver locals Octopus Nebula kicking things off after a short DJ set by their guitarist, the night was started and driven by bass. So often in jam bands and electronic music, the bass is the driving force, and along with the drums, create breaks and thumping rhythms that hypnotize your body into slithering around the dance floor. This was certainly the case for Octopus Nebula, who torpedoed through their set at the speed of a heart in need of a pacemaker. The floors shook and I felt like the propulsion of notes could have capsized the roof of the Fox if it hadn’t been renovated last summer.

By the time Papadosio took the stage, most of the crowd had already fallen victim to the captivating video projection screens behind the band. At any given moment, the visuals could swirl into a psychedelic worm hole reminiscent of making the jump to light speed, an intricate pattern of fractals shattering with each boom from the bass, and even that of a Pharaoh of ancient Egypt along the banks of the Nile. Not only was the music carrying us around the world, but also the visuals were transporting us there. I’m not always a fan of light designs stealing the show from the band, but this was complementary. The audio and visual worked together to truly put the audience in a space that concerts don’t usually propel the mind and body to.

While Octopus Nebula lacked vocal harmonies, in fact, they didn’t sing at all, Papadosio blended their grooves and jams with pieces of cohesive song structures including fascinating lyrical content. They are no longer solely noodling with each other’s musical backgrounds. They’ve become a well-tuned engine with V8 power. While at times it doesn’t seem like they’re playing a song, and appears that they’re just jamming, they are in fact always aware of what they’re playing and when to bring things back down to earth. I remember songs coming to an end even though there was no clear beginning, and people in the crowd looked at each other as if they had just witnessed the resurrection.

Papadosio finished off their paramount set nearing curfew with a sweat dripping funk number that brought the crowd back to reality and had them remembering the dancing bass grooves that sometimes strayed into mystics throughout the show. The combination of music and visual art was dumbfounding, and for those who hadn’t seen Papadosio pick up their instruments and go to work since their B-Side days, well, it is safe to assume that they left with a new perspective on Papadosio, and on the constantly changing music scene they encompass.

Mon, 12/03/2012 - 4:14 pm

While the crowd at Quixote’s True Blue wasn’t doing the tango on Friday night, they were certainly stomping their boots and spinning in circles, and no doubt throwing back whiskey. Mystical, dreadlock-clad fairies roamed between the two rooms sporting local jam bands, and when standing against the walls stocked with Grateful Dead memorabilia, could be confused with a page out of a “Where’s Waldo” book. I had heard of Whiskey Tango’s residency at the previous Quixote’s location, but since taking over the old Bender’s Tavern in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver, I was curious to see the fan support; they didn’t miss a single beat of Luke Kennedy’s intricate drumming. In fact, they came out in droves, constantly filing in and out of the dimmed room while Whiskey Tango enlightened them with a show commemorating the release of their long awaited debut album, “Foggy Mountain Mornings.”

While collecting numerous accolades from local and national press, including Denver Westword’s Best Jam/Improv Band of the Year two years running, Whiskey Tango has carved out their own little corner of the Denver music scene. Their range both musically and vocally is inspiring to fans of all genres. While steeped in bluegrass and rock and roll, Tango can at any point channel elements of reggae, country, and particularly funk, which is fueled by the dazzling finger work of Nate Todd on keys. In addition to bringing the funk, Nate also sings and composes many of Whiskey Tango’s original tunes and is comparable to a more rockabilly Kyle Hollingsworth of the String Cheese Incident.

Joined by electric guitarist Chris Thompson for the majority of the show, the band rocked the house with Tango originals “Texas,” “Mother Nature,” and a burning down the house rendition of “Cold Creek Shakedown.” All of these selections are tracks from their debut CD that were being freely passed to the crowd along with customized trucker hats. “Mother Nature” found its way out of a furious jam, settling things down to the rhythm of a boat slowly sailing across the tides. The opening lyric, “Flying across the ocean,” transcended the audience into just that, and they had us clinging to the sails as we felt ourselves lingering into Caribbean rhythms. Bassist Bill Wells handled the vocal duties, creating a nice balance in harmonies, as Luke and Nate assisted and continued to pass around lead vocals for the rest of the night.

“Cold Creek Shakedown” reignited the crowd and had the band working their way up and down their fret boards. Acoustic guitarist Zach Steinman found room to grow on this track, unleashing an arsenal of riffs and melodies while Matt Gallagher danced around him with his electric banjo. This tune particularly spoke volumes about Whiskey Tango. It built around a fast paced bluegrass number with lots of strumming and picking, but the addition of the drums, electric bass and keys mutated it into a fiery number that had all of the music lovers in the club dancing around in hootenanny fashion.

The balance of both original and cover songs showed the evolution Tango has undergone as a young band gaining recognition. Covering Townes Van Zandt, The Stones’ “Country Honk,” and even a rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Time” and “Breathe (Reprise)” that led into a crowd favorite called “Treehugger Blues,” and back into “Breathe.” The original that they snuck in between the Pink Floyd tunes was introduced as “A song for treehuggers in a bar for treehuggers.” While covering Pink Floyd certainly welcomed the fans into the jam packed second set, nothing quite got them going like the medley of the Knack’s “My Sharona” and the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right.” The crowd became a sixth member and vocalist during those numbers, and there were endless fist pumps as we made our way past the midnight hour.

The keen sense of awareness by all members to feel their way through songs and jams really separates Whiskey Tango from some of the other so-called jam bands from along the Front Range. Being able to swing through different beats and rhythms without visual cues showed how well their live shows have served them throughout their residency at Quixote’s, where they have garnered some of the best support found in the local live music community.

A seemingly endless rapport between the band and the audience made this gig feel intimate, like an early Grateful Dead show where the band is rapping back and forth with audience members. Tango, influenced by all types of music but particularly attached to the folk and Americana origins that the Dead clung to in the early days, has a very similar feeling to them. Both bands started by developing a fan base that can easily stay in touch through mediums not restricted by the conventional drive of the music industry. This is key to building a following, and Whiskey Tango seems to be on the right path, with word of mouth spreading the good word of their sets all across Colorado.

Whiskey Tango sticks with you at the end of the night, and leaves a memory that resurrects in the morning as you wash the stench of stale smoke and rye sweat out of your hair. Their snowballing success will continue as long as they keep the bottle uncorked, pouring us another drink to savor at every show.

Sun, 12/16/2012 - 5:42 am

The name Perpetual Groove indicates a stylistic form for the veteran jam band. You hear the name and imagine long songs segueing through jams from one to the other. In a sense, Perpetual Groove could define many jam bands, but with PGroove, you get the name, and an assortment of various musical tastes and styles that careen from the stage like a robotic factory on overdrive.

Perpetual Groove is first and foremost a jam band in the eyes of crowds and talent buyers. The band came together in Savannah, Georgia before relocating to Athens, Georgia, a haven for live music and home to the Georgia Theatre, both before and after the catastrophic fire that leveled the historic venue to ashes. Always heralded as a locale for jam bands, Perpetual Groove built a repertoire in Athens and ran with it, traveling the country year after year, tour after tour, expanding a responsive fan base that stretches far from the cushy confines of the southeast.

It seems PGroove finds their way to Colorado every winter for a few shows along the Front Range, and the Fox Theatre is among the venues most frequented since they first took the stage there in 2004. Having seen the band over a dozen times, I have fortunately been able to catch them perform six times at the Fox as a patron, an intern, and a stage manager. Each experience has been significant in my growth of appreciation for the band and their expansive songbook of covers and self-penned melodies. This show was no different, as they blitzed through gear shattering songs connected by endlessly running and well-greased transitions.

Boulder locals Springdale Quartet warmed up the room to few bodies but nonetheless proved that you treat every show as a sellout. Looking fresh in their Sunday best, the guys launched into a funky, danceable, organ driven remedy for the bone chilled patrons still wrapped in their coats. It was as if someone let Booker T and Jimmy Smith commandeer a ballpark organ and a rock and roll band. They showed their mettle through thick bass lines complementing the organ and steady drive of fill-in drummer Adam Segalis of Denver’s own Recovery Act. Being able to see these guys play a place like Boulder’s Conor O'neill’s to this day is almost too good to be true, as they seem set on climbing higher in the ranks of Colorado’s music society. Guitarist Ben Waligoske welcomed vocalist Lindsay French, also of the Recovery Act, to shine upon the final number, Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Bind,” before clearing their Hammond side stage. Their debut album, “Noisefactory” was released last year.

By the time guitarist Brock Butler stepped on stage to adjust his world of axes, the crowd had nearly tripled. The room can be deceiving, but there was no doubting the momentum their past shows in Boulder carried. There were spinsters, tricksters, beards and booty shorts; the eclectic jam audience showed up. Brock even took a timeout during the first set, telling the crowd that it’s always something special in Boulder, and that they hope the fans in the crowd realize that they always give it their best when they’re at the Fox. His praise did not fall on deaf ears.

Bassist Adam Perry kicked off the first set with his stylistic swagger of lines dipping in and out as the other instruments came to life. Wearing sunglasses, Adam stared towards the ceiling and bright lights, thumping the place. Brock’s guitar sent shivers through the crowd as the hoots and hollers multiplied to the post-apocalyptic sound slowly building before bursting through the seams, only to mellow again, building upon a series of notes and familiar territory. The first song to take form, “Mota,” is very characteristic of Perpetual Groove and the nature of their sound. Lacking vocals, the song reinforces the bands’ name as it builds and builds before breaking like a three-day fever to the delight of the sweaty dancers convulsing with each chord.

The essence of the first set can be described as dark and wicked. The songs developed and bled into one another seamlessly. Some have described PGroove’s sound as arena rock, which can be heard as Brock solos through his mixes of distortion and tone altering pedals. Sometimes their shows can be light and uplifting, and while there were elements of that, this show carried the torch lit from the flames of Hell. The moody, dark stage blitzed with lights seething through streams of cables and gaff tape created a mood that was reinforced by the music.

Once the set started, the crowd was locked into the syncopated rhythm between the drums and bass. Albert Suttle has been silently moving the band for years, providing much more than what meets the eyes and ears. He keeps the band moving, and he and Adam seem to alternate between being the driving force while Brock dances his leading notes and keyboardist Matt McDonald engineers a synth symphony in his own corner of keyboards world. McDonald, who departed the band in 2008, is now been back with the guys, and judging from the sounds they created, the time off allowed him a chance to reevaluate the band from his skill set and reconnect with them on a deeper level than ever before.

The darker, metallic jams gave way to the first cover of the evening, as the Johnny Cash tune “God is Going to Cut You Down” burst through the seams. This was the perfect addition to the set and gave Brock a chance to flex the vocals he’s held down for as long as they’ve been together. This to me represented a theme to the first set, where sin, darkness, and ghastly jams that are defining many of their recent shows flourished. This being said, they brought the first set back to their lighthearted selves with the title track from their first album, the classic, “Sweet Oblivious Antidote.” This song is the epitome of early PGroove. While the show was primarily filled with darker jams and numbers, this song showed what they have been and how far they’ve come both in their playing and songwriting. They’re a band with many options in their playbook, which makes the live performance all the more entertaining since you don’t know what show you’ll see on any given evening. While the tune still has the loping bass and drum combo, the music is much more uplifting, with Brock’s guitar shining like a rising sun in cahoots with his mystical lyrics. It provided a great change of pace for the first set, and many people could be heard saying that that’s the PGroove they know and love. I myself enjoy every curve ball they throw my way.

The second set was full of material that appeased both fans of their older work and the newer material. Kicking it off was “Cairo,” which really shows their growth as a band. It starts with a break beat by Albert, and really comes together like some of the earlier songs, where synth and guitar make you feel like you’re floating around the sky with the bass pushing you onward. Some excellent vocals by Brock lead them into a jam that goes into many musical directions. The melody on this track is very soothing and makes you feel like you could be in the middle of meditating as they drift through their parts. The jam gave way to one of my absolute favorite Perpetual Groove numbers from “Sweet Oblivious Antidote,” “Sundog.” It starts with Brock running up and down the fret board, working note after note, as gentle piano accompanies before the rhythm section knocks the restraints off and the band erupts into an electric hoedown that leaves me spinning in circles everytime.

“Sundog” embodies what I love about PGroove: they start with a basic song structure and while deliberately investigating every nook and cranny, they develop a rapport that drives them far out of the confines of your usual song. This is their bread and butter, and while some call them a jam band, I call them Perpetual Groove. It really is always a process through which their songs expand during live shows. They aren’t simply jamming notes and chords that pop into their heads, but following a guideline that they’ve built over the years and simply expanding on it to greet the crowd desperate to dance. They do it as good as any band out there, and their love for Colorado and their fans is overwhelming sometimes. Building on Brock’s earlier comments of bringing it every time for the Fox Theatre and Colorado, Matt told us we were one of the best crowds and the best rooms for a concert in the country. With that heaping of support from the band, they launched into a cover of the KC and the Sunshine Band staple, “Get Down Tonight,” and oh how we did.

They encored with a rocking rendition of Rage Against The Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fire,” with Brock handing over the guitar work to Matt and rapping with the crowd as he shouted the lyrics to the delight of the crowd.

In the end, Perpetual Groove brought their A game to the Fox Theatre. Their unique blend of rock was captured and highlighted each era of their fifteen years together on the road and in the studio. With the full-fledged return of Matt to the band, their spirits are high and their creative output is pouring through. The Boulder faithful is lucky to have a band as eager as PGroove is to bring their jams to town every year, and when they attend the show, they make their appreciation known.

Check out a few more photos from the show.

Thu, 12/20/2012 - 10:25 am

Grateful Web recently had the opportunity to speak with keyboardist Matt McDonald, and bassist Adam Perry, of Athens, Georgia based Perpetual Groove. The guys talked about their style of songwriting, Matt's time away from the band, their love for Colorado, and why PGroove's music can best be described as 'Trance Arena Rock.'

GW: First question is for Matt. When you left the band in 2008, did you gain new perspective on the songs and musicians you’d been with for so long in Perpetual Groove? Did it allow you an outside perspective looking in and how would you describe any change in style in your music?

MM: I did not.  When I left Perpetual Groove in 2008, my eyes and goals were set on other interests outside of music.  I started taking on lots of gigs as a studio musician here in Athens, where most of my work was on country albums.  The most noted album I was on was Brantley Gilbert's  "Halfway to Heaven."  Newt Carter, PGroove's former FOH engineer, is who brought me in on that album, and I thank him for that opportunity and experience to this very day.  It was a pretty amazing, I learned a lot about the industry and how folks outside of the mostly grass roots jam scene do business and work as artists.  Very cool to see how the rest of the industry operates.

Fortunately, all of the guys and I in PGroove grew closer in our personal lives when I was not in the band.  Adam and I especially spent more and more time together, our wives are close friends, and both of us have young boys, both of which whom came during my time outside of PGroove.  When I came back, the "outside perspective" definitely kicked in.  We knew/know we're a jamband, but none of us really listen to jambands.  I think that is what sets our writing and performance style apart.  We're not afraid to perform and write songs that do not fall in the typical "jamband" format.  We actually write lyrics that mean something, sometimes, dare I say, even poignant, and we write songs that might fall more under the indie or rock format.  Not every song is written with the idea of it being able to "jam," the ones that we do improv on are the ones where that happens organically. There's never any focus on writing a "jammy" tune.  There's always a focus on writing a good song, if that happens to be conducive to "jamming," then that's one that will get that very treatment live.

AP: With Matt taking his leave of absence, Hruby stepped in, even working on the album “Heal.” The band went through a few changes with his added dimension. How did he alter the music, and what is having Matt back do for the band. They both have very different playing styles. Ruby has a more staccato approach where Matt tends to put layers and more of a mood to the music. Both are fantastic players and a lot of fun to make music with.

GW: I remember a show in Ft. Collins back in 2011 when Albert was ill and couldn’t play. Big Gigantic’s Jeremy Salken joined on drums, and the show went to places most never expected, including a hefty portion of hip-hop with Brock rapping to “California Love” and “Dirt Off your Shoulder.” Are unique evenings like this a result of trying to keep your own interest in the music and touring lifestyle fresh or to the personnel change?

AP: We have a lot of musical influences and letting them shine through in the music is one of my favorite things about this band. That night gave way to some interesting musical meshing for sure.

GW: I know cover songs have always been a staple of your performances, with tunes by Paul Simon, Jay Z, the Chemical Brothers, Aha and countless others at your disposal. How do you go about choosing a cover to play during your shows with such a wide variety of artists and genres?

MM: We've all brought different covers to the table.  It's pretty easy, if it's one everyone is into then we give it a spin and see what happens.

GW: You’ve been labeled as a Jam Band for years, but there is no denying the intricacies of the types of music you play. How would you define yourselves these days to new listeners and concertgoers unfamiliar with your material?

MM: We understand we're a "jamband" and embrace the audience that comes with that genre.  We're a rock band that will make you dance, pump your fist, and maybe even inspire you along the way.  I've always found that the term that our hardcore fans gave us works best, "Trance Arena Rock."

GW: Since moving to Boulder for college in 2006, I haven’t missed a show at the Fox, whether I was working on stage or dancing in the crowd. What is it about Colorado that keeps you guys coming back year after year, and how does the music scene differ from that of Athens?

MM: Boulder and Colorado are a bit more of a "live" music scene whereas Athens is a music scene that often takes place in home studios and small dirty clubs.  Both are awesome.  Colorado has always given us massive amounts of love and support from very early on.  It has some of the best and most attentive listening audiences in the country.  I think the recent election probably points to many of the reasons we love the people of Colorado.  Forward thinking and enthusiastic people populate that beautiful state.

GW: While on the subject of the music scene, are there any bands out there right now that you are really into?

MM: We just played a show with Black Taxi in Tampa, those guys are amazing.  I've been listening to a lot of Whitley and Niko Vega lately as well.

GW: Lighting has always been a big part of Perpetual Groove shows. I saw Josey, one of your past LD’s, at the Georgia Theatre a few months ago. Who is the current lighting designer and what kinds of visual display techniques are being employed?

MM: Matt Mercier is our LD.  He's been doing an outstanding job this year.  Matt is young and eager, two things that make for a great creative relationship.  Matty Lights, as we call him, is always open to suggestions and like I said, eager to try new things and new techniques.  I think he's really going to fall into his own with Perpetual Groove in 2013.

GW: Is there new material in the works, and what can we expect if so?

MM: You can expect a new PGroove album in 2013 with all sorts of new tunes still unreleased. Hopefully, late April early May we'll have something ready.

GW: Last but not least, could you give us some insight on the evolution of Amberland, and what we can expect to see in the future of Perpetual Groove?

MM: Amberland is going to be completely rethought.  Doing it on Memorial Day weekend was great when it was a small backyard BBQ, but with Hangout, Wakarusa, and Bonnaroo all falling in the surrounding weekends, we need to move it if we want to make it what we believe it can be.  We're looking at Labor Day for next year's Amberland, but nothing has been set in stone at this time.

Perpetual Groove is getting back to basics.  The four of us are very fortunate to have the career we do, and now the four of us for the first time truly have the reigns in our hands.  The four of us have done this for just over ten years now together.  We have big plans for 2013 and plan to make the next ten years even better than the last.

Thu, 01/31/2013 - 10:36 am

After a backbreaking weekend of live music, I strolled into Shine for a performance by self-professed “quirky folk” band, The Shook Twins. Shine is a glimpse into what Boulder was and in some circumstances still is, and the complete antithesis of the growing corporate model seen along Pearl Street and recently highlighted by the emergence of Wal-Mart. Residing on a property that has seen its tenants come and go over the years, and neighboring what was Shug’s and the B-Side Lounge before it, Shine is a brewery and locally owned and operated restaurant and lounging space that happens to host bands and artists in a nice, small room in the back. Boulder, and specifically Shine, was a perfect spot for the Shook Twins and their unique blend of artistic, giggly folk rock.

The usual crowd of bluegrass concert goers were out and about and the crowd was Boulder diverse: hippies, Namaste tattoos, yoga pants, an alarming rate of men and women clad in fedoras which I decide must be the hipster contingent although I count only one pair of black rimmed glasses, lots of hiking boots, long hair, cropped hair, dreadlocks, smoky overcoats, a variety of beards and flannel shirts, and local business owners. I’m sure if Shine had a parking lot, there would be plenty of Subarus. The Shook Twins, based out of Portland, Oregon, represent the coming together of all of these factions well, and no doubt rode into town with a fairly large following awaiting them in similarly minded Boulder.

Following a set by Ghost Dreams, identical twins Laurie and Katelyn Shook and their sweeping blonde hair took the stage to a crowded room, with some of the audience deciding to take a seat on the floor while the rest crammed in around them. It was an intimate setting for the zany, traveling gypsies and their assortment of guitars, banjos, ukuleles, drum machines, fiddles, telephone fading microphones and every other possible tambourine and hand held rhythm stick you can think of. I have to admit when I first heard them talk and giggle at nearly everything said to the static from the microphones, I thought I was in for a long night, but it seems as if they’ve embraced their quirkiness in the fashion of Juliette Lewis, and used it to add another layer to their musical textbook on the topic of quirky folk.

With Laurie on banjo, Katelyn on acoustic guitar, Anna Tivel on fiddle and Niko Daoussis playing the bass and mandolin, they broke into their first number, titled “Window,” also the name of one of their albums. All multitalented musicians, instruments were swapped throughout the set and vocal leads passed around while they took us through a well rounded set of tunes ranging in context from traveling through a window into the sixties to what they described as “futuristic apocalyptic swing music.” Laurie and Kateyln glow front and center in their loose dresses and blonde hair, while Niko and Anna flank them on either side bringing more of a dark side to the quartet. Anna and Niko also added songs of their own to the performance, with Anna’s particularly poignant “Rosy-Colored Skulls” really standing out for the lyrical depth and coffee shop approach. Her voice helped to change the vibe throughout the set, and it is apparent that she can hold her own and does so with her own performances. Niko also brought a different element with his songwriting and appearance, as he donned a green bandanna across his face and sang through it as he strummed a telecaster to the chorus of “Aint no thang to me, aint no thang but a chicken wang.” I found that song very fitting of the Shook Twins, and it gave me a chance to see what they can add to a song to help make it consistent with their own material and performances.

Katelyn walked off stage and let Laurie take the reigns for a song she claimed to be about her alternate personality that has no ego, and I took the opportunity to check out their merchandise. They had a couple of CD’s that cost more than a ticket to the show, including one live album which is well worth checking out to hear their unusual brand of handling the pressures of being on stage and performing for crowds. The most unique item I spotted, which they mentioned during their set, was a music download card printed using wildflower seeds, and could be planted after use. Little things like that go along way in helping define the character of the band, and it would be nice to see more artists follow their lead. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream popularized this innovative method of passing on music or information and in turn leading to a good cause and it has since percolated to open minded and environmentally conscious people like Laurie and Katelyn.

At the end of the show, the girls came back on stage for their encore and played “Shine On,” an original composition that they felt obligated to play at Shine. The crowd howled at the glowing wolf moon outside and the Shook Twins tossed about their signature laden wooden egg that has become somewhat of a symbol for the band and a representative of what they stand for. The twins and their fascinating traveling act is sure to grow and expand as people learn about their music and lack of boundaries, and they are well worth keeping an eye on in the near future.

Check out more photos from the show.

Thu, 01/31/2013 - 11:47 am

Shannon McNally is stomping her boots on the stage of the Fox Theatre as good as any other night crawler out there as she growls into the microphone like an early rocakbilly queen. Her voice croons over the upright bass of Amy Lavere, Shannon’s partner in crime in their band Chasing the Ghost, which they started after a collaboration with Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. It isn’t usually the first thought of the evening to catch the opening band, but Shannon’s name and reputation has eluded me for years and I thought it was finally time to catch the southern beauty. She’s playing her own brand of coalmine country rock and it feels like we’ve been transported into a scene out of Jackrabbit Slim’s in Pulp Fiction. The band is raw; no glossy additions or souped up displays, only Shannon clutching her black Stratocaster and preaching to us about railroads, heartbreak, wilderness and whiskey. When they end, I realize Shannon strikes me in the vein of her peer Nicki Bluhm or a young Wanda Jackson.

Northern California bluegrass favorites Poor Man’s Whiskey take the stage following a short changeover, and wastes no time introducing themselves to the crowd and letting us know that it’s their first show of the New Year. There first number is really rocking, with great interplay between the acoustic guitar and banjo of banjo of lead vocalist Josh Brough. He hoots and sings, “we’re going out tonight, it’s Friday night,” through a wide smile that doesn’t vanish for more than a few moments for the entire set. Their name says it all; a hard pressed bluegrass band making a living on the road and fighting off the hard times together with a bottle of man’s best friend. Recognized for covering Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, these NorCal bluegrass boys wearing a congregation of collared shirts separate themselves from the rest of the pack by paying tribute to their Northern California homeland through numbers such as “Sierra Girl,” and the especially rocking and aptly named “Humboldt Hoedown.” Their knowledge of the area and knack for descriptive, pictorial representations of the land they obviously hold dear to them, as they claim California is “In my heart and on my mind” on the song “Goodbye California.” They write narrative accounts of travels through the hills and mountains of the sierras, and love songs to the few ladies to be found in Truckee. To me, the bluegrass, jug band feel of traditional Americana music combined with their western travel oriented lyrics and pastoral descriptions make this band a relic in the best sense of the word.

I head to the bar during “Sierra Girl” and naturally order a Sierra Nevada. The room is filling up fast and there’s still a large crowd outside with a collaborative plume of smoke rising into the near-wolf moon sky. The band launches into a few covers, including a very funky “Boogie on Reggae Woman” by Stevie Wonder and one of my favorite often played Jerry Garcia Band covers, “Catfish John.” Their slow, melodic take on this one made me feel right at home, and the inspiration for their own songwriting evident. A bit of a heavy jam showing the Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead influences helps bring their set to a close and a strong crowd to the bar. Aside from occasionally taking a leap instead of a step, Poor Man’s Whiskey is a strong-minded bluegrass band with a fresh take on lyrical depth and a real understanding of turning everyday surroundings into emotionally charged tunes. In terms of what defines music found in the Great American Songbook, Poor Man’s Whiskey is helping to keep the standard alive.

Speaking of the Great American Songbook, Great American Taxi embodies it with their rich lyrics and western rock and roll twang. Front man Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon notoriety and resident of Boulder for years has a warm, grizzled voice and personality on and offstage, and is always plucking and strumming away at his acoustic guitar or mandolin. Hardly classified as bluegrass, GAT is rural rock and roll in the Americana style that folk ballads were born from. Their songs tell the stories of mankind: of poor men living off the land without so much as a dollar in their pocket; of hopeful glints in the eyes of unfortunate fated castaways; of packing the family and the farm and moving away from the dissolution of once grand prospects and love affairs. Through a series of self-penned melodies, traditional tunes and choice cut covers, GAT has the Fox hanging to every word, leaving us longing for adventures across the great highways, mountain divides and rural back roads of America’s past.

The Boulder crowd has shown up in force to the Fox Theatre for Great American Taxi, a band with deep Colorado roots. The dance floor swings and sways to the boogie of the rocking band Vince leads around the country. “Unpromised Land,” helps to get things rattling as Vince sings the blues for a woman who got away and how it might be time to pack up and move on. Keyboardist Chad Staehly has the organ whirling over the string instruments and adds a healthy dose of vocals before an absolutely shredding guitar solo that flash floods through the PA by way of Jim Lewin. “Poor House,” one of the more popular tracks off their most recent release, “Paradise Lost,” is a romping good time. The vocal harmonies shine on this number, and Vince’s moan sounds like a rusted chewing tobacco spittoon left on the rotting front porch of a southern home. The crowd really sways to this number, and Vince has a certain swagger that he exhibits just in stance as he wraps his big arms around his acoustic guitar and sings to us about a woman plunging the frail finances of a man into the ground, though he had little to begin with in the first place.

The band holds a meeting on the mound, in this case the drum riser, and he lights are dim and Vince sets down his acoustic axe in exchange for his mandolin. Out of their breather, Staehly takes a step towards the microphone and bolts into the Gram Parsons’ classic, “Big Mouth Blues.” Being an avid Gram Parsons fan, I make my way through the crowd thick as cotton fields to get in on the action. “Well, I once knew a man who sailed the world twice, he would have made three but he took a lot of bad advice.” In what could serve as any definitive anthem, the frilled account of deception and revenge is right at home in the hands of Great American Taxi. It isn’t everyday that you hear a band cover Gram, and I couldn’t think of a better fit to play the country rock that Gram helped build to a boil with bands like the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and of course his solo work with a then relatively unknown Emmylou Harris. That genre of music has a large influence on GAT, as the traditional Americana pioneers and country musicians did on Gram. The Grateful Dead, another band with influence on GAT who developed their own American songbook, including the Vince Herman sung “West LA Fadeaway,” which is always a crowd pleaser and has drummer Chris Sheldon and bassist Brian Adams really laying down the funk.

After a few more songs, Vince raps about the Colorado shows being recorded for an eventual live release. It comes as no surprise, because the Fox is known for being one of the better sounding rooms for its size in the country. The band also has their strong roots within the front range. With that, Vince says, “We’re going to let Brian sing one.” Brian Adams takes over the lead vocals for the next song, called “Swamp Song,” also off of “Paradise Lost.” The difference in vocal approaches by the band make the listening experience that much better. While Vince is the primary vocalist, hearing nearly every member singing lead on a song or at least supplying additional harmonies keeps everything sounding fresh and not hanging too many duties on any one member.

In what was a truly special evening of friends and musicians turning on the crowd and sharing in the revel, Great American Taxi pulled out all of the stops you’d expect out of a hometown show as well as one being recorded for a future live release. GAT plays their own brand of country, Americana-infused musical stories with a sprinkling of front range bluegrass, but you always know they’re bound to rock.

Check out more photos from the show.

Sat, 02/16/2013 - 10:12 am

Boulder County favorites Mountain Standard Time and their annual front range Mardi Grass celebration at the Fox Theatre has become something of a right of passage, and a pilgrimage for Ned Heads, Denverites, and their fan base grown from classmates and neighbors. With Boulder’s favorite venue filled with Mardi Gras beads, and a line forming down the block spotted with costumes, it was evident that word had spread. Whispers of a sell out were in the works. Crowds started forming at the bars. It felt like a Boulder reunion for all of the faces that had lost touch over the years. Nearly everybody knows somebody in the band, and they’ve come to support their musically talented friends on the stage that has propelled so many local bands into national prominence. Even if you descended upon the Hill solo, you’d be basking in the beer and whiskey in no time, embracing friends with a neck full of beads.

Lake Tahoe’s Dead Winter Carpenters got things going early with Jenni Charles’ hootenanny fiddle. They played a set full of traditional country-folk that the crowd certainly enjoyed and it was no surprise that Jenni seemed to garner the most attention. Joining her was Dave Lockhart on upright bass, Jesse Dunn and Bryan Daines on acoustic and electric guitars and drummer Justin Kruger. Their string composed, folk tapped harmonies focused around Americana and the west as if they were transplanted from another place in time. They covered “Black River Killer,” Blitzen Trapper’s lyrically progressive story of death and betrayal.

MST took the stage to a room full of eager friends and fans hooting and cheering before picking away any residual rust remaining after two rowdy shows in Ft. Collins at The Aggie and Denver’s Bluebird Theater. “Fairy Meadows,” an instrumental off of their brand new EP, “Sunny,” allowed the band to get into an early groove and showcase their individual talents. Guitarist Stanton Sutton led the way as the only original member, though this in no way detracts from the music or the bands’ cohesion, and in fact, the change in the lineup has rejuvenated MST. With Ryan Ebarb fingering the ivory, we’re treated to a new dimension that has allowed them to move even further beyond the bounds of traditional bluegrass. Their arrangements and progressions definitely have the feel of a bluegrass band, but with the drums, electric bass and keys accompanying mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, they have reached jam band territory, following the path of Boulder locals String Cheese Incident.

One of my favorite songs of the evening, and also off of “Sunny,” is “Canyon Road.” This is the second of four straight songs off of the EP in the first set, and has a lyrical presence that any Boulderite who has taken the trip up Canyon to Nederland can relate to. This song can immediately draw comparisons to String Cheese Incident’s “Up the Canyon,” also seemingly about the deep, curling drive from Boulder to Ned.  Previous member Adam Pause joins the boys for “Katy Anne,” lending his banjo to an upbeat number that I can’t praise enough for the bass and drum interplay between Otis Lande and drummer Zach Scott. The chorus of “Come on up the mountain, come on Katy Anne,” once again paints a picture of life in the smaller confines of Nederland. The piano also helps to bring this song to life, adding a balladic quality that past lineup configurations were lacking. Bluegrass is predominant in the flow of the song but the additional instruments bring on an electric, rocking boogie to their sound. Progressive, electric-fusion bluegrass with altitude comes to mind, and the deep layers of stories enrich the vocal additions. To the delight of the audience, Adam stays on stage to help with “Guitar Playing Man” and “Dusty Boxcar Wall,” before stepping down and making room for Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band.

While Yonder has certainly helped set the stage for bluegrass bands out of Boulder County, especially those with long ranging influences from different genres of music, they don’t normally have a drummer, keyboards or an electric bass, hence the name String Band. This prompts the more progressive bluegrass label that falls into place for Mountain Standard Time, and adds an entirely new element to the types of performances I’m used to seeing out of Jeff Austin. His immediate flare and knack for fast, wild acts in furious picking and strumming are instantly felt on songs like “Kentucky Mandolin,” a bluegrass staple popularized by Bill Monroe, and the classic Rolling Stones’ tune, “No Expectations.” The latter, with its slow roll blues-ballad quiets things down as the first set comes to a close with Jeff Austin singing its descriptions of trains and despair. “Our love is like our music, it’s here and then it’s gone.”

The second set kicks off with a jam that sees Stanton on electric guitar and channels the String Cheese sound before smoothly transitioning into Nick Dunbar’s “California.” One of the joys of this band is having solid vocalists and songwriters in both Nick and Stanton. Their songs may touch on living life on the front range and in Nederland, but as a result of coming from differing backgrounds and upbringings, we get a taste of the west coast on this number, going from the mountains to the salty smell of the ocean’s breeze. They even go into a little reggae jam towards the end of the song, further embracing the beachside vibrations on what was a dark and lightly snowing evening in Boulder. This trickled into the next song; “Forgotten for Rotten,” also on the new EP, and featuring the full frontal bass Otis is so capable of slinging around a room. The heat of the organ finds its way through the continuous thumping, and the song feels like it turns on a dime from an almost punk sounding rhythm to ska to an acid drenched rock ballad dancing with mandolin and back into a bluegrass barn burner. Like their geographical backgrounds influencing their lyrics, their musical backgrounds and tastes swell up and over on this song and Otis does his best Les Claypool romp.

Jenni from the Dead Winter Carpenters joins the band for “Wayside,” adding her signature fiddle to the mix for a ripping version before being joined by Jeff Austin and past bass player Curly Collins singing “Whiskey for Breakfast.” This starts an all out bluegrass jamboree that strays from the genre chameleons they began the second set with, and it’s clear how much they’re enjoying themselves. Jenni plods away while Nick and Stanton soar through another Nederland anthem before being cut loose for a solo that seemed meant for the occasion. She’s an incredible talent and force for the Dead Winter Carpenters and showed she can hang with the best of them as she and Jeff Austin hoot, holler and egg each other on to go faster. Jeff goes off on a great version of “Crow Black Chicken” to the delight of his Yonder fans in the crowd. It starts with driving funk chords propelled through the mandolin and acoustic guitar as Ebarb worked out the steps with Nick. It was probably one of the funkier jams of the night.

The band left the stage after a version of “Outta Here,” and came back for a lengthy, three song encore that pushes the curfew right to the wire. The final number, which welcomes back all of the guests from the evening, is the Beatles’ “Just Scene a Face.” The Fab Four’s album version of this song already has the pace of a traditional, folksy bluegrass number, and Stanton and Adam Pause sang the lyrics like they never stopped sharing the stage. One can be reminded of an event like the Last Waltz when seeing so many talented musicians onstage for a last gasp and goodbye, however, it doesn’t seem like Mountain Standard Time will be leaving us anytime soon, as they’ve hit a level with the new lineup that leaves crowds thirsty for more of that bluegrass moonshine they’re brewing.

Check out more photos from the show.

Sat, 02/16/2013 - 11:17 am

When you hear Tyler Grant’s name, you are most likely to conjure memories of the Emmitt-Nershi Band, or even more likely the acoustic guitar he flatpicked on his way to numerous awards and distinctions. He is synonymous with Nashville, and the country sound that the city holds so close to heart, but more recently he is guitar player extraordinaire along the Colorado front range, plugging in his telecaster and ripping through originals and covers with his band Grant Farm. Through a blend of good old rock and roll, country, reggae, bluegrass and traditional music, this band is not your normal jam band and they aren’t just any Colorado pickers. The Colorado jam band scene is filled with a variety of bluegrass inspired acts, as well as some in the vein of jamtronica, but Grant Farm has taken things to another level with their self-described country-disco. At the heart of their range is Grant’s guitar, which is its own breed but can be thought of in a Derek Trucks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Eric Clapton covering JJ Cale style. There’s a country flare and a soulful melody each time he touches the strings, and it wills the band to new heights during their live shows.

Lending a helping hand to Grant Farm at the Boulder Theater was String Cheese Bass player Keith Moseley, who originally played with Grant before former Hot Soup bassist Adrian Engfer joined full time. Keith played on a number of songs during the show, with the two bass players swapping out acoustic guitars when one or the other had a knack for a certain song. In addition, Gipsy Moon and Frog’s Gone Fishing were on hand to open up the evening, and legendary Colorado artist Scramble Campbell was set up on stage all night slapping paint to canvas as the bands burned through their sets.

Gipsy Moon is a soothing collective of Boulder County multitalented artists playing traditional, folksy bluegrass inspired by the beautiful world around them. With an upright bass, acoustic guitar, mandolin and banjo as their primary instruments, this quartet bobs along in musical syncopation while harmonizing together as they swap leads on vocals and solos. In appearance this band truly looks like a traveling band of gypsies making their way with music as their guide. The lovely Mackenzie Page, an artist in every medium she graces, strikes the crowd with an antebellum strum of her acoustic guitar and pulls in the crowd with her raspy coo. She can even play washboard, while her cohorts in Silas Herman, David Matters and Colin Huff completely own their instruments and swap solos within a single song seamlessly and lacking ego.

Frogs Gone Fishin’ is a culmination of many things, and sound like a funk band on the surface. I like to think of it as electrified Front Range frog funk. With elements of New Orleans jazz and funk, its no surprise to hear them cover “Cissy Strut” by influential and groundbreaking artist, The Meters. I’m in over my head when they drop into a reggae bass line typical of jam bands like this who overreach throughout their material, but they are fine players who really excel together and pull it off besides trying to implement a crowd hand clap that falls flat. New drummer Jeff Janni supplies a very technical style that’s cool to hear with this sort of band and adds a certain break beat feel to most of their songs.

After clearing the stage, Grant Farm rolls on and bursts right into their set. Tyler’s work on “Times have Changed” recall Allman Brothers’ riffs and leads that sear like a stove top set on high to the beat of Chris Misner. It’s immediately obvious how talented he is, and while he has put in the work and paid his dues, he is a natural, and it is no wonder he struck out on his own to pursue his music and pick up the electric guitar. His hard, southern inspired sound shoots through the theater while the band is churning, and really getting at it.

All the while Scramble Cambell bangs the canvas like an additional drummer.

With a mention to the beautiful new batiks for sale at the merch booth, Grant yells “Funky Boulder,” and rears his way into the song of the same name. A country rock blitz of an instrumental jam, Keith Moseley plays bass with Adrian on acoustic guitar. Sean Foley really lets loose on the organ and it’s clear that with Moseley on board their energy has skyrocketed and they’re finding ways to expand their songs and jams. For good measure, and to take full advantage of his presence, they played two String Cheese tunes. The first, “Up the Canyon Road,” was a fitting number for a show in Boulder County, as Nederland and the winding canyon road that leads there is in fact just around the corner from the Boulder Theater. The second was “Sometimes a River.”

Tyler Grant

Covering material from other bands seemed to be something Grant has been accustomed to, and he knows how to make them sound like his own, something the Grateful Dead were notorious for. Perhaps feeling the love from Bob Marley’s birthday a couple of nights prior, they laid down a funky “Soul Rebel,” dedicated to Chris, Sarah and Team Mosely. Another choice cover for Grant’s familiarity with the genre was the delta blues staple “Sitting on Top of the World.” And my personal favorite, towards the end of the show, was “Maggie’s Farm.” A popular song by Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead made this a staple of their live performances and it seemed Grant Farm chose to play it in the manner with which they did.

After seeing the caliber of show that Grant Farm can bring to the table, it’s easy to understand why they are looking for a spot at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival. Grant is such a talented guitarist that he is looking to make his name known, and for good reason. After lending a hand to bands and becoming a master of flatpicking, isn’t it only natural to keep moving forward?

Sun, 02/17/2013 - 1:07 pm

Renowned vibraphone, percussionist and lyrical mastermind Mike Dillon is one of those traveling musicians that might not always draw the largest of crowds, but is embraced by many musical communities and fans of altering genres. Boasting a resume filled with his numerous projects, including Garage A Trois, Dead Kenny G’s, and the Mike Dillon Band, which he brought in tow to Denver, and working with artists spanning all reaches of the musical spectrum, he is one of those guys who you find working every nook and cranny. A staple on Jam Cruise, Dillon and his percussion set can be found jamming with everyone from good friends Galactic to the Funky Meters, but it is his vibraphone, crazy antics and snarling rap like approach to his vocals that separate him from the pack.

With tattoo splattered arms, a scarf, and his mop of always graying hair, Dillon looked like an out of place punk rock veteran as he stepped on stage at the tie-dye adorned Quixote’s. With elements of go-go, free form jazz, punk rock and hip-hop, the tunes that are produced by the quartet of the Mike Dillon Band can take you from one style to another, usually within a single song, much like Professor Arturo in Sliders could time travel anywhere in the past or future within a given episode. This is aided in part to his wild cast of musicians, featuring the balls to the wall driving force of Adam Gertner on the drum kit, Cliff Hines on bass and guitar, and the wildly eccentric and stunning Carly Meyers on trombone, Moog pedals and also getting wild on the vibraphone while keeping the crowd jumping around with her nonstop Rio Carnival whistle and cheek to cheek grin. One certainly can’t forget to mention the Beetle Juice black and white striped pants she wore throughout the show as well, which helped her dazzle the crowd all night. I really can’t say enough about Carly. Her energy level surpassed my expectations of what I had previously heard about their live shows, and her party vibe perfectly complemented the hard-edged yet humorous Mike Dillon.

Performing a slew of tunes from his various bands and projects and quite a few Mike Dillon Band songs, I tried to keep up with the ensuing madness and steer through the rough as rusty nails vocals to capture the essence of his lyrics. The drums and guitarist kept the band tight, with Cliff playing bass notes on his guitar. Adam can certainly keep a beat with the best of them, and when joined by a local guest on bass for the majority of the second set, he was the one orchestrating and leading him through the intricacies of Dillon’s compositions. I remember being immediately captivated by Carly, however, and finding myself stare at her while she jumped around in her physical interpretation of the music. She even found her way into the crowd during the song “Get Small,” blowing her whistle in a fervor that would leave most people who aren’t used to the altitude winded and gasping while clutching an oxygen tank.

“Tortoise in a Can,” a song from his work with Hairy Apes BMX, is one of the first songs to catch me and pull me into what they’re doing on stage. With Adam playing a break beat style, the song bounces around and feels like a fusion of hip-hop and funk, and one can tell why artists such as Skerik and Les Claypool gravitate towards the percussion master for various projects. As Dillon slaps away at his vibraphone, each hand clutching two mallets, a slew of humorous facial expressions accompany the music and his vocals. While Adam and Cliff hold down the beat, the expressions, growls and attempts at off-beat harmonies between Carly and Dillon help keep a serious yet silly demeanor about the band, which is also how the lyrics to many of his songs unfold.

“Leather On,” a song from the Mike Dillon Band’s newest release, “Urn,” is a wild, funky number that had the bass groove in full swing while the vibraphone and trumpet formed a ghastly melody accompanied by lyrics chock full of references to Joey Ramone and Count Basie. Dillon squeals the chorus of “Motha Fucka!” and it seems appropriate for this hip-hop minded track. He raps the vocals, which have a wildly paced be-bop feel to them that is only heightened by the trumpet. This is a continued theme throughout the night, and one fully embraced in his alternate identity as MC Silver Ice, which fully explores his urban influenced interests. “Saturn Returns” is another song where he raps the lyrics and also from “Urn,” and I couldn’t make out half of what he was saying until I listened to the album a few times.

While hip-hop holds a prevalent part in Mike Dillon’s music, being born in the Lone Star State and currently residing in musically rich New Orleans has added layers to his influences that can come out at any point during his live shows. As many jam bands weave songs into one another, the Mike Dillon Band blends musical styles and directions into a single song. From the metal and punk rock snarls and screams to the drum and trumpet heavy New Orleans brass sound, you never know where a number is heading. Having had a multitude of projects over the years and the ability to play alongside so many talented musicians, the urban percussion fueled center of this band bleeds into every instrument and vocal, and while lyrical depth is front and center, there is no denying the talent the band brings to the music. If they were to simply jam out the instrumental tracks, the crowd would have been accepting because the group is that tight. Many bands associated with the MDB get stuck in the trap of being solely focused on instrumentals or vocals, but this quartet bounces away from labels before you can even apply them.

At some point during the show Mike started ranting to the crowd, thanking us for coming because our money goes to the big oil companies, as gasoline is one of the most taxing expenses on touring bands. He also asked for us to “give it up for Jerry, who is the only musician to keep a club open from the wall,” referring to the late Grateful Dead guitarist’s mural on the outside façade of Quixote’s, which is a Dead-centric bar along with its brethren in Sancho’s and Cervantes. I picked up a vinyl copy of “Urn” and Mike more than willingly posed for a picture with it and passed on a copy of his MC Silver Ice CD. Before leaving, I spoke to the lady who had been painting all night, and it seems that the best part about painting during a show is the ability to know when the piece is finished without the false luxury of second-guessing.

Tue, 03/19/2013 - 2:38 pm

On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, an unseasonably mild March night, EOTO put together an audiovisual party at the Boulder Theater that wasn’t scripted by shamrocks and, fortunately, green beer.

As the ballooning crowd funneled through the double doors, oblivious to the separate entrance through George’s Food and Drink, Liquid Stranger was womping his way through an extensive set that saw him sampling everything from Coldplay to hip hop. The bass gargled from what sounded like an underwater PA. Before kicking off the last few tracks of his set, he opened a rapport with the crowd, getting them warmed up for the String Cheese Incident’s pair of percussionists who play from the confines of a large, breathing lotus flower. “I’ve been holding back,” Liquid Stranger said before launching into a raunchy beat that felt like it fit in one of the Matrix sequels.

It was around this time that I took a look around and noticed how empty the bar was, and how little enthusiasm squeaked out of the crowd when he mixed in the Ludacris staple, “Move Bitch.” Most hands were painted with the underage black Sharpie mark, and holding water bottles. They were kids. They were out of their parents’ homes for the night and celebrating life in a much different manner than the green clad boozers running amuck on the bricks of Pearl Street. They wore sparkling headbands and ranged from String Cheese hippies to bass heads, adorned with everything from tie-dyes to tight jeans tucked in behind the tongue of a pair of high-tops. Even Gumby was there with dilated pupils and a set of headphones around his neck.

When Michael Travis and Jason Hann entered their coexisting musical worlds within the lotus flower, the crowd naturally picked up. Travis stood facing the crowd, surrounded by keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, basses and MacBooks loaded with Ableton. Jason is sitting at an electrified drum kit wearing a headset that he freely chants into throughout the show, controlling pitch and sound through a multitude of IPads and other devices. Travis, the Colorado local, said hello, making sure to let us know that they’re an improvisational band before pushing buttons on his computers and perching over the synthesizers as we prepared to make the jump to light speed.

A dubstep groove parades around the room; rattling the floors, and joined by a series of lights that circle the room from different points, emanating streams of colors that rainbow over the audience. Balcony dwellers lean over the edge, poking their fingers through the vibrant waves. Once the lotus flower and backdrop came alive, and the lights soared overhead and in time with the music, it became apparent why these guys travel the road so often every year when String Cheese Incident isn’t touring.

Watching Michael Travis traverse his cubicle of sound is a pleasure in itself. Whether he’s on the synthesizers or looping bass and guitar as part of an overall building progress of a song from scratch, he’s a methodical mastermind of musical construction. When you look away from the stage, and happen to hear an instrument you don’t remember being used, chances are Travis is working up some of his motion potion that weaves and intertwines, forming layers to the overall track that he and Hann are endlessly building through the night.

The break beat havoc that Hann pours through his endless drumming is also something to marvel at. The consistency with which he and Travis unite is a site to see when comprehending that their performance is the music industry version of a farm to table restaurant. Being able to choose any particular mood or theme for the evening depending on the crowd and venue is special, and it appears the boys of EOTO take pleasure in orchestrating their brand of improv-electronic music.

Though a light show doesn’t make the music, it can certainly improve the overall aesthetics of a musical experience. With a projector placed above the front of house engineer and pointed at the lotus flower and stage backdrop, the lighting designer let loose graphics that looked like a screen saver on mushrooms. Even Hann’s kit was glowing. The laser light placement opened the show up to different dimensions, with two placed on the sides of the stage, lined up with another two hanging from the edge walls of the main room, and another two cans on the ceiling. This allowed the beams to grow around the perimeter of the room, forming thick streams in color coordination with the lotus and projector splashed backdrop.

From the balcony the laser beams shot around the room like neon spider webs, and the glitter of cell phones recording videos made for an interesting view. While it could be too much for some, it was just right for the raving fans gyrating to the robotic symphony of tones, samples and loops; wafting their hands in the international sign of dubstep (and a possible cousin to the fist pump).

It was around the time they sampled Isaac Hayes’ “Do Your Thing,” that the crowd momentum built to an all out high before mellowing out with a reggae dub groove and eventually bursting back into their hybrid identity with a number that sounded like tie fighters blasting their lasers on a scratched CD.

Jason and Travis still have EOTO going strong after seven years of improvisation in a field where new DJs come and go, but their ingenuity and exemplary handling of the weapons they have separate them from being just another dubstep act. It’s been fun seeing them since their inception and reassuring that there is no end in sight. I knew the night was a success when I overheard someone in the bathroom tell his friend, “Hey, at least we aren’t in a porta potty at Ultra.”

Fri, 03/22/2013 - 9:57 am

When the opportunity to see one of the catalysts of a certain genre of music presents itself, the general inclination is to get up off of the couch and learn something while boogying down. Considered to be amongst the earliest purveyors of the ska movement born out of Jamaica, and directly influencing what has come to be known as reggae, The Skatalites are a treat of a band led by the sole surviving founder, Lester “Ska” Sterling on alto saxophone. Now seventy seven, Lester has seen the band go through many changes, losses and differences over the years, but the spirit that rose out of Jamaica in the early sixties is still alive and well and was found at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom Wednesday night.Boasting eight members, and featuring the lovely vocals of Doreen Shaffer on multiple songs, the live performance is an exhilarating ride through the history of music. With ska finding its roots in American R&B, calypso and Caribbean music, it became a mainstay in Jamaican culture during the early sixties. The Skatalites helped to hone this new craft of music, playing with yet to be legendary artists during that period such as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff and Toots Hibbert, and they no doubt helped to influence those artists on their respective adventures into the realm of reggae.Joining Sterling on stage are Zem Audu on tenor sax, Andrae Murchison on trombone, Kevin Batchelor on trumpet, Val Douglas on bass, Natty Frenchy laying down skank guitar, Cameron Greenlee reinforcing the off-beat skank guitar on keyboards and organ, and Trevor Thompson on drums. This core unit combines to illustrate a living, breathing representation of what ska meant to Jamaican culture when it first arose, and how its traces are still finding their way into modern music. With Trevor and Val supplying the beat and never-ending bass line, and Frenchy and Cameron leading the way with the skank rhythm, the horn section is free to glide above the rest and solo to their hearts’ content. While Sterling is the natural leader of the band, given his age and founder status, the rest of the band isn’t far behind, and the horn section’s ability to seamlessly swap solos and blend with one another is really a treat. While reggae abandoned the overarching horn section in favor of more drum, bass, guitar and vocals, ska is represented by horns, and still is to this day, evident by the punk-ska revival of the eighties and nineties in American mainstream music.Supporting act Koffi Togi Vibe was banging his drum and uniting the crowd in the spirit of his Western African home as I walked through the doors of Cervantes. Boasting a ten member lineup on every instrument one can conjure in a blend of West African and American music, Koffi is a true showman and activist, seen not only through his command over the crowd and their gyrations, but in his missionary trips back to his home nation of Togo to lead groups of curious travelers. He is a modern day messiah, preaching the music of his country and finding creative outlets that let it join in the modern web of musical growth. Similar to Femi and Fela Kuti in his passion for music and country, Koffi is a driving force of fusion music in the Denver scene, and can be found teaching dance and drums in addition to his multitalented band of polyrhythmic instrumentalists.Local Denver boys Judge Roughneck have been holding down the essence of ska and reggae over the years and took over the stage when Koffi and his gang retreated. While Koffi ignited an international flare with his set, Byron Shaw and Judge Roughneck brought out a ska fueled boogie to get things going. More of your traditional reggae/ska band than the West African educational and uplifting experience of Koffi, these boys played the part, and dressed it too. With a slew of suit jackets, cabby hats, fedoras and a chain wallet hanging low, these guys looked more like the late eighties and early nineties ska revival artists, and they justified the initial glimpse. With skank guitar, bass, drums, Hammond organ, saxophone, trumpet and trombone, these guys essentially had the same instruments on stage that we would soon see the Skatalites with, but they added their own modern element to their music. Covering songs like the Musical Youth classic “Pass the Dutchie,” Judge Roughneck brought out a feel good party sound that had the crowd swaying and warmed up for the blast from the past vibes of The Skatalites.During the set break the stage was cleared in the middle to make room for a line of horns. Drummer Trevor Thompson seemed to be tuning his kit for what seemed to be the entire set break, and one by one the boys made their way onstage. With a large gap in age between some of the players, it was no surprise to see bassist Val Douglas sitting on a stool for the evening. When Lester started his slow shuffle across the stage, alto sax in hand, the crowd boomed and made their way up front to get a picture of the legendary ska pioneer. Wearing black sweats, a black shirt, white cross trainers, a plaid fedora and cataract black sunglasses, Lester looked like a mix of an old roadie with a stylistic swagger that he didn’t let the years alter. I would say he’s pretty much the man, and at this point is capable of donning whatever he wants without being judged.With a countdown and chant of “Freedom,” the band kicked it off quick with the skank guitar and keys chiming in between the off notes from the drums and bass, and Lester letting the sax out of the bag. The four-person horn section stood side by side down stage along the front, and alternated solos throughout their set. The ability feel out your musical companions comes with a certain amount of comfort playing with one another, and you could tell these guys were on. While Lester certainly coordinated songs and allowed the horns a breather for a guitar solo every now and again, the horn section knew what they were doing, and breezed through song after song.The first number I recognized was “Music is My Occupation,” which features a distinctive build from the trumpet that runs along the lines of the Cash Family’s “Ring of Fire.” The Skatalites are well known for fusing American pop and R&B songs into their repertoire, as they did with the famous ska rendition of “Guns of Navarone,” which is still a staple of their live performances and is one of the first instrumentals you’ll come across when digging into their catalogue. The version they played at Cervantes even included a little teaser jam on “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Other songs the Skatalites graced with their rhythmic ska throughout the set included the James Bond 007 theme, and my personal favorite, “California Sun,” the surf guitar and organ laced pop song by sixties band The Rivieras. Before both of these numbers, which were purely instrumental, Lester acknowledged the impact that American pop music and other genres had on their advancement of ska as the radio waves broadcasted down into Jamaica.This theme continued as they welcomed Doreen Shaffer, whom Lester called “the Queen of Reggae,” to the stage to tackle the 1964 Millie Small radio classic, “My Boy Lollipop.” This was the first song to feature full on vocals, and Doreen hasn’t missed a step over the years. Seeing the covers that they choose and the way they add their distinctive ska sound is intriguing not just because of the changes that they make to the songs, but the fact that these songs were trickling into Jamaica and were completely new to members of the original Skatalites. Doreen, who first played with The Skatalites in 1964 adds an entirely different dimension to the band with her distinctive voice and take on pop melodies that flourished when they made their way to the islands.The Skatalites, while not the same band they were in the early sixties or even the generations between then and now, embody the spirit and music of Jamaica. The early breeds of ska that were birthed in Jamaica found influence in many corners of the world, and in turn influenced generations to come. While modern ska still holds true to some of the elements The Skatalites helped bring to the public’s ears, they are in a league of their own for the creativity and approach to the music that stirred an entire country and helped bring about reggae. If you have a chance, go see Lester and the boys while they’re still touring, because he is holding the torch that symbolizes the origins of ska and there aren’t many acts out there that can claim the same thing.

Sat, 03/23/2013 - 5:35 pm

One of the great joys of attending concerts is the never-ending exposure to new artists and the swift kick in the ass feeling of why you haven’t been listening to them. This isn’t usually the case with most headliners, as you know what you’re getting into, but when it comes to the opening band, all bets are off. It’s a crapshoot. You might as well bet it all on red.

While I’ve been aware of Toubab Krewe’s special blend of African influenced jam vibes for a few years, the brothers Rootz and Zeebo Steele of See-I have been eluding me. I’ve been deprived of their hard rocking reggae personas and the Thievery Corporation live band musicians that back them up. Sheltered from their velvet coats and safari helmets. Rudely left in the dark concerning their rollicking live funky reggae parties. That all changed when they opened for Toubab at The Fox Theatre on Thursday night.

On a mild evening that saw the shorthanded Denver Nuggets slide by the Philadelphia 76’ers on a series of gut check three pointers and trips to the charity stripe, one was led to believe that the night was brimming with potential. The Fox had recently added Odell’s 90 Shilling to their draft beer selection. Their came whispers about members of Thievery Corporation. There was curiosity in the air.

A quick search reveals that See-I stands for state, elaborate, exemplify and illustrate, and is used in writing and research. Obviously Rootz and Zeebo took this to heart and crafted their well thought out and opinionated lyrics according to the method.

Their band is a recognizable bunch, with Ashish Vyas playing bass and Rob Myers adorned with an orange scarf and sunglasses bringing his shining black Les Paul to life. These two led a fantasy laced mood jam, accompanied by Jeff Franca on drums. My first thought was that these musicians are far more talented than the numbers in the audience indicated. My second was that this stylistic form was in no way the reggae that I was led to expect. Then, the Brothers Steele walked onstage looking like dreadlocked circus ringleaders, and everything changed.

Their fun loving party portrayal of roots reggae has them whirling around four on the floor beats and the barefoot bass lines that chart into the territory of Wayne Smith’s “Under Me Sleng Teng.” One of the brothers asks us if “We can hear the bass in our bottoms,” before the obligatory Colorado legalization reference and the jump off into a dubbed out version of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.”

While boasting a band worthy of headlining, the group balanced a heavy bass onslaught with sprinkling wah-wah guitar and the typical tinkering keyboard fades of reggae dub parties. The accumulation of talent left my eyes racing from side to side; one minute watching Ashish bounce around barefoot in an El Mariachi suit and the other trying to absorb what the Steele’s were rapping above each four count smash of the bass drum. Usually the opening band warms up the audience. See-I gave a full nights’ performance and left some without the legs to carry on.

Toubab Krewe made their way to the stage following a brief break in the music, allowing their gear to be placed accordingly. Toubab, or foreigner in multiple West African languages, is a rhythmic collective influenced by their extensive travels and mind-expanding meetings with international musicians, particularly throughout Western Africa. With their roots tied deeply to Asheville, NC it was no surprise to walk into The Fox Theatre’s room to the sound of a smoky mountain jamboree that touched on bluegrass and traditional folk sounds with the added flair of Drew Heller’s soku, a traditional fiddle found in Mali.

The unfamiliar instruments being used on stage didn’t stop there. Justin Perkins enthralled us with his mastery over the kora, which is a 21-string bridge harp that when played resembles a hand picked early blues acoustic guitar with more of a majestic sounding desert pluck. This instrument goes a long way in the decisive sound Toubab has sought out and made their own through a fusion of wandering musical interests.

When they played “Rooster,” one of my personal favorites, it looked like the first time listeners found the balance of understanding the context of the band. While it’s easy to qualify them as a jam band, it is next to impossible to not recognize their international savvy. They have a penchant for carving out their own niche in the expansive and button bursting world of jam bands. With this number you can hear the basic structure of the band as well as the use of the kora and a world of different percussion items. They go from being that jam band to being worldwide travelers carrying you on a mood induced rhythmic voyage across international waters.

While most of their set focuses on this instrumentally international flavor, and even features Spanish vocals on some tunes, the song “John Hardy” saw them take a step back and really focus on rocking the house and letting master of percussion Luke Quaranta carry them. With Justin picking up a second electric guitar to complement Drew Heller’s own, the band went into full rhythmic shakedown and took on a sound that in these parts resembles The String Cheese Incident with a kora instead of a mandolin.

Following “John Hardy,” they treated us to an Appalachian traditional splashed with their usual international fervor. Terrence Houston started out a fast paced rocking beat and Justin treated us with his vocals on “Cluck Old Hen.” While their mesmerizing takes on West African styles are defining of the band, these last two songs set the house on fire and left many wondering why they didn’t find this balance between international and southern blues earlier in the night. If this wasn’t the booze laced rocker of the night, then I don’t know what else could have prompted bassist David Pransky to walk his instrument all the way down the side of the crowd to the bar to take shots before running back to the stage to finish the song.

Regardless of pace or setlist structure, Toubab Krewe’s nearly annual show at The Fox Theatre saw them trotting in new directions with genre defiling musical escapades and even vocal lyrical talent I haven’t seen out of them before. Whether they’re singing in English or Spanish, or playing the sounds of Mali or the delta blues of the American South, Toubab Krewe continues their educational enlightenment from city to city gaining new fans with their unique melting pot of a sound.

Check out more photos from the show.

Tue, 04/02/2013 - 5:16 am

The date was March 30th, 2013. Or was it October 9th, 1977? Either way, the city of Denver held camp to the throngs of Deadheads along Colfax. On our way into McNichols Arena, I mean The Ogden Theater; there was a buzz in the air that only a live concert can produce. It had been a beautiful, early spring day and had transitioned well into a mildly acceptable evening. The strip of Colfax that stretches from Sancho’s Broken Arrow to The Ogden was alive with tie-dye, booty shorts, Afros and dreadlocks. Erykah Badu was playing The Fillmore Auditorium, a name most Deadheads recognize from the early days of Bill Graham, but at the Ogden was Dark Star Orchestra, the premiere Grateful Dead cover band spearheaded by Rob “Bob Weir” Eaton and his cast of characters doing their best to impersonate any given show from the Dead’s run of thirty years strong.

Outside, the will call line was a mess. Typical of Deadheads, everybody showed up right when the music was scheduled to start, promptly flooding the little window and adjacent sidewalk. The always good willed venue staff did their best to sort through the line, weeding out the guest list from normal will call, and gladly got me my ticket while still a dozen or so people from the front. The band must have taken note of this line, because they came on nearly twenty minutes after their scheduled set time.

One of the most entertaining aspects of Dark Star Orchestra shows is the ability, as a fan, to break down the set list like a statistician. Everything is done for a reason with this band. My first impression was the stage arrangement. Dueling drummers Dino English and Rob Koritz sit with their kits on risers in back, and in front of them, starting stage right, is Rob Barraco on keys, Jeff Mattson on lead guitar, Rob Eaton on rhythm, Lisa Mackey on vocals and Kevin Rosen on bass. In Grateful Dead terms, that would be Keith Godchaux, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Donna Godchaux and Phil Lesh, with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart on drums and percussion. This is the lineup that started in 1971, when founding member Pigpen fell ill, ultimately passing in 1973.

Stage placement can go a long way in determining what show, or even what era of the Grateful Dead is being played. Sometimes a left hand monkey wrench gets thrown in the gears, however, and DSO creates their own setlist. This is where knowing the great American songbook of the Grateful Dead comes in handy. Some songs were only played in certain years. Lyrics changed throughout their three generations. Some songs were first set or second set only, and some songs would never be played before or after one another, or even during the same era. Take the second set Drums>Space>Terrapin Station; this was a masterpiece in its earliest live stages, and only appeared out of Drums>Space a few times.

I felt the show was in the late seventies style from the get go. Probably somewhere between 1977-1979 considering that Lisa was singing Donna’s parts and Barraco was primarily working electric piano, in addition to the stage arrangement. Eaton kicked off the show with a rocking “Minglewood Blues,” doing his best Bobby lockjaw. The set that followed was a perfect example of the ebb and flow between Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir during their live performances. For the majority of their time together, the Dead relied on these two as their primary vocalists, one of the reasons Donna was added to the mix, and due to Phil’s reluctance or healthy ability to sing. This was the case with this show, as Rob and Jeff handled all vocal duties, with the others providing backing harmonies.

As they plowed through the honkytonks and Americana infused melodies with psychedelic prowess, we were greeted by familiar tunes like “Cassidy,” “Dire Wolf,” and “Brown Eyed Women.” I’ve always loved this era of Dead music. All three of these songs had been in rotation for some time by the late seventies, with “Dire Wolf” first being played live in 1969. These songs have such depth and storied rhythms to them. They lead you down twists and turns and embody the folklore that dominated early traditional music. This is heavily in part to Jerry Garcia and lyrical partner Robert Hunter’s foray in country and Americana music, which spawned the albums “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead;” still remembered as quite possibly the best albums they ever made. Hearing the country embodied songs played during the later seventies, as the band was still relatively fresh off of their mid seventies hiatus and in a full swing transformation into an arena rock staple, has always interested me. They had a hold on their sound and music like no other band really did, and still were abe to alter and find new dimensions. They were the oddballs, the band playing to fans and not record labels and Billboard charts.

The show really took off, in my opinion, when Eaton started up the metallic rhythm of “Lazy Lightning>Supplication.” I’ve seen DSO play this combo before, back when John Kadlecik was in the band, but Jeff Mattson has really found his groove with these guys and ripped the living hell out of the transition before Eaton began howling “dizzy aint the word for the way you’re making me feel now.” And I concurred. Things slowed down a bit for “Sugaree,” before they opened up a can of whoopass and I honestly thought it was going to be the last song of the first set but Eaton shifted gears for a more spaced out, harmonic version of “The Music Never Stopped,” and though it did for a little while, it was sure to return.

Setbreak at DSO shows, like Dead shows, are a time to chat about what you heard and what you think is to come. I parted with a group of friends from the Ratdog.org board, and found amongst the crowd the biggest deadhead I know, and also a very talented writer for the Grateful Web. We chatted about how in the modern era of live Dead music we are so used to hearing the Ratdog/Furthur versions of songs that we find ourselves chanting lyrics aloud at a Dark Star Orchestra show, where they are hitting the set and songs the way the Dead would have, when nobody else is. In Ratdog and Furthur, when playing “The Music Never Stopped,” Bobby sings “never stopped, never stopped,” on repeat during the closing jam, and it has really become something I enjoy. Nevertheless, it was just the spawn of set break communications and made for interesting conversation as we tried to conserve our energy for the upcoming second set of what we were almost positive was a 1977 or 1978 show.

Eaton kicked off another set of great music with “Samson and Delilah,” which was a staple during the late seventies and was played to excess on some of those 1976-1977 tours. It was a joy to hear a full fledged rocking version, as it is one song I am not a huge fan of these days when it comes to the tambourine acapella vocal intro, though I understand and appreciate it seeing how it is an old spiritual tune that Bobby likes to preach every Sunday. With the early set rocker out of the way and the crowd swinging, the band dipped into full, robust bass bombs only a disciple of Phil Lesh could muster, and swept everybody off their feet with “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain.” First paired together in 1977, this dynamic combo stayed in the repertoire until Jerry checked out in 1995, and is one of the most debated pairings, as it seems everybody has their favorite version (right now mine is 2/5/1978).

Scarlet is a song with a strong lyrical presence, boasting such lines as, “strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hands,” which most audience members do, and “Once in awhile you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” The latter lyric was especially poignant to me, as I met a fresh-faced twenty-one year old I’ll call jr on the RTD from Boulder. He was so wide eyed with enthusiasm; so oblivious to what he was to expect, but he was enthralled and eager and I wish I hadn’t lost him in line. I would have loved to hear what his thoughts were on the show, and if he truly was “shown the light.”

The combo seemed to go on forever, which is always fine by me, and “Fire on the Mountain” really showed Eaton and Mattson on the same page as the dug through solos, slides and interchanging leads. Even Lisa, usually happy swinging in circles through every jam, shakes her head, smiling at the excessive continuation and bobbing back and forth. It was around the end of “Fire” when I made my way to the bar and met a kind lady wearing an Ohio State Buckeyes shirt. We weighed the loss to Wichita State, said cheers, and took solace in the live Dead music to comfort us in our time of loss.

After a brief pause to catch their collective breath, we were treated to a another foray into the strange and psychedelically infused with “Estimated Prophet,” which started a classic cycle of songs in true Dead form: “Estimated>He's Gone>Truckin>Drums/Space.” Like any lesson, one can learn a lot by song structure and setlists. This combo was classic Dead. Strong, strange jams transitioning into a slow Jerry ballad that builds before erupting into a rocker by Weir. This segment preceding drums/space was just that.

Coming out of a somewhat swift drums/space jam, we took a trip to “Terrapin Station.” As mentioned earlier, the placement of this song following Drums/Space is rather unique and was a moment where many people, including myself, began to pinpoint just what show was being covered.

The second set came to a close with Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” and the crowd was definitely reeling and rocking. They encored with Casey Jones, just like the setlist called for way back on 10/9/1977, and let the crowd make their way into the night, some on their way to catch a bus, and some destined to be on it forever.

Check out more photos from the show.

Tue, 04/02/2013 - 12:23 pm

While every state has their bevy of Grateful Dead cover bands, Colorado is proud to put Shakedown Street at the top of their list. Playing shows all over the Front Range and Rocky Mountains, they’ve built themselves into the beloved act they are today. Even Rob Eaton of Dark Star Orchestra plays with members on occasion when jamming around Colorado. With a name that completely implies that they’re a Dead cover act, they already draw a fair amount of fans, but once you hear how tight of an act they are, they garner those who are were stuck on the fence concerning the thought of another Dead act and what they could really offer.

I walked into the Boulder Theater Friday night to the familiar thumping of “Shakedown Street,” and yes, I mean the song. This was a special night for the band and fans, as Jerry Garcia Band veteran Melvin Seals hunched over a big old Hammond organ that was prevalent in the mix. His very presence brought the rest of the band to a level I’d never seen them reach before, and he was especially appreciated on the solo Jerry material they covered.

After a funky, disco-Dead jam, the band bled into “Feel Like a Stranger.” The midi and rhythmic chirp of Scott Swartz propelled the band and Melvin and keyboardist Joe Weisiger discovered a natural, happy medium that ignited the interplay between them. Christian Teele, the lone wolf drummer wearing a rather large pair of headphones, was pure march madness as he clomped along while Scott howled about it being “A long, long, crazy, crazy night.” I remember them coming to a premature ending before the rhythm section snapped them back into the groove, finishing in the appropriate manner for the song with the collective last note of each individual member in sync.

In classic Dead fashion, the boys wandered around on stage tuning and altering their sound before and after nearly every song of the first set. Not in classic Dead fashion, they launched into a duo of Jerry songs, playing “They Love Each Other” and “Row Jimmy” back to back. Melvin dominated these songs instrumentally, waling away while the rest of the band simply stood and watched him roll. Josh Rosen can really replicates the Jerry harmonics, and his close-eyed shred face left more than just me chuckling.

Feeling the need to share the wealth, they broke into a cowboy combo with “Me and My Uncle” and “Mexicali Blues.” The first always gets a good response, with its lyrics touching upon Colorado. The heavy Brent Mydland era organ coming from Melvin met the honky-tonk electric piano of the Keith Godchaux era, and fused the two worlds of Grateful Dead music together. Melvin also did a fine take on the polka of Mexicali, which was the first song without a minor or major pause in action preceding it.

With a wook must hanging on the air, the band launched into a slow grooving “Bird Song,” which saw some head to the bar, some to the bathroom, and some to their pockets to smoke the fragrant ganja that plumed into the room in waves during the slower songs.

Allowing the thematic duos to continue, they next paired “How Sweet it Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “Cat’s Under the Stars,” both songs played primarily by Jerry’s solo bands, before leaving the stage for setbreak.

What transpired next was a series of songs weaving in and out of one another that would have made for one of the more epic Dead sets (on paper) that was ever played. Kicking it off with the crowd favorite combo of Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain, the place was full of people shaking their bones as the band intricately jammed out the pair before pausing and breaking into the rare and oft-forgotten, “My Brother Esau.” This is one song I’ve been dying to hear live for years, and while it wasn’t the core four of the Dead performing, I was still thrilled with their ability to command that song after such a powerhouse combo. The shock didn’t end there, though, as they went straight into another classic pairing, “Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World.” While I expected them to continue the magnificence of the second set, I didn’t expect to hear “Uncle John’s Band” or another Jerry staple that the Dead only touched a couple of times, “Mission in the Rain.” Being able to weave between Dead songs and Jerry Garcia Band songs makes Shakedown Street not only a Dead cover band, but keepers of the torch. Add that to the players they have and the addition of Melvin Seals, and you’ve got the best representation of the Grateful Dead in Colorado.

The evening came to a close with a Johnny B. Goode encore, and as we wrestled with the crowd into the night, I tried my hardest.

Check out more photos from the show.

Wed, 05/15/2013 - 5:43 am

Long heralded and firmly entrenched as the psychedelic stalwarts of Austin, Texas, The Black Angels run on a reputation of mysticism that has them surrounded by dark, fuzzy guitar riffs and distorted vocals. Not adhering to conventions of modern rock, though grappling with elements of surf and late sixties acid rock, they’ve carved out their own slice of the Indie music scene. Regarded as musical savants in the towns and cities of America that really “get it,” the rest of the nation is finally catching up.Never missing a chance to stir the pot in Colorado, the Black Angels poured over Boulder like black mist hiding an oncoming rain. With them came a legion of skinny jeans, facial piercings, ruby red lipstick, leather jackets and sneering smiles. A few years removed from playing smaller capacity shows at The Fox Theatre, the crowd filled the brick paved sidewalk under the marquee of the Boulder Theater, illuminated by the wailing repetition of ambulance lights.Inside the theater, patrons wandered in a snake trance to the bar and bathrooms. Those lugging their boots up the stairs to balcony seating had eyes that seemed to be growing as they absorbed light, and those on the floor sections swayed to the hypnotic groove slithering out of the hanging speakers. The stage was whitewashed before the band came on, with a backdrop that set the scene for a night of mind-altering projections. Large white screens covered their amps, and looked like disjointed doors. The backdrop came to life early with Acid Test-era projections of water, film splicing, and erratic strobe lights, something that seemed right out Tom Wolfe’s glimpse into late sixties San Francisco and the drugs, music and culture that defined the era. A musical introduction accompanied the slow traipse of the band onto the stage, and before anybody finished cheering, the band was eclipsed by darkness as they started up the engines and left the station with moaning lyrics and a bleeding, distorted fuzz over all their instruments.The quintet is comprised of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, but the endless array of sounds far surpasses the generic mold of a traditional band. The immediate haunted fuzz riffs from guitarist Christian Bland enveloped the crowd with the Angels’ trademark sound, and the band launched into their set as lead singer and bassist Alex Maas crooned into his microphone that sounds completely distorted, making his voice achieve the gothic quality Bland has found in his tones and pedals.I Hear Colors “Chromaesthesia) blurred out of the dark intro with a garage rock sound in the vein of the White Stripes and the connection is strengthened by the peppermint swirling visuals projected behind them. Circus colors illuminated the stage and the bands’ shadows grew over them while they performed what felt like some occult trial by fire. The surf/garage conceptual rock shadowed in darkness and deeper meaning unfolded, eventually giving way to the single from their newest album, Don’t Play With Guns. This track has all of the elements that make the Black Angels who they are, but it’s a little more of a reach into the alternative rock and radio friendly category. The lyrics still have the historical importance and dark outlook that the majority of their songs do, and the unmistakable guitar accompanied by the howling church organ more than holds its own, but I can’t help but feel a departure of sorts from their norm.What bothered me most about the performance was the stop on a dime mentality. While certain songs were substantially extended, others abruptly came to an end with no clear reason. I can understand the desire not to segue songs into one another, but why not let the strangeness fill every nook of the audience’s heads with their eerie, incandescent sound. Short breaks between songs to swap instruments seemed to leave the crowd in a lull, looking around in a state of uncertain curiosity, but it was worthwhile seeing guitarist Nate Ryan and keyboardist Kyle Hunt swapping instruments along with Maas.Bland and drummer Stephanie Bailey were the only two to retain control over a single instrument for the duration of the show, and while it was clear that they mastered the two positions, it was cool to see the rest of the band fully capable of handling any instrument on any song. It kept things refreshing, especially for the band, which plays similar sets  and needs to keep the energy up.Songs like Yellow Elevator #2, Bad Vibrations, and Black isn’t Black highlighted the rest of their set, which featured a good amount of material spaced out across all of their albums. Besides the clear frustration with the on-stage guitar tech, the show seemed to go off without a hitch, though not without a hiccup. The fuzz guitar and psychedelic swing began to fall on tired ears by the end due to the semi repetitive nature of the material, and the likelihood that the University of Colorado commencement ceremony had worn down some of the concert goers.The band is clearly the torchbearer for a new generation of psychedelic rock, and their mystifying darkness casts spells upon listeners who have trouble finding bands to relate them to without going back some decades ago. Acid rock is evidently alive and well, you just have to know where to find it.

Mon, 05/20/2013 - 9:20 am

When you bring a together a cast of musicians steeped in different backgrounds for the sole purpose of creating on-stage spontaneity, you have an improvisational outfit. The Everyone Orchestra, conducted by ringleader Matt Butler, is exactly that. The difference between your typical jam band and an improvisational outfit is that the latter shows up to the show with no songbook. The Everyone Orchestra’s show-to-show lineups come together with nothing more than mutual musical recognition, if that.

The show on Thursday night featured a lineup that saw some of the best from all reaches of music. Guitar guru Steve Kimock, with his signature sound, showed why he’s renowned throughout the jam band scene for his work with countless bands including Zero, Praang, RatDog, and reincarnations of The Dead. The lovely Bridget Law of Elephant Revival harnesses a clear knowledge of rocky mountain bluegrass and traditional string music. Likewise for Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass, helped his band rise to the top of the jam-grass scene and garner support from both the far left and right of that blended genre. Bassist Kai Eckhardt comes from a renowned jazz-fusion background, playing with John McLaughlin Trio and most recently Garaj Mahal. Dave Watts and Jans Ingber of The Motet rounded out the lineup at Hodi’s Half Note on Thursday night, bringing the influence of more bands than I can name because of their knack for covering other artists. There’s a reason they can sell out a show playing Grateful Dead covers and your local bar band can’t.

While all of these musicians come from different musical backgrounds, they have one thing in common; they’ve played in jam band projects where their cross genre influences have been predominant. Everyone Orchestra brings those talents to the table, and builds a band by combing the eclectic styles into a selfless improvisational outfit.

Opener Marcellus Wallace outdid themselves with the bar-lingering crowd hesitant to move to the front and groove to the band’s R&B soul jams. The simplistic set up of drums, bass, keys and two vocalists really brought a small, east village bar vibe to their set, and their lady on lead vocals pulled Sunday gospel out of chords. Jans from the Motet joined them on a coffee shop version of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, as did a less than predominant but definitely set altering horn section, leading to the end of a longer than expected set.

Matt Butler opened by telling the crowd that his new means of composing- a dry erase board- is a method for communicating with the band and audience to pull everybody into the music together. Like a psychedelic conductor with a head full of speed he twirled around in circles pointing to the different musicians, telling them to lead a solo or take the music in a new direction. “Mama always told me to keep a clean slate,” he said, wiping the dry erase board after the first full on improvised jam.

Keeping with the jam protocol of Colorado, he dedicated the next song to “the Water Gods, who filled the reservoirs,” his way of praying for the long, hot summer ahead of us to be easy with all of the devastating fires last summer. The resulting jam sounded like funky, dusty trails, with Beck and Law taking the lead from Kimock and producing an entirely different sounding improvised number than the one before it.

Sometimes bordering recklessness, and even conceptual abandonment, they still found a way to keep the audience involved over two sets. Any of the artists can be the decisive X-factor during the show, and they take turns allowing each to get some time in leading the band down a jam. But Butler is there to conduct. He manages roles throughout the show, not that this skilled of musicians really need it. They are completely selfless in the balance of powers. The conductor works to appease whoever throws out a good suggestion for the jam and lets them off the leash while he noodles on his board.

The very concept of The Everyone Orchestra is something special. Not only does it nurture unity in musicians, but also encourages fans of a certain type of music to explore and expand their tastes. With the lineup changing nearly every show, and the fact that the music is completely improvised, you can expect a completely different show every time you see them. Matt Butler has crafted something very special, and judging by the amount of artists willing to share the stage with him, things only seem to be looking up.

Check out Grateful Web's recent interview with Matt Butler.

Thu, 05/30/2013 - 8:58 am

Portland’s Fruition stopped into Shine for a memorable night of strings and songs Friday night, boasting a Naropa vibe and an audience clutching craft brews and camaraderie. With a slot at Wakarusa on the near horizon, Fruition brought their northwestern bluegrass to the land locked Front Range and were met with general enthusiasm in what was a drastic change of scenery from the ruckus taking place next door at the Bohemian Biergarden.

With a bouncy upright bass, two guitars, drums, and a mandolin, Fruition’s quintet rumbled along with a chartered strum. The Nashville sounding southern twang of lead guitarist Jay Cobb Anderson steered the music into a furious combination of folksy bluegrass with an outlaw country-earth mother vibe. Mandolin-player and vocalist Mimi Naja shared the vocal duties, but her harmonies accompanying Anderson on songs like Just Close Your Eyes showed that their strength is in their numbers.

Their style is more nitty grittiness than one genre can handle, and it’s a refreshing blend that sees their charming vocals accompany a bevy of intricate stringed arrangements. There’s warmth in the stories they sing about nights under the star filled sky with boxes of wine that lead to lust, love, and lore. They’re road songs, but they’re love songs. They’re self-critical, brash interpretations of the voids in life that love and liquor fill. Mimi’s songs are about space and time, with story oriented outdoor imagery setting the scene for bigger issues. Songs like Wastin’ Away evoked those very thoughts as she sang about what felt like personal memoirs set to pastoral descriptions.

Constantly plugging away amid the two sets filled with ballads and moody vignettes was drummer Tyler Thompson and bassist Keith Simon. They came booming to life like a soul-jazz outfit while Mimi and Anderson alternated leads on mandolin and the distorted, resonating hollow body guitar. The vocal overlaps and bridges really seemed to be the heart of the band, with Mimi’s raspy coo complementing the higher range of her comrades. She staves off the perfectly soothing vocals so many folksy front ladies strive for; there’s hesitancy and crackling cords, and to me, she is the ace in their hand, emitting something different than the prototypical bluegrass harmonies.

On a night where the full moon illuminated downtown Boulder and the crowds that filled its streets, Shine was no more immune to its mysticism than anywhere else. With songs filled with metaphysical visions, this band is made to play under the light of the moon and in the whispers of the wind. Their freak-folk roots and grasp on narrative driven melodies makes them the salt of the earth band that Boulder can grasp, especially a full moon Shine crowd.

Thu, 06/06/2013 - 11:10 am

The Grateful Web's John Schumm chats with Slightly Stoopid co-frontman Miles Doughty about their live DVD filmed at Bob Weir's TRI Studios, their new studio/rehearsal space where their most recent album was recorded, the future of online streams and social media, their Summer Tour with Atmosphere, and bold, yet not reckless, predictions for the NBA Finals

GW: Alright Miles, you there?

MD: Yes Sir.

GW: Alright, let’s get it going, if you’re ready.

MD: Git r done.

GW: (Laughter) All right. So this is John Schumm with the Grateful Web, joined by Miles (Doughty) of Slightly Stoopid. Miles you’re the co-front man of the band, sharing vocals duties as well as playing guitar and bass with Kyle McDonald, correct?

MD: Yes, yep.

GW: Alright, let’s see, well the first time I saw you guys was back at the Rothbury Music festival in 2008, and besides being introduced to the music, I really remember the laissez faire approach to you guys sharing the instruments, and I was kind of wondering, has that always, the swapping vocals and instruments, been a component of the band, since you guys started?

MD: Yep, it’s been a component probably since right around 99’, 98’. When we first came out, Kyle predominantly played bass. I mean he still wrote songs, but during the live show I didn’t really play the bass as much. But then, after Barrel Ride, I started playing bass more and we started splitting up more of the duties, which is dope, just because it’s fun. It’s fun to play bass and guitar and sing and just kind of have that much freedom.

GW: I imagine so. Is that congruent with the studio albums you guys do, including the most recent, 2012’s “Top of the World?”

MD: Yeah, we both play on each other’s. You know, whoever’s singing and vice versa we kind of both play bass and guitars and things and it’s cool. I mean it allows the band, I mean, no one else does that, as far as switching up on stage and it’s something that’s kind of been a staple of Slightly Stoopid and I think it’s a lot of fun not only for us but it is for the fans too. When they see it the crowd erupts when we’re switching over just because really you go to a lot of live shows and you don’t see the two main guys that are playing switch their instruments throughout the whole set, every single night. So it’s really cool, man, and it allows us both to have our freedom vocally. You know it’s a lot harder to sing and play bass than it is to play guitar. (Laughter)

GW: Yeah, I imagine so. I would definitely say it’s refreshing to see. Going back to that first concert I saw I remember you guys even kind of tossing the instruments back and forth to one another on stage (Miles Laughs) and I know the audience really feeds off that every time that they see it, so, it’s definitely cool to see.

MD: Right on man. Yeah, I mean it’s a lot of fun to do, so it’s awesome that the fans like it and, like I said, it’s fun for both of us.

GW: Well cool, cool. So, the last album that you guys did, Top of the World, that was recorded in Slightly Stoopid’s new private studio, is that correct?

MD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we have one here in San Diego.

GW: Nice, could you elaborate on that a little bit; what brought the idea to kind of get into your own space?

MD: Well, I mean for the most part getting into our own space is always been our dream. I mean we’ve been playing music together for a couple of decades and it’s just, it was time. We didn’t need to make music in other people’s studios anymore. We wanted to have the freedom to do what we wanted, you know what I mean, and not be on a timetable and a certain amount; you know a producer or studio itself we have to use. And for us we kind of created the ultimate man cave. I mean it has bomb ass quarter pipes and an Xbox room. We have a sixty inch TV in there so you can get your game on if you don’t want to, you know, if you don’t feel like jamming for awhile. And it’s got the kitchen, bathroom, big, big rehearsal space that’s almost the size of a summer time stage: massive, so you can set up the risers and full stacks and things. It’s pretty sweet. And then we have our recording room upstairs that we did the whole record in, and I mean, it’s honestly, we’re really happy with how the record turned out and we did it, you know, relatively low budget as far as what we had for recording equipment. You know, we use Pro Tools, but we didn’t have a bunch of crazy different preamps and things and all the extras that you’d have in the five million dollar studio, but we were able to capture a certain vibe that is, you know, what this band is all about in general and it was just nice having that ability in your own place to, you know, being close to home and, you know, to have an idea and go, ‘I’m going to go down to the studio real quick, because I can,’ you know what I mean, it’s there and it’s available instead of having to call a studio and say, ‘hey we want to book down for three weeks’ and then maybe them not being able to do it when you can do it. So it’s all just about being able to do what you want, and it was long overdue for this band and it was something that once we had the opportunity to actually achieve it, we just attacked it and went after it and made, like I said, the ultimate man cave. You know, when you’re at the pad and you just want to go make music you can just go down there and hang out all day because there’s something to do regardless, you know what I mean, it’s a lot of fun.

GW: Right.

MD: And it makes it so you can make good music though, you know what I mean? You’re in your own zone and there’s nothing that can kind of deter you from what you’re willing to capture and what you’re able to capture in your own studio.

GW: Well it sounds like a blast, honestly. Being able to kind of have everything you need and not having to worry about anyone else’s studio time, and that. The Grateful Dead I know kind of did the same thing. They had a studio space and all that where they could hang out, rehearse, record, which Kind of leads me into what you guys just filmed a year or so ago, the DVD, Live at Roberto’s Studio.

MD: Yeah.

GW: Which I believe, that is Bob Weir’s baby, TRI Studios, correct?

M: Yeah. It’s Bob Weir’s place, that’s why we call it Live at Roberto’s but it’s just live at Bob’s, you know what I mean?

GW: Right.

MD: It was such a cool experience man. It was one of the dopest sounding studios as far as what you were able to capture in the live room, it was ridiculous, because we all just kind of sat in a horseshoe and played and the room itself, the acoustics, were off the charts, off the charts. It was just one of those things where you’re singing and all the reverb is perfect. The delays are perfect. The sound of the music is just crisp and mean and it was an experience, I’ll tell you that. I mean we had Ian and Ivan Neville, Don Carlos, Karl Denson, Bob Weir, I mean it was just like we were like kids in a candy store, we got to taste the best pieces (Laughter), you know what I mean? So it was really sweet to work with those guys, and Bob Weir was a G, hands down, as far as being such a cool cat and really easy to work with.

I remember this part of the night where right before we did the set, I was in Bob’s dressing room and we each had an acoustic guitar and we were just practicing the harmonies for I Know You Rider, and while I’m sitting there singing and Bob’s singing I’m just sitting in the back of my head going like, ‘Holy Shit,’ you know what I mean? You know, I’m sitting here with Bob Weir singing vocals in his dressing room at his studio, you know, it was just cool. Not only am I a musician, but I’m a big fan too, so it’s just so sick to be able to work with guys that were really legendary in the music world. And you know, we really based our whole tour life around, you know they had the DeadHeads and we have the Stoopid Heads, you know what I mean, and we’re a band that excels at being on the road and always touring and that’s kind of what they did, you know, they were kind of the anti-corporate world, so to speak, as far as all of that’s concerned, they didn’t need it. You know what I mean? They were their own entity, pretty much just touring and they didn’t rely on multi-platinum records, they’d relied on what they did on tour, and that’s kind of the same thing with Slightly Stoopid. We’ve kind of always been a band that’s always on the road and trying to bring music to the fans every year and you know that’s what it’s all about: having fun, making music, and traveling and experiencing new things.

GW: I can definitely agree with that. It seems you guys are always on the road. I feel like I’m seeing your name somewhere in some city, so that’s definitely good, keeping busy.

MD: Yeah man, better than not being busy.

GW: So kind of saying how the whole touring thing was kind of influenced by the Grateful Dead, did you or any of the other guys in the band really listen to much Grateful Dead growing up?

MD: I didn’t. I wasn’t really part of the whole Grateful Dead movement as far as growing up. I kind of missed that boat and didn’t get to appreciate it until I was in Slightly Stoopid, and you know, really traveling and experiencing the madness of what it is and you kind of appreciate it more and I don’t know, the way that they toured is kind of the way you wish every band could tour. They were bringing a movement to town, it was almost like a presidential walk; the presidential inauguration or whatever, you know, like that dude’s coming to town (Laughter) and that’s what they brought, it was just such a massive force that would wipe through. And they would play for three or four hours and you know people would lose their minds.

That was back in the day, you know, there are so many rules these days. So many laws: the government, the law enforcement, everyone is so on edge about everything. It’s almost like a no-fun zone, you know what I mean? We’ve done shows now where we were told ahead of time if we smoke on stage we’ll be arrested, and you’re like, ‘why did you hire us?’ You know who we are, why would you even bring a band like that in if you’re already telling them, ‘don’t do this.’ We’re a band, Like the Dead, and a lot of bands, that have always supported the marijuana movement, and it’s still silly, you know, you play in some parts of the county and their deadlocked against it. It’s like a sin, you might get struck down from Heaven just for doing it. It’s kind of crazy.

GW: Yeah it is a little weird. I’m originally from Texas where it’s obviously still very anti-marijuana, but I’ve lived in Colorado the past six or seven years and we’re having the whole legalization thing going on out here.

MD: Yeah

GW: You guys did the 420 show, with Cypress Hill at Red Rocks, correct?

MD: Yeah, that was amazing.

GW: I bet. All right, so back to TRI and Bobby. You kind of mentioned how it was a cool experience setting up harmonies on a song like I Know You Rider, which Weir has been playing since he was sixteen (laughter) and played for forty years with the Dead. What was it like having him play on some of your own originals? I believe Ocean, and Baby I like It made the cut.

MD: It was just cool, the whole experience, like I said. I was just kind of in awe playing with him. We play with Don Carlos and Karl Denson and the Neville’s all the time, even though we’re still in awe of them, but we’re with them all the time so it’s like, I don’t even know if you take it for granted or not but you see them so they’re like your best bros, and you roll in and get that vibe from Bob right out the gate. It’s like you’ve known him for fifteen or twenty years, it’s crazy. After talking to him for fifteen minutes we were literally just, boom, in mode, like we’d known each other forever. And it’s great, man, it made it so easy to play. And it was kind of funny because we have, you know, some of the lyrics in Baby I Like It are pretty nasty and it (laughter) was just kind of funny to see when we were rehearsing Bob just kind of, when he heard the actual words, he was like, ‘whoa’ (Bobby impersonation), like he couldn’t believe it. When he heard it, it was kind of funny to see because we were watching the rehearsal for it and you see his face kind of go, ‘whoa,’ and you could tell he was a little shocked by the language. It was pretty funny, I laughed when I saw that.

GW: To me, the fun part about live performance is the ability for the unknown to surface. Especially when you’re playing with so many cool guests, like you were saying, members of the Neville family and Karl Denson. Did you guys rehearse most of the 31 tracks that made it onto the DVD with the guys at TRI, or did you kind of just go with it? And was it truly liv, or did you ever stop tracks and go back through them again?

MD: No, it was live. There was no going back and redoing the tracks. It was a jam session, and as far as rehearsal, we did sound check pretty much and probably played for a half hour, noodling around, getting the levels right. So you know it was kind of just set up and get your jam on and have fun. You know, Slightly Stoopid, the core of our band has played together for so long that we’re fine doing whatever and we knew the other guys are all just heavy players and musicians of the highest caliber so it didn’t matter what we threw down. We already knew that they’d step up and butter it with some nastiness. You know? Having those guys, what’s cool, I think, is letting it be live and letting it just be. It’s ok to make mistakes. I think stuff that’s too perfect, you can tell it’s been worked on, whereas when you’re just going, and you just let it ride, that’s reality. Sometimes some mistakes turn out to be cool parts of songs, where you didn’t even think it was there, but it is, and for this band that’s something that we’ve always prided ourselves on. Just being able to play live shows when and wherever, know what I mean?

And not having to rely on anything like a lot of artists do as far as extra tracks and a million extra harmonies and things hanging over, and all the extra music, that’s just something we don’t do. We do samples of little tidbits and cool effects, but as far as vocals and music goes, what you see is what you get. And that’s what’s cool with live music, and even DVD’s. When you’re working in a room of that caliber, it’s like the sound quality is so sick it doesn’t matter, we knew that everybody would be able to play the jams and what was cool is we had a list of songs we wanted to play. We knew we were going to play this certain song, but it was just some songs we didn’t know what to expect, and we were just like, let’s do this, and have some fun (Laughter), you know what I mean? Luckily having the guys, like I said Don Carlos, Karl Denson, Ian and Ivan Neville, and Bob Weir, it’s like (Phew) that’s like a recipe for happiness right there (Laughter).

GW: Yeah, you know it seems to be a who’s who of a Jam Cruise Lineup, where you have so many cool bands. There’s no egos, everybody just gets together and lets loose. And I noticed on the DVD how you guys all feel off of each other whether it be the Neville’s or Karl D, whom I believe you guys have worked with quite a bit in the past, right?

MD: Yeah, he tours with us all the time.

GW: Right, so he played on the last studio album and toured with you?

MD: Yeah, yeah. He tours with us now. He’ll be on the whole summer tour. He does his tours around our tours, which is awesome.

GW: That’s great. The way that you guys were seated for the TRI show; is that something you guys ever do, where you’re kind of sitting there? I know the last time I saw you I mentioned you guys were running around tossing instruments back and forth to one another. Do you plan on ever doing shows like that, where you’re seated, or is that something that came about being in that intimate studio like that?

MD: No, I think we’ve actually talked about doing something like that in the future, maybe next year. Doing something like a small, boutique amphitheater tour where we have it stripped down and using acoustic guitars and a big twelve to fourteen piece band and making something special for the fans. It’s fun to play like that anyway. You can hear everything more when you’re stripped down and you’re tight together, sitting around each other as opposed to being spread out on stage, running around like maniacs.

GW: So that’s probably something we won’t be expecting to see on the upcoming Kicking Up the Dust Summer Tour with Atmosphere this July?

MD: I don’t know, we might sneak some of that style in there in the encores and what not, but I know we’re definitely planning on doing something like that in the future as far as a whole tour like that. Anytime we can play some acoustic stuff we try to mix it in.

And its just Kicking up Dust, not Kicking up the Dust, Kicking up Dust.

GW: Sorry. Kicking up Dust.

MD: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s all good.

GW: And you guys are also going to be joined by Tribal Seeds, The Grouch and Eligh and The Budos Band, I believe.

MD: Yeah, The Budos Band, I don’t know if they’re going to do it or not anymore. I think somebody’s got some personal stuff that they’ve got going and they’d have to miss the tour. Starting a family or something, I’m not really sure, but for sure Tribal Seeds and Grouch and Eligh. And Atmosphere is the main support, so it’s going to be ridiculous. It’s going to be a summer of madness (Laughter).

GW: I imagine. I know you guys play diverse styles and genres of music, and last summer you co-headlined a tour with 311, and now Atmosphere, who’s predominantly hip-hop, what’s the difference between touring with a band like 311 and then a hip hop act like Atmosphere? How does it change: the crowd and fans of hip hop and an act like Atmosphere, do they stick around and get into the show, like most of the Stoopid fans would?

MD: Yeah, I think so, because the whole show is a party. It’s what’s going on that night. I don’t think people would pay all that money and drive far to only watch one act and split. It’s going to be fun regardless. We play so many different styles of music there’s going to be something in there for the Atmosphere fans, and what’s cool is there are Stoopid Heads that are Atmosphere fans too so it’ll be a mixture of everybody, and what’s nice is reaching out to his fan base, and the people who haven’t heard of us that are coming to his show, they may walk away going, ‘hey, this band is pretty sick,’ or they may walk away going, ‘we only like Atmosphere,’ and that’s it, and it’s cool. At least they’re there and we are going to give it our best to win over his fans and I think we’ll deliver to them and they’ll be satisfied. The whole Summer is going to be awesome. I look forward to collaborating with everybody and having a good time.

GW: Absolutely. I know that concerts and co-headlining gigs are great ways to reach new fans, and going back to Bobby’s studio and what TRI does, they do a good amount of streaming shows live. Did you guys stream the TRI performance when you were recording?

MD: Yeah, it was on Palladium too. So it’s been on the airwaves.

GW: Thinking about that, with the future of reaching out to new fans, do you see these streams from a studio like TRI becoming a legitimate alternative for touring bands like yourself, or is the live performance always going to trump the connectivity through the internet?

MD: The live performance trumps everything. It was fun recording TRI but you don’t get the energy. It’s like a drug almost, you don’t get the high you get from being on stage in front of ten thousand people, know what I mean? You’re blood is pumping when you walk out on stage and they’re singing your song. You can’t beat that (Laughter). There’s just no comparison. Is there an alternative to regular records? Yes. The streaming thing is huge. You end up getting so many fans, because they want to hear more music all the time, you know what I’m saying, and that reaches so many more people that even just have Palladium and were sitting at home going, ‘huh, I wonder what this is?’ and clicked on it and enjoyed it. Next thing you know, you have those people at your shows. Even doing that co-headlining tour with 311 impacted our Midwest shows. When we did our Spring tour this year, you know, we did way better numbers than we did before because we played in front of their fans instead of just playing in front of our fans. It totally helped our numbers in the Midwest and there’s something to be said about that. We’ve been headlining or co-headlining for the past eight years and each time when you co-headline it’s such a benefit to both artists, because of the fan bases you get. The live streaming thing is great too just because of the millions of people you can reach at once (Laughter). It’s an instant thing and really broadens your fan base and gives them something special too at the same time. You could go and do one of those every year and have a collection of DVDs. It could be something that’s really special and cool and when you have a place like Bob Weir’s it makes it a lot easier to do.

GW: Can we expect anything similar to Bob Weir’s studio within your own studio, as far as being able to record and stream online while you’re hanging out there or throw a video or something up of a jam you’ve been putting together? Anything like that?

MD: There is for sure. We are still improving our studio every day so it’s not a little process, you can’t build it overnight. We’ve been slowly getting it going, and that’s kind of the dream for the future, is to have it set up like TRI where you cans stream right away, you know, live rehearsals, and letting the fans be more interactive, and I think that helps tenfold for their excitement towards the band and not just a band that plays and gets out. People who know us know that we’re a band that loves to hang out with the fans, and not to use the summer tour name loosely, but that’s what Slightly Stoopid likes to do. It’s fun to hang with the fans after the show and I think doing that live stream is the next best thing, where you’re in the studio and ten thousand people are watching you do an hour rehearsal while you’re messing around. It’s so cool. I think the way the world is today you know with the social media and how it keeps progressing by the second (laughter) that it’s something that you’ve got to keep up with. It’s amazing what people can do. I’m not even very computer literate, but what people can do on a computer blows me away, so you’ve got to keep up with the times.

GW: Well, that covers pretty much all of my questions musically and about the DVD. One last question I’d like to ask, and I don’t know if you watch the NBA, but do you have any thoughts on who’s going to win Game seven between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers tonight?

MD: Oh, the Miami Heat is going to win. Indiana isn’t going to come into Miami and win. I think Miami is going to suck it up and hold out for a victory and get their battle on against San Antonio. So, I think guys definitely need to play better. A couple of the starters, of the big three, are moving a little sluggish right now, so guys off the bench are going to have to step it up in order for them to win the game. It definitely can’t be a Lebron only show. Unless he scores fifty points they’re going to lose the game. They need to get everybody involved. When they were successful last year they had everyone involved, and that’s the biggest thing, and I think if they do that they’re pretty much unstoppable. You saw what they did during the regular season. If they lose a couple of games it’s just because they need to be slapped a couple of times by the coach and he’ll let them know what’s up and they’ll be fine. Once they get home and have the energy of the crowd they’ll be fine. I’m looking forward to a little repeat this year.

I love Tim Duncan though. He’s like the sleeper cell for the Spurs, you’ve got to watch out for him. He’s like the silent hero. I think he might have four NBA championships.

GW: Yeah, four. This would be the fifth.

MD: They never talk about Tim Duncan. He doesn’t want that notoriety. He just wants to be under the radar, which is cool. But he is so dope, you know what I mean, he just wins. So on the other hand, I wouldn’t mind seeing him win, just because he’s thirty seven and might only have a couple of years left whereas Lebron is only twenty eight and is going to win another championship, maybe even three, down the road. I almost wouldn’t mind seeing Tim Duncan get one more. I always like the underdog, even though they’re both right there.

GW: I think that’s probably a safe bet. I know I read earlier that Floyd Mayweather Jr. has over five million on the Heat to win tonight, so some people have a lot of money riding on it.

MD: Wow. That’s just silly money right there, silly money.

GW: That is silly money. Well, in closing, I’d like to once again thank Miles Doughty of Slightly Stoopid on behalf of the Grateful Web. You can purchase Slightly Stoopid Live at Roberto’s Studio in stores or online as part of a four part HD Download at SlightlyStoopid.com for $4.20 cents. A portion of the proceeds from the DVD will go to Save the Children and World Food Program, and you can catch Slightly Stoopid all over the country starting in July, on their Kicking up Dust Summer tour with Atmosphere and special guests, The Grouch and Eligh and Tribal Seeds.

MD: Yeah man, going to be fun. Thanks for taking the time, I appreciate it.

GW: Cheers, Miles, good luck to you guys this Summer!

Tue, 06/18/2013 - 10:48 am

The Grateful Web’s John Schumm talks to Dumpstaphunk guitarist Ian Neville about New Orleans culture and cuisine, his family’s popular musical background, Dumpstaphunk’s new album, Dirty Word, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the peculiarity that is the NBA’s newest named team, The Pelicans, amongst other things.

GW: All right Ian (Neville), you there?

Ian: Yeah, go ahead.

GW: My name is John Schumm with the Grateful Web and I have a few questions. Starting off, Dumpstaphunk has a new album coming out July 30th, titled Dirty Word. It’s the first album with Nikki Glaspie on drums and the most recent since Everybody Wants Some, in 2010, right?

Ian: Yep

GW: Cool, could you tell me a little bit about the recording of the album; what changed from Everybody Wants Some, and what Nikki was able to bring to the fold?

Ian: I mean, music wise, Nikki brings her vibe with her. She’s the only one in the band not from New Orleans, which brings a different element. She studies a bunch of the New Orleans stuff. You know, man, her horizons, but she brings her fierce, crazy, ruckus drumming and overall musicalness. She sings on a bunch of stuff, she just all around brought it, and was a nice addition to the recording process.

GW: Cool. Speaking about the recording process, do you enjoy that? Is that as fun to you as live shows?

Ian: Yeah, I mean it’s a totally different application of what we do. That’s where we’ve got to put our heads together. A lot of the songs for this record came from someone coming in with an idea. There are only two covers on the record. One of them we kind of knew we were going to do and the other was a last minute thing. Someone would either come in with a song, or we’d go, ‘remember there was this one soundcheck,’ where somebody might have started a piece of a groove and we’d all build it from there, or some of it was just all five of us sitting in the room. That’s the kind of stuff that happened, some of the tracks, you know, where we all get together and go for the creative angle instead of the show angle.

GW: I’ve listened to Blues Wave and Raise the House on the website. Are those both featured on the new album?

Ian: Yeah, those are both on there. Blues Wave was a Nick (Daniels III) song from a while ago, pretty much, and Raise the House, it was pretty much all Tony (Hall) on that one. But Raise the House, we have a couple of guests on that. My dad’s on that, Art Neville, Rebirth Brass Band’s on that, Troy, Trombone Shorty’s on that one. And Blues Wave was just the five of us crushing it.

GW: What’s it like having all of the guests on the album, in true New Orleans’ fashion? Having your father, like you mentioned, Art, on there. Troy of Trombone Shorty, he’s been doing a lot these days. It’s cool seeing all of the different artists based out of New Orleans working with each other. What can you say about that connection amongst musicians in New Orleans?

Ian: I mean it’s a really organic thing here. Everybody down here is in a different band with two other people from other bands, almost, at any given moment. So it’s all a big communal thing, pretty much. The way the guests happened on this it was just depending on the vibe of the song it was like, ‘call up’ (whoever). Actually my dad was just coming through the studio and I was like, ‘you should definitely play on this.’ And we had some of the Rebirth (Brass Band) guys call up either Tony (Hall) or Ivan (Neville), and it was like, ‘yo, yall busy?’ and they came through. And Troy (Trombone Shorty), we actually got him on anther track as well. He and some of his guys came and knocked those out. It didn’t involve much of a business feel on that end, which is good for the creative side.

On the song, Dirty Word, we got Ani Difranco. She did a verse or two on the end of that one, which was another fluke. Our guy who’s mixing the album, Mike Napolitano, is her husband, and she heard one of the tracks being mixed and said, ‘hey, I want to throw something on there.’ And then we got it back and it was like damn, this is incredible.

GW: I read somewhere that Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers even makes an appearance.

Ian: Yes, that’s very true. That’s actually on one of the covers, a Bette Davis cover, and Nicky sings lead on that. Flea and them were in town recording a Chili Peppers video and just happened to hit up Ivan (Neville) and we went to pick him up, got a sno-ball, a crawfish boil, got some food, and then hit the studio. Actually there was some SportsCenter watching in there too, and then the studio. If we had tried to plan out the day it would have never worked. It only worked because we were just rolling with it, however it flowed.

GW: I know the band started almost ten years ago as a Jazz Fest project. With Nikki on drums and the current lineup you’ve had for some time, is this pretty much cemented as the Dumpstaphunk lineup going forward?

Ian: Yeah, hopefully. You never ask for that kind of change, and sometimes shit happens and you end up being better off in the right direction. But we’ve been having a blast with the way the lineup is now, which is the same except for Raymond (Webber, original drummer), you know. Sometimes we have some of our other horn player friends come roll with us, but usually it’s just us.

GW: Before Dumpstaphunk, before you and Ivan started it up, I know you played with you family and father in the Neville Brothers and now simply the Neville’s. What were you doing besides that?

Ian: When I was a kid I started sitting in with my dad and the Funky Meters, and when I was about eighteen or nineteen I started playing with the Neville Brothers and then a couple of years after that, twenty-one, was when Dumpstaphunk started. So between Neville Brothers and Funky Meters stuff and floating around, you know, I’ve been a friend of all the Lettuce guys for a while. Russel Batiste had a couple of different bands that I play with also. Lately, side project wise I’ve got Dr. Claw which we don’t play all that often with that band but it’s killer when we do.

GW: Nikki played and recorded with Beyonce before joining up with you guys. It seems the whole band has been surrounded by huge names in the music industry, whether it be your father Art, in The Meters and Funky Meter, and the rest of the Neville family with the Neville Brothers, or Ivan playing with Keith Richards and the Stones. What’s it like growing up with these musical legends as family, and are there certain expectations, were you basically destined to pick up one instrument or another at some point in your life?

Ian: I’m glad that I don’t know any different. Which is cool. You look back and recognize how crazy some things that happen when you’re a kid you brush off because you’re a kid doing kid shit. But all of the people I get to pick their brains here and there or just even have a conversation with that, most people don’t, I try to take everything I can out of those opportunities. Whether it’s directly music related or just dealing with playing music related, or whatever. Being in the mix of the music biz and seeing how people react from years of experience of doing this, it’s good to be able to hear that and try to absorb things from it.

GW: So I imagine a bunch of the influences on your playing came from people like Leo (Nocentelli) and Brian Stoltz of the Meters and Funky Meters and being around your whole family. What did you listen to growing up outside of your families music?

Ian: When I was in fifth or sixth grade, some of my friends and I had a band that like fifteen different band names. But we would play like Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, some Meters and New Orleans type stuff. It was all across the board. I listened to a lot of hip-hop. I was into Radiohead back in the day. I listened to a ton of Beatles, all sorts of stuff.

Guitar player wise I’d say Freddy Stone, who played with Sly and the Family Stone, Sly’s brother. Probably Gary Shider and Glen Goins of Parliament. Two of my, once I started playing guitar a little more, were definitely my favorites guitar players. Hendrix is standard issue and I’ve listened to hopefully every piece of Hendrix ever recorded. But as far as a different, more funk vibe, it’s definitely Freddy and Gary Shider and those guys. I got to do a session that Gary Shider was on a couple years ago that was pretty hip. Those Parliament cats, you know.

GW: He (Shider) passed pretty recently, didn’t he?

Ian: Yeah, he’s dead. Three years ago I think.

GW: Wow. That’s certainly a memorable experience, I’m sure. Going back to Dumpstaphunk, what’s it like having two bass players on stage, with Tony and Nick, and even three sometimes, I know Ivan has picked one up before.

Ian: Not three, involving Ivan, but we have had three bass players before. Just the other day Victor Wooten sat in with us. Tony, Nick and Victor Wooten, that was pretty deep.

GW: Oh, man.

Ian: Yeah, it was sick. But as far as playing with two bass players on the regular, Tony and Nick aren’t your normal, terrestrial bass players. It’s much easier said than done, what they do. Most bass players just try to play the same shit, and they just naturally tend to be in different parts of the groove. Without even trying to plan it out, it just works itself out for the most part. It’s pretty incredible. And it leaves space open for Ivan and myself, room for the skank funkness, which is really, you know it’s easy to get muddled up and play all kinds of craziness without paying attention to what’s going on but those two started by not stumbling all over each other and we just fill in the holes.

GW: I recently interviewed Miles Doughty of Slightly Stoopid, and we talked about how cool it was having you and Ivan and Karl Denson around for the live recording at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios. How did you get involved with Slightly Stoopid, and what brought around the concept of doing that show at TRI?

Ian: I got involved with them through their management and some friends of mine and now the same management we have, and I’ve done a couple of gigs with them. That Tri thing, Dumpsta was up in the area, and it was a no-brainer to go over there and jam with those guys that day. It was like a whole day thing: hangout, play, some interviews and stuff, you know, we were already over there and those guys are cool and our boys and whatnot, plus that studio is killer, so I wanted to check that out. It’s very nice. And Bob Weir, he played with the Funky Meters back when I was like fifteen or something, the first time I played with him, so that was cool to go play with him.

GW: Oh, cool. So you knew him, in one way or another, from when you were young?

Ian: Yeah, I knew him before I knew the Slightly Stoopid guys.

GW: Did you listen to any Grateful Dead growing up?

Ian: I am not a DeadHead, but I’ve heard Dead (Laughs). I don’t really go for Dead on my Ipod, so to speak, but I’ve heard a decent amount of Dead, I feel like.

GW: If we were to turn your Ipod on right now, or on tour, what would we be hearing?

Ian: Well, my actual Ipod was mysteriously stolen or something, but that’s beside the point. I’d say in my recently loaded phone Ipod I had some boys of ours, a band called the London Souls, a rock trio out of Brooklyn. You know those guys?

GW: I do.

Ian: Those dudes are killer. I was definitely wearing our their first record, and getting their new one made me want to go back to the first, so I’ve been wearing some of that stuff out. Let’s see, some J Cole and some hip-hop, he’s a hip-hop mc cat down here that does some Saints related songs that I’ve been jamming on. But, I’m not sure. I listen to a lot of WeFunk Radio. You hip to WeFunk?

GW: I’m not.

Ian: It’s a two-hour radio show, these guys out of Montreal. Every Friday from midnight to two A.M. they do a funk, hip-hop, afro-beat, vibe kind of show that just always schools me on a bunch of stuff that I hadn’t heard. You can go back to their back catalogue, on their website, and see everything they’ve played. It’s cool to go dig and find new stuff through that. And it kind of determines where my Ipod goes next.

GW: So you guys hit the road pretty soon, in a few days I know you have a show in Westchester, NY, are you guys doing a lengthy summer tour or is it mostly one-offs, jumping around to festivals?

Ian: Yeah it’s a lot of festival hopping. Thursday through Sunday type stuff. The occasional long-ass drive in between. We’re doing Westchester this weekend coming up and then the next weekend we’re driving up to Milwaukee, Cedarburg, Wisconsin, then Grand Rapids, and then head home. Then we fly somewhere three to four days later. That’s pretty much the schedule through August, when we’re hitting Outside Lands and then in early august it should be a lot of record support gigs. But it’s pretty much festival stuff on the books right now. We’re heading to Australia in October, do some festy type stuff down there. It’ll be this bands’ first time down there so that’s good. But the driving for days and days will come in the fall.

GW: Good old Fall tour.

Ian: Should be killer

GW: So that’s July thirtieth?

Ian: Yeah, July thirtieth.

GW: So in Australia, speaking of international markets, I caught your shows on Jam Cruise this year, which is a wild time, my first time on the boat (Ian laughs), pure madness really. What was it like performing on a cruise ship like that, where you’re living, eating, and breathing with the fans and other artists and how does it compare to your local gigs like Jazz Fest?

Ian: Yeah, I was going to say Jam Cruise is like a floating Jazz Fest, except you don’t have to drive to the gig. There are shows from noon, I hear there are shows before noon but I’m not a part of any of those, and onto five in the morning, which is the same schedule as Jazz fest, basically.  But the boat is its own entity, because you’re just there. As my good friend Skerik says, “Jam Cruise, it’s the festival you can’t leave,” which sums it up perfectly in the best and worst terms of it all. It’s awesome being able to stumble over to the next room and catch one of your other boys’ bands playing, and holler at a bunch of fans that are heading your way or going to the show you’re trying to see and they say ‘go check it out’ and six hours later it’s still raging.

GW: It’s definitely an experience. So you guys will be on the next one, in early January?

Ian: Yep

GW: Cool. Going back to Jazz Fest and New Orleans, I get down there two or three times a year with the band I work for, and it always seems crowds and spirits are always high and people are having a good time whether we’re at Tipitina’s or the Howling Wolf, and to me there’s something about it that’s different than the rest of the world, the rest of the country, that’s hard to put it into words, but can you try to do that, say something about it, what it means to you?

Ian: That’s a good question. New Orleans means, it’s just as easy to say it means home to me, but so many other people get here and feel at home, which you can’t say about anywhere else, basically. I don’t know if it’s the vibe of the people or good food everywhere that makes you feel at home, but that’s what it is. It’s home to everyone. You get down here and you say ‘I am meant to be here,’ and there aren’t many other places on the planet where I feel like that. I don’t know. That’s all I got for you on that one.

GW: Next time I’m in New Orleans, if you could recommend one place to eat before I go catch some music, like Walter Wolfman playing somewhere, or something like that, what’s one of your favorite local spots to grab a bite to eat?

Ian: It’s not quite dinner, but Hansen’s Sno-Bliz is the shit. You’ve heard of snowcones probably, but this is the real deal New Orleans’ inflated richness, over the top snowball shop, but you’ve got to get over there before seven.

GW: Why’s that?

Ian: Because they close at seven. And it’s hot as hell during the day so that’s the ideal time to go get one. But that would be my recommendation spot to go check out and then from there ask me again after you go.

GW: Ok, I will. Do you play a certain type or brand of guitar more than anything else, and do you mix it up in the studio compared to live shows

Ian: I generally play Telecasters, but I have a Strat. In the studio I’ll try out different amps and guitars. I got a new Telecaster about a year ago that I’ve been playing pretty hard as far as road stuff, and I think I got that one when we were pretty much done with the new record, so I might have been on the new record somewhere but I was pretty much using my old Telecaster and a Stratocaster on the record this time. I definitely like some sound experiments but I usually lean towards Teles and Strats. I want a Starcaster but they’re hard to find. Ebay is not helpful on that one.

GW: My last question, really, I don’t know if you watch basketball…

Ian: I sure do, I saw that beat down last night.

GW:  Me too. What do you feel for the rest of the series?

Ian: In short, I wanted to see Lakers vs. Heat. I’m not a Lakers fan and I’m not necessarily a Heat fan either but I’m not a Heat hater. I am a Pelicans fan, which is an unfortunate name we have now (laughs) but my suggestions were the Bounce or New Orleans Basketball Saints. But I was outvoted by Tom Benson.

GW: He does kind of have the final say.

Ian: Yeah a little bit. As far as this series I was looking forward to San Antonio vs. Miami because it’s going to be a hell of a chess match coaching wise, and winning experience and pedigree versus straight talent. That being said that game last night was rough, but I don’t think it’s an indicator of how the series is going to go. I think it’s going to seven, it looks like. I’m going to say Miami, because I somewhat believe in Lebron’s potential to go off and control the game like that. It’s going to be fucking tight. I know that.

GW: That’s all we can really ask for. So if New Orleans ever had the chance to change their name again and the Utah Jazz name was available, do you think it would be a good one?

Ian: I would be good with Utah not being called the Jazz, but I don’t necessarily want the name back. It is kind of ridiculous that that’s their name. But the New Orleans Basketball Saints, with black and gold uniforms, you know how they call them the New York Football Giants, well there you go. New Orleans Basketball Saints. I was going to say my other idea was the New Orleans Projects, but we don’t really have projects here that much anymore. I have a few better names than the Pelicans, that’s the moral of the story.

I don’t know if you know this, but the Pelicans were a minor league baseball team from the late 1800s-1950’s, which is the history behind the name but it doesn’t really make me feel better.

GW: From what I read Benson was really eager to out that name to use.

Ian: Yeah, he really was. No matter what anybody said he was going to use that.

GW: It’s good that he’s doing what he can to keep the team down there, but the name is a little off.

Ian: I’ll take the name Pelicans over no team at all.

GW: Well cool, Ian, that’s about all I have for you. Thanks for everything. I’m looking forward to seeing you guys next time you pass through Colorado.

Ian: Yeah, I’ve been riding around picking up gear with my dad this whole time so he’s been getting a kick out of listening to this.

GW: Hey, tell Art hello for me.

Ian: All right man, we’ll catch you next time in that area. We’ll be out there the Fourth of July, Telluride or somewhere.

GW: Cool, I’ll try to catch you guys. Take care.

Wed, 06/26/2013 - 6:58 pm

The good old boys of Poor Man’s Whiskey, featuring former Cornmeal fiddler Allie Kral, kicked things up a notch at the Fox Theatre on Friday, June 14th with two full sets of northern California bluegrass-based rhythms. The show was billed as Poor Man’s Whiskey playing the music of Old & In the Way, an early seventies bluegrass super group featuring Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead notoriety, bluegrass pioneer Peter Rowan, and a who’s who of string pickers in David Grisman, Vassar Clements, and Jerry Garcia Band alumni John Kahn. Poor Man’s Whiskey last played the Fox when they opened for Great American Taxi in January, and their knack for crafting well plotted lyrics and melodies that explode during their live shows earned them their return as the headliner.

While not necessarily a permanent fixture in the band, Allie Kral feels right at home. The addition of the fiddle that Poor Man’s Whiskey unknowingly lacked before her departure from Cornmeal is something that to me feels like an upgrade, version 2.0. Kral is that impressive. Her energy and total grasp of the material fell into place right from the start. Her onstage demeanor and boogie fit right in with Brough and the rest of the band, and I think they’ve seen the light, and will work to retain her for the long haul if she doesn’t take her talents to South Beach. No matter the situation, I see her as important a member of the band as any other.

Poor Man’s Whiskey and the members of opening act Brothers Comatose walked off stage and into the pit to kick off the set, working to bring the spotty patches of people together into a cohesive crowd. It worked, with everyone in the room gathering together on the lower levels towards the stage, listening closely to the instruments without the accompaniment of microphones, amps or speakers. After the first tune, the members of Brothers Comatose departed into the crowd, and Poor Man’s Whiskey stepped back on stage, introducing Allie, their upbringing with the music of the Grateful Dead, and how Old & In the Way was the first bit of bluegrass to reach the coasts of northern California; the land beloved and immortalized in their lyrical songbook.

Front man and banjo plucking extraordinaire Josh Brough introduced their initial cover, Pig in a Pin, and asked the crowd to give a loud “yee haw,” as they burned their way into the material of Old & In the Way. They kept within strict bluegrass standards for the initial output, including Panama Red, which Brough mentioned was written by Peter Rowan, who they had the pleasure of playing the song and set with recently.

When guitar and mandolin players Chris Haugen and Jason Beard picked up electric guitars, we knew we were finally going to get a taste of their interpretations of the music beyond the traditional arrangements Old & In the Way. Catfish John, a Jerry Garcia popularized tune, provided that very lift to keep the crowd guessing. The funk guitar rhythms, mixed with Brough’s move to his Nord keyboard and addition of electric bass on the part of Aspen Stevenson lit a spark that wasn’t prevalent in the early going, and I could tell they were dipping into their own back pockets to reach new peaks on the widespread cover. Allie and drummer George Smeltz were the only two who didn’t change their instruments, and Allie held down the farm flavored bluegrass while the guys got weird. On the refrain, Brough sang, “take me back, to Boulder, Colorado,” one of many occasions throughout the evening that he altered lyrics to include Boulder and the Fox Theatre.

It was sometime after Catfish John that Brough broke a pint glass passing his keyboard bench off stage, before leading the band into the David Grisman tune Old & In the Way, which the seventies group took their name, and saw Poor Man’s Whiskey back on their bluegrass lineup of instruments. This shift every couple of songs defines the band and allows them to tackle a fusion of musical tastes with a common background. You could call it jam grass, funk grass, or even straight up bluegrass if you wanted to, but you’d be selling them short. Allie and her endless fiddling enthusiasm also work miracles for the band, letting them jam outside the box while she retains the country southern hoedown and traces of Appalachian moonshine. Bluegrass fusion is certainly at its most entertaining when not stuck within the boundaries of traditional standards.

“The Brothers Comatose are going to play a song from Old & In the Way now,” Brough announced before passing instruments to their supporting Napa neighbors. They played Angel Man, and it was cool watching the guys from Poor Man’s Whiskey hanging around on stage laughing and drinking like something out of The Last Waltz. “It’s always funny running into your neighbors over a thousand miles from home,” Brough continued as he tried to open a beer on the heel of Allie’s boot. When it failed to work the first few times, Allie claimed that “it worked the first time every other time,” and that “my boot has stage fright.” Entertainment through multiple mediums at its finest.

Midnight Moonlight, perhaps the crowd favorite of the evening, and certainly one of mine, rounded out the latter part of the set. The incredibly vocal crowd even sang along to some of the more noticeably memorable songs, laughing when the band tricked them by swapping in Colorado specific lyrics.

Continuing into the second set, Poor Man’s Whiskey’s Humboldt-high stomp grass let loose on mostly original tunes. Songs like Let’s Go Out Tonight and Brough’s piano heavy ballad, Easy Come, Easy Go, define the band with their fun loving attitude and attention to northern California settings. Spouting off lyrics about the old days touring with the Grateful Dead and smoking weed, the band was in their own, even more so than in their interpretation of Old & In the Way, which they said they grew up with and helped to inspire their band.

“All Night Long,” bassist Aspen Stevenson sang as they trotted through another original I recognized from the last time they played the Fox. Seeing a band developing on the road and growing with each show makes for good viewing, enjoyable hearing, and a distinguishable bond that makes the audience feel somewhat entitled over years of tickets and dance filled nights. There is no doubt in my mind that endless touring of all markets has benefited them as they continue to achieve the level of their craft that they are so recklessly striving for, and having Kral certainly hasn’t hurt their efforts.

“We’re running out of time, why don’t we come down on the floor and play some music for you,” Aspen says, a testament to the fun they were having. They proceed into a stripped down Sierra Girl after asking the crowd to be quiet so all ears could hear, and halfway through the song a drunken chucklehead broke out into the chorus of The Go-Go’s Vacation. Some looked on in horror, some laughed, but the band played on, no doubt laughing to themselves as they aren’t the sort of band to let a little crowd interaction spoil their good time.

Sierra Girl is probably the one song I listen to on a consistent basis when it pops into my head. My friend, who recently moved back to Colorado after two years in Truckee, certainly enjoyed it, as we had talked about the song to some lengths prior to the show and said it would be a great conclusion to the night if they played it. And of course, they saved it until the end. “Heading down in the morning, heading down in the pouring rain” replicates my adventure visiting Truckee and heading to the airport in Reno to catch my plane, as I’m sure it resonates in other ways for other people. Lyrics like these make the band so easy to relate to, and they’ve certainly caught my attention for the long road ahead.

Check out more photos from the show.

Fri, 07/05/2013 - 7:50 am

The Grateful Web’s John Schumm recently spoke with Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines about the bands’ tour this summer, including a special triple bill with Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth at the beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheatre. While on the phone, he answered questions about his favorite local New Orleans’ spots to eat a Muffaletta, the origins of the band, and how Galactic’s history can’t be summed up by just one album, in addition to plans for future singles recorded in Jamaica, and the status of vocalist Corey Glover’s reinvigorated Living Colour performances. Galactic has been one of the hardest touring rock bands in the country for nearly twenty years, and their knack for intricately extended shows and the ability to keep things new and different for the fans has garnered them billings all over the world.

Grateful Web: This is John Schumm with Grateful Web here with Jeff Raines of Galactic. Thanks for joining me, Jeff, and taking time out of your schedule. Could you give us a brief history of how Galactic came together?

Jeff Raines: We were all sort of college students in New Orleans at Loyola University and Tulane. We were all playing in small bands and trying to get something going and kind of fell in together with our similar tastes in music. You know, The Meters, the famous New Orleans funk band definitely being our earliest and most profound influence. We kind of became a Meters cover band. We were playing a lot of Meters shows, playing at frats and fraternity parties, and getting little gigs opening up for people. And it kind of just grew out of that. And by the time we were juniors and seniors in college we had become a sort of popular New Orleans rock party band. We had a big horns section, doing a lot of PFunk tunes and Ohio Players and stuff like that, and then we started thinking about making a record, and at some point we kind of pared down to more of a five piece band, much more like what the original Meters had been like, instrumentation wise. And we made a record here in New Orleans.

We had all pretty much graduated and hit the road at that point in 1996, or 1995. And from that point on we got in the van basically and just started touring the United States and kind of built a following in a very grassroots sort of way. We have had various record deals over the years but really, we’ve gotten any recognition nationally by going out and playing shows pretty much anywhere and everywhere, if that was possible. So we’ve toured for I think seventeen years now at this point, and feel fortunate to have had the longevity and success we’ve had. That’s a little synopsis, I guess, of our history.

GW: Great. So you moved to New Orleans from, was it Washington DC?

JR: Yeah, right outside Washington.

GW: So you moved down there for school, was music already something you knew you wanted to do with your life? What exactly did you move down there to study?

JR: I came here to go to music school, actually. So the bass player, Robert, and I grew up together and we had our first band when we were in like 8th grade, you know, we’d play talent shows and stuff like that. And we were both interested in New Orleans music and we knew who George Porter, JR. was, the bass player for the Meters, and we knew some of the Meters material and so kind of by chance he got into Tulane and went there and I got into Loyola University to go to music school. The schools are literally right next to each other, so as soon as our sophomore year came we got an apartment with a music room and started the band back up, which we had kind of had since eighth grade, but this time we had decided to take it more seriously and actually get real shows and put together a real band. So Galactic really formed out of that. We had sort of always had this band throughout high school and we ended up here together, and we were like, ‘let’s just keep the band going.’ So certainly we both knew we wanted a career in music and I always remember this one gig we had when we were juniors, and Walter “Wolfman” Washington had gone out of town and George Porter was running a band that had gone out of town, so we were sort of the only thing happening on Saturday night, you know, right around Spring Break or something, and we made like four thousand dollars, and Robert and I were sitting there at the end of the night thinking, ‘holy shit, we can make money doing this.’ It was sort of the first time we’d really made any serious money and it was definitely a moment I remember where I thought, ‘we can really do this.’ As we got a little success in college, things ramped up and we realized we could maybe have a career.

GW: A lot of people say you’re predominantly an instrumental band, but it seems there has always been a vocalist on albums and tour. The first time I saw you guys was primarily instrumental, and the second time I think you had Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) and Boots Riley, and then most recently Corey Glover of Living Colour. What’s it like having these wide ranging vocalists from different corners of the musical spectrum and how does it change having one tour with Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 and then another tour with Corey. How does it change what you’re doing as a band?

JR: Well, you know, we’ve always looked at the fact that we are able to work with different singers as a huge benefit. First of all we always want to deliver an impacting show. Doing instrumental music for two and a half hours, while we like to do that, we feel like you can lose the audience, or the show becomes sort of one-dimensional. When we’re looking at our live show, we always bring something vocally to the table. That’s definitely very intentional, and we are in this situation where we can switch around a little bit in terms of vocals. Corey Glover’s been doing the shows for like two years now, so we haven’t really been changing that much, but certainly we’ve always looked at it like, ‘what can we do that’s different?’ We’ve played a lot of shows, obviously, and we work a lot and want people to come back and see a difference every time instead of them thinking we just play the same show every time. We’ll play in front of the same audiences at Summer festivals as we do in the clubs in the winter so we are always trying to bring something different to the table, and I think switching up vocalists and being able to do different things like that is one way we’ve sort of had success. You know, just keeping the show fresh for ourselves as well as our audience. And plus, it’s fun, you know, seeing what these guys can do sometimes (laughter). It’s certainly fun for us. It’s like ‘hey, we should try this song,’ and he just knocks everything out of the park. This guy can do anything without sacrificing his talents.

GW: I just recently, about a week ago, was working a gig with JJ grey & Mofro in Aspen and Corey was there doing Dark Side of the Moon, some sort of interpretation with Bernie Worrell and some other people, but I also read that he’s getting back with Living Colour. Is that what he’s doing right now?

JR: Well they are touring for the twenty-fifth anniversary of their seminal record that had some of their most famous songs on once they went big before they broke up. They toured Europe for a bit, now they’re doing shows in the states. They’re doing really well. Playing material people want to see, obviously. So he’s spending a lot more time with Living Colour.

GW: You guys are going to be playing Red Rocks, with Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth. Three bands, three different styles of shows. What is it about the combination of the three bands that are going to make the Red Rocks show on July 12th out in Colorado a memorable experience?

JR: You know we always hate to do co-bills with a band that’s similar, you know, electric rock bands that are similar to us. When this show came up we were like, ‘wow, this is a very, sort of eclectic, interesting bill, and that was a really big deal for us, one, because it’s in front of a different audience that might not have heard us for a few years, or ever, which is always great, getting in front of new people, obviously. And it’s sort of an interesting show, you know? So we were all very excited to do the show, and playing Red Rocks is always sort of interesting, with the stage and everything, but we always look forward to playing out there, for sure, and it’s more unique than a lot of the bills we’ve had out there before.

GW: It almost kind of feels like you’re out at a summer festival with multiple bands across stages, it feels like that with the differing types of music that each band brings. I know you guys are going to be playing the Fox Theatre here in Boulder also, as a combo package for fans that buy tickets to Red Rocks, and I can’t tell you how cool it is to see you guys playing Red Rocks one night and then a smaller club like the Fox the next night. What are your favorite types of gigs to play? Clubs, amphitheatres, cruise ships like Jam Cruise, festivals?

JR: I always like the fact that a year of touring is sort of broken up. We’ll play clubs, obviously, from New Years into the spring, and that leads into outdoor stuff. I really love the fact that we’re not stuck in nightclubs all year but also playing the big outdoor stages, we used to kind of dread as a band, originally, but now with years of doing it I really enjoy playing on the big stages because the band is really clicking and it’s going at 100%, so it’s very fun t play those big outdoor stages that are the size of a small skyscraper or something. I’m starting to like that a lot more actually.

GW: Going over to the studio side, is there one album you guy have done that kind of defines the band better than others or does it kind of change every album as far as defining where the band is at that point in time?

JR: Well making albums is sort of an opportunity to challenge ourselves, and our audience. We’ve always tried to make albums that have different access, to which we’ve had varying degrees of success, but varying degrees certainly. The record we made two record ago, Ya-Ka-May, and was sort of our homage to New Orleans, you know some legends and some younger talent from here, and that comes to mind first, with a question like that, but no, all of the records are hopefully very different, and you know, sort of portray different sides of the band and they’re all kind of snapshots of what’s happening in terms of us at that moment or year.

I think of our first album is definitely our introduction to the world but also, to a lot of our fans, their favorite record we’ve made. So I don’t know, that’s an interesting question. But I certainly think that they like the new record, just because. The music and sort of spirit of New Orleans is certainly very tied in with our identity and there’s a certain part to that.

GW: Speaking about New Orleans and the culture surrounding it, I recently did an interview with Ian Neville of Dumpstaphunk, and he told me that next time I get down there that I need to get a Hansen’s Snoball. If you could recommend one place to go next time I’m down there to get a bite to eat, what would you say?

JR: Well lately I have been lately sort of obsessed with the Muffaletta, which is a local sandwich that has sopressata, ham, salami, you know all of these Italian meats with cheese and there’s olive tapenade or olive salad. There’s a place in the French Quarter which is the iconic Muffaletta called Central Grocery, and I would definitely take you there. There’s also a place called The Butcher, which is sort of a newer place where the young chefs are. And they’re putting out an extraordinary Muffaletta right now at this place. It’s behind the restaurant Cochon. I would actually send you to either of those places.

GW: Cool.

JR: It’s like, a gas, you know? And unique to the city. It’s sort of the Italian immigrant sandwich here, and it’s not like a Po-Boy at all, it’s a totally different horse.

GW: Sounds amazing. Last couple of questions. If we were to look on your Iphone or Ipod right now while you’re hanging out at home or on tour, what would we find you listening to?

JR: I have a very diverse; I listen to a lot of different stuff. On my Ipod right now I know there’s a lot of R.L. Burnside and Steve McCall, for some reason. I’ve been listening to a lot of that recently. I run with my Ipod, so try to listen to other stuff that’s, I’ve got the new Portugal the Man record on there, which is really great. Let me think. It’s very diverse. You’d probably think I’m schizophrenic if you looked at what’s on my Itunes at this very moment.

GW: I’ve recently been ending interviews for predictions for the NBA Basketball Finals. I’m not sure if you watch basketball or not.

JR: I have been watching.

GW: Cool. So game six is tonight with the Heat trailing San Antonio three games to two. What do you see happening in the series tonight, and overall?

JR: I still feel like the Heat is going to pull it out. I’m not a huge Heat fan, but for some reason San Antonio over the years, they’re not the most exciting team in the world to watch (laughs), so I’ve been rooting for the Heat, and I think they’ll pull it out. You know, the game goes back to Miami tonight. Lebron is probably going to just take over if he has to. That would be my prediction.

GW: I agree.

JR: But they should be great games either way. I hope they’re tight. It seems like every game of the Finals I’ve watched has been a blowout game. I keep seeing these games and saying, ‘oh well.’ But tonight should be a good one.

GW: While we’re on that, what do you think about New Orleans hornets changing their name to the Pelicans?

JR: I thought it was a fine move on the Pelicans’ part. I’m still trying to get my brain to say Pelicans. It’s so bizarre that it was the Utah Jazz. It should be the New Orleans Jazz and the Utah Brigham Young, I don’t know, we wanted to get the Jazz name back, that was what I was hoping would happen, anyway. Of all teams to get the name Jazz for their basketball team, Utah seems just totally bizarre, but I can live with the Pelicans. I think it’s a fine name.

GW: So what’s next for Galactic, in closing?

JR: We’re working on a couple of singles we’re going to release, instead of doing a full length album. We recorded with the band and Brushy One String in Jamaica. It’s not mixed, or mastered, but the song is pretty much done on our end, but we need to sweeten it with various professionals, sonically. So you should look for Galactic to be releasing a couple singles. We’re collaborating with various artists, Brushy One String, he’s the master of one string guitar, who you can look up on YouTube, and he’s Jamaican, and he’s just killing. He’s like a soul singer belter, he just sounds killer. I think our live show, we’re going to change things up and try to do the live show and stage something for some shows in the fall. We’re in festival warrior mode right now. We’re flying out this weekend and going all over Canada. We have our eyes on the fall, and we’ve got some things cooking to hopefully bring a new and different show out. I don’t want to give up too much of what I’ve got going on (laughs).

GW: No problem (laughter), sounds good. Well I will be keeping an eye out for the singles, and I’ll be catching you guys at Red Rocks here in Colorado and at The Fox on July 12th and 13th, but thank you so much for joining me and taking the time to talk with the Grateful Web.

JR: It was my pleasure.

GW: We look forward to seeing you guys down the line and hearing what you put out.

JR: Awesome, I appreciate you taking the time.

GW: Thanks Jeff.

Thu, 09/19/2013 - 5:10 pm

In the midst of his Many Rivers Crossed Tour, Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Cliff made his way into recently devastated Boulder, Colorado for a show filled with his politically and culturally distinct classics, and a history lesson not only about his life, but the music through which he ‘s seen the world.

Walking on stage to a slew of cheers, Cliff took a seat amongst a row of hand drums and began a rendition of Bongo Man that featured drums of all sizes for each member of his band. The mellow, rhythmic vibe of the unified drums produced a steady lyrical moan from the audience, who clasped onto each word and sang it right back. The band bridged into Rivers of Babylon, one of many segues and medleys of the evening, and Jimmy took his place up front, dancing and writhing like a young soul in a sixty-five year old body.

“This next song is about growing up in Kingston after making my way there from the countryside,” Jimmy told the crowd with a guitar slung over his shoulder, launching into Hard Road to Travel. The band had dispatched to their positions on bass, drums, keyboards, trumpet and vocals, and so a two hour romp through the musical history of Jimmy Cliff had begun. Each song seemed to connect to the crowd, whether it was seeing a positive in all of the recent flood damage through his uplifting lyrics, or just letting the music take them away from the troubles of the world. Either way, there wasn’t a glum face in the Boulder Theater.

After mentioning the development of Ska music in Jamaica, and specifically Kingston, Cliff dove deep into his cannon with an early Ska medley of King of Kings and Miss Jamaica. While Ska gave way to reggae music, they both hold their own specific traits. The trumpet and upbeat, swift skank guitar on the medley really stood out amongst the other material played, especially songs off of his critically defining soundtrack Harder They Come. It was also a treat seeing Jimmy playing guitar for the entire show, both electric and acoustic, as he’s traveled with a guitarist other times I’d seen him.

After an extensive intro prodding the Christian faith on the unlikely probability of Adam coming before Eve, and the model of Zionism, he preached to us a version of Roots Woman. He then spoke about his career taking him to Europe, and specifically, the UK, where he charted and witnessed the fruitful emergence of his songwriting. This portion of the show displayed many of his biggest hits, including the Cat Stevens’ penned, Wild World, which he prefaced with an amusing story about Stevens’ not liking the song and turning it over to their shared publicist, who passed it on to Jimmy, who was thrilled with it.

It took a trip down memory lane to Brazil for Jimmy to concede that he was indeed taking us on a musical journey through his life. Wonderful World, Beautiful People was introduced as a quasi-revolutionary song, where Jimmy saw all of these people with smiles on their faces but no will or inner fire to try and create change. This was very different than in Jamaica, he told us, and it inspired what some consider one of the most progressive anti-war songs still resonating in the world today: Vietnam. The lyrics, as he’s done for quite some time now, were changed to Afghanistan, and once again the band led a medley into World is Upside Down.

Soon Jimmy started name-dropping, which is easy to do when you had friends like Bob Marley and Desmond Dekker in the mid to late sixties. “They never forgot their little brother, Jimmy,” Cliff told the crowd as he played short but sweet versions of their respective early career singles. He also played two covers by Johnny Nash: Hold MeTight and I Can See Clearly Now, the latter of which Cliff covered for the film Cool Runnings, and has since become associated with his name.

I don’t know if every story he told was entirely relevant, but you have to hand it to the guy, because he’s lived a life and then some. Take You Can Get it if you Really Want. He said that he had met a young college dropout who had been so encouraged by the song that she ended up going back and receiving her degree. He also mentioned how Prime Minister David Cameron used it to represent right wing power. This brought out some of those anti-war tendencies that arise in his music, as he broke down the word politics for us: “Poli means people, and tics are bloodsuckers.” Obviously, everybody has his or her own interpretations of his music.

The most interesting and detailed story of the night revolved around the film The Harder They Come, which Jimmy starred in because he was convinced that he was a better actor than musician, something he jokingly said he still believes to this day. The film is most likely the first place you encountered his music, but his performance as the rough around the edges Ivanhoe Martin in the guns and glory glimpse into the dark side of the recording industry in Jamaica is nearly as timeless as the songs themselves. He spoke at lengths about Rhyging, the folk legend the character was based on, as well as the similar upbringing they encountered, though Cliff managed to find his place in the world when he moved overseas.

The first encore featured Jimmy on keys, telling the crowd that “I know about natural disaster. We in Jamaica know about it. Have courage and love each other and I know you’ll get through,” before a touching version of Rebel in Me-I thought he was going to play the Cocktail theme song, Shelter of Your Love. He then picked up his guitar for a much more danceable Johnny Too Bad, before leaving the stage for a second time while his trumpet player/vocalist/hype guy rallied the crowd to yell and wave their hands. An acoustic Sitting in Limbo left most of the crowd satisfied, with some even making their way for the exits, but they would have been disappointed to know he returned for one final song. One More, the crowd chanted right along with him, and out into the Colorado night.

Check out more photos and videos from the show.

Thu, 09/26/2013 - 5:08 pm

After kicking off what some are calling the Fare Thee Well Tour with two nights at Red Rocks, it was clear walking up the ramps that there was a sustained energy ready to boil over on Saturday night. After three consecutive late summers on the rocks, Furthur brought out all of the tricks on this run, and finally decided to not only give us the best of, like they had in previous years, but also lots of songs they’d never dusted off in Colorado.

With tuning-licks and warm-up scales bouncing between Ship and Creation Rocks, John Kadlecik gave us a taste, and heads started shouting, “Stranger,” before the song took flight. The long, crazy nights that Feel Like a Stranger usually invokes came to life immediately, with Bob Weir howling and bringing a rejuvenated shimmer to his unique style of rhythm guitar. Bobby came back in a big way this Summer following an onstage collapse, playing solo acoustic shows, retooling RatDog for a run at the Peach Fest, hosting his weekly WeirHere online show from TRI Studios, and of course, Furthur’s anticipated inclusion at the all new Lock’n Festival. Any possible doubts were put to rest on Thursday night. Bobby sounded cleaner than he had in years, and Saturday was no different.

Red Rocks

While lacking the vocal chops to handle some of the grittier Garcia/Hunter compositions, Phil Lesh and Bobby still let JK handle a good portion of the songs, and a nearly seamless transition into Althea allowed him to do just that. I’m all for imitation Jerry Garcia guitar, but imitation Jerry vocals get old quick, and to me, those vocals have been stale since before JK left Dark Star Orchestra. But this night he didn’t go overboard, and this version was blistering, with the entire crowd belting out, “this space is getting hot,” as Deadheads tend to do when the music progresses towards a punctual lyric.

After a brief pause, Bobby got things back into order with Jack Straw. This is one of those songs that seem to change pace every show, and can border on mellow or rambunctious. Saturday night it was the latter, with a rocking jam in between and after the two verses that had me dancing in the aisles when I couldn’t find my friends. It transitioned into an especially fun and bubbly Doin’ That Rag, with the band trying their best to harmonize with backup singers Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. It was a nice change of pace after Jack Straw, and while Furthur is notorious for losing momentum, there was none of that. They were locked in on a level above their average shows. It isn’t nearly the magic of the X-factor that the Grateful Dead used to ride, but it was something to remember after seeing this group for four years and struggling to pick out the best moments.

Phil kept things going, croaking out a standard Peggy-O; a song they’ve adapted and fine-tuned to his vocal capacity, before picking up the pace with the Workingman’s Dead-era Mason’s Children. This has been a Furthur staple since their first shows and one that Phil has been playing with his side projects for years. It truly defines post-Jerry Dead music to me: a more solidified approach to the songs, with structured jams rather than complete free form, stream of consciousness exploration.

Bobby grabbed the reigns for the final song of the first set, as the jam dropped us into Promised Land. The Grateful Dead covered this Chuck Berry hit as early as 1971, and it was one of two songs on the night I had yet to see Furthur perform. The crowd was cheering, smiling, even trying to sing all of the cities and states in the cross-country American anthem. The band decided to take it Furthur, completely abandoning the timing structure for a jam that gave us a glimpse of what was to come in the second set. JK really sprung to life, playing the opening riffs to Let it Rock in Jerry Garcia Band fashion, before dropping back into the rocker that brought the first set to a close.

As they did on Thursday night, the band kicked off the second set with a little more space than substance, but the choices were much improved. A cover of Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy got people swaying again, with JK playing a particularly poignant lead. Though I am not a fan of his vocals, he has gelled with Bobby and Phil over the years, and it felt like he let loose on his guitar play. Phil’s stare can’t sting quite as much when you know you can’t be fired due to the inevitable “hiatus.” I say inevitable because it feels like the gig has run its course and people once thrilled to see Bobby and Phil share the stage are now wanting to see them in control of their own bands again. As the Stones said, you can’t always get what you want.

There was something about The Dead tours, like in 2009, when you knew it could be the last time the core four played together. With Furthur, we’ve known there were more shows around the corner. When news of the hiatus broke, and assumption spread that this would be Furthur’s final stop in Colorado, people felt something special again. By boosting the weekend tally to four shows instead of three, maybe the band did too.

Fantasy slipped into The Wheel, which this band has owned time and time again, and was used as a vehicle to bridge the less extended songs of the first set with the longer, spacey second set material. Phil started dropping bass bombs, and after a soothing jam we were dropped right into Bobby’s always-exploratory, Estimated Prophet. If The Wheel acted as a bridge, Estimated acted as a foray into strange, uncharted waters. Bobby’s voice and rhythm guitar were on point, with JK adding ghastly riffs as they built through the jam following the first two verses. As Bobby spit out “voices tell me what to say,” and did his trademark “nah nah,” the song drifted into what I can only describe as a mid to late eighties space jam, which teased Dark Star many times before actually settling down and plodding into it. This might have been the most out there jam I remember Furthur playing, and Bobby even started playing the Twilight Zone theme music, indicating it wasn’t just JK teasing certain songs and having fun with the music.

After bringing the well-oiled machine to a pause, Bobby started the riff to Standing on the Moon, a Jerry ballad that, like some others, can carry the weight and momentum to bring you to your knees. Standing at the top of Red Rocks, looking out over Denver and the Front Range, I couldn’t help the chills that made their way from my arms to suddenly flush face.

From what I understand, and from what I heard, Bobby was supposed to kick things back into high gear with Let it Grow, and while I heard the opening notes, he called an audible and flew into At a Sliding>Terrapin Flyer. They had played Lady With a Fan/Terrapin Station Thursday night, like the Grateful Dead would have normally done, but not the entire suite, which Bobby brought back with RatDog numerous years ago. I remember thinking they were starting to play Blues for Allah, but no, he pulled out the wild card none of us saw coming. “While you were gone, this space was filled with darkness,” Bobby sang as I made my way back into my row, tripping over the stunned limbs of zombie-like heads.

Phil brought us back to reality, dropping into his classic second set staple, Unbroken Chain. Phil only has so many songs he sings, and this is by far the best when it comes to the jams that can develop out of the music, not too mention the cohesion he and Bobby have built up together since the 2009 Dead tour. I thought we were well on our way to the close of the set, but then the unthinkable happened, and we got a late second set Shakedown Street, which seems to almost never happen at that part of the show. And what a rocker it was, with a monumental Phil bomb preparing the launch. The pace with Furthur can change drastically throughout a show, and Joe Russo, tasked with filling two drummers’ shoes on one kit, banged the frenzied tempo and got the crowd up and jumping like we hadn’t since that first set Promised Land. Just when I thought they might close out the set, they dropped into a rarely played All Along the Watchtower, making up for a lack of Dylan songs over the weekend. And then we got hit with the quick Lovelight to end the set, with Bobby foregoing the first verse to ramble and rant like Pigpen taught him to back in the day. The one-two punch of Bobby rockers pulled every remaining wide-eyed head out of their trance, and with that, the set came to a close. What felt like a marathon ended with pure Bobby; all that was missing was the ponytail and short-shorts.

After the usual donor rap, Phil brought down the house with a flawless Box of Rain, the first Grateful Dead song I remember enjoying. Jeff Chimenti, the MVP year after year in this band, played the piano with such precision that I nearly had to take my seat and close my eyes and let the music carry me wherever it so felt inclined. And just like that, another night of Furthur on the Rocks came to a close, and the mass exodus to the parking lots began. It was a step ahead of Thursday and Friday, and few flaws arose from either set. To me, a firm proponent of the lot sticker, “Bobby fans are people too,” the show was just what I was hoping for. It was full of teases, rockers, knee benders and tearjerkers, yet we all came out unscathed, ready and waiting for the Sunday sermon.

Check out lots more photos from the Red Rocks lot.

Mon, 11/11/2013 - 2:03 pm

Unlike the Martha White “self-rising” flour, it takes more than one ingredient, or individual, to lift the spirits of communities affected by natural disasters. On a brisk night in Boulder, Hot Rize brought together a closely linked ensemble of local musicians to do just that. Recognized as a bluegrass-haven, Boulder County hosts an array of talented musicians. Towns like Nederland, Lyons and Boulder have seen their music scenes blossom with nationally renowned bands such as Hot Rize, String Cheese Incident, and Yonder Mountain String Band calling them home. What better locale than the cradle of the Colorado Front Range to build upon a style of music rooted in Appalachia America?

On the Boulder Creek Path, dirt and displaced sediment from the Boulder flood lingers. Splintered trees arch across the now gentle current, and just because Boulder has returned to some sense of normalcy, the flood has yet to cease its stranglehold on those that felt its wrath. But where there is bad, there’s usually good to follow. Host of eTown and bassist for Hot Rize, Nick Forster saw a way to help the community he’s been a part of for decades, and with the help of some of Boulder’s best, put on a show for a near-filled Macky Auditorium on the campus of the University of Colorado.

With all proceeds benefiting flood relief, and a large portion of five-dollar “Uplift” tickets made available to those directly affected by the flood, there was a congenial vibe among the crowd. Arriving just in time to catch the last licks of Sally Van Meter’s resonator guitar backing a group comprised of Mollie O’Brien, Rick Moore, Eric Thorin and Caleb Roberts, I found my way to the second balcony. The house seemed full, and the crowd sat patiently, rapping their knees with their fingers. It felt like a loose-orchestra crowd, willing to hoot and holler, but little more than that. Standing, it seemed, was not an option.

The special guests and local bluegrass all-stars, led by Bill Nershi of the String Cheese Incident and Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band, jokingly introduced themselves as the Soggy Bottom Boys, straight out of O Brother, Where Art Thou. Joined by Chris Pandolfi and Andy Hall of the Infamous Stringdusters, and also Eric Thorin, they romped through songs like My Walkin’ Shoes, Deep Elem Blues, East Virginia Blues, and Don’t it Make you Wanna Dance.

Following another donation rap by the tireless MC was a roughly twenty-five minute intermission, allowing folks to purchase a limited number of signed posters, photographs, and other memorabilia meant to boost the funds being raised. The fact that the musicians gracing the stage had witnessed some of the same devastation felt by those in attendance only strengthened the community-wide bond. While it’s unfortunate it takes hard times to bring a room full of familiar faces together, it’s a sight to remember, and really, to be proud of. “We’re some resilient mothers,” Austin called the musicians and audience alike.

The band behind Pickin’ Up the Pieces: Nick Forster, Tim O’Brien, Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick and Bryan Sutton, or Hot Rize, took the stage in their matching suits. Sutton was the odd man out, wearing a shade far darker than the grey the others were in. Early favorites included High on a Mountaintop, and the obligatory Radio Boogie. Forster and O’Brien thanked the many outlets involved in making the project happen, including Planet Bluegrass, and Tim made sure that Forster was recognized for putting it all together.

The mix of solemn appreciation and unabashed humor was staggering. Dr. Banjo kept the show as lighthearted as possible, telling jokes about how many banjo players it takes to screw in a light bulb. All but the doctor left the stage after an appetizer set, welcoming a “band” they discovered. Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers are Hot Rize in over the top western attire; with fringe guitar and even a pedal steel that Dr. Banjo’s alter identity used as a walker when he joined the troubadours of western swing for takes on Hank Williams and Bob Will’s tunes like Deep Water. For being such a small segment of the show, it was integral, turning Mackey into laughter filled rendition of the Grand Ol’ Opry.

Hot Rize returned to the stage in their mortuary suits and rolled through a handful of new songs they hope to have released around this time next year. Slowly, the accumulation of bluegrass all-stars were welcomed back to the stage, with Dr. Banjo conducting the flannel coated cast of pickers on Going Across the Sea and Nine Pound Hammer, among others. With a full stage of local and nationwide bluegrass legends, it wasn’t hard to leave happy, and that’s just what I did when they took their final bow.

Nights like this, in a place like Boulder, Colorado, where we’re already spoiled with the sights and sounds of a one of a kind community, puts everything into perspective. It’s easy to take the beauty and sunshine for granted, but when such a devastating act brings complete turmoil to our loving little town, it sure is good to see the community Pickin’ up the Pieces: one step, one note, one song at a time.

Check out more photos from the show.

Wed, 11/20/2013 - 4:38 pm

With twenty-one records released through the genre bending marathon existence that is Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, the band has plenty of material to choose from. Original founder and ivory tickler Brian Haas, along with his well-versed cohorts, dug deep into their songbook for a set of re-worked classics spanning their twenty-year career last Thursday at Dazzle Jazz in Denver, Colorado. To celebrate their twentieth anniversary, JFJO performed four separately ticketed sets over two evenings, all being recorded for a future live release. Due to the live recording taking place, Dazzle’s musical director pleaded with us to keep off of our phones, not to holler too much, and to welcome the band, which is where I became confused as to whether I should stand, clap, whistle, or just reside in my seat, a subtle golf clap showing my subdued appreciation.

The low-lit ambiance of Dazzle slowly morphed into a seated affair, where bobbing your head and rapping your fingers replaced dancing. If somehow unaware of the decade, you could imagine your favorite literary sleuth slouched in a corner booth over a whiskey highball, neat. It’s a Philip Marlowe haunt. Sam Spade could be assessing a case in the back of the room, a smoky silhouette lingering over his cold eyes. Having never stepped into the nationally renowned jazz club, I had to ask myself, “why not?”

The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is one of those bands whose name you’ve heard or seen, possibly even recognized, though you might not be familiar with their brand of charismatic, cross-genre musical pollination.  Bringing the evening to life was the aforementioned Brian Haas on piano and keyboards, Chris Combs on lap steel guitar and electric guitar, and the animated Josh Raymer keeping the beat on drums. To start the show, the close-knit group tantalized the crowd with slow excursions into uncharted audible expression: the haunting whine of the lap steel, the intricate syncopation of Raymer’s kit, and the ramming chime of Haas’ piano.

While most jazz doesn’t call for a lively stage presence, JFJO isn’t your normal jazz band. With Raymer getting the most out of his two hands, Haas and Combs watched each other sprint through solos, comically chiding and urging one another to continue in any given direction or to bring the song to a split-second conclusion. When the band felt it, and acknowledged to each other that they were really going somewhere with their playing, the crowd did as well. Being in such close proximity and intimately seated in booths and tables a paper airplane toss from the stage, I couldn’t help but smile when a particular song like The Muppets Get Lost at the County Fair excelled to a level the band was visually satisfied with.

While jazz is the first genre one would expect this band to play, they’re often associated with the jam band community, probably due to their unleashed takes on intricate arrangements and their knack for playing summer music festivals. You could even say jazz was the original jam, and if that’s the case, JFJO consists of a little bit of everything.  Comb’s effect driven lap steel adds an otherworldly take on the rural country music of the band’s home of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Rotating between an electric guitar and lap steel, he looked like he was doing the worm, vertically, with shockwaves shooting from his toes to shoulders. And then there’s Haas, playing piano and all sorts of other bells and whistles in his keyboard world. He’ll be going jazz one minute and honkytonk the next; bouncing and gyrating like Dr. Frankenstein when he brought his monster to life. He seemed to hold the keys (pun intended!) to each number, often leading the way and mouthing encouragement to the band.

Though it seemed they might play right up until their second show was set to begin, Haas thanked the crowd for their support and lack of excessive cheering before introducing the final number. When the lights came back on, I wasn’t quite sure what I had seen, but I knew I liked it. JFJO continues to push the limits of musical distinction, meshing favorable styles like country and blues into their psychedelic jazz background twenty years in the making. Hopefully, Dazzle brings them back sooner than later, and the special night of recorded music makes it onto a vinyl pressing for Record Store Day on April 19th, like Haas said is their intent. It wasn’t until I was well into my drive back to Boulder that I realized there is no Jacob or Fred in the band, but a jazz odyssey is a fair description, though it might not justify the true extent of musical backgrounds represented in their compositions.

Mon, 12/02/2013 - 9:14 pm

This is John Schumm with the Grateful Web, and joining me is Mr. Andy Hall, who plays dobro and sings with The Infamous Stringdusters, preparing for an upcoming tour called The Road to Boulder, starting in Columbus, Ohio, December 4th, and moving through the Midwest to Boulder for shows on December 7th and 8th.

GW: How’re you doing Andy?

AH: I’m doing great, doing great. I just got back to Colorado last night, and yeah, it’s good to be back.

GW: It always is! Well, thank you for taking the time to join me. The upcoming tour is centered on flood relief for the many areas around Boulder Country devastated this past September. I know you’ve been a resident of Lyons, which was hit pretty hard, and I have to ask, initially, is everything all right with you, your home, and all of that?

AH: Yeah, things are starting to get back to normal here in Lyons. We had some flood damage to our well, but the house is ok. We’re actually on the Little Thompson River. The St. Vrain is the one most thought about, but the Little Thompson is this little creek behind my house that’s usually dry in September, and it was just a raging whitewater river. It was pretty remarkable to see.

GW: Wow. When did you move to Lyons? You’re not from there originally, correct?

AH: No, I’ve moved around some in my musical career, but we moved here in August of 2012.

GW: Ok, cool. Had you ever experienced something like the flood before? Any natural disasters or severe weather issues?

AH: Yeah. Strangely enough, I lived in Nashville for eleven years before moving here, and I went through a huge flood there, which was, I guess, 2011. So I got to see that, but it was a different kind of thing. It was the whole city of Nashville, but you know, it was just high water. The rivers were overflowing their banks, so everything was getting flooded, but this Lyons, this Front Range thing was a little different because of the steepness of the terrain. The water was rushing at such a high velocity that it was a different kind of scenario. Pretty amazing.

GW: I know quite a few people who were evacuated and had substantial damage to their homes and properties, and while it’s terrible to see, it’s interesting how these events bring the community together. After Hurricane Katrina, many residents of New Orleans got out and never went back, but I can’t see something like that happening in Colorado.

AH: No, no. At least here in Lyons, and I’m sure this was true for all of the communities, people could not wait to get back. For a lot of the people that love these communities and have called them home for a long time, that was never a thought. Frankly, to see the amount of effort that went into rebuilding the community so quickly, I don’t see why people wouldn’t want to go back. It’s just amazing to see the effort and how quickly they were able to work on this stuff and get roads repaired and water and sewage back up with the damage. It was impressive.

GW: Being such a musical community, I caught the benefit show that you were a part of at Mackey Auditorium earlier this month with Hot Rize and Bill Nershi and Jeff Austin. How did you get involved with that and what is it like being a part of this thriving musical community we have here in Boulder?

AH: I got a call from Nick Forster about that, so he was aware that me and Chris Pandolfi (banjo) were in the area now. He wanted people who cared and were a part of the communities. It’s amazing to see how artists come together when this type of thing happens. I think artists are always searching for greater meaning for what they’re doing, and this provides such a great opportunity for that sort of thing. And I think most artists are aware of how powerful art can be in healing and bringing people together; all artists have a sense of that, that’s probably why most of us get into it. So you see the artistic and musical in particular really come together when these sorts of things go on, and it’s great to be a part of it. It’s great to try and add meaning to what you’re doing as opposed to playing music for yourself or for adulation, actually playing music for somebody to else, to benefit everybody and to have something that’s a little deeper is awesome, and I think most artists and musicians search for that.

Andy Hall | Macky Auditorium

GW: You know it’s interesting, we have these benefit shows, but the Stringdusters are doing an entire tour based on that. The Road to Boulder tour is meant to raise money and awareness for the devastation from flood damage, and through a partnership with the Oskar Blues Brewery CAN’d Aid Foundation, $1 from each ticket sold on the tour will be donated to the foundation, which has a mission of helping those affected by the flood. How did the Dusters get involved with Oskar Blues, a local Lyons Brewery, and how did the idea to do an entire benefit tour come about?

AH: Well, the Oskar Blues connection, at least on our end, has been there for a while. Coming to Colorado to play things like Rocky Grass in Lyons, that we’ve been doing for years, we’ve always known about Oscar Blues and gone there to hear music or have beer. Last year we partnered with them on our Ski Tour, so there was a relationship there, but seeing this flood going on, we knew we wanted to do something to help and with OB originating in Lyons, and them having the idea of how to get funds to people affected, we thought it would be a really great partnership. We reached out to them, and they said, ‘perfect timing, we’re starting this Can’s Aid foundation,’ and we said, ‘great, we want to help,’ and we’ve got a tour about the time they were going to launch the program, so it was a great match. With me living in Lyons these days it seemed to all connect, and it goes back to wanting to help and wanting to play music for something greater than personal gratification and anything that gives you the opportunity to do that is just awesome, and that’s what this was.

GW: In addition to donating $1 from every ticket sold, the Dusters have a new EP out, titled Road to Boulder, which includes the single of the same name in which you sing vocals, and features Bruce Hornsby on accordion.

AH: That’s right. I actually wrote that song when I was still living in Nashville, and it was sort of about what it would be like to move to Colorado, and my desire to do that. So I wrote that song about that decision to try and relocate and when we recorded the song I heard accordion on it for some reason. I guess it was the tempo; it has some sort of Cajun mellow groove, and we had played a show or two with Bruce Hornsby and his band, who share a big Virgina connection, and our headquarters is in Virginia, so we reached out, and he was all about playing on it and he’s a great player, so yeah, we’ve got Bruce on there. And everyone sort of donated their time to this song and once the flood happened, we had the idea to donate this song, with t being about Colorado and the timing of it. Everybody who participated donated their time to this song. The engineer Billy Hume, of course, the band, and Bruce, and David Glasser at Airshow Sound did the mastering for it, who’s also a Colorado guy, so yeah, the neat thing about having the proceeds for a song going to a benefit is that it will give forever. The neat thing about a song is that as long as people will stream it, and download it, listen to it, it will generate money, that’s how royalties from songs work. So it’s not just doing a single show where you raise a little money, and that’s that, you know, that is what the song is for. So this song is tied to the CAN’d Aid foundation forever, and for me, it was just such an awesome idea, and what a great use for a song. You write a lot of songs, and they have their use and their time and its usually for something personal or emotional, but this is going to benefit something for years to come hopefully. So, pretty proud of the idea and how that worked out.

GW: Tying into that, I know you guys were nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental for the song Magic #9. You were talking about self-gratification as opposed to pleasing an audience or a benefit bringing something to the people. What’s the difference in feelings from being nominated for your music and then having this new song that’s meant to bring awareness to the floods. Nominated for a Grammy is a prestigious award and I’m sure it’s a gratifying feeling. How does that feeling compare to helping people out?

AH: It’s very different. Something like a Grammy, you know, you have no control over that. You may have some connections that can get you into that world, but the voting process is, well, who knows how that works. It’s very political, and you don’t have a ton of control, and if you do, it’s because of backroom dealings or your business clout or your manager or record label. Even if you win a Grammy, to me, it’s not totally reflective of your music or your art anyway. It’s nice, and it’s fun, and definitely a feather in your cap, and not to say it doesn’t reflect some quality in your music, but this is about doing music for more of a bigger reason. It’s something you can consciously decide and make happen. When you do something like that, it’s amazing how many people are willing to come to the table and participate. So the nice thing about doing music for a benefit or greater cause is that it’s easy to do that. If you have an idea, people are psyched and happy to help out and be a part of it. But if you’re trying to do something for yourself, or win a Grammy, it’s the opposite. It’s almost like people are against you. And everyone wants to win. So, it’s a totally different energy altogether.

GW: The Infamous Stringdusters have become well known as a live band. You’re so energetic and tour all of the time. Do you consider yourself a touring band versus a studio band, or is it trivial to place a label like that upon yourselves?

AH: No it’s not trivial. We’re definitely a touring band. That’s always sort of been our bread and butter. But we really enjoy the process of recording and see value in it, whereas a lot of bands sort of abandoned that to some degree, because most of the time it’s not a viable way to make money. But we really value our songwriting and making a record for us is really a way to generate songs and creativity and put it down and record it and propel the band creatively in that way. So I’d like to think we are a balance of touring and recording. We’re always going to make records and we’ve never had a huge record but we enjoy doing it, and it’s a really good creative outlet. You get writing, it’s great practice to be in the studio and touring is awesome but you can’t just tour yourself into the ground forever. You can tour forever, but you can’t do two hundred dates a year forever. You’ll burn to the ground. So you have to find other ways to be creative and getting a record out is still one of those.

GW: I had a chance to work the Festy Experience, which is your (Infamous Strindusters’) hosted festival in Virginia. Going with that though, the incessant touring, the idea of taking your festival to different parts of the country and holing up in certain locations for longer instead of crisscrossing the nation all of the time, does that appeal to you guys?

AH: Absolutely. I mean that is definitely something that we are excited about trying to grow. The nice thing about having your own festival is that you can really create the kind of experience that you want. It’s not like going into a venue and being there for one night and load in, and that’s your experience. You can really curate an experience when you host a festival, and you know, not just a festival but doing a couple of night sin the same town creates a bit of an atmosphere instead of hitting a club and getting out of there. There’s a little buzz around town, people might come for the weekend, and it creates a nicer event. It’s also nice not to travel all of the time. You’re probably aware of what Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead) is talking about doing where he’s going into the Capitol Theatre in New York with his show and he’s going to do fifty or so shows there. It’s amazing but if people are into what you’re doing it’s a great way to set up shop and get the experience to people. I think it can have a bigger impact when you’re around for longer and people have a better experience. We’re definitely interested in curate something like that.

GW: Once you actually make it to Boulder on the Road to Boulder Tour, you’ll be set up for two nights at The Boulder Theater, and I’m wondering, being sort of a hometown gig for you, what can we expect out of those shows: any guest musicians or surprises?

AH: Yeah there could be guest musicians. I know that lots of our friends that are traveling are setting up things to do during the day, little events and get together at the pubs in Boulder so hopefully, there will be a bit of a festival atmosphere. We’ve got Paper Bird playing with us, which is a Front Range band that’s awesome, so I think a weekend worth of fun with friends is definitely what people can expect. We may even try to make it to the Broncos game on Sunday, we’ll see.

GW: Did you catch the game the other night? Woof.

AH: Yeah, you know it was a rough one. It’s tough, hard to watch, but what are you going to do?

GW: Outside of Road to Boulder Tour you have the Ski Tour lined up, which includes dates in Colorado, and some of the best snow in the country so I hope that works out and you get some powder. What else does the future hold right now for the Infamous Stringdusters?

AH: Well we also have an NYE run coming up on East Coast and after two nights in Richmond, and once NYE is over, we head to Miami and get on Jam Cruise. I’ve never done that so we’ll be with a lot of funk band and we’ll be the only bluegrass band so that should be fun. Ski Tour is coming up. In March our record is coming out. Pumped about that. For us, it’s a lot of fun and varied touring, and tours with benefits, for the flood relief, and we may continue that for Ski Tour. Psyched for a good year in 2014.

GW: Alright. Well, I will catch you at the shows at the Boulder Theater when you make it there.

AH: Thanks for the interview.

GW: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule and see you in Boulder.

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 2:01 pm

Colorado favorites and jam band veterans Michael Travis and Jason Hann spearheaded their second headlining performance at Denver’s nationally renowned Fillmore Auditorium on Saturday night, bringing their Cirque De Bass along with them. To me, the ability to play the Fillmore and Red Rocks adds up to 2/3rds of the Colorado Triple Crown when it comes to live music. The dance party featured support acts Desert Dwellers, Quixotic Fusion, and the slam duo of Dirtyphonics. If sensory overload is your thing, all of the acts delivered, turning heads with a laser light extravaganza mapped out with heavy bottom-end bass.

The bus was packed on the way to Denver. Stop after stop winter warriors filed on and paid the fare. There was traffic on a Saturday, and the windows were frozen with no visibility. The University of Colorado Buffaloes had upset a perennial basketball powerhouse in the Kansas Jayhawks on a buzzer beating three pointer just hours before, and the court rushing spectacle left the front range commuters inching along ice slicked roads. Did I mention the single digit temperature that dropped faster than the pace of traffic?

A toe-freezing walk from Market Street to the Knew Conscious Gallery was sprinkled with college colors and Santa Clause costumes, both naughty and nice. A media mixer hosted by the fine folks at Tsunami Publicity and marketing, with beer and spirits provided by Breckenridge Brewery, set the tone for the evening. The gallery space was filled with Jay Blakesberg concert photos and electric glowing creations. It was a fresh setting to interact with local Denver journalists, musicians, and members of audio-visual maestros Quixotic. EOTO’s own Jason Hann even made an appearance; taking time to hang out, have a beer, and more than willingly answer any questions. There’s a host of creative minds along the Colorado Front Range, and there were quite a few on display at this aesthetically appetizing glimpse into how Denver does it different.

The frosty Colfax strip that includes The Ogden Theatre, The Fillmore Auditorium, and Grateful Dead themed-bar Sancho’s Broken Arrow was alive with corduroy, dreadlocks, short skirts and glowsticks. There was a good mix of EDM and jam band fans filtering inside. The roller skating rink turned dance floor glowed under the signature purple lit chandeliers and was soon rumbling with industrial bass.

Quixotic was warming the room with a violin-led march into the strange and surreal. Their violinist and aerial dancer, both out of Kansas City, had given me a verbal glimpse into their psychedelic set earlier in the night, and seeing them carry out the electronic ballet was reminiscent of Beats Antique. They’re mixed media in the most creative sense, fusing live and recorded music with a nod to theatrics.

French natives Dirtyphonics brought their raw beats to the table for a set that focused solely on the music. Their head banging bass remixes were nasty and the duo bounced over their computers with each buildup before unleashing a flurry of booty shaking breakdowns. Their most memorable moment came when they sampled the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” a song nearly everybody in the crowd recognized judging by the enthusiasm.

The production crew swiftly assembled EOTO’s now well-known lotus flower. With both Michael and Jason playing within the visually interactive set piece and a plethora of lasers soaring over the audience, you’d almost think there was enough going on. Think again. The massive projector screen behind them was set to come alive with fantastical shimmering prisms. EOTO has become as well regarded for their innate sense of blending lights with audio mapping, triggering explosions of charismatic lasers that slither and sway across the room.

If the many branches of EDM aren’t your thing, there’s still plenty to salivate over at an EOTO show. The fact that the music at each show is created in real-time with no pre-recorded samples keeps things fresh. Travis made sure to call attention to the in-the-moment spontaneity that they approach each show with, and just like that, the lotus flower, lasers, and screen came to life. Since there are no pre-recorded songs to choose from, the images on the lotus flower and backdrop shift with each foray into new audible territory.  At one point the flower was thick with large green leaves, and later characterized by a chomping wide mouth with razor sharp teeth.

The String Cheese Incident’s drummer Michael Travis, and percussionist Jason Hann, had all of their instruments and experimental sounds at their fingertips. Hann plays a modified drum kit, rapping into his voice-morphing headset while Travis plays bass, guitar, and key parts. They loop these sounds through their computers and craft the sort of tracks DJ’s produce, yet on the spot. To EOTO, computers are allies, but not everything. The band themselves best explain the wizardry behind it in this video.

The improvised dubstep that reverberated around the Fillmore was at times up-tempo, and as some areas became a bit more downtrodden, so would the visual environment surrounding them. As the bass wobbled, so did the lasers fanning out across the crowd. The duel mad scientists have emphasized an invigorating concept of one hundred percent in the moment music, and that’s what separates their show from the rest.

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 11:02 am

Keyboard wiz Kyle Hollingsworth of veteran jam band String Cheese Incident recently took time out of rehearsals for their three show New Years Eve Spectacle to talk to the Grateful Web. The conversation mentions his new brew partner in Stone Brewery, a bevy of new solo material, when String Cheese will be releasing their next record, and how he nearly became a Colorado Forest Ranger instead of the musician he is today.

GW: You still here Kyle

KH: Yeah that’s a cool feature; I’ll have to learn how to use that.

GW: Haha maybe afterwards I’ll pass it on to you. It’s definitely a nice tool for all of these. This is John Schumm with the Grateful Web, and joining me today is keyboard master Kyle Hollingsworth of the Kyle Hollingsworth Band and String Cheese Incident. How are you doing Kyle?

KH: No, how are you doing, John?

GW: I’m doing fantastic actually. It’s a beautiful day; it’s not as cold as it’s been recently.

KH: I know, I’m excited, it broke forty three (degrees) today so that’s got to be better than last week. What was it, eight, seven?

GW: Yeah I went up to the mountains a couple of times and it dropped below zero. So anything with the sun and double digits is fine by me.

KH: (Laughter) Awesome.

GW: So you’re playing tomorrow night in Denver at the Fillmore Auditorium with The Kyle Hollingsworth Band, opening for Lettuce. With both bands displaying strong elements of funk, and jams, what can we expect going into the show, and have you ever played with Lettuce before?

KH: I know all of the members, individually, of Lettuce. I played with Krasno (guitarist) last year in the similar holiday run, in December. But I don’t think I’ve ever played…I think String Cheese had Lettuce on numerous festivals with us, but Kyle Hollingsworth Band has never performed with Lettuce. In terms of what to expect, that’s a good question. I’m putting the setlist together so maybe any suggestions, I’ll take them now. I imagine it’ll probably be a lot of funk going on. I definitely have some new material I want to showcase. I have a new CD coming out so I want to make sure I get some new material out to the fans. A lot of that is pretty funky, so it’s going to be a good match, I think.

GW: Awesome. I know I’m definitely looking forward to that tomorrow night. I saw on your Facebook that Garret and Dave are joining you on this run and I’m assuming that mean bassist Garret Sayers and drummer Dave Watts of the Motet. Who else is joining you in this lineup of the band?

KH: This is my traditional band, which is Dave, you’re right, Dave Watts and Garret Sayers from the Motet, and Dan Schwindt on guitar. It’s just going to be a quartet this time around. On Saturday in Ft. Collins I asked Jason Hann, my fellow String Cheeser. But for Friday night show, I think we’re playing an hour and fifteen minutes, so I wanted to keep it tight to the original core, core band. I’ve been playing with these guys for, oh, Dave Watts at least fifteen years and Garret eight years, so they’ve kind of been my main band.

GW: Cool. Do you have any plans to take this band out on the road? I know you mentioned you have a new CD you’re working on. When can we expect that and do you expect to take this version of the band out in a more extensive capacity than these two shows?

KH: I would love to. Like I said I’ve been touring with these guys for probably five years as this core unit, so we’ve been touring everywhere from west coast to east coast, we’ve done Midwest stuff. I expect when the new album comes out I will be touring with this band. I think this is my ideal setup. The album will be coming out…That’s a really good question. Another exciting album is coming out, the new String Cheese disc. That’s coming out in late March. So I’m trying to not be too much on top of that new disc, and make sure my album has enough room outside of the String Cheese world to breathe. It’s pretty much almost done, but I think I’ll hold off until maybe August, and String Cheese get some space for that.

But the album is awesome. I’ve got a lot of special guests. I’ve got Dominic from Big Gigantic. I’ve got Bonnie from Elephant Revival. You know Elephant Revival?

GW: Oh yeah.

KH: She’s going to sing on a couple of tracks with me. So I’m getting special guests and doing a lot of new material. It’ll be awesome.

GW: Well it seems like you’re always getting new players and everybody together. I recently checked out the collaboration you did as Incidental Animals, with Jennifer Hartswick, Dan Lebowitz, Steve Adams and Dave Brogan. It sounds like you have a very full plate between your band and String Cheese, but what do you see happening with them in the near future?

KH: I would love to make that happen again. The tour was essentially put together because we were all invited to play a friends wedding in NYC and we said, ‘well, that’s a great lineup,’ so we did a five day tour. So, we learned each other’s songs; I basically shredded on ALO songs for two weeks, and they worked on some of my songs and we played some of Jen’s songs. The chemistry was amazing. They’re a great crew of musicians and a just great crew of people, and I’d love to bring it to Colorado, at least. But no album plans or anything like that. I think right now we’re just trying to make it happen again in a live performance setting.

GW: Speaking of Colorado, I believe I read you’re from the East Coast originally, correct?

KH: Correct, from Baltimore.

GW: Baltimore, that’s right. So what brought you out to Colorado and how’d you link up with the String Cheese guys?

KH: The String Cheese guys. Strangely enough, I had been coming out to Colorado for many years, and I helped build the Colorado Trail. There’s like a volunteer thing you could do in the late eighties or nineties or something, I don’t know, I forget when it came out. But I would come out and just work a week or two on the Colorado trail and I just love this area, and I actually came out to maybe study forestry and become a forest ranger, ironically, but I finished up my jazz piano degree in Baltimore, and I said I’d just go for a Summer, and that was twenty years ago that I only came for the summer, and I haven’t gone back. I didn’t become a forest ranger, but I did hook up with String Cheese. My band was opening for String Cheese and they asked me to sit in with them that night, and I haven’t not sat in with them ever since (laughter).

GW: Well I’m happy to say that I think you chose the right path playing music instead of becoming a forest ranger, not that it wouldn’t have been a great path, but I think things have worked out rather well for you.

KH: Yeah, it’s been great. One other thing I can say about keeping my plate full, is that I’ve been working with this amazing band from Ft. Collins. I’m producing a band called Euforquestra, do you know Euforquestra?

GW: I do, I’ve sold merchandise for them a couple of times.

KH: I’m producing their disc and we’re almost done. It was a great experience getting in the studio and helping them develop songs and develop hooks and work on great vocals and getting grooves right. It was pretty deep, it was very fun.

GW: So you said you’re producing them, are you on the album at all or just nurturing them through it?

KH: No I am playing on the album, I think I play a couple of times. They threw me in the studio and had me do an organ solo on one of their songs. Their material is really strong, I’m super psyched for them and it’s going to be a really great disc.

GW: I’ve seen them a couple of times, always entertaining. I’ll keep my eye out for that. Looking back on moving out here all that time ago, coming up on twenty years of String Cheese Incident, you know, minus those two years a couple years ago, what do you look back on and feel most proud of over the years?

KH: Um, in what cheese has done?

GW: Yeah where the band has done over the years, maybe the more memorable experiences.

KH: I’m really proud that we were able to keep it in-house, not sell out to any major record labels or go down any commercial avenue. I think what we do is unique in the fact that the music we play is maybe not accessible to people who listen to pop music but we’ve been able establish a great family of fans around us, that respect the kind of music we play, so I’m proud of that family we’ve built over the years.

GW: So you’ll (SCI) New Years Eve run this year in Broomfield, at the 1st Bank Center. Three shows with a plethora of guests, including Bootsy Collins, The Flaming Lips, The Del McCoury Band, and Karl Denson.

KH: Yeah! Plus lots of other things that I just found out about so it should be awesome.

GW: There are so many talented groups; the possibilities kind of just seem limitless. Are there any of those bands that you’re looking forward to seeing that you haven’t seen before, and can we expect any collaborations with those guys?

KH: Well, let’s talk about it. We could get Bootsy to come play some bluegrass with us, I was thinking.

GW: I mean, that would go over just fine, I’m sure.

(Laughter)

KH: I have yet to see Bootsy so I’m psyched to see him, and I’m actually looking for a parking spot right now. I’m going to String Cheese rehearsal. We are deep in rehearsals and we’re going to kind of figure how everything is going to lay out for the three days. We have a lot of material to collaborate with so we need to figure out how it’s all going to happen. But we’re excited, but as of now I think it’s going to be a surprise to us and you (laughter).

GW: So you guys have that going on, it’s the twentieth anniversary, obviously a huge deal, and after that you’ve got the International Incident taking place in Riviera Maya, Mexico and your band, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, is on the bill, I noticed. Will that be the same lineup that you have going into this weekend?

KH: Yes, yes, hello! Dream lineup in Mexico! I’m excited about that it’ll be fun. The whole Cheese experience down there is going to be great. We haven’t done the whole international incident in, oh, ten years? First one we did, was it Costa Rica?

GW: I know that was on the list.

KH: It was Jamaica and 150 fans showed up and we were super psyched. That was in ‘97 or something and the next year we went to Costa Rica and more people kept showing up and then Mexico and Hawaii. So it’s nice to come back to it.

GW: Yeah absolutely, it’s nice to get out of the cold and go to the warm for a little while.

(Laughter).

KH: Well it’ll warm up this weekend and I’m hoping that some of your fans listening will come join the Funk with Lettuce and I get to do my own thing on Saturday: two full sets with Jason Hann as well so it’s going to be a good weekend.

GW: And you have Grant Farm opening on Saturday at Hodi’s, right?

KH: I forgot that, that’s right. That makes it even more exciting for me.

GW: Yeah they’re great. I remember when you introduced Hoopla, one of the beers you helped craft, at what I believe was the first Electric Forest. What are you working on thee days beer wise and what got you into the whole brewing concept.

KH: What I’m working on now is pretty exciting. I’m making a beer with Stone, out of San Francisco, and I’ll be making a bomber with them coming out in conjunction with the my CD, at least the first single of the CD, will come out with a bomber from Stone. It’s pretty huge I’m super psyched. It’s actually me and the main guy at Stone, Greg, is also a musician. So the owner, Greg, is going to play, we’re going to write a song together, and Alice Cooper’s guitar player will join us as well. So it’s pretty serious, three of us working on a beer together and releasing it in a bottle and that’s in March. Another single will come out with Hoopla, which comes out in May, and I hope to have another beer for the final single and then have a brew fest around the CD release. So it’s pretty much a beer CD. Every song will have its own beer (Laughter).

GW: (Laughter). It’s like a dinner pairing when you go to a restaurant and they pair a wine with your meal.

KH: Exactly! So that’s the idea and we are trying to make it all happen, but it’ll be fun.

GW: Will the brew fest you mentioned be going down in Boulder again?

KH: I think it will. We just wonder what the best situation is for a CD release party, so we might move it someplace better for music as well. But I always push for any festival, whether it be a beer festival or music festival, to be outside in the summer time. Just being outside, playing music and drinking beer are my favorite things to do.

GW: You really can’t beat that, can you?

KH: No.

GW: We’ll alright, Kyle, that sort of wraps up everything I wanted to cover, is there anything you’d like to add about the upcoming shows this weekend or anything else coming up?

KH: I think I’m all set, John, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.

GW: Thank you, I know you have the rehearsals going on and you’re busy.

KH: Walking in right now.

GW: Cool, take care.

Mon, 12/16/2013 - 1:45 pm

It’s no secret that the Infamous Stringdusters love Colorado, and let’s be serious, who can blame them? While Virginia is their home base, bassist Travis Book grew up here, and Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi now spend their days along the Colorado Front Range. It seems to be a home away from home for the band, with highly responsive crowds always eager for some high altitude, innovative bluegrass. Host to Telluride Bluegrass, Planet Bluegrass, and producing groups like String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band, Colorado isn’t just another stop on the map. For the Stringdusters, Colorado holds a special enough place that they dedicated their current tour to benefiting those affected by the Boulder Flood.

One dollar from every ticket sold during the Road to Boulder Tour goes to the Oskar Blues CAN’D AID foundation. The partnership’s immediate goal is to help the citizens impacted by Boulder Flood this past September. Many benefit concerts came to fruition, including Hot Rize’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces, which featured Hall and Pandolfi. The Stringdusters took it to the next level, however, with an entire tour dedicated to the cause and a Road to Boulder EP that also goes to those in need. To read an interview with Andy Hall detailing his experience with the flood and his insight on the Road to Boulder Tour, click here.

The Boulder Theater was an oven on Sunday night, the second in a two-show stand. In the midst of their tour, they had certainly settled in. With ice on the streets and whiskey in the air, the Dusters took the stage following a spirited set by Paper Bird and kicked off the night with the aptly titled, “Colorado,” sung by violinist Jeremy Garret. It’s an ode to a long distance friend that grew up with you but never changed. It’s the feeling you get when you drive past Denver and are so close you can almost feel the comforting cradle of those flagstone foothills. Being a Colorado transplant myself, there’s nothing more better.

One of my favorite things about the band is their ability to nurture a scene and way of life. Their lyrics are reflective of their personalities, and their songs come together in conjunction with their outlooks. Whether it’s hosting their own music festival, raising money for a variety of causes, or naming a tour “The Ski Tour” solely because they’re hitting ski towns and able to go riding during the day and play a show at night, they’re ingenuity shines through. They sell dog collars at the merchandise booth and drink local Lyon’s brewery Oskar Blues. They cover the Grateful Dead and release their own records. They’re the Infamous Stringdusters, and they’ve been doing things their way since 2007.

The first set progressed with a mixed bag of vocal leads. “How Far I’d Fall for You” had the energy rising and Travis taking the charge both on his bouncing upright bass and vocals. He was complimented with on-point harmonies by the rest of the band on the Grateful Dead tune “He’s Gone,” which was preceded by a finger blistering road song called “Destinado.” Dobro player Andy Hall sang that number, and the consistent vocal swapping between members shows the lack of ego within the band. They’re a road group telling stories they see as they go, a band of brothers. “Paypal Jamgrass” really opened up the improvisation between the pickers as they built to crescendo at full strum before a country breakdown brought them back to the chorus. Hall shred through a lengthy “Moon Man” to close the first set in what felt like one of the longer songs of the night.

During the set break, the space opened up. There was room to breathe. The second set started with the dobro sliding blues, “Fork in the Road,” and no matter which direction they chose to go in, it was the right choice. The bop banjo instrumental “Machines” had the band seamlessly melting through layers of each other’s lines. Contrary to popular belief, it’s all right to cross-streams, sometimes. The intricate balance that comes with splitting vocals and seamless soloing without stepping on toes is a nod to their cohesion.

The final song the second set was “No More to Leave you Behind,” prefaced by the band telling the audience how much they love Boulder, as well as thanking Oskar Blues and everybody else that helped make the tour happen. They also mentioned they’d be back relatively soon for their “Ski Tour,” attempting to catch the best powder in Colorado. The bouncy arrangement between the dobro and banjo flourished while Andy Falco kept the strum-movement alive on his acoustic guitar. While lots of bluegrass makes you want to swing and shake, all I wanted to do was jump up and down. The instrumental jams went on and on, and it felt like Hall was talking about Boulder when he sang the line, “the road is lonesome, and I’m feeling blue, and I can’t get you off of my mind.” Of course the lyrics can be interpreted in many ways, but their songs took on new meaning for me after knowing what they’ve done for Boulder County, and how much they love our state.

The double encore commenced and they closed the show with “You Can’t Stop the Changes,” which sort of felt like the futility of life when it comes to natural disasters. While you might not be able to change nature, you can surely help ease the pain, and that’s what this tour was all about. The Infamous Stringdusters are more than just a band by virtue of their collective actions. As the Grateful Dead flipped the industry standard upside down with their successful, yet progressive business model and allegiance to the road, so too have the Stringdusters. One show, one song, one idea at a time, the innovation continues to pay off.

Wed, 12/18/2013 - 6:37 am

With Lettuce and The Kyle Hollingsworth Band preparing to settle inside of my ears for the evening, things blasted off in an over-caffeinated wild turkey blitz en route to the Fillmore Auditorium. While the hall filled in, those on the rails waited patiently for the on-stage gospel to pour freely. The church of funk was open for a special Friday service, and there were many believers in attendance.

For twenty years now, Lettuce has brought their timeless, generation spanning funk to stages all across the country. Beloved by the jam band community, their instrumental compositions hold their own. You might not hear them sing or speak during the concert, and it’s not important. The intricacies of their songbook will make you want to dance your ass off, but your eyes and mind might get bogged down trying to interpret what exactly is going on.

Erick “Jesus” Coomes’ butter steel bass lines and drummer Adam Deitch hold the groove, and it’s incredible that they find ways for all of the surrounding instruments to shine through the mix. They plow ahead like the bomb-rigged bus in “Speed” that triggered if Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock let it drop below fifty miles per hour. The only difference is that you hope you’re riding with the rhythm section when things go bang.

The East coast boys are individually successful in a variety of projects, but it’s Lettuce that has the most reach. If you’ve ever been on Jam Cruise, or attended a music festival, chances are you’ve walked by one of their sets or collaborations. They’re everywhere, grinding away on tour and sounding as strong as they ever have. The ability to age with your band, while maturing your own musical mind, has them communicating through their instruments, and filling in the gaps along the way. Twenty years is no joke, as opener Kyle Hollingsworth could tell you about his time in String Cheese Incident, also in their twentieth anniversary as a band.

After interviewing Kyle the day before the show, the transcript of which you can read here, I had one thing on my mind, and that was getting down to some of that dirty funk he was cooking up. The Kyle Hollingsworth Band is that and more, throwing a little sleazy disco dance party in for good measure. Bassist Garret Sayers and drummer Dave Watts of The Motet work the rhythm, with Kyle and guitarist Dan Schwindt blazing along. Kyle’s lyrics seemed forcefully rhymed at times, and occasionally escape his vocal range, but fit his aloof demeanor. Dan’s duck walking guitar never seemed to let up, and complimented the wafting synth. Fellow String Cheeser Jason Hann even showed up, gracing the mix with his signature percussion.

Kyle’s set featured a slew of his solo material, including new song “Here We Go,” from an unreleased album that Kyle told me to expect in the summer of 2014. Kyle revealed a t-shirt with a wide-eyed cat on it after opening the set with “Can’t Wait Another Day,” which kept the rail gang giggling, and his Colorado flavor subdued the appetite of the hungry funketeers. “Let’s Go Outside,” an outtake off of his most recent album, “Then There’s Now,” fired away and to me really shows his hand as a songwriter. And yes, Kyle did play some of his String Cheese material, with a monster “Rosie” to close his set.

There are a few places in the country where the jammed out funk bands hit it big, and outside of New Orleans, Denver is a fully receptive hive where the bees never stop buzzing for more. With so many touring bands passing through the Front Range, we get the cream of the crop. While the Colorado scene does produce bands, we play even better hosts. Lettuce was feeling the hospitality Friday night, and while the show didn’t appear to be a sellout, the band and enthused crowd helped take up the open space.

Dueling guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam Smirnoff got it going early. Krasno feels like one of the hardest working players in the industry right now. He tours with Soulive, The Eric Krasno Band, and this past summer played bass with the Tedeschi Trucks Band following the departure of Oteil Burbridge. The lethal guitar combination took songs like “Fly” and “Madison Square” well past the confines of their album counterparts, stretching each song and jiving with Alan Evans’ multi-keyboard onslaught.

I had heard that Alecia Chakour was running with the guys on this tour, and sure enough she made her way up while the band flattered her with the moniker of the “new queen of soul.” She led the them through a few renditions of timeless soul hits like Marva Whitney’s “What Must I Do to Prove my Love to You” and Lyn Collins’ version of “Do Your Thing.” The music went from ear slaying funk to meticulous soul as soon as she grabbed the microphone, and when she left it was clear we could have done with more. Her commanding presence was a breath of fresh air, and like The Band to Bob Dylan, Lettuce scaled it back a notch to make Alecia the focal point. Talk about one of the best backing bands a singer could ask for.

Next up on the collaboration front was Dominic Lalli. Boulder’s favorite saxophone player was once a member of The Motet-making him no stranger to funk-and is half of Big Gigantic. Joining the already tight horn section of saxophone players Ryan Zoidis and James Casey, and trumpet player Eric Bloom, Dom made his mark not necessarily soloing, but fitting in with the other guys. That’s not to say he didn’t let loose on the final song of the set, a track where the horns were much more predominant than usual, but he wasn’t stepping on toes. While the horns definitely got their time in the spotlight throughout the night, they’re an accompaniment to the full frontal electric barrage of the quintet, and don’t feel free to lead the jam.

After a particularly space aged sounding encore, Alecia came back to the stage for a take on Syl Johnson’s “The Love You Left Behind.” Neal Evans’ ignited the organ, stretching so far around his keyboard world that I thought he’d strain a muscle. The funky reverb driven by Coomes’ bass came to a close, with the band thanking Denver, and the Colorado funk faithful cheering well after the band left the stage. Denver is just the type of city that does appreciate what musicians leave behind, and Lettuce leaves a trail a mile high.

Check out more photos from the show.

Thu, 01/23/2014 - 9:51 am

Railroad Earth delivered their acoustic rock and roll to the Fillmore Auditorium Saturday night for what was the second show of a two-night stand celebrating their newest studio album, Last of the Outlaws. While the band is known for their improvised instrumental conversations, it’s their lyrics that really stick out to me. Filled with story-laden imagery, they’ve worked their songs in the eyes of the great American songbook. Lead vocalist Todd Sheaffer knows just how to write the roots-based music, and his soft-spoken vocals fit the blue-collar ballads and bluegrass barnburners alike.

Opener Anders Osborne and his band of rollicking bayou rockers led a blitzkrieg through the early crowd. Those smart enough to make it in time caught the well-traveled New Orleans rhythm section of Eric Bolivar on drums and Carl Dufrene on bass. Playing to crowds like the Fillmore and joining artists on stage like Phil Lesh, Anders is no longer such a well-guarded secret around the French Quarter. His numerous albums and collaborations with his contemporaries have him out in front, and the opportunity to see him open for a band like Railroad Earth could soon be out of the question.

Tour seasoned Railroad Earth arrived to dark blue lights. The first song, Drag Him Down, was a classic bluegrass swing and one of the shorter songs of the evening. The band has a tendency to really drift along the confines of any given song, but they kicked rocks to get the audience locked in. Old Man and the Land was introduced to a raucous cheer and seemed to have segments built in for audience hollering. Andy Goessling and his banjo, however, was enough to have everyone cheering.

The first song debuted from their new album was When the Sun Gets in Your Blood, which started slow before morphing into a western romp with the instruments falling in line like a roaming caravan. Tim Carbone exchanged his violin for a Telecaster, and Andrew Altman hunched over his upright bass, working to put some weight behind the band. They brought things full circle with Cold Water, which had the similar, quick natured bounce of Drag Him Down to complete the bluegrass sandwich.

Like a Buddha spaced things out once the second set got moving. Mission Man incited the spirited audience, and among the fray was John Skehan’s steady mandolin. Guest Dan Sears even played on flugelhorn, adding a trumpet blast to the wandering narrative between vocals. The Hunting Song kept things rocking and illustrated the knack for visual songwriting the band possesses with their pastoral approach to acoustic rock and roll.

The second set closing multi-part composition All That’s Dead Again and Face With a Hole from the new album was a bold step. Tracks from Last of the Outlaws were scattered throughout the first and second sets, but it was really the closing sequence, rolling on for well over twenty minutes, that anchored the show. A departure from the vocal ballads and swinging bluegrass tunes, this moody musical journey flipped the script. Sheaffer brought the crowd back into it by singing Face With a Hole, after the crowd had stood unsure of whether to dance or just sort or sway.

After thanking the audience and exclaiming that they couldn’t think of a better place than Denver to release their album, they launched into a self-arranged take on The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues, driven by Carey Harmon on drums. With a night of rocking, picking, and blurring the lines between the Americana and jam band labels behind them, it was on to the next one for Railroad Earth. Let it roll, baby, roll.

Check out more photos from the show.

Thu, 01/23/2014 - 10:46 am

When the collection of talent present in Blue Sky Riders finds itself under the roof of the Boulder Theater, you make sure you get a seat (literally, it was a seated event). While their story is one of chance, their music is no leap of faith. Kenny Loggins, Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman are an all-star trio of songwriters with over eighty years in the music industry between them.

Treating us to selections from their still relatively new catalogue-Finally Home was released in 2013 and they’ve been writing together since 2011-and bantering about the origins of their union and craft, the Blue Sky Riders are a true country collective. Kenny Loggins’ longtime mainstream success has him steering the bus past the growing pains that tend to wear on new bands, allowing the trio to focus solely on the songs they’re writing and performing together.

Loggins is known for his time with Loggins and Messina, and enjoying a platinum cast solo career that some of the less tapped in fans remember for Top Gun’s Danger Zone. Gary Burr has always been behind the scenes. After moving to Nashville, he churned out top hits for some of the most recognizable names in country music over the last thirty years. His wife, Georgia Middleman, is a true San Antonio Rose. Getting her start singing and opening for Texas legends, she also settled in Nashville to focus on writing music, whether it was for her or others.

On stage at the Boulder Theater, Georgia was flanked by an electric guitar playing Loggins on one side and her husband Burr with an acoustic guitar on the other. You’re Not the Boss of Me got things going with Georgia wooing the crowd. They were gold when it came to swapping vocals on each line, never failing to harmonize when the chorus came around.

We were treated to some of Burr’s comedy as the show went on. He referred to the show being part of their “forty-five degrees tour,” because everybody in the audience craned their heads in Loggins’ direction. It’s encouraging when songwriters are proud enough to share stories about the development of each song, and specifically mixing it with a little three-way humor to keep things lively.

After a few good laughs, Kenny spoke on the ever-present California wildfires near his home in Santa Barbara. “This is a song for survivors,” he said of Another Spring, inspired by green shoots sprouting out of burnt oak trees. Burr took lead vocals, but they find pockets for each of voice to excel while assisting in the meantime.

Following a spirited How’s That Working for You, Georgia let us know how difficult it is to use an organ pedal with heels on. Little Victories idled on the hardships of loss, and the need to persevere through life, work and love. She dedicated the song to those in the audience who’ve struggled, though most of the fans seemed to have found solace in the Denver Broncos rolling into the Super Bowl.

Loggins said the band partially started while he was in Nashville to record an album for commercial retailer Target. This solicited more than a bit of chiding and laughing from both Burr and the crowd. “God, I needed a challenge in my life,” Loggins exclaimed, and Burr was just that. Kenny happened to call during Burr’s first date with Georgia, and ended with Burr saying to her, “this date can end in two ways: we can get frozen yogurt, or you can join a band with Kenny Loggins.” The rest was history, though Burr said they still got frozen yogurt.

My favorite story of the night focused on Loggins as a struggling songwriter in LA. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band wanted to record one of his tunes, but his contract with Disney forbid it. In an interesting twist of fate, Loggins’ girlfriend at the time happened to be the daughter of a bigwig at Disney, and everything worked itself out. Moral of the story, a little perseverance and a whole lot of loving can lead to good things, including his first recorded song, Return to Pooh Corner.

Between the soft spoken song about that honey loving bear and the drunken Broncos fans chanting “Danger Zone” from the back of the room, Georgia heard a fan request Table 32, and although she had to re-tune her guitar for it, she obliged. She recounts her experiences working at the Green Hill Restaurant in Nashville in the song, a job she said everybody should experience while trying to make it in the music industry.

A testament to writing their songs together, Georgia mentioned carrying around a verse for seven years before Loggins and Burr helped her put the rest together. They arrived at You Took the Words Right out of my Mouth, which had the air of a popular mid nineties country hit. So did Just Say Yes, which had the instrumental chops and vocal harmonies to make it the full package.

The beauty stood between the legend and the lyrical jester while introducing their new, yet to be performed song. Burr picked up a mandolin, Georgia strapped on her acoustic guitar, and Kenny picked up a seldom-used harmonica. The chorus went, “thank you for reminding me who I am, whenever I forget,” and the talent they have between them is more than enough to keep them from forgetting anytime soon.

Fri, 01/24/2014 - 12:03 pm

The Grateful Web’s John Schumm recently spoke with Zion Godchaux of disco-funk rock & rollers, BoomBox. Currently on tour in support of Filling in the Color, their Kickstarter funded third album, Zion took a few moments away from soundcheck in Missouri to talk about the evolution of his musical journey with Russ Randolph, his mother and former Grateful Dead singer Donna Jean Godchaux’s soulful influence, and the difficulty in describing the music they make together as BoomBox.

Grateful Web: My name is John Schumm with the Grateful Web and I’m here today with Zion Godchaux who is half of BoomBox. How’re you doing today, Zion?

Zion: Doing pretty good man, doing good. In Columbia, Missouri getting ready to soundcheck and hopefully have a good night.

GW: Nice. You guys are playing down at the Bluenote tonight, right?

Z: Yeah.

GW: Nice, nice. Well, I guess while we’re on the subject of your tour, are there any specific states or cities or even clubs that you, BoomBox together, enjoy playing more than others?

Z: You know, not necessarily. Every show is its own thing that’s special, you know? Obviously we do better in some states, but that doesn’t necessarily dictate what kind of time we have. We just came from Colorado, which is a great state for us. We had a great time there, did a bunch of cool shows. The fans were really up to the task (laughter). So we like it there, but you know, it’s different everywhere, and we have friends in every state that we’re playing. So we always look forward to it.

GW: I’m calling out of Colorado, and was a little upset I missed the show here in Boulder. But it’s good to hear the fans held it together.

Z: For sure, it was a good time.

GW: Your first step into the life of an artist was as an infant on the cover of your parents’ album during their time with the Grateful Dead, called Keith and Donna. You’re forehead had a drawing on it by Jerry Garcia, but your mom’s association with music doesn’t stop there, even singing at Muscle Shoals with Elvis and other musicians. What kind of influence did she have on you to get into music, playing guitar, if any, and what else influenced you growing up?

Z: I mean, my mom, she’s got soul. She is soul. It pours out of her. As a baby, her singing voice, it’s always kept soul really close to me, you know. There’s certain feeling that comes with being around music like that. My mom being a singer, even before the Grateful Dead, singing backup with Percy Sledge and R&B artists. That voice really kind of tethers me to something and it has influenced me growing up as far as how I think about harmony and melody and the relationships with notes, and what combinations make your hair stand on end. It’s been a big influence on me, whether I like it or not. It’s powerful.

GW: I noticed the other day that she has a new album coming out in a month or so and I was wondering if you had any part in that, or if you were on it?

Z: Nope, I was just support, moral support. I listened to the mixes when it was in the works and gave my two cents on stuff but they really had that record pretty well together. They had a lot of really amazing players on it and it was mixed really well. She didn’t need my help (Laughter)

GW: Speaking of albums, Boombox has a new release (Filling in the Color), out on January 14th. I noticed you guys collected the money on Kickstarter to get it going and last I checked it had raised over sixteen thousand dollars. What does it mean to you and Russ to see the fans and people coming together to make that happen.

Z: I mean it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s like having a family member bail you out of jail (laughter). It means a lot. A real honor, and that’s about all I can say. We love our fans and we pour our life into turning them on with music and the fact that they listen and like what we do is huge, and to help us out financially and to see the album through and help it see the light of day, I don’t know, it’s very deep, and we can’t thank our fans enough.

GW: You were saying how you play for the fans and that’s what its all about. Was there a blueprint when the two of you came together as BoomBox? Was there a course you saw yourselves trying to go towards, or has it just evolved as you go?

Z: As far as our relationship with the fans?

GW: More you and Russ coming together as BoomBox, where you started to where you are now, was there a plan as you came together or did it evolve out of the musical relationship you had?

Z: No, the first year before we even played a show, we were hammering out the foundation for how this machine would float on the open seas (laughter), and a lot of it was just technically- and I don’t know if there’s a word for it, philosophically technically? Our philosophy on technology was squared away and how the technology was going to allow us to just improv and flow without a net, yet still be locked in with computers and stuff like that. How we were going to stay organic in the middle of the computer. We had to figure that out. And we knew that if we figured that out, we could have a core foundation built to where we could easily improvise our shows and not need any kind of net. And how we could incorporate all sorts of different kinds of music, and samples and other people’s tracks and our tracks and how it would all kind of flow through the BoomBox filter. Then we would be able to take it as far as we wanted. We felt very strongly about it in the beginning. But it had to be hammered out before we played a live show. By the time we played a live show we were totally confidant in getting towards where we are today.

Since this is for The Grateful Web, the Grateful Dead put out a pretty good model for where that’s all at, as far as how you relate to the rest of the world and how you relate to the fans. And how you don’t try to become pop, and it’s all about your relationship with the fans. And if you have the fans on your side and you have word of mouth on your side then people in the countries and cities are listening to your stuff, and telling their friends about your stuff. You don’t need big corporations. You can sidestep that and make your own party, and paint your own picture. So we stay close to that as far as roadmaps go. I don’t know if that makes sense.

GW: No, it does. As far as painting your own picture and not becoming corporate or pop, it doesn’t feel like the music you guys make-I’ll call it BoomBox music-it doesn’t feel like it falls into traditional genres, not that those are important at all. But how would you describe what you guys do on stage and on an album to someone who has never listened to you?

Z: I have trouble describing it. I have trouble putting what we do musically into words. Trying to explain to somebody why they should want to come to our show, I struggle with that. It’s dance music, but it’s rock & roll. Actually it’s just funky. It’s soul music. I end up just throwing a bunch of names around and never really dialing it in. I like to call it rock & roll but that gives the wrong impression, too. It’s our own music, and it’ll make you feel god. I just say that. Probably make you want to dance, maybe make you smile.

GW: It seems to do all of those when I’ve been around and seen the fans at the shows. Kind of wrapping up, I know you just released the album and you’re on tour right now for a week or couple of weeks, but is there anything else coming up on the horizon? Anything you guys are thinking about outside of the tour and most recent album?

Z: Lets see. We’re going to be putting together some videos for this record. And honestly, we are really backlogged on our music. We have tons of tracks that haven’t been played live yet, let alone put on a record yet. I’ve just been waiting to get this record out so I can break out some more tracks. So that’s kind of where my head is at. I’m already a couple of albums down the road thinking about these other tracks and getting them into the rotation. I’m just glad this record is out and people are digging it and we can move forward. That’s kind of how my mind works.

GW: Some of the tracks you mentioned, do you plan on playing them live before laying them down on an album?

Z: Yeah, we usually end up testing them out on the road to see if they translate, and that’s kind of how we work. I don’t know if it’s for better or worse, but our songs make it onto albums because we know that they’re legitimate tracks that translate to people, and we tested them and they hold up. They stand the test of time. We put the record out and some of the tracks are older but we’re trying to get new listeners involved, as well as current fans, but we want to turn new people on. We know that these songs hit and are good tracks, so let’s put them out if we have a chance at broadening our audience.

GW: Right. Well, all right, I don’t know if you have anything else to add. That wraps up the questions I have.

Z: Cool. No, that pretty much covers it. New record is out, more music to come, stay tuned and we love our fans. Thanks for the interview

GW: No, Thank you. I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule for it.

Z: Cool man.

GW: Enjoy the rest of the tour, and have a good time tonight. I’m looking forward to everything that comes out.

 Z: Thanks man, see you around. Take care.

Sat, 01/25/2014 - 12:40 pm

The Grateful Web’s John Schumm recently sat down with RatDog guitarist Mark Karan, currently touring with Terrapin Flyer and Melvin Seals. Mark speaks about being embraced by the Grateful Dead community, touring with Terrapin Flyer, the upcoming RatDog tour, his battle with throat cancer, his solo career, and so much more.

Grateful Web: This is John Schumm with the Grateful Web here with Mark Karan of Mark Karan’s Buds, Bob Weir’s RatDog & The Other Ones, currently touring with Terrapin Flyer right now on their run in Colorado. And how’re you doing Mark?

Mark Karan: I’m good, how about yourself?

GW: Excellent. Welcome to Colorado. So, how are you?

MK: Good. It’s a lovely day. Considering some of the weather we just came through, it’s a nice change.

GW: Right, you were in Tulsa?

MK: Mhm, Tulsa, St. Louis and Chicago, so cold (burr).

GW: Far different than the high forties, mid fifties and sunny.

MK: Yes, and very different from the Bay area.

GW: So right now you’re on the road with Terrapin Flyer, along with Melvin Seals. How have the shows been so far and how’ve you guys gelled with the band?

MK: The shows have gone really well, which has been nice. You don’t really ever know. Terrapin Flyer is a band that works around Chicago and has a little bit of a fluctuating membership, but they’re used to playing together. Melvin and I get brought in as additions and it’s been really fun and it hasn’t taken a lot of effort. We’re finding our spaces and making some pretty great music.

GW: Like Dark Star Orchestra and other Grateful Dead cover bands, what’s their approach to a concert? Are they trying to choose a Dead show, or picking and choosing songs in their own way?

MK: Definitely not the former. We’re not trying to cop a show. I think Flyer in Chicago is normally more of a Grateful Dead cover band... but because of Melvin’s involvement-surprisingly Melvin doesn’t know a lot of Grateful Dead songs because his background was more JGB... we do some Dead, but more JGB oriented material. I think the only real criteria is that it be a song we all like doing and that we all know together.

GW: What would you say one of the more challenging songs that has presented itself or one of the songs that’s come about strong with the lineup on this run.

MK: Well there’ve been several songs that have been surprisingly strong, so I’d be hard-pressed to pull out one or two specifically on the strong end, but I can definitely giggle and say Doug pulled out Cumberland (Blues) the other night, coming out of something else we were already playing, and I had to go over to him and say, ‘Doug, Ratdog didn’t really do Cumberland and there are a lot of chords. (Laughs).’ I kind of fumbled my way through. We got through it, but that was probably one of the weaker tunes we did.

We seem to have a good time with China>Rider... and I’m one of those people that seem to think all roads lead to The Other One, so every so often we find ourselves stepping into that trough and that always gets fun.

GW: Do you see your participation, you and Melvin, going past this tour?

MK: Well, this isn’t the first time we’ve done this with Terrapin. Doug (Hagman) contacted me in 2011 or 2012, and I think this is the fourth or fifth run that Melvin and I have done with him. A couple of them have also included Tom Constanten. I have a feeling we’ll do it more, yeah.

I also have a fair amount of interest in doing some more stuff with Melvin just because I like where he comes from musically. It’s a nice cross between the Garcia/Dead oriented thing and his background in R&B and gospel, which is a lot of where my musical love lies also.

GW: I can see that being interesting the way he worked with Jerry over the years, you worked with Bobby over the years. There’s kind of a cross connection, but at the same time very different. Both sides of the spectrum as far as what the Dead were doing and what Jerry was doing outside of that.

MK: It’s funny. Needless to say I love Grateful Dead, and that was a very unique experience, but I really appreciated the Garcia band on another level, because what Jerry was doing with that band spoke to music sort of above and beyond Grateful Dead land that I’ve got really deep love for. Jerry seemed to mine a lot of the old Motown and Stax and early country and Bakersfield music, and stuff that I have a really passionate connection to.

GW: So growing up in San Francisco, you were exposed to the Grateful Dead, but going into the other music genres you just mentioned, what had the highest effect on your style of playing as you were growing up?

MK: I’m all over the map. One thing that I take pride in that probably shoots me in the foot as far as accessibility and marketing, is I love being eclectic. My tastes and what I love to do are all over the map. I love indie rock; I love straight up blues and old soul music. I love funk. I love reggae. I love psychedelic music.

At various times in my life, from two to five years, I’d find myself thoroughly immersing myself in one kind of music, and then all of the sudden, it was like some little switch being turned off, and I was like, oh, I’m done with this chapter, what’s going on over here.

Nowadays I, like I say it’s probably not the best thing for marketing, but if I love the song, and I love the groove, and everyone I’m playing with feels good on this song, then we’re doing it and I don’t really care what style it is.

GW: On your solo album you released in 2009, Walk Through the Fire, would you say that applies to most of the songs on there?

MK: Yeah, I think the thread of continuity that I would apply may be an overused term these days. So many people use the term Americana now I don’t know what it even means anymore. That said, as an umbrella that sort of encompasses all inherently American forms of music, whether blues or R&B or folk music or Appalachian or bluegrass music... or whatever, that’s what I really get off on. My record, and the current version of my original band, I feel are under that umbrella, and then I more or less apply the Grateful Dead ethic when it comes time to solo or have instrumental sections. We’ll offer a pretty focused presentation of the song and then we’ll see if we can go to Mars for a little while instrumentally, and then come back to Earth.

GW: Come back to the actual song.

MK: Exactly.

GW: That was your first solo album. What led to some of the material and the writing process? You said you self produced the album as well?

MK: I did. I did that record when I had just come through my cancer thing. Needless to say I was really thankful to still be up and walking around. I’d always threatened to make a record and had just never gotten around to it. I realized I had probably been on hundreds of other people’s records and had never made my own. Coming that close to not being on the planet anymore, I thought it was time.

I also made a very conscious decision to be pretty self-indulgent (laughter). You know, the songs are all too long for radio and I didn’t really care about continuity. I figured the continuity would be everything being filtered through my sensibilities and my tastes.

As to the songs, there are twelve songs on the record and half of them are songs I wrote. There’s a song called Bait and Hook that I wrote all the way back when I was nineteen years old. I’d never recorded it, so I pulled it out.

I’m not a very prolific writer, you know. I write when inspiration hits, and sometimes it can be years between, so basically I just gathered up my favorite songs that I’d written, and a couple favorite songs by friends of mine and picked three or four cover tunes that I loved, but wanted to treat differently than their original versions. Like, there’s a Joe Jackson song on there but I did very differently from Joe’s approach. I did an sort of cinematic take on the old Robert Johnson staple Love in Vain. Similarly I wrestled the Randy Newman song, Think it’s Going to Rain Today around a bit. It goes off into an almost fusion thing. I just kind of had fun. It was a really fulfilling creative experience.

GW: You said how inspiration can take years to hit. What do you think of another album down the line? Has that crossed your mind yet?

MK: Very much so. I’m in the process of pulling that all together. I’ve written much more in the last couple of years since Ratdog went on hiatus than I had in many years, so I’ve got about half a dozen songs ready to go, maybe even seven or eight. Like I was saying, some of the songs from my previous record were from an earlier era that had just never been recorded. Similarly, a couple of the songs for the next record are older and  then I’ve got four or five I’ve written in the last two years.

I’m not sure I’m going to release an actual album because of the state of the music industry these days. I don’t think a lot of people buy albums anymore. They often buy one song at a time. I do want to have it all collected and do a vinyl release but I’m trying to stay aware of all of the changes that have occurred in the music business. So regarding a full album, we’ll have to see. I grew up in the era of the album, so I’m very tempted to go ahead and do it.

GW: Of course, at least some sort of limited release like vinyl that looks great in a record frame on a wall.

MK: And I want people to be able to read liner notes and stuff. I mean, I came up learning about a lot more than just the names of the people that were on the radio or just the star that was on the record, because I’d read the back of the records. I’d put one on,  twist one up, listen to the whole album front to back and read all the liner notes while it was playing. I miss that ethic and like to do everything I can to encourage people to “go deeper”.

GW: I grew up and I guess was a part of the CD generation before hitting the MP3 generation, and I still collect vinyl and go out and buy them, and you really do recognize the studio session musicians on there. Something I notice a lot is the pedal steel player, Sneaky Pete.

MK: Sure.

GW: He’s on all sorts of albums.

MK: Yet most people have no idea who he is.

GW: No idea, but that’s one of the beautiful things about having those, seeing those different players. And it becomes a whole experience in how you can appreciate what they’ve done for the album in each different way.

MK: You and I were just talking about this earlier today. My ex-wife used to tease me because I have relationships with (Bruce) Hornsby and Bob (Weir) and Phil (Lesh) and some pretty notable rock stars, yet I didn’t invite any of them to be on the record because it just didn’t fit the direction I wanted to take with the record. But there’s a bunch of people on there that I knew about from listening and reading liner notes over the years. For example, Mike Finnigan, he played with Hendrix and Crosby, Stills and Nash and all of these wonderful bands, but most people have no idea who Mike is. I didn’t know him at all. I got his phone number from someone who knew him in LA and just cold-called him and said ‘will you play on my record?’ And he said “sure”... so I ended up with a lot of these semi-unknown sidemen types that had been my heroes for decades.

I think even Delaney Bramlett, who was not a sideman and was his own entity very much so... who gets credited for teaching Clapton how to sing, had the band that Clapton kind of raided to form the Dominos and who had untold influence on ‘70’s rock’n’roll, isn’t known to most of the people that are my fans... and he’s one of my all-time heroes!

GW: Whom else have you been playing with outside of Terrapin Flyer? Some of the local San Francisco gigs, I know you mentioned the Terrapin Crossroads Grate Room and the bar and restaurant, and The Sweetwater.

MK: I did a bi-weekly residency at the new Sweetwater the first year they were open, every other Wednesday. Until recently I’d been playing with a band called Rock Collection, which was Lebo from ALO on guitars, Robin Sylvester from Ratdog on bass,  Greg Anton from Zero on drums and myself. That was a great little four piece, but that’s going through some changes and I’m going to take a hiatus. They’re going to do some work with Melvin Seals and Stu Allen, but I imagine I’ll do more with them in the future.

I’m also doing a band called the Ghosts of Electricity, which has Stu Allen and Greg Anton in it also, along with Mookie Siegal from the David Nelson Band and the New Riders of the Purple Sage playing keyboards. Robin Sylvester is on bass there too. A guy named Pat Nevins plays additional guitar and sings too. That band is all Bob Dylan material being sort of put through the Grateful Dead grinder. We do all Dylan songs while incorporating the jamming ethic of the Dead.

GW: Kind of like the Dylan and the Dead stuff.

MK: Kind of, yeah.

GW: The name is from Visions of Johanna?

MK: That’s where the line is from, yeah. I love the name of the band. It’s really one of the hooks for me. We’ve been playing a fair bit.

I’ve been doing a lot of stuff at Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads with a variety of people. I was invited to play a bunch of the rambles with Phil there... a run of shows with Tim and Nikki Bluhm, a couple runs with Chris Robinson and Jackie Greene, a couple shows with JK  and Jeff Chimenti from Furthur. It’s been nice to connect with Phil and I’ve also done a bunch of shows there with his sons Brian and Graham Lesh and their bands American Jubilee and Midnight North, as well as some interesting “one off” combos.

Then of course I’ve got my own band, Mark Karan’s Buds which is conceptually very similar to my old band, Jemimah Puddleduck. I finally paid attention to all the critiques I’d received from the fans. ‘Hey I can’t spell it, I don’t know how to say it, I can’t remember it and it’s a silly name so I’m not inclined to go see it.’ I finally went, alight, fine, I’ll make it Mark Karan’s buds, does that make it a little easier? (laughter).

It’s essentially my opportunity to get out there with my original music and my personal favorite covers. The ethic is essentially Grateful Dead-like without being a Dead cover band. It’s more about the concept than the material.  Of course I do Grateful Dead songs too to show appreciation to the fellers and the fans that have supported me for the last fourteen or fifteen years or whatever its been, and because they’re among my favorite songs. But I’m also pretty vested in trying to get some stuff in front of the kids they might not hear another way.

GW: You mentioned something earlier about having regional versions of the band outside of the Bay Area. Doing different lineups if you’re on the east coast or in the southwest.

MK: I’ve done it on the east coast a couple of times now. I’ve had Mookie, who lives in Baltimore and I’ve been using Joe Chirco & Klyph Black from the Zen tricksters on drums and bass. We do it as a four piece. I think I’ve done three east coast runs like that, with some more coming up I think in the next few months.

That’s all I’ve done so far along those lines, but I’m looking at doing something similar in the Colorado area and possibly the northern Midwest around Chicago and outlying areas. It really comes down to a matter of practicality. I love the guys I play with in the Bay Area, but the nuts and bolts of carrying a whole band and gear and everything else is just too damn expensive. I’ve had to say, well, there are a lot of good musicians in the world, so why not make use of them.

GW: You played with the Other Ones starting in 1998, and moved on from there to Ratdog, which was Bobby’s full time touring project up until a few years ago. Minus I think two tours when you were sick…

MK: One for sure.

GW: Summer 2007?

MK: Late summer into fall.

GW: After Bonnaroo I think.

MK: Yes, Bonnaroo was the last date before I had my biopsy surgery. Once I got biopsied and they said, ‘hate to tell you, but it’s real, you do have this,’ and I needed to go through my treatment i had to bail on touring. As much as I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of missing time with my boys, Steve (Kimock) was kind enough to step in and cover the chair.

I have to say feel pretty damn lucky. As serious as that bout with cancer was... I mean, the doctors originally gave me ten percent chance of survival and I came through it really, really well... I’m pleased it was able to be covered and I’m incredibly pleased with how fast I was able to come back to my chair.

GW: I saw you guys, RatDog, in 2008, I want to say Spring 2008.

MK: Yep, that’s when I came back.

GW: On your rig, you had what looked like C-3PO.

MK: A lot of people thought it was some kind of Star Wars tribute. What that was actually, the type of cancer that I had was a throat cancer, and one of the recent treatment techniques that they came up with is called IMRT, which was invented by the doctor that did my radiation treatment at UCSF. It’s a method which stabilizes the patients head so they’re able to get much more specific on where the radiation is going to hit. The way they went about stabilizing my head was using this plastic mesh that was gooey when they first laid it over my head and then kind of formed to my face. They spread it out on the table below me and it kind of hardened into a mask. That mask has little places that allowed it to be cinched down to the table and would keep my head completely stable while the radiation machine was making its rounds.

So, that thing that was on my rig... they gave me my radiation mask and the crew guys in Ratdog and myself spray painted it purple, put gold glitter on it, put a couple of car headlights into the eyeholes with a battery on them so they would light up. Our recording (engineer) Peter Amerall had a little wooden cutout that said, ‘live’, to talk about “Ratdog Live”, the live CD service. Live and live are the same, so I co-opted it and put the whole thing up on top of my rack as a shrine to survival and a way of saying thank you. I made something artful and joyful out of something scary and medical, and then said, ‘live.’

GW: I remember when you guys were in Kentucky, just across from Cincinnati, and you guys came out and it seemed there was so much more cheering and love than the year before with Steve filling in. It just seemed like people were so happy to have you back. Like I said, you were in Ratdog from 1998 until Bobby hung it up in 2009.

MK: Yeah, i was really blown away by all the love and support the entire Ratdog family showed me during that whole time.

GW: So what was it like, how would you define your time as the lead guitarist of Ratdog, looking back? I know that’s kind of an open-ended question.

MK: You know, I tend to shy away from open ended questions, but that’s one I can answer. Needless to say, being involved with Ratdog and The Other Ones was a huge, life changing thing for me. I’d always been playing music and was burbling around under the surface. I’d had a few brushes with notoriety, but all were relatively brief. Being brought into the Grateful Dead world and being embraced by the musicians and fans and everything and having it last for more than twelve years was phenomenal.

The amount of acceptance I experienced and the amount of new musical approaches I was able to throw myself into fully without having to worry if it was commercial or anything like that was a real gift. I was truly blessed by the fan base and popularity I stepped into, because I had permission in that world to do whatever felt right. It’s not so much a “what’s going to sell” kind of orientation and that gave me an enormous amount of freedom.

Of course I also made better money than I ever had before, traveled more and enjoyed visibility in parts of the world and country I don’t think I would have achieved any other way. It was an amazing experience that I feel incredibly lucky to have had.

GW: RatDog is touring this February through March, and it’s missing two key pieces of what had been the lineup since you started in 1998 and Kenny came in around 2000-2001?

MK: I think 2001 or 2002. I don’t remember exactly. That probably sounds awful.

GW: Not really. It’s a long time to be in a band together.

MK: Yeah and you know I’ve never been one for keeping track of dates.

GW: Anyway, the lineup is missing both you and Kenny this time around, and they have Steve Kimock on guitar, and no saxophone. And have added Rob Wasserman, who was the original bass player with Bobby in Ratdog, along with Robin Sylvester. I know a lot of people have been wondering why that is, and why you aren’t there, and Steve is, and I was wondering if you could provide any insight into that.

MK: You know, I’d love to but I don’t have a clue. We all parted company, as far as I know, extremely amicably after twelve plus years of playing together and Bob went on to do Furthur. I always had in the back of my mind the hope that Ratdog would be the proverbial phoenix and rise from the ashes and had always assumed that when or if that happened, I’d be involved. When the announcement came out it caught me by surprise as much as anybody else. I don’t really have any idea as to why. I guess Bob wanted to try something different.

GW: I guess it’s his band, right?

MK: It’s his box of toys; he can play with whatever he wants.

GW: Shifting gears a little bit here, last night your hometown San Francisco 49ers lost to Seattle in the big football game, so now we have a Seattle vs. Denver match-up, and I know people have been laughing and saying how they’re the only two states that now have legal and recreational marijuana.

MK: The 420 bowl (laughter).

GW: I don’t know if you watch football, but do you have any predictions?

MK: No, in fact that’s one area that, while I can’t speak for him, Weir might have been mildly disappointed. He’s such a fanatic, especially about his 49ers and I hate to say it but I could care less about sports. I was always the weirdo, misfit musician that the jocks  beat up on, so I never really made friends with sports.

GW: What do you feel about the whole legalization thing here in Colorado and Washington state?

MK: It’s about freaking time and it’s time for the rest of the country to line up too. I mean, it’s pretty clear this stuff does far less damage than alcohol, which has been perfectly acceptable, minus that one foray into prohibition, forever. There are lots of people in jail for violent crimes committed under the influence of alcohol and lots of divorce and wrecked cars can be directly linked to alcohol, and that’s perfectly fine. Meanwhile marijuana has been proven to have serious medical benefits, mental benefit, relaxation benefits, and seems to be pretty benign, but is still illegal in most places. I don’t know of many people in jail for violent crimes committed while smoking pot, not to mention the fact we’ve been wrestling with an economy that’s struggling and here’s an instant income resource. I’m hoping the other forty-eight states figure it out pretty quick.

GW: One would hope. So when you had cancer, to stop back into that, did you use marijuana as medicine?

MK: Absolutely.

GW: Did the doctors suggest it?

MK: It wasn’t ever suggested, but it was also never rejected when I brought it up. Both of my oncologists, I had one at UCSF and one at California Pacific Medial Center, were fine with the idea. In fact, one sent me an abstract done by UCSF talking directly about the positive effects of marijuana on cancer tumors, pain management and appetite increase. I found that, for me, I mostly used it for appetite enhancement. I was having a real hard time eating when I went through the chemo and lost all sense of taste. Eating was like stuffing a piece of cardboard in your mouth and trying to convince yourself to eat it. So, I’d get high, get the munchies and, even though it didn’t taste like anything, I’d eat. The other thing was that, while I wasn’t in a lot of pain, there was the potential to get kind of hung up and go into a mental or emotional hell behind the fear and all of that and pot was useful in terms of refocusing where my head would go. I could get stoned and turn on a movie, cuddle with my dogs and just lose myself in it and not be thinking about that stuff.

GW: That’s good. Lots of good qualities about it and it’s nice to see at least two parts of the country recognize that. And hopefully California is up next.

MK: And a few others that are close but no cigar.

GW: Well, that is really about what I have for you right now. Like I said, Mark is in the middle of a run with Terrapin Flyer throughout this week, including Denver on the 24th and 25th. And heading to Breckenridge the 26th. And where do you head after that?

MK: Home. It’s kind of a short run, nine dates total.

GW: Short but sweet.

MK: Exactly. You know, I like it that way. I like being able to hit it and quit it (laughter).

GW: There’s no better phrase. Well thank you so much Mark, and I appreciate you taking the time. See you at the shows.

MK: It has been a pleasure hanging with you and thanks for facilitating my introduction to the newly minted stores in Colorado.

GW: You’re very welcome, I hope you enjoy it.

MK: I think I will.

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 8:38 pm

Donna Jean Godchaux has left her lasting voice on multiple generations and genres of music. As the Queen of Muscle Shoals, one of the premiere recording destinations in the United States, she conquered radio hits with Percy Sledge and Elvis Presley at an early age before transitioning into the psychedelic soaked world of San Francisco’s Grateful Dead. The elegant southern demeanor that was exposed to the views of an ever-changing caravan of creativity and excess came out for the better. With a new album by the Donna Jean Godchaux Band featuring Jeff Mattson set for release February 18th, Donna has come full circle. She joins the Grateful Web’s John Schumm to discuss her new album Back Around, her son Zion’s blossoming yet offbeat approach to his band BoomBox, the magic family of a community in Muscle Shoals, and of course, her time with the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band.

Grateful Web: This is John Schumm with the Grateful Web, and I have the lovely Donna Jean Godchaux here with me today. Thanks for joining me, first of all. How are you and what’s new?

Donna Jean Godchaux: Well, first of all, it’s my pleasure to be with you, and I’m doing really well. Just looking forward to this CD’s release, that is one of the best things I’ve ever done, so, I’m really excited about it.

GW: Wonderful. I’ve been looking at some of the stuff about it, and I see it’s coming out on February 18th.

DG: Right.

GW: I definitely have a few questions about that (new CD), but before we get going, a minute ago we were talking about your son, Zion, who’s out on the road with his band, BoomBox. How does it feel knowing you raised a musician who’s followed the offbeat, anti-corporate path of a band sort of like the Grateful Dead, as far as the approach to the industry? How does it feel having a family of musicians?

DG: Well, first of all, Zion, from the minute he came out of the womb, he was playing drums. How could he avoid it? I was pregnant with him and on the road with the Grateful Dead for eight and a half months of my pregnancy, and so all of that music, that loud Grateful Dead music, was going through him in gestation, so if he had turned out to be anything else it would have been a miracle (laughter). So he has always been musical, all of his life, and you know, to my pleasure. I’m sure that were Keith (Godchaux) alive today, he would be so proud of Zion, as am I. Couldn’t be prouder of my son. He’s taken a route, like you said, that was non-corporate. It was the same kind of energy that the Grateful Dead had in doing what was lifeblood to them. Zion is doing it as well, kind of in the same vein. It’s different music in that it’s not a full band on stage, yet they do music that is like the Grateful Dead in that the music is different every time they play it. Nothing is the same from one night to the next yet there’s the template to the song. I’m just proud of him, the way that he’s organized his musical life.  It’s really, really great.

GW: I actually had the chance to speak with him (Zion) the other day before he sound checked in Columbia, Missouri and I’d like to read a little snippet where he talked about you, if that’s all right?

DG: (Laughter) Ok.

GW: So here’s the quote from Zion. I was asking him about your influence on his musical career in general and in life: “I mean, my mom, she’s got, soul. She is soul. It pours out of her. As a baby, her singing voice, it’s always kept soul really close to me.” And that’s the end of that quote.

DG: Wow.

GW: It’s so nice being able to talk to your son and then you in such a close period of time. Going off of his quote, where does this soul that he speaks of, that seems to radiate from you, where did this soul develop how did you learn to harness it?

DG: Well, you can speak about soul on a couple of different levels, whether you’re talking about music or talking about a person in general. I grew up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which has put forth so much soul in music. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, have you heard about the movie, Muscle Shoals?

GW: I have. I read a little about it but haven’t seen the movie yet. I think the first time I heard of it (Muscle Shoals) was in a Rolling Stones documentary when they were down there.

DG: You need to see that movie. I say, unless you hate music, you’re going to love that movie. It really chronicles, beautifully, on every level, the soul music that came out of this area, the Muscle Shoals area. We had “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, I mean everybody in the world recorded here. And not too mention Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, and so many people. When you see the movie you’ll understand what I’m talking about, but there was so much soul coming out of the area musically that really translates into a lifelong experience for me, and I’m sure the musicians that were born here and made a career in the music industry. I guess I would say musically, my roots started here in Muscle Shoals. I was singing on a lot of these records with all of these people, so everything that I learned and did here musically translated to when I went to San Francisco, and incorporated it into the Grateful Dead. I call myself a genuine half-breed; I’ve got the muscle Shoals side of me, and the San Francisco side of me, and I guess that translates into soul, however you want to spin that thing. Zion loves me and I love him. We are so tight, so close. I think everything that I have done in my life has spilled over to him and he utilizes all of the input that has been around him beautifully in his music.

GW: That’s good to see. I know every time I’ve seen one of his shows it’s been a totally different experience than most of the concerts you see day-to-day, week-to-week. It really feels like he has a background, whether it’s from you, or Muscle Shoals, that really seems special, different, and outside of the box compared to everything else.

So following on that path, how you mentioned you carried that soul with you to San Francisco, what led you out west? What made you leave Muscle Shoals after recording with all of these artists and doing vocals with some of the more popular artists that came through?

DG: I had always wanted to go to California. That was a dream of mine that I had since I pretty much understood what geography and location and vibe and everything was. I wanted to go to California. It was a huge decision because I was in the middle of, right here in my own hometown, a really good career. I was right in the middle of something big, as far as singing and having a job and doing what I love to do, which is sing. It was a huge decision to go out there. I just knew that I had to. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, but you knew that you had to do something and there was nothing else you could do but do it. So I had to tell Jerry Wexler, who was the president of Atlantic Records that I was leaving the voice group and going to California, which was huge.

GW: Oh yeah!

DG: I was having a real career at a very, very young age, and I just had to go, I just knew that I had to go. And it wasn’t to do anything really musical there, that I had like I was going from Muscle Shoals to this singing environment; I had no singing environment there. And yet, very soon after I went to California is when I saw the Grateful Dead, and I told someone who was sitting next to me at a concert that when I sing again, it’s going to be with this band. And lo and behold (laughter).

GW: It’s almost like fate brought you out to the west coast.

DG: Yes, and you know, and the rest is history. Now I’m back in Muscle Shoals, which will probably lead to one of your questions about the new CD.

GW: Yes, actually, you mentioned a moment ago how you were a genuine half-breed as far as Muscle Shoals goes and San Francisco. The new album, which is called Back Around, a press release describes it as: “…Blends a Muscle Shoals groove with a psychedelic San Francisco vibe.” Do you agree with the description of that, going off how both of those places are somewhat home to you?  

DG: Absolutely (Laughter). That describes it perfectly.

GW: (Laughter).

DG: (Laughter). We have that Muscle Shoals groove in many of the songs, and then again we have extended jams on other songs, which definitely brings the two musical situations together, and I think we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. And it is back around for me. Being brought up in Muscle Shoals with the musical identity I have here, and as well as San Francisco, the jam band, Grateful Dead-ish type extended musical experience, and back to Muscle Shoals. So it has been back around, and it has been so much fun to do that, believe me (laughter).

GW: I’m was looking at a list of names on the album, and of course Jeff Mattson, who you’ve worked with for a good amount of time and for the last couple of years has been touring with Dark Star Orchestra.

DG: Right.

GW: Is he featured on the entire album?

DG: Oh yeah, yes. Jeff is all over the place on this album. Jeff loves music, so he is inclined to get his head into anything that is before him musically. So he fit really well into the Muscle Shoals groove as well as the jam band music expression. He’s all over it. He’s on every song. He’s my partner in not-crime (laughter)! Jeff is my partner in not-crime.

GW: (Laughter). So do you write the songs together, do you and Jeff write them and are most of the songs original compositions?

DG: I think it’s about half and half between the originals and what we covered. Yes, Jeff and I are writing partners as well, and I guess about half the songs we wrote together.

GW: There’s what looks to be a who’s who of Muscle Shoals musicians on the album…

DG: Oh yeah!

GW: …the Muscle Shoals Horns. I wasn’t familiar with some of the names, but a quick Google search brings up (laughter) a good history of music for all of them.

DG: Yeah, Will McFarlane, who played complimentary guitar, that’s how I’d describe it, played with Bonnie Raitt in the seventies, so was her guitar player in the seventies. He’s a local Muscle Shoals’ musician that plays on most of the recordings that come out of Muscle Shoals these days as a session guitar player. He’s great. So I have a good bucket to pull from (laughter), believe me, in this area.

GW: One of the questions I asked Zion was if he had been a part of the album at all, your album, “Back Around,” and he said he was basically there as moral support, and that you had such a good crew on the album going with the players and the recording (engineers) that it was bound to be a knockout and that he didn’t need to be there for anything.

DG: (Laughter).

GW: So he really built it up, and it sounds like it’s all come together.

DG: Zion has a son, Delta, and we, between all of us that are family around here, Delta is kind of the center of our universe. So when he’s on the road, sometimes we’re taking care of Delta. And Delta himself is already a musician. He has a full-blown drum set. He has a keyboard. He’s a great singer already. He’s got perfect pitch. I can sing a song for him when he’s here one week and the next week he’ll come back and sing it in the perfect key.

GW: Wow, that’s adorable.

DG: He’s an amazing little kid and has obviously got the trickle down from the many generation of Godchauxs (laughter).

GW: (Laughter) That’s wonderful, and how old is he?

DG: He’s five.

GW: That’s so great. I’m glad to see that the musical tradition in the family is continuing.

DG: Oh my goodness, he is, like my husband David MacKay said one day when he (Delta) was over here dancing and screaming at the same time and saying how he wanted to sing and dance at the same time, and he was going off and was so good at it, and this was when he was four, and David looked at me and said, ‘we’ll all be working for him someday,’ (laughter). Anyway, to finish answering your question, yes, we, when Zion was there to support, absolutely. We support each other one hundred percent on every level. It’s just beautiful; we have such a beautiful family expression here.

GW: So good to hear. You mentioned your husband, David, he’s in the band and on the album as well, correct?

DG: Oh yeah.

GW: Beyond the album, are there plans to take the band on the road and tour at all?

DG: Well, we’ll see about that. Jeff is on the road so much with Dark Star Orchestra. It’s a little bit difficult to book between times, so I think what we’re thinking more instead of doing long tours, is doing specialized shows in precise locations and picking and choosing what we do because of Jeff’s participation in Dark Star Orchestra. For him to come home after a three-week tour with Dark Star Orchestra and then go out on another tour right away is just, you know…

GW: It can really wear down on you.

DG: It’ll really wear down on you, and he needs some home time with his wife and family and everything, so we’re not planning on ‘touring,’ but we’re planning on doing shows that make sense for what we’re doing right now.

GW: Great, well I’m looking forward to hearing about those and seeing you down the line at a show. Straying away, that wraps up the questions about the new album, but being the Grateful Web, I feel obligated to ask you about your time with the Grateful Dead, if that’s alright.

DG: Of course you are (laughter)!

GW: You were a member of the Dead for what many consider to be among their best years as far as growth, the sound, new songs, etc. Looking back on the whirlwind adventure that it must have been, how do you like to remember and reminisce about your time with the Dead?

DG: The reminiscing is part of me. Having been with the band at that time with all of those classic Grateful Dead songs was a thrill and a privilege that I have that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The Grateful Dead will always be a major part of my life, and Garcia, gosh I don’t even know how to get deep enough or talk deep enough about what he meant and the influence he had on my life. He taught me and steered me to places I would have never known had I not known this man, and this band. He took me out of a place, talking musically in Muscle Shoals it was very orchestrated and arranged. Everyone knew what they were going to do, every bar of every song. And to go from here into Grateful Dead-ism, and I mean it is all over the place and out of every box you could imagine. It changed my musical life, it changed my life period, and I wouldn’t take anything for that experience. It’s so part of me I can hardly talk about it. It’s so deep. (Pause). I’m one of the most fortunate people in the world to have been in that band, and it’s in me always, it’s never going to go away (laughter).

GW: Of course! You also played with Jerry in the Jerry Garcia Band, you and Keith. How did the experience differ between playing shows with the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band?

DG: Well...(pause)…

GW: I guess the music, or the song choice, sticks out to me.

DG: The song choice was different. Jerry got to express himself musically in a different way than with the Grateful Dead. It was a much smaller scene, in that going from stadiums to those nice little choice theaters and having a more up close and personal relationship with the audience was very different, and pleasant. It’s hard to really connect when you’re talking about fifty to sixty thousand people who are way far away from you, rather than an up front crowd in a theater or smaller venue and make music. It’s a whole different expression and I think Jerry loved that as much as he loved playing with the Grateful Dead. He loved the Jerry Garcia Band, and because of that, because it was up close and personal. And of course, John Kahn was a soul mate of Garcia and it was just fun, it was just fun and no pressure. There was a lack of pressure that was there with the Garcia band. And like you said, the song choice was way different and it was just something Jerry put his heart and soul into, and I was equally honored to be a part of that as I was the Grateful Dead.

GW: I was thinking about all of the songs that came about during that period, whether it was Jerry Garcia Band or Grateful Dead. Were there any albums you were a part of during that era that you look back on and feel the strongest about? Either Jerry Band or Dead, or even “Keith and Donna,” the album you and your husband put out in 1975.

DG: Well, that’s a tough question because on all of the albums I did with the Grateful Dead, there are songs from each of them that have become Grateful Dead classics. For instance, walking into Front Street, which was the Grateful Dead rehearsal studio as well as recording studio, and Garcia and saying, ‘I have a new song called Scarlet Begonias.’ I mean, goodness gracious (laughter).

GW: I can only imagine.

DG: This is something that I regularly say these days, because you never know when you’re making history. Walking into the studio and Garcia pulling out these songs, or Weir pulling out all of his songs. “Music Never Stopped,” classic. And hearing those songs for the first time, I was like a fly on the wall, getting to be able to be a part of these iconic song images just being blurted out in one fell swoop. You’ve got “Scarlet Begonias…” I could name all of the songs, and they’re all on the albums. “Mississippi Half Step.” They’re so iconic. I can’t point to one album.

GW: I can understand that. It’s so interesting how you said you never know if you’re making history. That’s a really good thought to let run around in my head for a while.

DG: But it’s true

GW: It really is. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on your new album, and maybe there’ll be a little history made there too.

DG: Well, we shall see, won’t we?

GW: We shall. So going back, the Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson and the newest album called “Back Around” comes out February 18th. Is there anything else you’d like to mention as we wrap up?

DG: I guess the only thing to say in regard to the new album is that the release date is February 18th. On March 11th we’re having a CD release party here in Muscle Shoals. All of the guys are flying down from New York and Pennsylvania for the party, and then we’re doing a full-blown concert. Instead of playing the CD, we’re going to do a concert. All of the people who played on the CD are going to be there, so we are having the Muscle Shoals Horns, some girls that I used in the background vocals, Will McFarlane, I mean, you have the CD, you can see all the names there. But everybody that played on the CD, pretty much, is going to be playing this concert in Sheffield, Alabama, which is part of Muscle Shoals, at the Ritz Theater. And we’re going to be filming it. We have three cameras going, so you’ll be able to see it and hear it eventually. So we’re really looking forward to that. It’ll be a real thrill to have everyone who played on the record together. I still call them records.

GW: I have a tendency to do the same thing (laughter)

DG: (Laughter) But we’re really excited about it.

GW: Well wonderful, I’ll keep an eye out for that. But thank you so much, Donna, for taking the time to talk to me today and to all of the fans of the Grateful Web and the Donna Jean Band. It has been a real pleasure.

DG: Well, me too, and thank you for having me. Go see that movie, Muscle Shoals; it will be out mid-February I think.

GW: I will! I was actually just with Mark Karan of RatDog the other day, and he mentioned how I needed to go watch it.

DG: You will love it. And I love Mark Karan!

GW: He’s actually in Denver tonight playing with Melvin Seals and Terrapin Flyer. We just did an interview the other day, and I’m going to catch his show tonight.

DG: Well please tell him hello for me, and I’m giving him a big hug. I just love him. He played with our band; we did a few gigs while Jeff was on the road with Mark in the band. So please give him a big, ‘I love him’ hug.

GW: I will, I definitely will. Well, thank you so much, Donna.

DG: Well, thank you, and have a good time tonight. Maybe I’ll meet you one of these days face to face.

GW: I hope so, yeah. I’m looking forward to it already.

DG: Ok, take care

GW: You too, thank you so much.

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:15 pm

Tea Leaf Green percussionist and Coyote Hearing Studio engineer Cochrane McMillan recently took time out of his hectic yet welcomed schedule to discuss the balance in his life between the studio he co-owns and his solidified stance in the San Francisco based jam band. The second release from The Coyote Hearing Sessions, The Sideshow, features Steve Adams of ALO and Jesse Lauter as co-producer. The concept behind the Coyote Sessions, as Cochrane explains, is that a new track will be released on the final Wednesday of each month in 2014. The Sideshow, as well as January’s Reaching Through the Void, can be streamed and downloaded from Tea Leaf Green’s website. No matter how busy and booked Cochrane may be, he always makes a point to get home to his young daughter. A music industry family man can be a tall order with so much time spent touring on the road, but with Tea Leaf Green and Coyote Hearing Studio rooted deeply in the Bay Area, Cochrane McMillan is finding ways to keep all of his ducks in a row, without straying too far from home.

Grateful Web: My name is John Schumm with the Grateful Web and joining me today is Cochrane McMillan, percussionist for Tea Leaf Green and part owner of Coyote Hearing Studio. How are you today, Cochrane, what’s new?

Cochrane McMillan: I’m well. I’m in Oakland at my house, and the weather is wonderful, so that’s good. What’s new? Well, what you said: I’m a part owner of Coyote (Hearing Studio) and a producer and engineer there. I’ve been doing that for about six years and been in Tea Leaf Green for about four years, and starting this year-last month we released a track on the 29th-and the last Wednesday of every month this year, we’re going to release a new studio track. So that’s new for me, and exciting. I’m excited to see where it goes, creatively and also just how it’s received. Doing that is going to be fun.

GW: Nice, sounds awesome. You joined Tea Leaf full time in 2011. How did you become associated with the guys and their music and what led to you being a full-time member of the band?

CM: Reed (Mathis) and I have known each other since 2002, so we were in the same circles work wise and with friends. Reed came in with Marco Benevento’s Trio, and I recorded them back in 09’ I think it was, or maybe ’08, and he wanted to bring Tea Leaf Green in after that, which he was playing with so it must have been 2009. So we tracked Looking West there, and I engineered it and helped guide the ship as far as the recording process, and I think Reed mixed it on headphones or something (laughter), he did a great job.

After that record, when it was coming out, they had the album release at Café Du Nord in San Francisco, and they called me that morning and said, ‘Scott (Rager) hurt his ankle and we need you to come play drums. You know the songs and you play drums.’ So it was a last ditch effort, the ‘we’ve got to call Cochrane.’ So I went and did that gig, and after that they said they had a gig that weekend in San Diego, and ‘can you come do that gig?’ So I did that gig, it was an Oyster Fest with a lot of people outside. It was a lot of fun actually. Two weeks later they were doing a gig in Marin (county) and I did that one. After that gig they had a whole summer tour, and then Scott went to the doctor and wasn’t going to be able to play a full drum kit until August. So I got a call from Trevor (Garrod ) and he was like, ‘so we’ve got this tour this summer, we were thinking about having you. You know, I’m kind of looking for a famous drummer, but if you can do it, we want to know.’ And I was like, well, I’m famous in my own mind (laughs). But honestly it was great. It worked out.

They had me do the whole tour, which was like a month. We had a fun time and it was like work, not just that it worked great musically or anything, and it did, but everything just clicked. And I have the studio, I have a lot of skills in live sound, studio sound, I have a background in that. I kind of privy myself as sort of ‘music is my life.’ That’s certainly my current in terms of pace, but I’m also super classical in terms of classic spoken forms and American music history and also classical music. It just worked, as a person I was ready to be in a band more fulltime because I have a daughter and had taken time off. And it just worked, spiritually, physically, emotionally, everything worked. Initially, problems always permeate (Laughs). But it’s a good group, a great group of people to be involved with.

GW: Before joining them (Tea Leaf Green), you said you did, and obviously still do, work at Coyote Hearing Studio. Had you been in any live touring bands previous to setting down roots in the studio?

CM: Yeah, I had. I went to music school in New York for two years, a drummer school out there after a couple years of fucking around. So I played a lot. I was also getting my ass beat at the New York school, which basically taught me how to practice. I toured with a band called Steel Train for awhile and played in a lot of bands both from where I was from in the south, and the east coast. And in the Bay Area, when I moved out here, I played a jazz gig, but I had a daughter who’s now seven so I couldn’t really tour. So that didn’t really work out at the time. I needed to not be on the road, so I wasn’t really pursuing it. I played in a rock band in San Francisco, a jazz gig-just local stuff. And I started to record in the studio. I went to two years of engineering school in San Francisco, but I had a lot of interest in that when I first started playing music, when I was younger. So I took that to another level and met Jeremy Black, who’s my studio partner, and we opened up Coyote like six years ago, Coyote Hearing Studio. I worked pretty hard there for two to three years. Now I tour a little more and work there a little less, but you know, that’s my spot.

GW: Speaking on how you work there (Coyote) a little less because of touring, are there any other projects that you guys are working on there outside of Tea Leaf?

CM: Yeah, that studio is booked pretty much everyday: a lot of Indie bands and local bands. We have a band from Chicago, and a lot of San Francisco bands. And also, me and Reed Mathis and Trevor Garrod have a trio and we made a covers record there and did a tour with Mickey Hart last year. And we made another covers record that we’re finishing up. I work with a lot of different people, that place is pretty busy. I’ll have a saxophone player, then a horn section, and then bring a band in and they’ll have to fly Jeremy (Black) in. So there’s a lot going on. My plate is mostly booked with the Trio or Tea Leaf Green just because I enjoy being home with my daughter. I love it. I have to do something musically everyday. And making a new song that we’re trying to make really good, I mean, I’m just super excited.

GW: The most recent Tea Leaf album came out last year, In The Wake, and that was recorded at the studio as well, right?

CM: Yeah, we did a year worth of work on that record at the studio with Jeremy Black producing, us and him. We really hunkered down and spent many, many days, a lot of time spent. It was a really great process. It was kind of painstaking and up and down, and it was one of the most artistic processes and creations I’ve ever been a part of, personally. We went to New York for a few days to finish it with Greg Calbi, who’s one of the most brilliant mastering engineers I know of. So it was a great process, and I’m really proud of what we did.

GW: It sounds awesome. I like that album. What was it like being on both sides of the album: the perspective of the artist playing in the band and being a producer and engineer at the studio?

CM: Well, it was really great having Jeremy (Black) involved, because I could just let him be Jeremy, the way he works in the studio. He works and I work, we don’t really work together. We have our own things going on. I like the way he works and I allow that, but I’m in there in the mornings and in the nights dealing with band management, my manager, and the studio’s management. It’s more of an executive producer role, not in terms of putting money up, but also scheduling and deciding when people come in. So it’s a lot of work, and I love it. If anybody knows anything about me, it’s that I need something to do. It’s how I operate, and I’m thirty-two and feel like I’m reaching my full potential. So I’m doing as much as I can.

GW: Hell yeah. Going back into the Coyote Hearing Sessions, starting this past January, Tea Leaf kicked off a launch of new songs where fans can download a new song for free on the last Wednesday of each month. Are all of these songs previously recorded or are they individual songs you’re working on month to month?

CM: So far, we have a lot of ideas. Basically, last month, Trevor started putting a song together and sharing it with me about mid-month, and we went into the studio one morning and did a couple of things. And then we literally had two nights before Wednesday, and all day Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. That’s what ended up happening because the studio was so booked after New Years. Moving forward, basically, I’m booking three to five days at the studio a month with the idea that we will be putting together something during that time every month. So it’s a mystery, it’s exciting. Everybody’s working with the idea where they’re going to write songs for it, and what kind of material. We might even re-work some old recordings that we haven’t released; we have a lot of stuff like that. But the idea is to put out a new track every month, and we don’t know what it’s going to be. Maybe we’ll put out two in one month or something; there are a lot of options.

GW: The one that you guys have put out is called Reaching Through the Void, and as far as I could tell, it didn’t seem like you rushed it at all (laughter). Good job on that.

CM: It’s a testament to working in the studio environment where it’s your job and you’re getting paid to do it for four plus years. I work well with a deadline. You know, there are things I’d change, but I think it turned out really good. I was really pleased.

GW: Looking at all of the work going on in the studio, whether it was last years release or the most recent song and songs coming out each month, it seems like there’s a rejuvenated dedication to collective songwriting taking place, and while I’m sure live shows and the improvisational jamming is obviously a part of the band and brand, there seems to be a lot going on in the studio. Are you guys trying to make a push towards that area?

CM: I think, for one, we have such a practical place. It’s opportunistic in terms of we have a fantastic studio that we are all comfortable playing in and if we can make the time work for the studio and for the band, we are going to do as much as possible, because that’s what we do. It certainly fits me, and it’s what I’m here doing; running a studio and playing in a band, so it makes since on that level. Also, we’re doing more weekends right now; we aren’t really on the road in a van for a bit. We decided not to do the winter tour this year, but we are doing shows. We’re working on the west coast a lot. We’ve got a Brooklyn Bowl weekend happening in May, some festivals and stuff like that. So we are home during the week and that leads us to create stuff at the studio. We’ve developed a process; everybody has their way of working there now, each individual, together. It could be two of us, it could be all of us, it could be Jeremy (Black) and one of us, it could be just me, it could be just Trevor, just Reed, you know, we are all working there, so it’s a really great opportunity for us who all like working together and playing together, to do it, to really see what comes of it. It seems very natural for our lifestyle and where we’re staged right now.

GW: It must be nice not having to jet set all over the country in the van for a little while.

CM: For a minute, exactly. I love being on the road and playing a lot of shows. By playing, and our playing together and being able to play music in front of people, is such a honor and so awesome, and it takes you to another place, which is so beautiful. But it’s also nice to be home.

GW: You mentioned the Brooklyn Bowl coming up in May, but coming up is another local gig for you guys, at Terrapin Crossroads, Phil Lesh’s venue. Have you played there before? Or have you had a chance to play with Phil during your career?

CM: We played the Grate Room last year; we did a night there. I played percussion with ALO in the Grate Room last year, and the Trio played in the bar last Saturday at Terrapin, and I played the Jay Blakesberg book release, with a lot of people at that gig. And since then I’ve gone up there and Ross James and Brian (Lesh) and Grahame (Lesh) and those guys are playing in the bar. So that scene is definitely something I’m loving witnessing and also being a part of whenever I can. I hope to get there a lot more. I’m super excited to be up there all weekend for two shows and a special show on Saturday during the day for an hour at four that’s going to be a little more stripped down kind of thing. Pretty fun, there’s a lot of music going on. It’s just a great vibe there.

GW: It seems like it’s working to bring together the entire community that’s fostered around the Bay Area.

CM: They’re doing it. It is cool to see. You know, Reed and I will get a text that says, ‘we’re playing, come on up and sit in,’ on a Tuesday night or whatever. So they are actively doing that. They’re reaching out to musicians in the bay and saying, ‘hey, come up, come hang out.’ It’s exactly the type of thing you want to see happening if you’re a musician, for sure.

GW: We are just a month or two into 2014, what are you looking forward to for the rest of the year besides the Coyote Hearing Sessions and some of those weekend dates?

CM: I’ve got this Trio record we are going to put out. It’s another record of covers and I love the vibe that we’ve got going on and the way it sounds, and it’s just the super honest songs and music we like playing. So I’m really excited to finish that in February and release it online for free download. I’m pumped up about that. We’ve been doing some Trio dates; I think we are going to go to Jazz Fest in the spring. So all of that is going to be pretty fun. I’m excited about that and obviously all of the things you mentioned before.

GW: When can we expect that Trio album to drop?

CM: I’m hoping March, and being conservative, you know? It’s not a money thing at all, and nobody else is involved. It’s just a matter of us getting it where we want to get it and finishing it. We’re mixing it right now, so whenever we finish that we’ll put it out as soon as possible.

GW: Cool, well I’m looking forward to hearing that. That wraps up what I have for you. I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me on behalf of the fans and followers of Tea Leaf Green and the Grateful Web. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

CM: No, I think that’s great. Thanks for calling me up; I’m glad we got to talk.

GW: Absolutely, I appreciate you taking the time.

CM: No problem.

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 2:44 pm

Brian Haas, pianist and de-facto bassist of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, took a moment from his extensive travels to speak with the Grateful Web about the big year ahead for JFJO, including two new albums, one of which was recorded live in Denver, Colorado at Dazzle Jazz and is slated for vinyl release on Record Store Day. Joining The Mike Dillon Band on the road for a west coast romp into the strange and surreal later this month, Brian speaks candidly about his longtime friend and hero, and the many years of history between them. For any fan of innovation and a break from the cookie cutter standard, this pairing is not to be missed, as both bands continue to get better with age, and there’s no telling what could happen when they get together in one room.

Grateful Web: My name is John Schumm with the Grateful Web, and joining me today is pianist and founder of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Brian Haas. Thanks for joining me today, Brian. I know we chatted a little about how you were just in Denver, but what else have you been up to, what’s going on these days?

Brian Haas: Well, it’s the Jacob Fred twentieth anniversary; so we’ve been super busy this year. We’ve had some great shows in New York, Chicago and St. Louis. We all trade time between Santa Fe and Tulsa, and we just wrote nine new songs and recorded them in Denver with Colin Bricker. So I just got back from that. We were going to do two records; put out two records this year of all old Fred, and we’ve got the Millions: Live in Denver thing coming out for Record Store Day, and we’re just writing so much new material that we decided to make the second one with all brand new tunes. So we just recorded that, it’s super unique stuff, and yeah, just kind of recovering from the drive. We just got in this morning at like three A.M. from Santa Fe (laughs). The other two guys in Jacob Fred live in Tulsa full time and I live in Santa Fe full time, so we go back and forth a lot.

GW: And you’re from Tulsa originally?

BH: Born in Kansas City, Missouri, really from KCMO, but I lived in Tulsa for most of my life.

GW: Cool. You were saying how you were recording some new material, does everybody bring ideas to the table when it comes to new material, or are you writing most of the stuff?

BH: Oh yeah, it’s very collaborative. With this new thing, I brought in half of the stuff and Chris Combs brought in half of the stuff, and then Raymer comes up with some of the weirdest drum stuff ever. This new thing that we recorded, man, I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s super unique, super innovative, but I don’t know, really down to earth and accessible at the same time. I don’t know if I’ve ever really heard music like this before, so I’m super excited about the stuff we just recorded.

GW: Nice, can we expect to hear some of these new compositions on the upcoming tour?

BH: Oh yeah, we’ll be playing all of them, every last one of them. I mean that’s been the interesting way that this trio composes. We just come up with it all live, together, in a rehearsal space. Before we ever took the stuff into the studio, we played half of the tunes live in Chicago and St. Louis, and then pushed the others really hard in the rehearsal space. We went into the studio already playing this stuff pretty well.

GW: Jumping over to Millions: Live in Denver, the release you guys recorded at Dazzle Jazz this past November, did you play any of the new material for that show, or was that all retrospective stuff?

BH: That was all retrospective in Denver, but we spent a ton of time re-arranging it all. That was actually surprisingly hard work. A lot of those songs were played as a six piece or seven piece, or even eight piece, so for the three of us to distill it down, I think it was way harder work than any of the three of us expected it would be. So yeah, we showed up at Dazzle with like twenty-five re-worked Jacob Fred tunes, and that’s what became that record. We just chose the stuff that seemed to translate the best.

GW: I was going to ask how you dug through all of the material and decided which to do. You guys have so much stuff to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down, I’m sure.

BH: Oh man, it was kind of humbling. I didn’t realize how difficult some of that old stuff was until I started to try and relearn it. Some of it we never even figured out what the chords were, and before tour, we just came up with new chords (laughs).

GW: Not really like riding a bike, huh?

BH: No, it really wasn’t. I was coming off of Frames Tour; I made a record with Matt Chamberlain last year, and I toured that with different drummers for three months straight and then left the LA show, drove right to Santa Fe, where Combs and Raymer were waiting on me, and we dug right into it. We’d all been transcribing for months and talking about it and playing it. We played a lot of that stuff over the summer, and we rolled into Santa Fe thinking it was going to be a piece of cake, and it turned into these ten hour days of just really hard work before we even showed up at Dazzle.

GW: Well, it sounds great. I was able to give it a listen last night and I enjoyed it as much as I did in person at the show.

BH: Awesome, well that’s good news.

GW: Yeah, it sounds awesome. So you guys are releasing that on Record Store Day as a vinyl release?

BH: Yeah, uh huh. That comes out vinyl only on Record Store Day, April 19th, and then the thing we just recorded will come out in September of this year, so yeah, we’re putting out two records this year. But the second thing we just recorded, we’ll put that out in September on CD and Vinyl, and digital as well.

GW: You mentioned earlier that you were reworking songs because most of them had a bass player, and had other musicians on them. I remember when I was at the show someone was saying, ‘where’s the bass, it sounds like there’s a bass up there,’ but there wasn’t, and I guess he came to realize that it’s a trio now. So after having a bass player for a majority of your time as a band, what led to the departure of the instrument, I guess I would say?

BH:  Well really it started in 2002 when our original bassist decided he wanted to stop playing bass lines, and wanted to be more of a lead instrument. So if you go back and listen to a lot of the stuff with me and Reed and Jason Smart, I’m actually playing bass on Fender Rhodes for a lot of that trio stuff, and the lead voice is actually Reed, and that started in, actually, if you want to go back, in 2001 for Live in New York City, the last thing that Knitting Factory Records put out. It was called All is One: Live in New York City. A lot of the reviews for that, people were saying, ‘how did he make a Fender Rhodes sound like that? Is his instrumentation wrong? Why’s he playing such weird synth?’ And it was actually Reed doing all of that and I was playing bass on Fender Rhodes. So I’ve been playing bass with the band, and in fact half of the songs on All is One: Live in New York City, Reed is leading on bass, using a whammy pedal and distortion pedal. So I’ve been playing bass with Jacob Fred since 2000. We actually made an unreleased record, and thought we could get a Blue Note deal, and in 2000 we made a record called Ballad of the Mole People, and I’m playing bass on Fender Rhodes that entire album and Reed is playing the lead on bass guitar. So, to answer your question, I’ve really been playing bass on and off with the band since 2000. The first time you can hear it documented in a recording would be All Is One: Live in NYC, which came out on Knitting Factory Records. I’ve considered myself one of the main bassists in the band for a long time.

Now, when we switched over to the quartet with upright bass in 2008, then, because we had upright, I decided that I wanted to take a little break from playing so much low end and bass, and that’s when we made the transition from Reed on electric bass to a variety of different upright bassists. And so then, when it was upright on stage, I diminished my bass role, but that was only for, well, from 2009 through the Race Riot Sweet. I really slowed down on my bass playing because we were writing all of this stuff that required a bassist. But up until 2009, I shared the bass responsibilities with Reed, for sure. I mean, a lot of gigs I would play more bass on the Fender Rhodes than he would. It’s really interesting if you go back and listen to that recorded stuff (laughs)… You know, I’m super into playing bass, so I don’t make it obvious that I’m doing it, so a lot of times, it doesn’t sound like Fender Rhodes bass, it sounds like someone is actually playing a bass, but it’s not, it’s just me (laughs).

GW: It cracks me up, I remember looking on stage and looking for a bass player and hearing this guy say, ‘where’s the bass player, is he hiding off on the side somewhere?’

BH: I’ve been playing bass for a lot of the bands’ history, for sure, because Reed was such a lead instrumentalist and so he always felt kind of frustrated that he was relegated into the background as a bassist, and so we wrote tons of material where I was doing all or most of the bass, but what was so interesting is that most of the reviews, people wouldn’t really get it. Even when people were at the live show, we would get these weird reviews and funny comments where people were saying thing like, ‘it’s the ugliest Fender Rhodes sound on earth, and how the hell are they doing this, and why are they doing this?’ Well, it wasn’t the Fender Rhodes, it was actually Reed’s bass run through a whammy pedal or an octave pedal. But people are just so used to seeing a bassist and assuming that those noises are coming from the bass. It’s funny how gullible humans are. We kind of just go with what we know or what we’re used to, right?

Man, tons of records from 2002 through 2008, I mean we got a lot of great reviews and critics have been very sweet to us, but it’s interesting. It became frustrating for Reed because nobody could figure out that it was him doing that. It’s like people could not break with the paradigm shift (laughs), and notice that the dude freaking out playing those lead lines wasn’t me, it was the guy on bass. So it became very frustrating for Reed because all of the badass shit he was doing was being attributed to me. Multiple times I would write letters to DownBeat or JazzTimes and say, ‘you guys need to use your ears and need to use your eyes, and actually look at who’s doing this on stage.’ Because they would say, ‘on this tune the melody came soaring out of nowhere and hurt my ears,’ or whatever. It was too high pitched, or it was this and that, and I’m getting blamed for them not liking it or I was getting Reed’s accolades. So it was really interesting. Nobody could figure out that I was the pianist playing bass. That’s a long answer to a short question, but I’ve really been playing bass in the band for, you know, a long time.

GW: And now with the trio you’re holding that down as well, and you have Combs on lap steel guitar and Raymer on drums.

BH: Uh huh. But Combs and I both got a Moog sponsorship. Moog, for some reason, loves us. Are you going to be at the Boulder show on the 19th?

GW: I’m supposed to be, but I might be out on tour, I work for a couple of bands.

BH: Very cool. Well, Combs got a moog as well. So I play most of the bass with Jacob Fred now, but there are also some really dope new tunes where Combs is actually playing bass. And he’s actually making loops and stuff on his lap steel, and he’s got a tiny keyboard run through the Moog Minitaur, and there are some really cool songs, some that I wrote and some that he wrote, where Combs is playing bass too, which is going to further confuse everybody (laughs). 

GW: Hey, you have to keep people on their toes.

BH: (Laughs) Exactly. I’m really glad you dig the Millions: Live in Denver, because it’s going to blow your mind when you hear the evolution between that stuff and the nine new songs that we just wrote and recorded. I mean it’s crazy. It’s the most I’ve ever listened to a record after I’ve recorded it. In between Denver and Santa Fe, I bet we listened to it-well first we had to get from Denver to Santa Fe to pickup one of my dogs-I bet we listened to it like twenty times in between Denver and Santa Fe, and then between Santa Fe and Tulsa, that’s all we listened to. We kept trying to put on other shit, but we just kept on going, ‘man, I just want to hear to that Jacob Fred shit (laughs).’ It’s the most I’ve ever liked a record, hopefully I like it this much in two months, man, but it’s definitely the most I’ve ever liked a Fred record. I mean we just keep listening to it, I don’t know, it kind of took on a life of its own. It kind of surprised Calabro too because he was all fired up for another retrospective album, but then a month or so ago we were like, ‘hey, we’ve got nine really new, weird tunes. Are you cool if we don’t do more old stuff,’ and Calabro thought about it for a little while and said, ‘if you’re passionate about it, do what you’re passionate about.’ So it’s a total evolution of the band, and really cool. It’s very weird, unique stuff (laughs).

GW: I love it. How long have the other two guys, Raymer and Combs, been in the band with you?

BH: Raymer joined in 2007, and Combs joined in early 2008. So, they’re the other two guys that have been in the band the longest, other than me. Raymer has been for seven years and Combs has been in for six years.

GW: Well it’s really starting to show that you guys know each other on stage and through your music.

BH: Yeah, we’ve spent a lot of time together, that’s for sure.

GW: Definitely locked in, it’s great.

BH: Thanks brother.

GW: Of course. You’re music is kind of in a league of its own, I would say, and on the upcoming tour, you’re doing a co-bill with Mike Dillon Band, who I would also say his music is his own and nobody else is really touching what he is doing. How did you first get to know Mike Dillon, and what kind of history do you guys have?

BH: I first saw him play when I was seventeen years old, before I even started Jacob Fred, and I was a classical musician, and thought I wanted to be a classical musician for a living. My favorite shows to go to were punk rock shows in Tulsa, and Tulsa has always had a huge music scene, especially punk rock scene, and the people kept going, ‘hey man, there’s this weird band that comes through every two to three months, you have to see these guys, you’re going to love these guys.’ And the band they were talking about was Billy Goat, which was Mike D’s first big band that blew up. Did you ever see Billy Goat live?

GW: I have not, no, I never did.

BH: I would say it was like a pagan explosion of insanity. So a lot of them were jazz guys from North Texas that got really into drugs and started doing super unique shit. So I walked into this dirty club in Tulsa called The Eclipse, I was seventeen years old, and it was my senior year in high school. Most of the band was naked, and Mike D was buck ass naked at the front of the stage, rapping with his lisp, and he was playing timbales and then took this unbelievably elegant, eloquent timbale solo just buck ass naked at the front of this packed ass club. That was the first time I ever saw Mike D, and I was terrified of this dude. I mean, you think he’s scary now, you should have seen what this dude was like when he was shooting up hard drugs. He was terrifying. He was the epitome of the punk rock tour. He still is, he’s still my hero to this day, but he came out, and seeing jazz in that context and that they had a song called Take Off Your Clothes and Everybody Get Naked, or some shit like that, and being at this club as a seventeen year old and all of these girls are taking off their shirts and this band is playing this angry jazz shit. I mean, as a seventeen year old, I walked in there, and stood there, and people were moshing and shit, and I realized that what I was doing was completely irrelevant, that I would never be able to get people to get excited like this if I was only going to be playing classical music, if I was only going to be playing other people’s shit.

So Mike D was an inspiration, originally, for me to even start Jacob Fred, and for me to even think I could do something so far out. And I did not miss any of his shows in the Tulsa area after that. I never went to talk to him; I was completely terrified of this guy. I mean he had his wife onstage; she was getting naked, too. Half the band was naked. They all had big dicks. I mean, it was just terrifying, and it’s like, they’re not getting arrested. They just do this at every show (laughs). And Billy Goat got signed to universal, and sold a shit load of units in a month, and got dropped, because they figured out that he was on drugs, or because of something. But they moved a ton of units in a short period of time and did get a major label deal in the late eighties, early nineties. And they were from Texas, and I’m from Kansas City and Tulsa, so Billy Goat was a huge deal in this region.

Then I started Jacob Fred, and I was nineteen, and we took off really quickly, for better or worse. I mean immediately, Jacob Fred, once we started, we were playing for three hundred to five hundred people every night in the region. Eventually, we ended up in Lawrence, Kansas one night, I think it was 1996, and I would have been twenty-one. We played an early show in Lawrence, and I heard through the grapevine that Mike D was playing a gig in Kansas City with Malachy Papers. So we busted ass, packed up, drove to Kansas City, went to this dirty little dive bar, and Malachy Papers was Mike D’s kind of free jazz experimental band. I was twenty-one, it was 96’ and we rolled in right at the end of the set. They were killing it, and then Mike D, who was playing vibes and percussion, got into this huge fight with the drummer on stage, and they actually started throwing cymbals and shit at each other. Everybody in the band was terrified, and the guys in my band said, ‘we drove all the way from Lawrence to see this mayhem?’ And I was right up front in disbelief. I mean they were throwing cymbals at the ground, yelling and screaming at each other, and I just kind of stood up there, and when Mike D came down off of the stage I was one of the only people left standing there, and he was like, ‘what’s up man?’ And I said, ‘hey Mike, Mike Dillon, my name is Brian Haas, I play with this band called Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and we’re all here, we all drove up to see you.’ And he was like, ‘oh yeah man, I’ve been seeing your posters around. Do you guys really play jazz or are you just more fucking posers?’ And I was just kind of like, ‘ugh, both.’ And he was like, ‘oh, I like that. Here’s Mark Southerland,’ and he introduced me to the guys in the band, and that was in 96’ and the first time I had ever met him.

I think he just kind of liked my Midwest attitude, that I didn’t have an attitude or any kind of ego. We toured all of the same clubs, and he saw our posters everywhere, because I’ve always been really into street team and promo and promoting on the ground level. So Mike had been seeing our posters for a couple of years and said that he felt kind of competitive that we had the name jazz in the band, and we were drawing well and were in his region, and after that first question, I responded the only way I knew how because I was terrified of this guy, and I think he was charmed by that and we’ve been friends ever since. I mean, now we’re way beyond friends. We’re like, fucking, you know, brothers. Mike is really one of my first heroes that I can say I really had as an adult; where I said, ‘man, this guy is getting in this dirty van, he’s doing three hundred shows a year, he’s beyond terrifying, but he’s making this music that nobody has ever made.’ Mike D has always been an innovator. I love his current band. Obviously he’s brilliant, but he’s always been on this trip. A lot of people don’t realize that, but Mike’s never ever sat still. From Billy Goat on he’s been churning and burning. He’s very much in the tradition of Coltrane, or Mingus, or Eric Dolphy, Miles, you know, I’m just trying to think of people that always push. People like Yusef Lateef, people like Cecil Taylor. Who else can I name…

GW: He really is just always moving. It’s crazy.

BH: Yeah, he never stops. He never stops. I mean we started the Dead Kenny G’s together, which is myself and Mike D and Skerik, and Mike would get three to four hours of sleep a night. Skerik and I would always room together and give Mike his own room because Mike’s always up at seven A.M. everyday and goes on a jog and then practices tabla for two hours. I mean he just never fucking stops, and he’s part of that jazz tradition of just constant innovation, constant churning, constant burning, and a lot of people don’t understand that Mike’s music is actually jazz. It’s way more in the jazz tradition than this horseshit young bullshit that JazzTimes and DownBeat espouses, that shit is not jazz, it’s a fucking history report. It’s like classical music gone wrong, you know, but what Mike D does is not a history piece, it’s actually taking history and squashing it and molding it and turning it into his own innovation. I can’t believe Mike D hasn’t been on the cover of DownBeat and JazzTimes like ten times already, but people are terrified of him and won’t admit that what he does is actually jazz, and what they’re trying to sell in these magazines is just regurgitated, poorly. So Mike has always been a hero of mine ever since I was seventeen years old, ever since the first time I saw him, I was like, this is Coltrane, this is real, this dude is not posturing. He’s dying for this shit every day, and that’s been my philosophy behind Jacob Fred ever since I started the band when I was nineteen. I mean, in twenty years we’ve had sixteen members. Millions: Live in Denver will be our twenty-second album in twenty years. I’m very much a Mike D disciple. So for me to be able to go on the road with him for a whole run is just beyond perfect. Just absolutely a dream come true.

GW: You mentioned the Dead Kenny G’s; can we expect you guys to get on stage together throughout the tour?

BH: Oh yeah. We’re planning on trying to set up everything every night, and then ending every night with all of us playing together. That’s the basic idea. It’s all about the space, the stage, and what time allows, but we’ve all already played with each other a lot, so the idea is to keep pushing that.

GW: Well hell, with the two bands together-it’s kind of mind blowing. And to see it in a venue like Shine, you said you’d been there, you know, it’s an interesting joint.

BH: I love the mission statement there, that’s one of the main reasons I want to play there. And it’s a Wednesday, and I was too scared to play The Fox on a Wednesday, I’ve got to tell you. It’s a little big. I’m a huge fan of the three sisters, and the food there, just their mission statement is clean, organic, local, and if more people ate like that we wouldn’t need health insurance, we wouldn’t need doctors, I’m just super into Jill and what she’s doing there, for sure. It’s a tiny room and a tiny stage, I mean Jesus Christ man, just Mike D’s gear alone is going to take up that whole stage.

GW: You guys are going to be spilling off the damn thing.

BH: I know (laughs), we’re just going to have to set up on the floor. I went back there and looked at it when we were there two nights ago, and yeah, just his vibes and timbales and all of his shit is literally going to take up that whole stage.

GW: And they’re bouncing around, too. Carly with her trombone is bouncing around everywhere; she probably won’t even be on the stage.

BH: Oh, it’s going to be rowdy. It’s going to be rowdy.

GW: Well that’s good, that’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to it and hope I can be here for it. Is there anything else you’d like to add while I have you?

BH: Man, I think you did a great job of bringing up a lot of relevant stuff. I appreciate your intelligent questions, for sure.

GW: No problem. I’m actually about to get on the phone with Mike, you want me to pass anything on to him?

BH: (Laughs) Just tell him I’m really looking forward to it and that we’ve been working our asses off promoting it. The tour’s going to be fucking banging. So yeah, tell him I say hi and that I’m looking forward to it. You’ll have to tell him (laughter), give him some hints about what I just said about him. He’s already got a really big head so don’t blow him up too much (laughs). And the reason he has a big head is because he’s one of the greatest on earth and fucking knows it, so he’s got every right to have a big head. I still consider him one of my heroes, he’s one of my only original heroes who actually stuck to his gun, and that’s what I love about him so much. He and I really have the same mission statement, and that is, don’t stop believing (laughs). Well man, thanks for the time and tell Mike hi and that I love him, and that I still have a huge bag of his clothing, because every time he comes to my Santa Fe house he just leaves shit all over the house, just like a wild animal that you leave in the house, and the wild animal shits everywhere. So yeah, I still have his touring duffel bag with all of the clothes in it.

GW: He’s just waiting for you to get them to him in Boulder.

BH: I know. Well thanks, man, for the great interview. I appreciate it.

GW: Absolutely thank you and I’ll catch you down the line.

Upcoming JFJO and Mike Dillon Tour dates:

3/19/14 – Shine – Boulder, CO *
3/20/14 – Hodi's Half Note – Fort Collins, CO *
3/21/14 – Cervantes Other SIde – Denver, CO *
3/25/14 – John's Alley Tavern – Moscow, ID *
3/26/14 – John’s Alley – Moscow, ID *
3/28/14 – Top Hat – Missoula, MT *
3/29/14 – Emerald – Richland, WA *
3/30/14 – SkyWay – ZigZag, OR *
4/1/14 – Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA *
4/2/14 – Urban Onion – Olympia, WA *
4/3/14 – Goodfoot Pub & Lounge – Portland, OR *
4/5/14 – Boom Boom Room Presents– San Francisco, CA *
4/7/14 – Lava Lounge – Long Beach, CA *
4/8/14 – Winston’s – San Diego, CA *
4/10/14 – Warehouse 21 – Santa Fe, NM *
4/11/14 – The Deli – Norman, OK *
4/18/14 – Bricktown Music Hall – Oklahoma City, OK
4/19/14 – Guestroom Records – Norman, OK (2pm RSD)
4/19/14 – Starship Records & Tapes – Tulsa, OK (7pm RSD)
4/19/14 – Topeca Coffee Roastery – Tulsa, OK
4/24/14 – Trees Dallas – Dallas, TX
4/25/14 – Norman Music Festival – Norman, OK
4/26/14 – Holy Mountain – Austin, TX
4/30/14 – Howlin' Wolf Den – New Orleans, LA
5/3/14 – Blue Nile – New Orleans, LA
5/9/14 – Guthrie Green – Tulsa, OK
 
* w/ The Mike Dillon Band
Mon, 04/07/2014 - 10:43 am

At the Fox Theatre, local bands have rocked the stage for twenty-two years, and they’re in good company. The Meters played the inaugural show back in 1992. Phish and the String Cheese Incident won over early crowds while jamming at The Fox. Snoop Dogg has a painting inside that’s nearly as tall as he is. I could go on and on, but just walk around the lobby full of photo memories and you’ll get it. This caliber of artist largely factored into Rolling Stone Magazine ranking it the fourth best club in the country, but they’ve never forgotten about the bands looking for a break, a gig, or just the chance to be in front of a crowd. On March sixth, the Fox Theatre hosted The Hometown Heroes Super Jam, twenty-two years to the day of opening their doors to the live music lovers of Boulder and beyond.

A song by song rotating ensemble featuring members of Jet Edison, Hot Soup, West Water Outlaws, Smack Thompson, Mountain Standard Time, Jaden Carlson Band, Great American Taxi, Intuit, Holden Young Trio, Paa Kow’s By All Means Band, Eminence Ensemble, Smooth Money Gesture, Springdale Quartet, Technicolor Tone Factory and Issovee paced their way through a multiple decade spanning covers catalogue. The familiar faces comprising the multiple variations of the “band” all brought their own stylistic playing to the stage for the collaborative jam, and when they weren’t lighting it up, they were crowding the wing and green room going over chord changes and chomping at the bit.

The initial grouping kicked into an instrumental take on Parliament’s Flashlight, before shifting personnel for the Allen Toussaint penned On Your Way Down, covered by artists such as Little Feat. Eric Luba and Will Trask of the Jaden Carlson Band handled keys and drums, and Jet Edison’s Adam Mason went double duty on vocals and bass.

After a strong take on Joe Cocker’s The Letter, helmed by Emily Clark, Mason returned bass-less for a raspy take on Ray LaMontagne’s Three More Days, displaying his vocal range. Guitarist Matt Flaherty, who can be heard on most nights with a number of bands, including Hot Soup, returned to the stage with Holden Young on guitar, Solomon Burke of Paa Kow’s By All Means Band on keys, Andy Fox of Issovee on bass, and Jet Edison’s Alex Johnson on drums.

Next up was a combo of songs from innovative nineties rock bands Ween and Radiohead. Take Me Away featured Flaherty on guitar and vocals, and Sky King of Smack Thompson made his way to the stage for the first time of the night. Rounded out by the Jet Edison rhythm section, the quartet bopped through a tight, fuzzed out version. Springdale Quartet’s Ben Waligoske replaced Sky on guitar, and Solomon returned to the keys for Creep, a song kids these days recognize from the Guitar Hero video games.

The crowd was treated to a bit of jazz-fusion, and the second of three tunes without vocals, with Herbie Hancock’s Hang Up Your Hangups. Stanton Sutton of Mountain Standard Time make his way back to the stage, joined by newcomers Jordan Roos of Springdale Quartet on bass and Will Trask on drums. The horn section came alive with the saxophone blast of Mirco Altenbach, and Smooth Money Gesture’s Pete Goldberg, or as one fan referred to him, White Chocolate, delivered a lively rendition of Al Green’s Tired of Being Alone. A raucous Dancing in the Moonlight by King Harvest gave Pete another chance to croon, backed up by Emily and Megan Letts. The locked and loaded guitar blast of Holden and Waligoske ignited the room, and it might have been the most shameless and carefree moment of the night; judging by the way the crowd bounced and mouthed what they thought were the right lyrics through every verse.

Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna’ Leave You brought a fresh balance between the vocals and instrumentation, and Blake Rooker of West Water Outlaws stole the stage, howling the coda of “baby, baby, baby, baby.” On a song that gradually builds to frenzy, the band progressed with bassist Zach Johnson of Technicolor Tone Factory, or simply TTF, rounding out the sound.

Things got back on a funky and fast paced track as Jet Edison’s original guitarist, Max Kabat, replaced Blake for a dueling guitar romp through the Greyboy Allstars’ Jack Rabbit. A welcome sight since his departure from Jet Edison, Max was on point in his hat and sunglasses, with he and Flaherty pushing each other while the horns romped on in liberated fashion: blowing, tooting and shaking with the tambourines. Jet Edison is playing the Fox Theatre and Cervantes alongside Midwest jam rockers The Werks, on April 4th and 5th, in what has been billed as their final shows together after a long ride that saw them come together years ago on the University of Colorado campus.

Sky, Emily, Megan and Eric joined three quarters of Jet Edison for a comedic voyage through TLC’s Waterfalls, complete with Mason and Max singing and rapping to the audience pleaser that everyone has a soft spot for, no matter what decade you were born in. Hardly able to contain my own smile, I sang along with ambitious audience on the nineties R&B pop-power trio’s hit.

Sky and Taylor Frederick of TTF pounced on a finger blistering Woodstock, with Emily and Megan singing lead and singing loud through the timeless Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young harmonies. The majority of same lineup stayed on stage while Emily seduced us with the set closing sing along, Just the Two of Us, by Bill Withers, and coming off such a rocker, the crowd was able to rest their legs and sway.

The Thursday night throw down came to a close with an encore of Beat It, by Michael Jackson, and why not? Phil Johnson of Jet Edison entered keyboard world, and Megan carried the vocals through the funky party happening on stage. Any Michael Jackson song would have riled everybody up, but Beat It is a great song, a great encore, and a great way to end a show. I couldn’t think of a more fitting send off into the unseasonably warm Colorado weather.

Check out more photos from the show.

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 8:40 pm

Striking out on your own as a musician after being part of an ensemble is never easy to do, save for the fortunately marketable front men and Beyoncés of the world. Roosevelt Collier is doing his best, and while picking up steam, has never forgotten where he came from and what made him the musician he is today. Forged out of the Pentecostal beliefs surrounding “Sacred Steel,” Roosevelt is both carrier of the torch and genre-hijacking outlaw. The gospel that rains from his pedal steel has been honed from years of performing with his uncles in The Lee Boys, and Roosevelt, “the Doctor,” has always been up front and center for their revelatory live shows. He brought his mastery of the steel to Boulder for the first “Roosevelt Collier’s Colorado Get Down,” featuring musicians from The Motet and Leftover Salmon. Not bad for an artist who let’s his instrument do the singing.

While the pedal steel found a home in the country twang rock and roll of the early seventies, it never transcended scenes like the organ, the most biblical associated instrument to grace the stage. Over the last twenty years, the pedal steel has become one of many instruments accepted by the jam band community, especially after Robert Randolph stepped up to the plate. Roosevelt has taken a different approach than his similarly gifted counterpart, nurturing his skills with The Lee Boys and jamming with every band of every genre he can find.

After years of establishing Colorado roots through their Halloween cover shows and elaborate four-way stop approach to open-ended musical styles, The Motet has entered a new phase of their bands’ being. Armed with an album of original material and the tight interaction that comes with multiple jaunts across the states, keyboardist Joey Porter and the rhythm section of Dave Watts and Garrett Sayers are hitting a stride that precious few outside of Colorado had taken notice of, until recently. The three members all have numerous side projects and other bands, making them a few of the hardest working musicians along the Front Range. And it shows.

While not a founding member of Boulder’s own Leftover Salmon, Andy Thorn has more than shown his grit and grind over the years. His electric banjo is a sight, and I thought he was playing a MIDI altered electric guitar until I noticed there weren’t enough tuning pegs for that to be. With a bright smile and a paisley shirt, Thorn appears as a natural Colorado picker. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a look, but he embodies the Colorado attitude and cut his teeth with a variety of acts before his ascension from The Emmitt-Nershi Band to Leftover Salmon. Like Roosevelt’s dedication to his craft, Thorn has a long history with his instrument of choice, competing in banjo competitions and working his way to the recognition he’s achieved.

Following a soulful horn blast mash up of a set by openers The Other Black, Roosevelt was swift to tell us how the band hadn’t rehearsed, and that he’d never played with them before-which isn’t actually true considering he’s joined the Motet on stage -but we let it slide, as he gave the band super hero names in what felt like a five in the morning psychedelic love affair on the Jam Cruise pool deck. Roosevelt has been an artist at large since Jam Cruise Eleven, and will be on lucky number thirteen early in 2015. He made sure we knew that tickets had just gone on sale to the public earlier in the day, and by the replies he got from the audience, there were repeat offenders among us.

The instruments combined into one holy baptism by fire, complementing each other as well as The Motet rhythm section of Superman (Watts) and The Incredible Hulk (Sayers). Roosevelt rounded out the monikers for the band with Wolverine for Joey Porter and Zeus, surprisingly, for Andy Thorn. I’m not sure if it was a sudden brain freeze due to Roosevelt’s still early foray into being a dialogue driven front man between songs, but Zeus is the God of Olympus and the reigning overlord of Greek mythology. It’s flattering, sure, but implies a stronger being than the DC and Marvel Superheroes combined. If Andy is Zeus, what does that make Roosevelt?

Following an early rising into unchartered territory, the band dropped into the first recognizable instrumental: Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away.” Roosevelt unleashed the gospel, and Joey Porter added slow organ fills under the spun out metal tear of the pedal steel. They had the crowd chanting, “I want to get away, I want to get away!” While drums, bass, keyboards, electric banjo and a pedal steel guitar might look like a southern, smoky mountain mutation on paper, in reality, the combo provided a blistering and funkadelicly fresh take on getting in the groove and letting the good times roll.

The first set wound down, or I should say picked up, with a take on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” The Motet trio was obviously familiar with the tune from years of Halloween hurrahs and funky cover shows. Wolverine AKA Joey Porter let his Adamantium claws rip across the keys, absolutely gnawing at that repeatedly bopping wah-clavinet line that defines the meat of the track.

Following a brief set break that saw the majority of the crowd stick around, the band exploded in a funky, organ dominant jam. Roosevelt and Andy took turns at frozen, mesmerized staring, in awe of each other’s abilities much the way NBA players tend to stand around and watch when a superstar goes to work with a hot hand.

Boulder’s hometown duo, Big Gigantic, made their way to the stage early in the second set. The intricate, technical drumming of Jeremy Salken was an unexpected yet welcomed departure from Watts’ style. Cymbals rattling, he grooved with the bass playing Incredible Hulk. “Drummers are a dime a dozen,” I overheard someone say, “and he’s definitely one of those dimes.” His counterpart in Dominic Lalli is no different, wailing away on his saxophone. Once upon a time a hired gun for The Motet, the one-two punch is selling out Red Rocks and making a name for themselves beyond the comfortable confines of the Rocky Mountains.

The timeless Brick staple, “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody,” allowed for each instrument to shine. The Motet brings funk to the mind, so it was great to see Roosevelt ferociously jamming right along with what they bring to the table. A booming bass, keys and horns number, the band ripped it up and didn’t leave a still body in the house.

The shared musical creation between artists is a special thing, and watching it unfold live only exemplifies it. The Colorado scene is always open to sitting in and jamming, allowing for performances like this one to happen at a regular rate. But you’ve got to hand it to Roosevelt for getting such a group together on a quiet, underclassmen-less Thursday night in Boulder, because they delivered. You don’t have to call it a super jam, but anything less than that wouldn’t do it justice.

Check out more photos from the show.

Thu, 06/12/2014 - 9:16 pm

If performing with a band isn’t pressure enough, imagine a one-man act with nobody to fall back on. Relying on crowd dialogue and a hefty dose of humor is necessary to counteract any hesitation or nervousness, helping to fill the void between clapping and the next song. A couple of Texans recently made their way to The Fox Theatre to perform solo sets that relied on lyrical depth and a good sense of humor. Bob Schneider and Hayes Carll call Austin home, representing their own interpretation of the singer-songwriter in their instrumental and lyrical approaches. Humor, however, is something they have in common, making them seem at ease throughout their sets and readily equipped to counter the boisterous drunkards in the crowd.

Bob Schneider’s been active in the Austin music scene since the nineties with a handful of bands and a slew of songs on the soundtracks to Sandra Bullock films. Bob has a keyboard and trumpet on stage, in addition to his guitar, with no band to play them. He rhythmically loops each instrument, depending on the song, while rapping and joking with the crowd. Armed with the vernacular of a well-versed sailor, he has a knack for bouncing around with his approach to each song, never letting two in a row come off in the same manner.

Hayes Carll has his own bag of tricks, none of which are as gloss-pop as Schneider. Stripped down with an acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica, he’s a songwriter in the vein of fellow Texans James McMurtry and Ray Wylie Hubbard. His lyrics can be comical yet resilient, and honest. They’re very much autobiographical, and nothing is off limits.

Hayes, opening for Schneider, launched a deliberate rapport with the crowd right off the bat. He spoke about the last time he visited Boulder, the stories behind his songs, where he’s from and what he’s about. He’s matured his formal demeanor and ‘aw shucks’ personality on stage, telling stories between songs and embodying an intrepid raconteur. With his denim shirt and blue jeans, scruffy beard and hair, he looks like a picture of what you’d see in the book of outlaw country lore. His first song, The Letter, is a road song about the vapid, superficial faces and struggles of traveling for a living. He wound down the guitar line and the crowd clapped before he said the song wasn’t finished, and, “all the way from Austin, ladies and gentlemen, Hayes Carll.” He also professed that the crowd committed the dreaded “premature clapulation.”

The Hayes Carll songbook makes you laugh and each chapter contains a different story. They’re songs for the nine to five hardworking American. Whether he’s singing about his son, The Magic Kid, an artists’ muse in Drunken Poet’s Dream, or clueless and wasted love in Maybe You Could be The One, he knows how to pull you into a scene and represent emotions accordingly. It’s refreshing to see a wordsmith; an artist whose craft seems focused on finding the right words before guitar phrasing. The crowd seemed to react especially well to Another Like You, Bad Liver and A Broken Heart, and his popular and politically overcharged, KMAG YOYO (Kiss My Ass Guys, You’re On Your Own,) filled with images of Afghanistan and military tested LSD. It’s as much of an indictment as you’ll find in his work, and served as the compass for his album of the same name.

After a small break that saw the crowd indulge in their multiple vices, Schneider stepped up with guitar and his cumbersome persona that races along like a whimsically absurdist comedy. His songs are injected with bizarre caricatures from The Wizard of Oz as well as Shakespearean allusions that take the audience to a different place than the firmly organic Hayes. At times sounding like your typical singer-songwriter, and at other points rapping with the swag of an eighties hip hop veteran, it was difficult to nail down just who Bob Schneider really is.

His wildly evocative imagination combined with his slam poetry deliverance make it all the more interesting, highlighting a vast departure from his peers. Take Let the Light in, for example. With a fine strum and lyrics conjuring images of the wicked witch of the west “all up in the club drinking Hennessey,” and explaining fear and apprehension through metaphorical takes on the lion and tin man, you feel like you’re in the scene he’s so carefully built. It’s an interesting way to confront real life emotions, and a stark contrast from the sultry laughs of Horny Girls, which is essentially a narrative account on adventures in sex, complete with being tied to the bed, absorbing an STD, and dealing with the repercussions of jealous boyfriends. Nothing is off limits in his material, and the different yet gut-wrenching imagery in both of these songs shows just that.

Judging from the crowd, his most well known song, 40 Dogs, also happens to feature allusions to The Wizard of Oz, and expands on a conversation that has yet to take place in a yet to unfold love story. Like his other material, stocked full of images, he details the girl of his dreams and how they’d be. “You’re the color of a burning brook/you’re the color of a sideways look/from an undercover cop in a comic book.” While it’s usually a tad cliché to feature Shakespearian references in poetry and literature-especially something as regurgitated as Romeo and Juliet-it seemed to fit his brand of songwriting, opening up lyrical avenues that audiences lose themselves in because they can relate to what he’s saying as well as the literary references we’ve all been spoon-fed since grade school.

Having two radically different threads of the singer-songwriter label represented on the same stage in one evening is nothing short of success. They’re storytellers with instruments, sometimes even meandering on without them. They’re the sort of songs you hear and hang onto the words. As a misplaced Texan, maybe I’m biased, but they’ve got the grit and soul of the lone star state infused in their lyrics, especially Carll, continuing a long line that came before them. While the crowd was largely in attendance for Bob Schneider, who’s been around block, Hayes Carll undoubtedly won over a large cross-section. It was a scene filled with new and old, been there and yet to do that. It was a drunken poets’ dream.

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 1:54 pm

Only a year into her teens, and boasting a wide smile at every concert, Jaden Carlson seems to be doing what she loves, and it shows in her playing. There’s no comparison to the crashed and burnt refugees of the entertainment industry; no label issued stranglehold on her creativity and self-motivated drive. She writes her own songs and lyrics and even finds time to do her homework between band practice.

Following an acoustic album and assembly of the fully electrified Jaden Carlson Band, the trio has been performing all over Colorado. Most importantly, they’ve struck a balance between their live shows and recording. Those familiar with Jaden’s guitar solos will feel right at home with JCB’s debut album, Polychromatic. Recorded and mastered by some of the most recognized names along the Front Range, the album is crisp and runs along in a structured arrangement that for the most part sees tracks alternate between instrumentals and those with Jaden singing.

The opening track, “Essium,” is a feeler. It introduces the guitar driven instrumentals that showcase Jaden’s vibe before steering into the meat of the album. The true kicking off point comes in the form of “The Wrong Way.” The little funkstress’ still developing but well-rounded vocals materialize while bassist Eric Luba double-times on keys, particularly the organ heard throughout the eleven jam heavy tunes. Drummer Will Trask is money on the beat, allowing the keys and guitar to build to a carefully plotted climax.

Drawing on jam band influences, Jaden is naturally pulled to the funky rhythms that get a live crowd rollicking. “Mudflip” runs around in circles, up and down the fret board with a Nascar pace. You can close your eyes, breathe in the music, and picture a dark club with disco ball reflected laser lights washing over sweaty, rhythmic bodies as they flail to Jaden’s rapid fire, effect laced playing.

While her emotive lyrics can come off as moody and misplaced for her age, they’re actually clear, contemplative views of the dark side of growing up. Backed by much more uplifting instrumentals, songs like “No Use Hanging Around” still take on a somber tone, finding balance in light of lyrical angst.

Following the funk guitar driven “Backwards Kick,” “Beyond These Walls” and “Nothing Left” drift into lyrically nihilism. “I’ve got nothing left/and all I ever learned/was to take everything you loved/and watch it as it burned.” A youth beyond her years and seemingly not out of her depth, there’s something special about Jaden’s drive and prowess. Reading like a heart stolen for the first time, Jaden enunciates the emotions of good times and bad, solemn yet luminous. At an age where belonging can take the place of self-expression, her matter of fact yet metaphorically laced tongue is something anybody can appreciate.

The final product comes off sounding a step above the similarly talented funk-jam combos coming out of the high altitude Colorado Front Range. With Jaden’s ever evolving knowledge for the guitar and the unfolding nature of her lyrics, it’s only a matter of time before we see her adorning front pages of publications, listening to her recordings on Sirius/XM’s Jam On, and touring through the club scene of America. While it’s easy to be swayed at a young age and lose track of the dreams you possess as a child, Jaden seems to be living to her own rhythm. Armed with an album that more than holds it own, it’ll be a treat watching the band, and Jaden herself, grow into the now lofty expectations they’ve set for themselves.

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 11:31 am

Drummer/percussionist Jason Hann of EOTO and the String Cheese Incident recently took time out his on the run touring schedule to speak with the Grateful Web’s John Schumm. Currently in the midst of EOTO’s multi-month spanning Outer Orbit Tour, the all-live improvisational electronic duo continues to enhance the audio and visual front they’ve helped revolutionize. Armed with an impressive array of instruments and gadgetry, some they’ve chosen and some they’ve stumbled into acquiring by way of losing or breaking gear, Jason Hann and Michael Travis are as well known for EOTO’s in the moment musical excursions as their tandem drumming in String Cheese Incident. The Outer Orbit Tour has dates ranging from coast to coast and everywhere in between before culminating in a finale at The Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado on December 13th.

GW: My name is John Schumm and I’m here today with Jason Hann of EOTO and the String Cheese Incident. EOTO, you and Travis, are kicking off the Outer Orbit Tour here in a few days and that bounces around through November. How are you doing, what’s going on, and what’s new these days?

JH: Everything is going well. Getting super excited for the tour to start this week. Its kind of one of those things where it’s not like we haven’t been playing. We did Infrasound up near Minneapolis this past weekend, and before that was basically three weeks of String Cheese world for those festivals and before that it was a mixture of EOTO and String Cheese. So really since about May it’s been non-stop. I think we had one weekend off. So even though a tour is starting, playing venues, its been go all the way and hasn’t been a lot of downtime, which is good, that’s great, because all of the weeks keep leading into the next and there’s always something to build on and it kind of pushes that next level to take it to.

GW: I’m sure. Between the two bands it sounds like you’ve definitely been busy. I was at the Lock’n Festival, I caught the Sting Cheese set there so I know you guys have been rehearsing all of the songs for there (Kool and the Gang tribute), and the moon songs from Phases of the Moon Fest.

JH: Cool, I’m glad you got to check that out and Phases definitely was a continuation of a good run of shows and that’s probably the best example. Lock’n was great but Phases felt like we took another step, you know, just feeling good about how it came out.

GW: So Michael and yourself originally came together in String Cheese Incident, and while both bands, EOTO and String Cheese, are very different, both share a knack for being exploratory in their sound. In String Cheese you’ve got your percussion setup and with EOTO you’ve got your kit, laptop, Ipad, vocal headset and all kinds of gadgetry. Do you welcome that change of pace with each band, doing different things with each, and what’s the biggest benefit to performing with Michael in two totally different bands?

JH: Well on the first part of it, about switching or changing up roles, it feels like almost a necessity for myself, personally, because I really enjoy doing lots of different things. When I wasn’t with either band, I was bouncing between a bunch of groups between studio sessions all the time and doing something way different on a day to day basis. And so when you settle into being in a group, it’s kind of like you dive into the music that you’re playing and you get at it in a pretty deep level because you’re always working on that, and say with String Cheese, that configuration with all six of us and how we’d go about doing practice and approaching songs and playing live with each other, because we feed off each other. So to switch it up and be like, whoa, this is a whole other thing, and other parts of the brain get to be used now. It has a cumulative effect, and also playing all different styles of music has a different aesthetic to it as far as how you approach it musically. When I play drums with EOTO I’m thinking almost more of the way someone would program a drum machine in terms of the type of pattern I would play, but definitely giving it that human feel. So the reference is different. When I’m playing percussion with String Cheese I’m thinking of all the bubbly and organic things that other percussion players that I really like or what the particular song needs, and it tends to be on the…I have all of these references. When I’m playing with EOTO my influences are more like these are the producers that I really like and how might they be approached with what I’m doing right now. So it’s great having all of the variety of things to do between the two bands.

And doing both of those with Michael has been amazing. While we’re doing the looping side of things and improvised music type of thing with EOTO, it’s funny. The type of music that we do in EOTO seems like it needs to be more towards a drumming mentality as far as you’re thinking of distinct patterns to play and thinking of phrasing and thinking of the type of structure, song structure. Almost like the way a drummer normally thinks, because we’re playing this music and the concentration isn’t so much on the solos as it is building these parts on top of each other and then we he does build parts to free himself to take a solo, that’s the bonus, and it doesn’t have to be wizardry at that point. It just has to be the right, tasteful thing for what we’re doing. So I think that helps us, being two drummers, and we have to work like a quick track in our head so there’s some preciseness to it that lends itself to coming off the right way.

GW: Did you guys know each other before you joined String Cheese some ten years ago?

JH: We had met back in 96’, 1996, at one of the High Sierra Music Festivals and he just kind of came over to see a band I was playing with, and he introduced himself to me and invited me to play hand drums over at the String Cheese bus, Bussy. And there was another percussionist there, Jarrod Kaplan, I think he’s from Seattle, and we played for the rest of the afternoon. It was such a good hang and we exchanged information, I think someone recorded a drum session and put it on an album or something, or one of their friends’ records, us sort of drumming in the background. And then we kept in touch maybe two phone calls a year after that. In 99’ I sat in with String Cheese once in LA and once in San Diego, but there were also ten other people sitting in at the same time so I didn’t really get to know anybody in the band. When 2004 came around, Travis gave me a call out of the blue saying that there’s a chance they might be looking for another person to join String Cheese, they don’t know, but why don’t you come down and sit in when we come through Los Angeles. And that was kind of the evolution of how that came about.

GW: Are you from LA originally?

JH: I’m originally from Miami; I grew up in North Miami Beach and ended up going into the Navy just after high school. That’s what got me to the west coast and California. At that time, all of my favorite bands were on the west coast and thinking that none of these bands ever come down here, they only stop in Georgia or northern Florida, which is a seven-hour drive from Miami. So I never really got to see the bands that I really liked. So the Navy was like, you can go to Chicago, to be based there, or based in San Diego. I was going to be going in December, so there was no question. So I ended up doing that right after high school.

GW: Beautiful part of the country. Can you give us some examples of bands you were into at the time?

JH: Well at that time, being my super rebellious self and wanting to have my own music…I had been a drummer already. I had played with my dad’s band in Miami, at that time he was doing a mix of things. He would play a lot of Caribbean music during the day and early hours, with international musicians sitting in. So that was my exposure to early international music. I’d been playing reggae about as long as I was playing rock and roll. And he would have band members join him for his rock stuff, which was more Police stuff, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Rolling Stones and that kind of thing. So I liked playing that kind of music, that’s what I learned to play, but the friends I went to school with, we were all into a mix of King Crimson and Yes, but also the Minute Men and the Meat Puppets and all the SST Label guys. Like Sonic Youth before they got popular, but mostly the Cali bands like Minutemen and Fishbone, Black Flag. Those are the bands I wanted to go see. And when I got to San Diego State University, all of those bands would come through. This band House of Freaks, which was this amazing duo of guitars and drums that would put the White Stripes to shame, really, put most bands to shame. I would have so much fun after getting in off some Navy trip and I’d see what’s going on in the paper. I think the campus club was called The Backdoor, and there was just always good stuff going on there.

GW: Fishbone, I love those guys. I got to catch a few of their shows this summer on the west coast.

JH: Their original drummer, I think his last name is Fish and maybe brothers with Norwood or something; anyway, I’ve done some studio sessions with him out in Venice Beach. He actually became Justin Timberlake’s drummer for his first tour. It was kind of a trip in the studio, guys saying he was JT’s drummer, and we got to talk and I’m like, wait a minute, you play in Fishbone! Holy crap. And then I fan boyed him for a little bit.

GW: Would you say that some of those bands have influence in your music and during EOTO shows?

JH: There are definitely times. Like whenever we go to DC. Another group I liked was Bad Brains. There’s a crew of kids that I know there and have had these talks about. And if we ever go there I’ll drop some Bad Brains lyrics. And I’ll put them over not because we’re playing a punk song, but because we’re doing something else. And then I’ll throw, I don’t know, sometimes certain lyrics will just come to me depending on what we’re playing, you know, and it doesn’t necessarily fit the style of what it was originally in, but just drop it and there’ll be like four people who talk to me later and say, ‘oh my god you did that Bad Brains thing,’ and I’m like, yeah. (Laughter)

GW: I really like those parts of the show where you start saying things like that. The last time I caught you guys at the Fillmore in Denver there were some aspects of that too.

JH: Yep

GW: How did you get that going? It doesn’t seem like you’re singing but you say some things and it gets looped around in the sounds, how did that come about?

JH: Well at this point I don’t really loop it anymore. I used to loop my voice a little bit more but then I got this harmonizer that I use live that can harmonize my voice. So I don’t have to stack a chorus together like I used to. I can just hit a button and all of the sudden there are two other people singing in harmony with me. And I can do more things on the fly like that. At least what I’m doing. Travis, I mean his whole gig is looping and stacking things, so my side of things is not really looping anything, and more like, ok, I’m turning this button and I’m still playing drums and affecting my voice, which is something I started to have more fun doing instead of keeping track of what loops are on which channels.

How did I come about the singing? Well that’s actually kind of funny, because just about everything in EOTO has been accidental, how things came about. We did a gig; I think it was in Breckenridge, at the 320 South Club. Our crew guy actually forgot my electronic pad, I used to have this electronic drum pad that I used for EOTO and I’d play parts on there and I would loop those parts and stack up electric drum parts that I’d be playing along with. And that was a lot of fun, but he forgot it one time at the start of tour, and I was like man, that’s my whole gig that’s gone. And this was the start of tour and I said how I really needed it for the rest of tour, and we decided we’d work it out, whether he’d get it or try to get someone drive it out to us. But he ended up having to go get it, which meant that he wasn’t going to be back for the show. So I thought about what I could do different, and I said I’d just sing drum parts with my mouth. I still had it set up to loop some parts, like handclaps, and that’s sort of where it started. I went, oh, that was fun, and we talked and decided I should do more of that, so I started putting little eeks and ahs and making other weird alien noises with my voice in addition to that and then one time, I don’t remember what the first things was that I sung, but got some great feedback from people that were checking it out and I started going a little more into it like that.

It’s interesting; because when I was first learning drums I was rapping at the same time. I would sit in with my dad and play drums and do a rap at the same time, while we were doing a funk song or a Rick James song or something like that. And you know, there was just that whole chunk of stuff I used to do as a kid and had just stopped doing, and this was sort of a thing that opened the door for me to let those other things sneak back in. And so particularly with the rapping thing, I was just treating it as another drum, because it was such a cool layer to be able to jump into a Busta Rhymes line. It was so rhythmic and challenging to work on, but I get off on it as much as…when you play tabla, drums from India, you learn how to play the drum but the way you learn how to play the drum is by saying the syllables of the drum (imitating drumming with syllables). All of these things you can do on a drum you have to be able to do with your voice, so then it’s like wow, I can practice both at the same time. So there were so many things like that that became more appealing, and getting the crowd feedback was a lot more encouraging to dive deeper into it.

GW: It seems like a natural progression then.

JH: Yeah, definitely. But there are a lot of things we’ve done in EOTO where it has come out of an accident or some piece of gear breaking. Like, dammit, that was a key piece of gear, and Travis would get through it and we’d be like, well, we found this new thing to do because it forced us to do that. So that’s been a nice part of dealing with electronic gear and having it break down on you and adapting in the moment.

GW: It’s nice hearing some of the background on this. I know there are videos on YouTube and on the website about you guys detailing all of the gear you have on stage, and videos of you guys at Apple Stores to give demonstrations on how an IPADs and MacBooks can play a part in your sound. Are there any new toys, any new gear you plan on using this tour?

JH: For me in particular, not so much. There’s still so much for me to do within the set of what I already have and tricks to do with the software. On my side of things it’s mostly just hankering down with the stuff that I already have to do and trying to be a little more of making melodies with my voice and making some other things in that regard, so that I feel like I’m getting better on the fly and making up melodies and after I’ve done that, just kind of knowing what that is creating another piece of it, whether that’s giving a middle eastern flare to my voice or putting a wash of reverb on it, similar to the band Aparat, I don’t know if you’ve heard them. They’re a great more downtempo group, but the guy actually loops his voice live but then gives it this wash that’s just really hypnotizing. So there are definitely some things in there to try and see what works.

And on Travis’ side of things, I know his setup has changed quite a bit. He seems to interchange keyboards in and out and now he’s got two double keyboard setups in his rig. I don’t know exactly what’s going on there (laughter) but sometimes I look over and say, hey, that’s a different keyboard than last time, and you know, it’s good because it can’t help but to mix up sonically what we’re doing too.

GW: Touching on how you guys are creating a new show, every night with the improvisational aspect and how that separates you from the pack. I was going to ask you if you ever get tired of creating something new every night, or if emotions throughout any given day can factor into what you’re doing each night? But it also sounds like exploring the gear itself and what you have in front of you can help in that regard as well.

JH: Oh yeah, I would say both of us are of the ADD natural mindset, where keeping things interesting is the search for both of us, and I think something that happens playing live, improvised music is you can’t help but, I mean, you can never really…not relax but there’s always the next thing we have to move to. Treating the set in the ay that a DJ treats a set is every three minutes or so you have to move on to, for a DJ a new song, or for us it would be a new texture or song, well we don’t have songs, but every three minutes we treat those areas like songs, and within those songs there’s going to be a break, a verse section and breakdown section, and you know all of these things have to happen so we’re crating these sections within a three minute period and by the time that’s up, and there’s a solo in there or somewhere, and then we move onto the next. So there’s not really time to think about, not necessarily how the days going today, and what kind of mood you’re in, except the fact that we totally feel off the energy of the people too. So, if we hit some certain thing where we’re going through the motions but it feels like it’s particularly resonating with the people, then we’ll hang out there for awhile until we feel like we’ve gotten everybody on board and can take them on our own journey to wherever we’re going. So we don’t seem to ever run out of things to do. There are some things we’ll get into habit wise, like if we’re going to set up and go into this particular feel that something else happens that we do in a similar way, but usually after you do that for two or three weeks then you just get tired of doing it yourself and kind of recognize it. I say the one downfall is that it doesn’t contribute to retaining memory of anything, because you get used to doing that and moving on, do that move on, do that move on, do that move on. And then I’m like, where are my keys at, and I don’t know, that happened a long time ago! So there’s some basic memories that you get used to being in that mind moving on to the next thing, and I find myself if I’m not in the habit of doing things like, I know exactly where I put my keys at the beginning of the set, or my wallet or my phone, and those seem to be the hardest parts, actually. (Laughter) And now you think I’m weird.

GW:  Ha, not at all. The tour is called The Outer Orbit Tour. I read that there’s going to be some upgrades, which is hard to believe, to the lights and overall production. You guys have been known over the years to have the lotus flower, visual mapping, and all sorts of cool stuff going on to a point where it becomes a part of the show. Some people see lights as an accompaniment to the show and music, but with you guys there is so much going on that the visuals become a main part of the show and experience. Is there anything you can tell us about what you have coming up?

JH: Well, it looks like, for the entire tour, we’ll have projection mapping, our guy Devin, does that and is part of our lotus setup. We’re going to be having our laser guy, Hunter, on tour with us, and he’s been doing stuff on and off with us for the last few years, and he’s always great and super creative with the way he goes about doing lasers, which is one of the reasons we particularly wanted him to do it. Just because he totally gets what we’re doing and doing his thing on the fly, the way we’re doing it, and he’s open creatively to different things. For example, we were in Springfield, Il doing a show, and he’s setting up his lasers and checking sight lines, and we had some of our object that Devin maps onto, and said do you think you can trace that object Devin has over there with a laser? And he’s like, yeah, I can do that. And we started playing around with it, and that Tie Fighter that we usually have blowing up on the little dome, we started coming up with this method of mapping out lasers on the fly, which, they aren’t done. We looked online to see who else was mapping out lasers for their shows, and it’s just this thing that hasn’t happened yet, but all of the sudden it added this new dimension that people would remark about, saying, I haven’t seen that type of visual information at a show. So the fact that he’s psyched to do whatever and has these amazing, and in nerdy ways, these 60,000 point lasers on the road with us, can allow him to do a lot of things that you normally just can’t do, and we’re psyched to bring it all out on the road, which makes it fun to dig in creatively. And artistically all the way around, the same way we do it musically, so if people are looking around or opening their eyes or taking a break from dancing, that there’ll be something aesthetically pleasing or aesthetically invigorating going on for them at our show.

GW: Well I definitely feel like there always has been. The last couple of shows I’ve seen I was blown away with everything that was going on. It’s pretty cool to see and hear what you have coming up. I’ll be at the Denver show, as of now the last show of the tour. You probably spend a lot of time in Colorado, with the String Cheese gang and everything. Do you feel more of a response in Denver and around Colorado than in other parts of the country, or other parts of the tour you’ll be on?

JH: Denver, in general, seems to be ground zero for anyone that comes through and has their biggest audiences except for maybe their hometown, or even bigger than their hometown. That’s been the same for us. String Cheese practices in Colorado, and four of the six of us live in Colorado. So we spend a bunch of time practicing there, hanging with management and playing there. I would definitely argue that between Denver and Boulder, well, all of the Colorado scene in general, might be the best scene in the country, and easily, too. I live here in Los Angeles, but in LA you have so many different scenes that aren’t connected, and kind of popping off in their own world. But you don’t have this general sense of knowing everybody when you get to a show and whenever I go out in Colorado, I see a lot of either similar people or run into people that might take a five minute conversation to realize you know somebody from their crew or something. It’s very connected. So yes, to play for a Denver crowd, and get them off, it’s particularly pleasing. They give that energy right back to you, and there are so many people that moved to Colorado just for the music scene alone, so they’re already amped, and they already see so much that you have to do something outstanding to grab them, but when you do, wow, there are multiple rewards back to you for the effort.

GW: Hell yeah, makes me glad to live out here. I was one of those people that moved out here for a combination of music and snowboarding, so I’m right there with the rest of them.

Anyway, so wrapping up, I know you guys had a studio album back in 2009, but obviously the live shows are the meat an potatoes that you do. I was noticing how you release most of the live shows for sale afterwards, allowing people to take the experience home with them and relive it anyway they want. Do you guys plan on doing another album in the near future, or does it even make sense for you to go into the studio to record?

JH: In EOTO world right?

GW: Yes.

JH: Let’s just say the studio experience for us is almost the exact same as a live show except in EOTO world we’re not purposely doing anything, we’re just free flowing, but in the studio we’ll free flow, but on the same thing for like twelve minutes, and we’ll take the best six minutes of that and then go back to the individual tracks and make sure certain sounds aren’t sticking out, and try to make it a little more pristine, and less noisy if there are random noises that don’t fit well with what we’re doing. We did that for three albums, and right now it just doesn’t make sense for us, that part doesn’t feel that inspiring, although we’re really proud of those three records. So we’ve talked about it for the last two years and what we want to do, that would be more fun, would be to set up wherever we’re playing and record a show but record it with all of the individual tracks. Right now when we record they’re bounced down into a stereo tack, and then we master the stereo track and that gets put on Live Downloads. But the thing to do would be to have all of the tracks actively recorded, so we have the stems from all the tracks and give those to DJ’s or have a contest where people can remix our stuff with individual stems or tracks, and then see where that goes, put something out like that. That just feels like the next thing, to have a great collaboration and see what people do with our stuff.

GW: Looking forward to that and everything else that comes along, including this upcoming tour and especially the Denver show.

JH: Yes, thanks. I think we’re back at the Ogden Theatre for that. We’re going to make a ruckus.

GW: Hell yeah, I’m sure it’ll be crazy as usual. Thank you so much for taking all this time to talk to me.

JH: Yeah, thank you for putting the word out on us, can’t thank you enough.

GW: Good luck with the tour and everything else, and we’ll be catching you when you get to Colorado.

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 2:30 pm

While NASCAR superstar and eleven-year running fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. captured an irrelevant win last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. was hard at work racing down the road. The first leg of the glam-pop duo’s fall tour culminated in a voracious three-band onslaught at the Fox Theatre in The People’s Republic of Boulder, Colorado. Hardly following conventions, their dance anthems and introspective, turned upside down indie tunes had the Tuesday night faithful melting like butter on a hot piece of toast.  

While it never hurts to piggyback onto a keyword search that bleeds into all corners of the entertainment realm, it’s their brand of music that has them accelerating through each new turn. Backed by drummer Mike Higgins and Jack of all instruments Jon Visger, Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott have tightened up their live sound and turned the show into a full on production spectacle. Loaded with light bulb illuminated “JR.” signs and a large, inflatable white orb that acts as a canvas for their video and lighting designer, there’s no shortage of high-octane imagery to compliment the music. Their jubilated demeanor and empathetic willingness to swap instruments depending on the song highlights their on-stage camaraderie. They’re precise in moving through each song, and the lights always on point for the highs, lows and theatric breakdowns.

Riding the high from the recently released single, “James Dean,” DEJJ is in a stage of growth and definition as the tour dates and studio recordings pile up in the win column. Their set was spiced with songs like “Hiding,” and aptly chosen covers like Gil Scott Herron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit,” reworked with their heavy hitting lead guitar and keyboard that comes across as straight ahead nouveau electro-rock. And in their Indie-est moments they don’t let you forget the importance of lyrics within the fold of whistling and concocting experimental sounds. For music can lead you on a journey, but lyrics tell the story along the way.

Epstein bantered on a variety of topics between songs, most notably when he acknowledged the close proximity to the University of Colorado Boulder. He harped on Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffaloes’ former basketball star now playing for their hometown Detroit Pistons, and who was set to make his NBA debut two nights later in Denver. A select few in the crowd even led short-lived “Go Buffs” and “Roll Tad” chants. Finding ways to communicate with the audience outside of the music is crucial when playing to the size crowd they had, and they delivered.

Following the encore break, someone must have blown their Dale Call, because members from support acts Madi Diaz and Miniature Tigers joined DEJJ for a romping Last Waltz-like moment where most of them made up for a lack of instruments with highly questionable dance moves. While I had unfortunately missed all but the tail end of Madi’s set, her voice was in control when she joined the guys onstage, and was a nice change from the male dominated vocals of the other two groups. They closed out the show with “Nothing But Our Love,” winding their hour set down to a slow halt that helped the crowd regain their composure and wipe away the mascara running down their cheeks

Brooklyn’s Miniature Tigers were the direct support for the show, and singer Madi Diaz opened. Miniature Tigers warmed up the crowd with a set of nu-disco blended indie backing tracks that camouflaged the hilarity of their lyrics and instrumental affluence. Combatting the spotty applause between songs, front man Charlie Brand laughed about a girls’ sweater in the front row, claiming it looked like it was a product of “Windows 94’,” and lambasted Zach Braff before declaring, “last show, last kiss,” and planting a large smooch on keyboardist Rick Shaier’s lips. While you could hear crickets following the tone-shifting stunt, it was hard not to groove to one of their more recognizable and catchy tunes, “Used To Be The Shit.” Their most recent album, “Cruel Runnings,” was released earlier this summer and continues their streak of head bobbing, comical songs littered with references to eighties and nineties cinema. While they’re not exactly new to the scene, they’re honing their craft much in the same light as DEJJ, discovering their niche on the run and in front of the eyes of the world.

Tuesday nights can be hit or miss this time of year, especially on a college campus in the middle of exam season, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. put on a show that kept everybody swaying until the last beat and deflating of the projector painted orb. Though they’ve received glowing reviews from major media outlets, and hype surrounding their new album is at a boiling point, sometimes it’s hard to believe everything you read. But in this case, the buzz is on point. It’s time to open your ears and wallets, because Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is speeding through the circuits with a V8 roar that’s not to be missed.

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 6:43 am

Widespread Panic’s nearly thirty-year-old traveling carnival of crunched-out jam rock is a spectacle that’s anchored by a faithful following that grows with each seasonal tour. Crafted in the shrieking southern-rock of the Allman Brothers Band and the improvisational mastery of the Grateful Dead, Panic resides among the upper echelon of jam bands, and they’re built to last. This was evident during their Halloween weekend at the 1st Bank Event Center in Broomfield, Colorado, and throughout their fall tour.

Though the sudden announcement that Duane Trucks, guitarist Derek’s brother, would be filling in for Todd Nance came just before the tour kicked off, his raucous beat brought new life to the boys from Athens, GA. No slouch could fine tune over one hundred and twenty songs in preparation for a tour, and this man did it on the fly, working with no end to keep the train rolling.

Setting up shop for a three-night run, John Bell and company packed the house night one, two and three. Lot rats rambled in fervor over the Halloween show and Saturday night as well, but that was before Panic drove the nail home on Sunday night. And you know how the old saying goes, “never miss a Sunday show.”

“Couldn’t imagine a finer place to finish our little tour here,” John Bell said before the band hopped into a “Henry Parsons Died” sandwich, with “Green Onions” the fillings. John “JoJo” Herman let the organ wail on the Booker T. classic before drifting back into “Henry Parsons.” I’d heard that they’d become more straight ahead southern rock and roll over the years, but their ability to extend songs begged to differ. After a brief pause we were treated to “Wonderin’” > “Blackout Blues,” the latter of which featured some nice slide work by Bell and vocals by JoJo. I couldn’t help but notice the lyrics fit perfectly for the end of a three night run, and better yet, the end of tour: “I think we’re riding on our last legs/Like a dark horse down the stretch.” If Sunday night was what their last legs sounds like, sign me up.

Following “Good People,” the band welcomed fiddler Nicky Sanders of The Steep Canyon Rangers to the stage and wasted no time getting into The Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire,” the first since Halloween 2009. The spooky lyrics are perfectly suited for Bell’s gravely southern throat and the audience was well aware of it being somewhat of a rarity. Percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz kept the beat going, bleeding into “Hatfield.” The story of the legendary rainmaker was accompanied by a particular sweet sounding jam in the middle that sounded like a Grateful Dead segue between “China Cat Sunflower” andI know You Rider,” and from there took off on a tangent, coming together again after nearly fifteen minutes in a jankie “Honky Red.” Originally written by Murray McLauchlan, this song found its way into rotation on Spring Tour earlier this year, and the fiddles’ haunted howl added a new dimension to the bands’ instrumentation.

“Heaven” slowed things down and gave Nicky room to breathe in the electric sandbox. They drifted into the Jimmy Herring driven instrumental, “Party at Your Momma’s House,” and segued into “Ribs and Whiskey,” a rocker and favorite to the fans and band. The intro hinted at Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” and the next full on tease came midway through in the form of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” A set closing hootenanny stomp of “Drinking Muddy Water” by The Yardbirds had heightened energy and was the right choice for a first set closer, a cliffhanger leaving us wanting more.

For a good forty minutes or so, fans trickled around the bar and bathroom lines, playing free arcade games and buying merchandise. The ten-dollar download codes seemed to be a popular choice for those already recapping their favorite moments from the first set and wondering what they’d hear in the second.  Those on the standing floor found their friends from the reserved bowl seating and the concession stands pumped out French fries, chicken sandwiches and Dales Pale Ales.

Everybody settled back into their spots, mine seemingly becoming a pond of spilt beer and popcorn. They started the second set with “Little Kin,” and Nicky rejoined the group for a fifteen minute “Barstools and Dreamers.” Accelerating into a Jimmy Herring shredder-jam that found its way into “Gimme,” the band changed the pace from erratic and always in motion to being leisurely in approach. Though that was short lived.

What transpired next was a glimpse of a veteran jam band weaving the majority of a set together with segues and teases and a taste of the sublime. They tore through a chilling “Driving Song” > “Surprise Valley,” initiating the weird and meat of the second set. Their instrumental interplay swept into a drums segment, and was slowly joined by percussion and bassist Dave Schools. They even managed to tease “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. “Blue Indian” attempted to bring the instruments back into union, before shifting gears and revisiting “Surprise Valley” > “Driving Song.” Nicky left the stage after Pilgrims, and the band cranked out “Chilly Water” without him, concluding the second set and mounting anticipation for the encore, or more fittingly, en-four.

“Yeah, we’re not quite done,” someone said from the stage as Panic came back for the encore. A slow, melodic, “Saint Ex” got the just under thirty minute encore going before the first of two Neil Young songs, Mr. Soul, was taken for a stroll. Herring was on fire and the combined guitars teased “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” by the Rolling Stones. The funky “Love Tractor” had Schools moving, and gave way to the second Neil Young tune, and final of the evening, “Don’t Be Denied.” Bell thanked the audience for joining the band over the entire weekend, and brought the marathon Sunday show to a close, ending the tour on a high note at high altitude.

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 8:09 am

The marquee reads “Poor Man’s Whiskey: A Tribute to the Allman Brothers Band,” and the assumption that they’re no more than a cover band is understandable. Helping fuel the fire is their history of playing The Fox Theater with their renditions of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and the music of Old and In The Way. What the casual passerby doesn’t understand, however, is that there’s much more to this band than rehashing their favorite artists and albums on stage.

Based out of the Bay Area, Whiskey’s Nor-Cal bluegrass seems like a logical fit in Colorado, but the scattered cross section outside of the pit was discouraging. Sure, the genre is a commodity circulating the state, but folks have more options than ever, leaving some artists overlooked. There’s also that cover band mentality glowing on the marquee, and occasionally that can hurt sales more than help.

While the band seems to lack a completely consistent touring ensemble, they never drop a beat with de-facto front man Josh Brough leading the mix of banjo, mandolin, upright bass, acoustic guitar, drums and accordion. Their sound shifts when they plug in their instruments and get the electric hoedown in motion, but the approach is the same as their acoustic approach, no matter how many people are in the crowd. This transgression between instruments is one of their primary calling cards, and understandably so.

“Angeline,” a hard fought ballad of travel, fear and freedom had just gotten underway when I walked in. Josh’s vocals push the boundaries of fiction, and the band never fails to pull this song out when they’re working towards a full head of steam. It sits somewhere near the top of their original material for me, and there are more than a few I’d rather heard than Allman Brothers’ covers.

“This one is for our hardworking, or hardly working, friends, as they say back home in the Bay,” Josh said before “Humboldt Hoedown,” an open book on the sound and lifestyle they’re steeped in. Their shows have been described as a “high-octane hoedown,” evident in their frenetic interpretation of the Allman Brothers Band, but not before the feel good party vibe and cloudy narrative of “Mexico” could end their first set of originals.

“Ain’t Wasting Time No More” developed out of the abbreviated set break, and waste our time they didn’t. Unless you’re selling out shows, long set breaks can be a crowd killer, and I think they recognized that. What followed was a mix of electric and acoustic takes on their favorite Brothers’ tunes, some similar to the classic Southern rockers and others taking on new life. They jammed through a screeching “Jessica,”, and nailed a bluegrass rendition of “Midnight Rider,” emphasizing the re-arrangements through acoustic instruments. “Ramblin’ Man” even showcased their lively yet rugged vocal harmonies, a defining centerpiece of their sound.

After stepping into the pit with their acoustic instruments for a few tunes, the “Mountain Jam” closer had those still in attendance shaking, and soon enough singing along to the “Blue Sky” they worked into the middle. With the Allman’s recently calling it quits, it isn’t outrageous to see a band like Poor Man’s Whiskey cover them, but in the end I could have used two sets of their own tunes with a few Allman covers mixed in. Their feel-good, laughable approach in their music never finds itself bogged down by restrictions, because they lack those. It seems like everything is fair game, though at a perfect Poor Man’s Whiskey show, their music is the focal point of the night.

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 4:02 pm

The wild world of bluegrass spiraled into frenzy this past Friday morning when tickets to the forty-second annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival went on sale. Per usual, tickets flew off of the virtual shelves like canned goods in a doomsday scenario, leaving locked out festivalgoers in a state of disarray. “How could this happen to me again?” shouted bluegrass fans across the nation, their fists clenched and shaking at computer screens with a sense of Déjà vu.

Just two weeks earlier, tickets became available for a night of “Brother Duets” with bluegrass legends Del McCoury and David “Dawg” Grisman at the intimately seated Oriental Theatre in Denver, Colorado. Like Telluride, tickets were hard to come by, and what became a slam-dunk of a day for some spiraled into another night left out in the cold for others.

With one hundred and forty four collective years between these “dawg-fathers” of bluegrass, the evening unfolded into an oral and instrumental history of the genre that gained popularity in the twentieth century and has shown signs of growth in the twenty-first. The duo gifted the relatively tame crowd to renditions of some of their favorite covers and originals, with well-known bluegrass standards emanating from Del’s acoustic rhythm guitar and Grisman’s mandolin. Most of the audience was on the edge of their seats, attempting to reel in every lyric, joke and story coming from the single shared vocal microphone on stage.

The Jimmie Davis penned “Shackles and Chains” got the set chugging along after the praise-heavy introduction of one another. Sheet music adorned the stand set between them, and they joked about not having a tablet, and how simplistic and old fashioned it must seem to flip through pages of music in this day and age.

Grisman introduced the Bill Monroe section of their set, saying, “Bill was the father of bluegrass, but we’re still looking for the mother.” The vintage raconteurs entertained with tales about their initial meeting in the early sixties, and Del’s association with Monroe and the Grand Ole Opry. The story time segment of the show had self-appointed sound police in the audience shushing one other. Unfortunately, the boisterous weekend warriors at the bar had trouble containing their excitement, though the veteran performers pushed on, not allowing such a trivial detractor to interrupt their groove.

“Dark Hollow” had Grateful Dead fans out of their seats and singing along. Grisman reaches so many tiers of music aficionados: jazz fans, bluegrass junkies, Dead Heads; they all show up to hear his hybrid mandolin. His association with Jerry Garcia and Old and in the Way certainly opened his sound to new ears, but it’s hard to beat the union he has with Del on songs like Ralph Stanley’s “Little Glass of Wine” and “Country Boy Rock & Roll,” the latter from their combined release, “Del and Dawg.”

“Man of Constant Sorrow,” was introduced with a nod to “The Pizza Tapes,” which Grisman recorded with Jerry Garcia and Tony Rice, and was one of the most recognized tunes played. In addition to the knee slapping banter between songs, a healthy dose of comedy came in the form of “I’m My Own Grandpa,” garnering a good dose of audience vocals, both lyrically and in laughter.

After a very brief encore break, they returned to treat us to a version of “Tis Sweet To Be Remembered,” which Grisman said they had just started working on before the show. While they’ve played these songs individually for years, and judging from their sheet music had a pool to choose from, the set progressed in a fluid manner that didn’t necessarily seem premeditated. As they said during the intro, the show was a work in progress, though you never would have guessed by their acute mastery of instrumentation and harmonies, and their knack for keeping a seated crowd engaged with a naturally minimalistic approach.

When they walked off stage with their instruments and sheet music in tow, you could tell that they’d been doing this a long time. With Grisman now sixty-nine and Del at seventy-five, and with more history between them than most artists will ever experience, it was a lasting image to convey. And if that wasn’t enough, they volunteered the remaining portion of their evening to signing autographs and taking pictures with those that stuck around after the set.

While years of experience have helped to solidify their distinctive sounds, it’s their ongoing dedication and never-know-it-all approach that leaves bluegrass fans anxiously refreshing those online ticket windows. Plus, it isn’t everyday that two living legends come together for a trip down memory lane at such a small venue.

Wed, 01/14/2015 - 5:00 am

For the third year running, jam-grass veterans The String Cheese Incident set up their New Year’s Eve residency at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, Colorado for three nights of songs and celebration in their own backyard. The rear of the seated bowl was sparse Monday, but a creeping night one buzz helped melt conversations about the negative temperatures outside. Before too long the heads were hiding their winter jackets and sniffing out opportunities to sneak onto the general admission floor without spilling beer on their event posters. Others stood in awe of the glitter adorned stilt-walkers in the atrium. Regardless, the hometown musical circus had certainly moved in.

Because one night is never enough, the three-night stand has become the norm at the close of the holiday season. Denver adopts artists for New Year runs where they can churn out magic without worrying about bus call to the next city. Being a stones’ throw from home, SCI has been a no-brainer the past few years. But considering the abundance of out of town acts ushered in, we’re fortunate to have hosted them at such a venue, and will hopefully continue to do so.

The first evening with SCI saw guitarist/vocalist Bill Nershi hopping up and down, speechlessly engaging the crowd. Their goofy, free-natured stage presence came to life under the wafting cones of aerial lights as an extensive “Round the Wheel” set off in a hoot of a hurry. And just like that, the incident was underway.

Bassist Keith Moseley sang lead on “Sirens,” with percussionist Jason Hann dropping some hip hop knowledge, and a rare “These Waves” had everybody swaying like parrot heads. “Bumpin’ Reel’s” Appalachian grass-tronica then developed out of a “Booty Bump” jam. The cat loving keyboard guru Kyle Hollingsworth jumped from synthesizers and a world of sounds to classical piano, falling right in line with Michael Kang’s violin for the instrumental launch. A standalone “Outside and Inside” delved into rock and roll electric guitar solos and a blaring organ to compliment the heavy hitting rhythm section like something out of a late sixties Traffic concert.

“Dirk” provided two slices of bread for a disco sandwich, stuffing “Get Down on It” between the start and close of the tune. Cheese has been performing their fair share of cover sets over the years, including KC and the Sunshine Band at last Summers’ Lock’n Festival. The little nuances of other artists they sprinkle into their own songs inevitably lead to all-out covers, and they’ve got KC down, which is a pretty funny act to cover. It seemed like the appropriate amount of goofiness, but factions of the crowd could be seen crinkling their noses, as if to say, “really, this again

The sudden feel when the music stops is both exhilarating and terrifying. Phones glow and smokers shuffle toward exits. Set breaks are a time to re-charge and find the faces that always seem to get separated on the way in. And for those who don’t make it there during the first set, the worst time to hit the bathroom. That being said, this break was unfathomably long, and too long of a break can be a momentum crippler. While there was a collective influx of hope riding the tail of the first set, the second set struggled to hit such a collective high due to a disjointed song selection.

Once the band re-joined us, “Colliding” initiated a jammed out scatter-dance with glow sticks flying into the air. The “So Far From Home” curve ball felt best suited for a first set rocker, and unnecessarily directed their exploratory playing back to dry land. Both songs have the ability to kick-start a set, but seem to navigate different courses. Nershi certainly had fun with the vocal breakdown at the end of “SFFH” before Kang tore through “Wheel Hoss,” with reckless abandon.

“Until the Music’s Over” drained the energy from the previous hootenanny instrumental, once again attempting to sink the set with a song on the outskirts of their rotation. For a song that has the lyric “let’s dance like there’s no tomorrow,” I’d expect a little more energy. It did develop a nice world boogie groove before bobbing into “It is What It is;” a necessary, up-tempo shot to the legs. Following it up with the disco funk of “You’ve Got the World” also providing some long awaited consistency.

There didn’t seem to be any real direction to the set until that point, and the songs had trouble matching the crowds’ early anticipation. It was a collection of well-played tunes, some extensive and some to the point, and mostly introspective in subject. We got a mix of electrical improvisation and bluegrass, which sounds like their forte, but hey, a band can’t go overboard the first of three nights.

“Looking Glass” was a breather and entered into a darker, slower jam. “Shine” brought the set to a close with full blast collective heat, reminding that as long as they’re crushing every song, the order of the set list isn’t quite as big of a deal. They teased “Another One Bites the Dust” midway through, possibly a nod to getting through the first of three nights once again.

They returned to the stage following the encore break informing the crowd that “those last two songs lasted a combined thirty-seven minutes,” and that they hope everybody had gotten settled for the next two nights. They left us with a taste of what was to come, revving the engine for one last push through “Beautiful.”

The slick streets and sidewalks were a sight to see during the exodus, with sheets of ice getting the better of more than a few glow stick-slinging tutus and underdressed attendees. In the end it’s the experience that counts. Running amuck within the confines of the 1st Bank Center with family and friends while the Sting Cheese Incident plays doesn’t happen every day. In fact, we don’t know if it’ll happen next year. Like they sang in the somewhat forgettable second set, “it is what it is,” and it was one of the more entertaining Monday’s I’ve had in some time.

Thu, 01/22/2015 - 9:47 am

Fox Street is one of those bands I wouldn’t expect to be based in Colorado. Florida possibly, Texas I could see, but Colorado is a bit of a wildcard. Maybe it’s Jonathan Huvards’ throat churning, rocky road vocals. Then again it could be the picking, sliding and stomping of their close-knit instrumental unit that screams southern roots. Whatever it is, they’ve distinguished themselves through a blend of multi-regional sounds, and in turn found themselves with a headlining slot at the Bluebird Theater on an East Colfax Friday night.

Direct support Andy Palmer and Grub Street Writer took the reigns from Tomahawk Fox and torched through a heavy hitting blues set. Palmer handles acoustic and resonator guitars, singing balladic fashioned torment stories beside his rock outfit’s electric guitar, drums and bass. While he sings his ass off as a clear-cut front man, the band rouses his singer-songwriter material to life. Some in attendance needed earplugs to survive through the pulse emitted by drummer Jared Forqueran and bassist Hunter Roberts. And what more can you say than ‘wow’ when it comes to guitarist and performer in his own right, Jonah Wisneski? The tone he distributes through his golden Fender Jaguar brought to mind so many roots and southern-slide inspired players while at the same time finding a darker, grittier texture to fit the punk-folk and somewhat psychedelic ambience of Palmer’s tunes. A booking bull’s-eye for The Bluebird and Fox Street, Palmer and the musicians in Grub Street Writer are yet another local act to keep tabs on both collectively and individually.

Fox Street’s now seasoned core features Huvard singing and playing guitar, Eric Low on drums, James Dumm also on guitar, and Micro Altenbach on saxophone. They weren’t finished, however, adding multiple special guests to the bill. Working the organ was Bill McKay, long known in Colorado for his time with Leftover Salmon and the Derek Trucks Band. Fellow DTB alum Todd Smallie, now of JJ Grey & Mofro, is a recent Colorado transplant from the Southeast who’s been welcomed into the scene with open arms. Joining Mirco were brothers in brass Nathan Peoples on sax and Jon Gray on trumpet. Vocalist Aubrie Hamrick, most recently of Motive, helped the harmonies, falling right in line with Huvard. Lineups like this recall the name Fox Street All Stars, and I’m not positive if they dropped that portion of the moniker, but it certainly applied.

Opening with a duo of bayou-tinged tunes, “Long Road Home” and “Holdin’ On” reeked of the musically rich culture of New Orleans. Imagine the sounds of The Radiators and The Meters in a coastal swamp rock orgy. Now stop drooling. “Good Hand,” off of their first album, “Welcome to a Mighty Pleasin” brought out Huvard’s glass gargling Tom Waits impression, which was pretty spot on whether intentional or not.

Joined by a couple members of Tomahawk Fox, they played one of the openers’ A couple members of Tomahawk Fox joined for one of their own songs, “Justified.” Smallie had a chance to shine on the outro of the song, with nearly everybody walking off stage to let him butter up the audience with thick and busy bursts of Jaco-inspired jazz fingering, This opened the floodgates on cover tunes, including the Allen Toussaint penned “Southern Nights,” and my favorite combo, “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and The News and “Life in the Fast Lane” by The Eagles. Both featured the red hot Jonah Wisneski dueling with Dumm, shredding through each number.

“What I Know” and “Upstream” came next in the sets’ sequence, just as they do on their 2012 release, “Tough Talk.” The first tune slowed things down a bit, taking us out of the swamp and into the beer and peanut coated floors of the nations’ country-western roadhouses. “Upstream” felt more downstream in approach, as they picked up the pace and followed a Bakersfield romp highlighted by the pedal steel sounds Dumm had shooting out his amp. Dumm also took the lead vocals on this one, making for an especially sweet mix between the vocalists onstage. There’s just something about a fluid country song and the engaging vocal partnership that was clear with Aubrie filling in harmonies on the chorus and bridge.

“Living In the City” derived from an Eric Low drum solo, and McKay had his keys chiming along with what I thought was Steppenwolf’s “Pusher Man.” Huvard’s muddy water vocals came back to the forefront on this one, and the horn section took off, with Mirco especially showing off his chops as he made hs way to the front of the stage.

Their brand new tune, “Aint Easy,” preluded another combo of covers to close the show. Released as a single just days before the Friday night gig at the Bluebird, “Ain’t Easy” highlights the first glimpse of their new and in the works album. A change in pace song where jazz meets southern soul, the acoustic guitar shines under the shimmering electric lead while organ and saxophone solos push against the walls of irrelevant time constraints, catapulting this tune into a distinct category of cross-country, thoroughbred penmanship.

Jonah joined for one more duel down classic guitar god lane, a ripping “What is Life” by George Harrison the byproduct and finale to an evening that surprised and surpassed the expectations of those still unfamiliar with Fox Street’s gospel. The crowd at points seemed near capacity, tripping over lyrics between treks to the bar and bathrooms in the depths of The Bluebird, but never overtly rowdy, props to them. Some of the slower, hushed swamp serenades could have been scarred by chitchat, but it was never the case. Fox Street is a road that never seems to end, much like Colfax; you never know what you’re going to see and hear.

Wed, 01/28/2015 - 11:59 am

When it comes to modern day interpretations of the American Songbook that is Grateful Dead, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is causally setting the bar. With an illustrious thirty years of Dead tunes to choose from, former Furthur drummer Joe Russo and his grateful gang of east coast friends are reinvigorating songs and arrangements that have been played to a pulp. At a time where Deadhead fervor is reaching peaks in anticipation of the fiftieth anniversary "Fare The Well" shows in Chicago, Joe Russo's Almost Dead is soaking up the added attention and reveling in it. Russo recently called the Grateful Web’s John Schumm prior to a near-two year anniversary show at Pete Shapiro’s Brooklyn Bowl. In a wide ranging conversation touching on the bands’  unexpected and organic growth, the number of new shows in a variety of markets and how much fun he’s having playing these songs and improvising with his longtime friends, the always humble drummer sounds right at home and energized for a multi-project filled 2015.

GW: Thanks for joining me, I’m John Schumm with the Grateful Web. I know you’ve got a show tonight, so I’ll try not to wear you out before the gig.

JR: I’m good!

GW: So how’s everything going?

JR: Everything’s fantastic, couldn’t be better. We've got two sold out shows tonight and tomorrow here on our old stomping grounds, kind of where this thing started.

GW: I was actually going to mention that: you guys actually started almost two years to the day at the Brooklyn Bowl, right?

JR: Yes, for the party we’re playing tonight, The Freaks Ball, which is something most of us have been doing for years and years now, in one form or another. Basically, two years ago the idea was floated to put together this thing where we do some Dead stuff. This was when Furthur was still playing. So it was a little weird, but I was like, ‘ahh you know if you play nobody is going to know about it.’  So I enlisted my Bustle [in Your Hedgerow] bandmates and then Tommy Hamilton from American Babies to do what we kind of thought would be this one off gig. Since then, it's kind of taken on a life of its own. We really had no intentions of this becoming anything other than a one-time thing, so it’s pretty amazing that we’re here two years later doing this as a real thing now; something that was never planned on. But we’re certainly having a blast.

GW: It’s pretty cool that it worked out like that, seeing how it’s going now. You were saying how you enlisted those guys to join you, as far as Scott, Tom, Dave and Marco. You had become pretty familiar with the Grateful Dead songbook through playing with Furthur, but how well did they know the songs when you first got together for that show?

JR: [Laughter] As well as I did when I got the call for Furthur.  Not too much. It’s been fun for me to see these guys going through the same thing that I went through. It’s a massive collection of material, and most of it, undiscovered to the casual listener. Other than Tommy, I don’t think any of us, including myself prior to my involvement in Furthur, had gone much deeper than the casual listen. So it’s fun for me to see them having the same moments of discovery with the songbook and digging into the stuff that they didn’t really know was available.  They're all doing such an incredible job with it.

GW: That goes with the improvising aspect being such a storied part of the Dead. Learning the songs, coming up with what to play and discovering them, like you said, it fits right into that mold.

JR: It’s been great. You know, it’s funny. The improv is the easy part for us. We’ve all been improvising together since we were literally kids, at least late teens or early twenties. It's been so fun getting these songs together and learning the material as a group; working on the the vocals and all that stuff.  Then, we have the luxury of the improv being a piece of cake, you know. It’s been really fun to have this songbook as springboard for improvisation. Again, we’ve all done improvisational music together, but to have a whole new songbook, and a new bit of language to speak within our natural ways of improvising, has been really gratifying. As a group of friends that have been playing with each other for so long, to add more information to our vocabulary, and then to interject our vocabulary into the songbook has also been very gratifying for us.

GW: I know for the fans, as far as you guys putting your own twist on it, it’s a breath of fresh air. A lot of the bands that play Grateful Dead are straight-ahead tribute acts, but you guys have really taken it with your own styles, and kind of made it your own thing.

JR: I’ve said this before: the actual Grateful Dead cover bands, the ones that pay tribute to each note and all of that, they’ve got a hard gig. It’s way harder than what we do. We can loosely interpret and then go nuts with it. It’s an incredible songbook, and the thing that I keep coming back to is to be able to share this experience that I’ve been so fortunate to have through Furthur, with all of my friends. And to maybe shine a light on how talented these guys are.  I’m really excited that more people are starting to discover Tommy and Scott and Dave and Marco’s projects.

GW: It’s like a springboard, as you said.

JR: Absolutely. You can’t really ask for a better scenario. We get to play these amazing songs and have fun onstage together, and hopefully open people’s ears up to some musicians they weren’t aware of before. That’s what happened with me. The Furthur gig certainly added my name to a bigger populace and I’m really happy to start seeing that happen for my band mates.

GW: Out of curiosity, I know you played with Phil [Lesh] over the New Year. How do they [Bobby and Phil] feel about you having a band that plays all Grateful Dead stuff?

JR: [Laughter] I think it’s cool. I think because it wasn’t an intentional thing. Honestly, by the time it started becoming more of a thing, Furthur was done. I think that the fact that Phil joined us on NYE in our band, or his band, whatever you want to say, was the green light. It was such an honor; such a treat looking across the stage seeing Phil, and then seeing my best friends, all culminating in one thing. It was pretty amazing. So yeah, we’re just very, very thankful for the things that have been happening.

GW: It seems like you guys have been adding quite a few more dates to the calendar here in 2015. You’ve got an east coast run coming up in Boston, Burlington, Portland, Maine and Providence, Rhode Island before heading out to Denver and Boulder, Colorado. You guys were just out here in October, I think, right?

JR: Yeah, you know I kind of think that was the thing that made us decide to do this for a little while. We had such an amazing time in Colorado, and I still think that night at The Ogden [Theatre], was one of the more special nights I’ve had playing this music with anybody. The crowd was absolutely incredible.  I just had such joy playing with our band that night. It was an incredible culmination, you know, of one of the best crowds I’ve ever played for in general. It was such a special night for all of us.  I think we kind of walked away from that night going, ‘shit, maybe we should do this some more.’ We’re really looking forward to coming back. Colorado is such a special place for all of us individually and in all of the groups we’ve played in. It always holds a special place in everybody’s hearts.  I couldn’t be more excited to come back.

GW: And I know everybody is excited to have you guys back. The crowds are always so receptive to any type of music here. Especially you guys. You’ve generated quite a buzz around town. People are pretty excited for you to come back

JR: That’s great to hear, we’re really psyched. Really pumped for that.

GW: You were mentioning something in the Midwest. I noticed you were added to the High Sierra bill, out west over July Fourth weekend.

JR: We’re doing that, and just today, tickets went on sale for Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and St. Louis. We’re finally hitting Philly, which I’m excited about, and going back to Chicago.  I think we have a nice little plan for the year. 

GW: It’s good to hear that everybody’s welcoming you guys with such open arms. I know I’ve heard some friends in California say they’re anxious for you guys to get out there.

JR: We’re working on it. High Sierra is going to be the next thing we do out there, for sure, but again, seeing how this is something that wasn’t meant to be, we’re trying to figure it all out. Trying to gauge how much of this thing to do, and when to do it and where to do it. We certainly want our main projects to be all of our focus, but if we can pepper in a chunk of Almost Dead dates for this year we will.  If we’re having fun and people want to come see it, we’re the luckiest guys in the world. We’re trying to ride that line of keeping it special for us and everybody else but trying to go to the markets that people have been asking us to go to.  We’re all really excited. It’s just fun. And we as friends haven’t been able to tour like this in so long. We’ve all been in so many bands together.  Scott, Dave and I were in the Gene Ween Band. Scott’s band RANA would tour with The Duo, Marco and I. Scott and I were both in American Babies with Tommy. So we all have such a history together and everybody has kind of gone their own way. This thing gives us an excuse for the five of us to hit the road together again. That's huge part of the excitement for us, to be honest.

GW: It doesn’t get much better than that.

JR: It really doesn’t. When we step back and think about it, it’s a perfect storm of everything you could ever hope for: a great songbook and you get to play with your friends.  I can’t think of a more perfect scenario. So we’re very thankful that this is happening and we certainly don’t take it for granted.  

GW: You were mentioning some of the other projects and bands you guys have been a part of. What do you have planned outside of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead this coming year?

JR: A bunch. I’m finishing up recording my own record in March, which I’m really excited about. I built a studio last year and I’ve been working on a record there off and on between tours for the last year. So I’m going up to Woodstck to record it at the IsOkOn with an incredible engineer, Dan Goodwin. My friend Josh Kaufman (Yellowbirds, Josh Ritter) is going to produce it and our good friend Stuart Bogie (Superhuman Happiness, Antibalas, Arcade Fire) is going to handle all the horn arrangements etc. We’re going to take these songs I’ve been working on and finish them up. Hopefully I'll put that out before the end of the year. I’m also starting a new group with my friends Eric Deutsch and Jon Shaw.

GW: Oh, cool.

JR: Yeah, Jon and I played in Cass McCombs Band. He’s an incredible bass player/multi instrumentalist and one of my closest friends.  I’m looking forward to playing some more improv music with him and Erik Deutsh, who’s a piano genius from a group I used to play with called Fat Mama back in Colorado in the nineties. We’ve been talking about doing a project forever, so that’s going to be fun, and that’s called “Hawaii. “ Other than that, I'm hoping to do some more recording and touring with Cass McCombs. Trying to work on the new Sphongle record and hopefully get the Shpongle Live Band back out again. Also, Simon Posford and I have spoken for years about starting a new project together and I think 2015 will be the year.

My big thing for the year is to play more locally and to make as many records as possible. I’ve been so eager to just pump out all of these things that I’ve wanted to work on for so long, but my schedule has been so insane. Between the Furthur stuff and the Phil stuff, and then I was touring with Cass and Shpongle for awhile, I was able to eek out a couple records here and there, but I feel like this year I can finally concentrate on my personal projects that I’ve been trying to find that window to do. Balancing the touring and then a normal home life and then all of the stuff you want to do can be difficult, so I’m really looking forward to that. And then hopefully talk Benevento into doing a Duo show eventually.

GW: Nice.

JR: I’m really excited about this year. Lots of information I want to pump out there via a lot of new music and then have that balance with this thing [Almost Dead]. I think it’s a lot easier to balance this sort of project than Furthur, which was such a big machine of sorts; it was hard to navigate any free time. You know, I’m not complaining (laughs), it was such an incredible gig, but schedule wise it was certainly more demanding. I get to set my schedule this year, so I’m really excited about that.

GW: Well it sounds like 2015 could not only be the Grateful Dead’s fiftieth anniversary, but the year of Joe Russo as well.

JR: [Laughs] I sure as hell hope so. Everything seems to be making sense to me right now in my world and my career and whatnot. Everything just feels very positive and I’m just really looking forward to exploring this year.

GW: Well that’s about all I have for you…

JR: Woo [laughs]!

GW: I really appreciate it.

JR: Oh, thank you

GW: I really appreciate it.

JR: No problem, my pleasure and we’ll see you in Colorado.

Wed, 02/11/2015 - 11:43 am

Multifaceted instrumentalist and vocalist Nick Dunbar of Boulder County’s Mountain Standard Time lives and breathes the band on the run mentality. Knowing full well how the music industry is experiencing Kickstarter campaigns and grueling tours to make up for a lack of album sales, Dunbar and the band is striving to stay afloat and find that working balance. Fresh off of a fan-funded studio in which to record, Mountain Standard Time is hitting the Colorado Front Range this weekend with shows in Ft. Collins, Denver and Boulder for their annual run of local Mardi Grass shows. Always disciples of the “free-grass” mentality, MST is homegrown Colorado at its finest. With Dunbar one half of the tandem songwriting duo churning out high altitude stompers, the potential is always there for sustained growth, but as he said himself, it’s the “balance that we strive for and rarely seem to achieve,” that molds the future of a band.

GW: Hey, my name is John Schumm and I’m here with Nick Dunbar, who plays mandolin, sings and writes for Mountain Standard Time (MST).

NB: You got it! In the flesh (laughter)

GW: How are you today, what are you doing?

NB: I’m good. I’ve been running around like a mad man. We’re going out on the road for the weekend and I’ve got a lot going on right now, so trying to get back to that balance that we strive for and rarely seem to achieve (laughter).

GW: Always the conundrum. Even on tour, and on days off from tour, there are no real days off, huh?

ND: Oh no, you’re either practicing, or working in the kitchen, or manual laboring or doing advances for the band. Whatever it is, there’s just no sleep for the weary.

GW: No, never. So like you said, you guys are on tour right now. And you’re playing Durango tomorrow, I believe.

ND: Yep, Durango tomorrow and Telluride Friday.

GW: Then down into New Mexico…

ND: Yeah, we are kind of doing a weekend tour. It’s nice to just take off, come back, deal with it and do our thing for the week. And then go back out and play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday where everybody is out ready to rock and roll.

GW: Oh hell yeah, weekend warrior status. I love it.

ND: Amen. We’ve been grunging out all week to go get loose on the weekend. Thank god for that.

GW: (Laughter). So how have the shows been so far?

ND: Shows have been great. We’ve been on this winter tour. Last week we were in Steamboat, and what was the other place: Steamboat, Winter Park and Frisco. All the shows have been great. We get a lot of love in the mountain towns. Everybody skis hard and likes to party hard, and the energy is usually pretty off the hook.

GW: Nice. Well it doesn’t sound like you guys have had much time to get any skiing in while you’re up there.

ND: No, that’s kind of…everybody is like, ‘oh you’re going to be on the mountain with all the fresh powder,’ and I’m like, dude, we can barely fit in our personal belonging with our gear, much less snowboards and that kind of thing.

GW: People forget it’s a real job (laughter).

ND: Yeah, I do too. It’s a real job (laughter)?

GW: Oh yeah, wait a minute. Well it’s one of the cooler real jobs you can have, I think.

So once you get back from Utah you’ve got a little time before the annual, or semi-annual, Mardi Grass shows, which are…

ND: Oh yeah, our Mardi GRASS shows!

GW: Mardi Grass.

ND: Mardi Grass. We do it every year.

GW: That’s right. I remember, well I don’t really remember what year it was, but 2008 or 2009 might have been the last one I made it too. Maybe 2010, I’m not really sure anymore.

ND: Well we’ve got to get you out there.

GW: I know, I know. I’m actually going to be out of town, so the stars just aren’t aligning right now.

ND: Oh no. Well someday, brother John.

GW: It’ll happen. So you guys are at the Aggie, The Bluebird and then heading up to The Fox from the twelfth to thirteenth of February. How many of these Mardi Grass shows, or runs, have we gotten to at this point?

ND: I think we’ve done three, maybe four. The first year we did with John Skehan and Sheaffer from Railroad Earth. Then we did one with Jeff Austin, one with Tim Carbone. I think this is number four.

GW: A nice little tradition.

ND: (Laughter) No doubt. It’s a great to do Mardi Grass. It’s a huge thing. We do our bluegrass-white boy version of it.

GW: (Laughter). That’ll be a nice warm up before heading back into the mountains for the WinterWonderGrass Festival, which has a pretty cool lineup.\

ND: That festival is going to be cool. This is kind of “The Road to WinterWonderGrass,” this Winter Tour. We’re hyping people up about WWG and we’re really excited to be on that festival this year with so many great bands. And we heard the energy is off the hook, so we’re pretty excited.

GW: It should be a really good time; you guys have all sorts of good stuff coming up.

Shifting away from the road, you guys released you last album, “Highway Lines,” in October. I’ve been listening to it the past couple of weeks and I’m really enjoying what I’ve heard. It’s a solid step forward from the last EP, “Sunny.” When did Otis (Lande) and Ryan (Ebarb) join the band? Was that 2012?

ND: Yeah, right before we hit “Sunny.” So they’re on “Sunny,” but they were pretty fresh in the band. We were still working out the kinks and now are feeling a lot more comfortable with each other; getting out there and really starting to sound like a band.

GW: What led to bringing those guys into the band?

ND: Mostly touring and musical direction. We had a group that was a little different before. We had banjo and sax, and we love those guys, they’re phenomenal players. One had kids and  a lot of responsibilities. It wasn’t really working out where we could get out on the road as much as we needed to be without destroying someone’s life, because they’re out on the road trying to balance finances, trying to balance family, trying to balance owning a property and all that stuff. Those guys still come sit in and are still buddies of the band, but we decided to take it in a little bit of a different direction. We’ve always had kind of that grassy edge, but now we have a bit more of an edge, a more progressive sound. Having a keyboard player, and bringing on someone like Otis really brings a lot more versatility. The music industry is pretty tough these days, and we want to be able to play Lyons Folk Fest, and then go play Bonnaroo at four in the morning and really have that versatility to appeal to the most wide array of audiences we can.

GW: Makes Sense. It definitely sounds like everything is starting to gel, and you guys are picking up some more momentum, which is good to see.

ND: Otis and Ryan are just monsters. I mean both of those guys. It’s pretty insane. (Laughter) I’m a hack, so just to be surrounded by these amazing musicians makes me feel very blessed. It’s so riveting to bring in a tune that I sit at home and write on the guitar for my cats and dogs in front of the fire. And maybe my lady will listen to it, probably not though. And then you bring it in to these guys and it just transforms into this beast. It’s like, ‘well let’s try this tune, I think it’s cool, I think it’s catchy. It’s got some parts.’ And then everybody starts putting in their creative input and starts adding to the painting and all of the sudden it’s like, ‘damn, this is a pretty tight sounding tune.’ It’s really nice. You sit there and write tunes and cord progressions and you get to these points where you’re like, ‘that song kicks butt, I love that song.’ And you bring it to the band and they’re like, ‘yeah, we’re not that into it.’ And sometimes you bring a song you’re not too sure about and the band goes, ‘oh, well let’s try this and let’s put this in and here’s this, let’s do this,’ and this song that I didn’t feel too confident about transformed into a great tune.

GW: It’s cool seeing how that collective process works out.  I was actually going to ask you about what leads to you writing a song. I’ve noticed that on the album, Stanton (Sutton) and yourself are credited with writing all of the songs. So when you say you bring a song in to the band, how would it differ from a track that Stanton brings in? What would you say is the difference in what you bring to the table, as far as crafting a song lyrically and instrumentally?

ND: I think that we’ve played together for so long that we’re kind of like a two-headed monster, in the bad, evil monster kind of way. Not the awesome monster kind of way. And I think our songs compliment each other really well; I think we push each other. He’ll bring something that’s totally crazy and mixed-metered with all of these awesome guitar parts; really cool tunes. And then I’ll come in with a four chord tune that’s super catchy, and the whole bands’ into it immediately and it’s ready to go, sounds great, and vice versa. Then he’ll add this sweet lullaby and straight-ahead bluegrass tune while I come in with a progged out tune. I feel like you can definitely tell which tune is whose kind of by the way we deliver them vocally, and obviously whose singing lead, but in terms of an overall sound, our tunes compliment each other really well. He’s definitely inspired me, and I would hope that he would say the same thing about me. I’m sure he does in terms of writing material.

Another thing about our band is the “free grass,” so I don’t really write for our band, I just write. I’m not one of those guys that says, ‘hey, I wrote this song, we need to play it.’ I don’t ever want to force something down the bands’ throats. I play lots of different music with lots of people. I have a straight-ahead bluegrass band that plays a ton of my bluegrass stuff that MST has never touched. I want to bring the material that’s best for the band, and granted Stanton and I are credited with writing them, but it’s such a collaborative process, whether we like it or not. That’s what I love about this band. You can just get so stagnate hearing things one way and it’s hard to get out of your creative box and let it go and just be like, ok, hey, I did great, here’s eighty percent of a song with most of the hard parts finished: getting the lyrics, getting the hook, getting the cord progressions to some fresh ears that are ready to just take it to the next level and not have creative attachment to it or any personal or emotional attachment, whatever the taste may be, as us songwriters usually have. And I think one thing that separates Mountain Standard is that there are a lot of bands that write tunes and say, ‘this is how you play it.’ And we’re not really like that. We have such a creative process, and such stellar musicians that I would be a fool to be that rigid when it comes to bringing in new material. We’re constantly re-working things, and if it sounds good, we like it, but if a sections sounds kind of weird we’ll go back. I’ve taken out verses, I’ve taken out bridges, and I’ve added bridges. So we really just try to listen to our crowd, listen to our people and write the songs that are going to have the most impact.

GW: It’s like you said, once you bring it in and the band gets playing on it, it only goes to make it more of the bands’ song, and I think that’s a good take on how interchangeable your songs are; how they both fit and you wouldn’t necessarily know if it was written by you or Stanton. “Simple Summer Night” and “Darkness” have more of a Stanton feel and then something like the title track, which you wrote, has a similar feel, though it’s an eight minute track and extends a little bit, but it all molds together.

ND: Yeah, and you listen to the “Sunny” album, and I have more of this straight ahead stuff, ballads and bluegrass stuff, and he (Stanton) has more of the progressive stuff. We both have a huge catalogue of music and we’re kind of at the mercy of our band members. We had like fifteen tracks that we had started tracking when we did that and it’s just so interesting to think that it could have been a completely different album. I don’t know if you know but we Kickstarted an album…excuse me, sorry, this person just tried to drive into me. I’m driving down to Denver…

(Collecting his thoughts)…We actually Kickstarted for a studio and recorded that album at our own home studio. That was the first album we did after the Kickstarter. So we got a bunch of tunes and we were on a bit of a time crunch because we had to get all the gear and learn how to use it, and get stuff out to our donors. So we came in with a bunch of tunes and really just tried to focus on the stuff that was coming out naturally in the studio quickly, unfortunately. That was kind of a kick in the face. But we’re super proud of it and it’s pretty amazing to have an idea: ‘hey, we want to Kickstart an album because we don’t want to spend twenty grand only to download an album and have it be obsolete in six months.

The way social media works these days, people need to be saturated with media. You see these kids checking their Facebook and Instagram, pulling down the little thing to update and waiting for the next thing to look at. Most of the time they don’t even look at it. They like the article but they don’t read it, you know what I mean? I’m guilty of it too; I’m totally guilty of it too. But people need content, they are expecting content, whether they look at it, use it, download it…all of our music is downloadable for free; anybody can download it anytime they want. And we still don’t get a ton of people downloading our music. I mean we do, but you’d think we would do more giving it for free. I mean it’s easy. You go on Bandcamp, you press download and it’s on your phone or whatever it is. So we’re kind of striving to find that balance, and we don’t want to put our buddies out of business at the record shop but we also have to accommodate how society works and how society deals with media and music and follows bands. It’s a lot to keep up with. The most important person on the team these days is the media manager, the one there making you look pro: getting pictures out to people and getting content out to people involved and getting them to participate in it. I mean that’s an art in itself.

GW: It’s a wild world, a wild industry we live in these days.

ND: Every business, whether it’s real estate or whatever, is so driven by social media. It’s crazy, it completely blows me away, but you know, what is it, you can’t beat them, join them, is that how it goes?

GW: Something like that, I think. If you can’t join them, beat them? I’m not sure.

ND: (laughter) That hasn’t worked so far, so I’m going to reverse it.

GW: Well, we’re going to reverse it then. So I don’t know if there’s anything else coming up you wanted to let us in on, or if the band has any plans to play any festivals this summer?

ND: Nothing that we can let out of the bag at the moment. We’re definitely going to take some time to focus on putting out more recordings and getting out on the road. Maybe not quite as crazy as we were before, but trying to find that balance, work a little bit more from home. We’re really excited about Mardi Grass this year. We have a ton of local talent: Caribou Mountain Collective, Railsplitters, Monocle. It’s just such a family thing to come home to the Fox and the Bluebird and the Aggie and do our little three night run. We’ve got all sorts of fun stuff planned, we just hope to see everybody out, and give them the love.

GW: Well hopefully you guys wrangle them in there.

ND: Yeah we appreciate you guys taking the time. Grateful Web is killing it. You guys are some of the few articles I actually read. I know Dylan from a long time ago, and you guys have a good family vibe. You’re the type of people we want to work with.

GW: Hell yeah. Well we appreciate that and what you guys are doing. Keep on doing it.

ND: Amen brother, amen.

Fri, 03/20/2015 - 6:33 pm

Onetime Colorado resident CR Gruver has been on a roll recently. The New Orleans-adopted pianist is right at home holding down the keys in the New Orleans Suspects, wearing the moniker without hesitation; more a sense of pride. A family man and bandmate that can’t say enough about his musical cohorts, Gruver is credited with writing multiple songs off of their newest release, 2014’s “Ouroboros.” With a gang of players that have performed with countless notable artists, The New Orleans Suspects have watched their pasts dissolve, and their future as a band materialize, and Gruver has been there to see it all. From a “splinter band” to a full-time touring regiment, CR’s delicate piano and burning organ fire is helping people to recognize the band outside of the Crescent City, especially in Colorado, where they’ll perform for two nights at Cervantes in Denver Friday and Saturday March 27th and 28th.

GW: My name is John Schumm with The Grateful Web and I’ve got CR Gruver here from The New Orleans Suspects. Thanks for taking time out of your day to chat with us. How are you, what’s going on?

CR: Things are good. Getting warm down here in New Orleans, it’s really nice.

GW: Its been pretty nice here in Colorado too. It was almost eighty degrees the other day.

CR: It’s always nice in Colorado (laughter). I loved living out there because in the wintertime, sometimes it would be cold and snowy and sometimes it was seventy degrees.

GW: Something is always changing. I see you guys will be out here in Denver next week at Cervantes, on Friday and Saturday.

CR: That’s right.

GW: On the new album that came out this past October, “Ouroboros,” we can hear you playing all sorts of keys and piano. You’re playing personifies the longstanding New Orleans Jazz piano and funky organ. Was that a large part of your musical upbringing, or was that something you got into when you moved down to New Orleans?

CR: It was always part of my playing. Some of my bigger influences were Billy Payne from Little Feat, Chuck Leavell’s playing, even Greg Rolie’s organ playing; you can hear the strains of New Orleans’ organ playing. So it was always something where my ear heard it and I loved the way those guys played. So I said, that’s how I want to play.

My father traveled to New Orleans a couple of times on business and was a music lover. Though he never played music he would bring back records that I could play around the house. So I was raised in Pennsylvania, but surrounded by the music of the city. It was always in my repertoire. Once I got down here was when I could really approach it. Before I was really kind of faking it…

GW: So would you say the music and that style of music led you to New Orleans?

CR: I would say maybe on a cosmic level, in some weird way (laughter). It was coincidental that I ended up here, but when the opportunity presented itself I was very excited to come down. It was through my wife, we were dating out in Colorado and she wanted to be closer to her family. We were actually set up to move to Charleston with my band at the time, Polytoxic, but we broke up over the summer and Laurie and I had already made arrangements to move. So she said would love to be closer to her family and they live in New Orleans, so of course with my history of music down here I said, ‘can we leave tomorrow?’ It was a very fortunate, kind of synchronistic, that I ended up down here.

GW: It’s one of my favorite cities to travel to; there are artists on every corner. Your band, the New Orleans Suspects, is made up of all of these musicians that have been around the block with multiple groups in NOLA. With such a huge pool of musicians in the city, how did this cemented lineup come together?

CR: Oh man, this is something that happened at a bar called the Maple Leaf, which is a neighborhood bar we all live within a mile of, and some of us within a block. We all played there with different projects here and there, and the owner, Hank Staples, had a night where a band didn’t show up or he forgot to book a band. You know, things happen down here; things are a little looser. So he had a night with no band and he would call us by virtue The Usual Suspects, which included our guitar player Jake (Eckert), our bass player Reggie (Scanlan), and he’d say ‘hey, throw a band together for me tonight.’ The Suspects were actually kind of a pickup band. We don’t have to be in town. Reggie called Jake; Jake called me. I knew Jake just from being in the neighborhood. At the time there was another drummer named Kevin O’day, who actually moved to California, and that’s when we got Willie Green, who I’d played with in other projects. We were basically a band at The Maple Leaf, and we would do shows like that over the course of the year.

Our guitar player Jake was building a studio in his backyard, so on other occasions when we were all in town we’d get together in the studio and record some tunes to literally test out some of the new equipment: a new pre-amp or microphone, and we’d see how it sounds. So our first record is actually made up of songs recorded through the process of building the studio. We had most of the songs recorded by the time we became a full time band at the end of 2011. So really it was kind of happenstance, kind of serendipitous, but there was something about our chemistry that we kept coming back to and saying, ‘we’ve all been with a hundred projects, but there’s something weird, or special,’ that we felt, and other people felt too.

GW: You mentioned the chemistry. You can definitely hear it coming out of the surface of the new album. I was checking out the sleeve the other day and I noticed you personally wrote a few of the songs, lyrics and music, and I was wondering if it’s more of a collaborative process with you guys where you do it all together, or if one guy brings something in and you work it out from there?

CR: Well Jake and I are the main songwriters at this point, only because we’ve brought more into the band than anybody else. So I’ll bring a song in that has parts: a chorus, a verse, a bridge, and then each member will kind of throw his flavor into it; a riff here and there, and arrange it and play through it a few times. The chord structure is usually done by one guy and then the band fleshes it out. There are a couple of songs on that album, “Yo Flambeaux!” is one of them, where the drummer came up with the drum beat and an idea for a horn line, the rhythmic horn line. I had a bridge that was floating around in my head, and the bass player actually came up with the lyrics, “Yo Flambeaux,” because he was talking about pictures he had taken at Mardi Gras one year. So that was truly a collaborative effort. It’s collaborative in a sense that final product is all of us putting our heads together with an essential idea and fleshing something out.

GW: I like that; it’s cool to see it coming from a pickup band to this now. Its really come full circle, for lack of better terms.

CR: What you just said is why we called the record “Ouroboros,” because we’re all from different places; we’ve all had pasts and other lives with other bands, especially Reggie with the Radiators and Willie Green with the Neville Brothers and Jeff Watkins with James Brown. Those are thee huge bands, and once those bands stopped it was kind of like, in a sense, the death of who they were. This band is the rebirth of something new coming from that, as well as the whole thing coming full circle, from starting as what they call a “splinter group” down here, because there are a thousand musicians in ten thousand bands in New Orleans. There are all of these conglomerations of guys from different bands forming bands temporarily. It happens all of the time down here, and quickly. So the “Ouroboros” feeling and philosophy kind of captured all of that into being something that rises from the ashes, so they say.

GW: I’m looking forward to seeing that at Cervantes next week.

CR: Yes, we always love playing in Denver.

GW: It always seems like Denver has a great reception to all sorts of music, and it sounds like you’ve been here many times, as well as living here. Where was that?

CR: I lived in Denver for six years.

GW: So I’m going to be on the phone with Reggie (Scanlan) here in a few minutes. Do you have anything to say about him before I do that?

CR: He’s one of the hardest working musicians out there, really. I’ve seldom met a musician that’s as passionate about playing music as Reggie Scanlan. It’s really impressive. He’s so driven to play music. Being from a big band like The Radiators…a lot of musicians that reach that level of success become lackadaisical or, I don’t know if snobby is the right word, but they don’t want to be bothered with small talk. Reggie will play anywhere or anytime with anybody who plays an instrument, and it’s truly something to be inspired by.

GW: It seems like he really doesn’t stop, ever.

CR: No, he doesn’t. He had pancreatic cancer that would put most people down, and he did to rest for a month. He was on an operating table for over sixteen hours as they removed his pancreas, and one month to the day of his operation he was playing with us at Jazz Fest on the Acura Stage (laughter). That’s his everything, and now he’s stronger than he was then. It’s amazing.

GW: Wow. Damn.  Well CR, thanks for chatting.

CR: Yeah John thank you for taking the time.

GW: I look forward to catching you guys at Cervantes next week.

CR: Come say hi!

 

Be sure to keep an eye out for longtime Radiators bass player Reggie Scanlan’s interview with The Grateful Web where he talks about the state of The New Orleans Suspects, photography, and life itself from the warm weather of his New Orleans home.

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 5:08 pm

Bass player Reggie Scanlan built an extensive resume throughout The Radiators’ three decade-plus run. Not everybody can say they played with Professor Longhair or James Booker, but Reggie can. When The Rads hung it up in 2011, Reggie was already on to the next one and saying so long to a bout with cancer. A road warrior with an appreciation for the arts and photography, Reggie has soaked up the substance that came before him and carefully selected the mold he performs within to this day. With a week until The New Orleans Suspects’ two-night run at Cervantes in Denver, Colorado, Reggie joined Grateful Web’s John Schumm in a wide-ranging discussion on the band and their full-frontal representation of the Crescent City.

Check out keyboard player CR Gruver’s interview Here.

Musicians from New Orleans will be the first to let you know where they’re from. You may not catch it from their accent, but you very well might in their chops. The below sea-level haven for the arts and culinary delights has been attracting musicians for years; churning them out and chewing them up. It isn’t Nashville, where labels kick you to the curb over a lack of cooperation in their vision for your music, but NOLA, where if you can’t keep up you keep out. If you want to test your clout, NOLA will let you know, and quickly. Reggie Scanlan and The New Orleans Suspects wear the city like a badge: loud and proud. While you may not know what you’re in for, and you might not know the artists by name, the title New Orleans Suspects tells you everything you need to know about what they bring to the table.

GW: My name is John Schumm with Grateful Web, and I’m joined by Reggie Scanlan, bassist of The New Orleans Suspects and NOLA royalty by way of over thirty years with The Radiators. With a new album, Ouroboros, and a healthy dose of tour dates coming up, it doesn’t sound like I need to ask you what you’re doing to stay busy, but what do you have going on for the next week before you head to Colorado?

RS: Basically next week is more or less off for us. The early part of this spring was a little bit light for us. CR’s (Gruver/keys/read interview here) wife had a baby so he was looking for a little time to deal with that. So we’ve just been doing stuff around town, things like that, but its been pretty light. So I’ve been spending all my time in the darkroom, catching up there. But once we get to Colorado that’s kind of kicking it off for the summer. We’ll be in full tour mode.

GW: You mentioned the darkroom, and I was going to ask you about it later on, but since you mentioned it, let’s jump in. It seems like more than a hobby to you, what is it about photography that you really dig?

RS: It’s something that I’ve always been interested in, but when I was young, you know, you don’t want to take time away from what you’re primarily are involved in, which was learning to play bass. Actually since college, I took an Art History class and at that time in the seventies the big argument going on was is photography art? Luckily I had a professor who was a young guy, who did include a lot of photography in the class. I got turned onto Man Ray and Mary Ellen Mark, people like that. It sort of gave me the idea that photography was more than just holiday pictures and birthday parties with your family, that sort of stuff. I learned like I learned to play the bass: I found photography to work out life and kind of emulate that until I found my own voice. A lot of what I do is what I guess you would call “street photography.” The guys who influence that are like (Henri) Cartier-Bresson, Edouard Boubat, Sergio Larrain, people like that. I just love it.

it’s also a solitary endeavor; I guess you could call it. I’m not by nature a very collaborative person, so to me, actually being the bass player in a band, (I’m) not quite sure how that happened. But photography gives me something I can do totally the way I want to do it. When the band, when The Rads started getting on the road, the first couple years you start to party and it’s all great and everything but I got really bored with it pretty fast. Photography sort of became a reason to be doing stuff on the road. It got me out of the hotel and it’s just the other side of my bass playing, I guess.

GW: So a camera is something you’ve always got packed for tour?

RS: I actually, literally, am never without a camera. I just got back from breakfast; always have a camera with me. Even on stage I’ve got one within five feet at all times (laughter).

GW: You mentioned some of the influences you have in photography. What were some of your early influences on bass, once you started getting into it?

RS: Once I started listening to bass players and seeing what I wanted, my guy for a long time was Jerry Jemmott, who played on BB King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” “Chain of Fools.” He was a studio bass player and a sideman; he was with King Curtis’ band The King Pins. Chuck Rainey was my other huge influence. Once I started getting settled into them, the other rock guys who influenced me were Rick Danko of The Band, Berry Oakley with The Allman Brothers, both of those guys had styles that were very interesting and a little bit different from what you’d normally hear. And it wasn’t until later on that I started appreciating Carl Radle (sic). I like Phil Lesh, even though I didn’t copy anything by him and didn’t really want to play anything like him. I like his unique approach, he had a very different take on how the bass functioned in a rock band, which I understand coming from his background. But again, it was not something I wanted to assimilate in my playing. Of course George Porter Jr. is a big influence because you grow up under his umbrella in New Orleans. Guys like Duck Dunn with Stax, James Jamerson. Those were the guys that really gave me direction and then later on when I started listening to jazz there were several upright players whose work I really gravitated towards. Paul Chambers is probably the main guy.

GW: Do you use any upright on the new album or on stage with the band?

RS: Not on stage but I do use it on one track on the Ouroboros album. In The Rads, for about five years, I played electric upright with the band. Now I don’t usually play it unless it’s something for the studio.

GW: Your music and that of The New Orleans Suspects personifies New Orleans, as the name suggest, though there are all of these other influences. What does it mean to the band to be wearing the cities’ name like a badge anywhere you go, representing more than just music, but the city as a whole?

RS: It’s kind of interesting, and I think this is true for most New Orleans musicians: you do wear it as a badge. It carries a certain cache with it and people take a little more notice because you’re from a place that’s known for musicians. And if you’re coming from a place without as many musicians, the competition is pretty heavy. You have to be up to a certain standard to even function, and I think people are aware of that, audiences outside of New Orleans are aware that they’re going to get more just because it’s a band from New Orleans; it’s going to have an edge. It’s not like if you hear a band coming out of Albuquerque. They may be the best band in the world, but Albuquerque’s not known for having a music scene that’s going to produce that amount of musicians that are that highly accomplished. And musicians from New Orleans are proud of that.

GW: As they should be. I love getting down there. I actually work for a band myself and we get down to New Orleans a couple of times a year.

RS: Who you working with?

GW: JJ Grey & Mofro out of Jacksonville.

RS: Oh yeah, everybody knows who those guys are. JJ’s an awesome singer, man. But in New Orleans too, for guys like me, my age group-you know I was in Fess’ (Professor Longhair) band and played with (James) Booker and all of these guys-and being able to play with those guys, you have an extra little badge you carry because you’re kind of the next guy carrying on from what you learned from those guys, and you feel responsible to them in a certain way. I think musicians around here definitely have that pride in what they do.

GW: It’s like you said, New Orleans is a music town. There are so many artists and musicians everywhere. I read that you assembled the group (NOLA Suspects), so I wasn’t sure if it came about jamming with one another at The Maple Leaf or what…

RS: I didn’t really assemble the group as much as I egged them on to do it as a full-time band. We came together one night at The Maple Leaf just accidently, I don’t remember if the band didn’t show or they cancelled or they might have forgotten to book a band for that night, but Hank-God bless the Maple Leaf-but Hank, the owner, has a pool of musicians he’ll call if that happens. I got a call one night, ‘can you do a gig, you off the road?’ So I went over there and the drummer was an old buddy of mine and then Jake (Eckert) and CR (Gruver) were the guitar player and piano player for the gig, who I had never met before. At the end of the night we had a good time and played well together so we told Hank that if this ever happens again, call us up and we’ll do it.

We started doing gigs like that, and then the drummer went off to California to do some stuff. Willie (Green/drums) was our first choice, especially for me because we’d been doing stuff for years and always talking about having a band. So he was in and that went on for about a year and a half, just doing little side things whenever we could get together and play. Then in October of 2010 when Ed (Volker) announced he was retiring from The Radiators, the first thing I thought was, man, I already got a band ready to go, if I could get them to do it. So I called Willie up and said look, The Neville Brothers just announced they’re not going to be touring anymore, Ed just quit the band, so this is it, we’re doing it. We got together with Jake and CR and said, look Jake you want to quit the Dirty Dozen (Brass Band) and do something else. CR, you know this is something we can all own. And they were a little bit hesitant about it because it’s a stretch, especially for Jake and CR because Jake was working with Dirty Dozen and even though he wanted to move on, the money was good, and he as a family. Same thing with CR, he was making good money, playing every night.

So I was like, look, if the booking agents aren’t going to do it, let’s do it. I kind of put the whole thing together and presented it to them and kind of kept pushing and egging them a little bit, and Jake was like ‘all right, I’m going to quit the Dirty Dozen.’ CR was like, ‘well alright, if you’re going to quit your job I’m going to do it too (laughter).’ Then we added Kevin Howerson from the Dozen on sax, and he was with us for about a year or so and went back to the Dozen and at the same time Jeff (Watkins) had been kind of nosing around looking for something to do. He’d been in James Brown’s band for twelve years and working for Joss Stone for six years and running her band and producing, and he really wanted something of his own, where he wasn’t going to be making someone else’s career. So he was ready and he was the last thing we needed to make the whole picture; it was a natural fit and since then we haven’t looked back, there’s no need to. It’s been evolving ever since then. If you look at it on paper this looks like the craziest idea in the world, but for some reason, whatever the quirkiness of us playing individually is, it seems to all fit into some gear pattern that works, you know?

GW: It’s great to hear how you egged everybody on to get the band together like that. It obviously seems like you took no break between The Radiators and you certainly didn’t let cancer keep you down.

RS: Oh no, the break was nothing because like I said, Ed (Volker) made the announcement in October and at that point we had decided that the last shows were going to be in June of 2011, so that gave me roughly seven months to get the whole thing up and running and start getting gigs booked and all that kind of stuff. The Rads did their last show on June 11th or something, whatever; we were already on the road a week to a week and a half after that. It was a very short kind of break, and to be honest with you I didn’t really want to take a break. I was too excited about something new. As much as I loved being in The Radiators and all that it did for my career and my playing and everything else, at the end of the day it was thirty three years, and the prospect of doing something new was very enticing. I was like, why would I want a break, I’m just going to be sitting around wishing I was playing. It was a clean break, and the only other bump in the road was the following year when I got diagnosed and I was in the hospital for a month. I didn’t want the band to not work because we were already building momentum, so we brought in a sub for me for the month. I got out of the hospital and two days later I was on stage at Jazz Fest. My doctor thought I was crazy, they said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, man.’

GW: You’re a warrior!

RS: That’s one word for it. Their word was insane, but they were like, ‘look, if you’re going to do this you have to go there right before the set and you have to leave and go home right after, you can’t stay for Jazz Fest (NOLA Jazz and Heritage Festival).’ So I said ok, I’ll do whatever you guys tell me. I tell you what, I got there about a half hour before the set, played the set, my manager drove me home and I collapsed for six hours (laughter). It was worth it, I’ve got to say, and two weeks later I was on the road. The first few months my doctors said it wasn’t such a good idea, but I said it is a good idea because if I just sit here at home I’m going to be depressed and bored, I’d rather be out doing something. The fatigue issue was really the whole concern. They were like, ‘look, if you’re going to do it, as soon as you feel fatigued you’ve got to stop doing it. If it’s in the middle of a gig, you’ve got to stop.’ I said if you let me go on the road I’ll do whatever you tell me, so I did. I didn’t really have too much of a problem. There was one day I knew I was going to burnout, but it was an elected thing. Other than that, it was kind of tiring but it wasn’t anything that was imposing on me. By the end of the following summer I was totally back to feeling one hundred percent. It hasn’t really been an issue. I do get scanned every six months and get my blood work done every three months, but that really doesn’t affect the band at all. So as long as it stays like that, I am good to go. On a day-to-day basis I don’t really think about it too much because you have to put those types of things into a workable perspective if you’re going to be living your life. You can’t wake up every day and be freaked out that you have cancer. If it’s not bothering you that day, don’t worry about it. Do what you want to do. And when you’re supposed to go see a doctor, go do that. And if something changes and they tell you, deal with it then. If you do what you’re supposed to be doing, that’s about all you can do, and there’s no real point in being preoccupied with it.

GW: And it sounds like with touring, music and photography you’ve got plenty of outlets to keep your mind on besides that.

RS: Oh yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m too busy doing other stuff to be sitting around worried I have cancer if it’s not even effecting me that day, so yeah, I’ve got other stuff to do (laughter). I got three dogs that’ll occupy me if nothing else.

GW: You’re a man that likes to stay busy, or as CR (Gruver) said, ‘one of the hardest working people in this business.'

RS: I’ve got to tell you, everybody in this band could say that about everybody else in the band. Unlike a lot of bands, when we have time off, we’ve got guys putting in six hours of work a day doing behind the scenes stuff and dealing with merchandise and getting the band taken care of; dealing with booking and advances, it never stops. I know a lot of bands that are good and they have gigs but they always complain that they don’t have stuff going on and this and that. It’s a job, you have to get up in the morning and go into the office for six to eight hours and make it happen. Everybody in the band does that. CR spends half of his days and nights working on marketing things and conferences with our manager about stuff. Jake’s in the studio doing stuff and so is Jeff, and I’m doing advances. Everybody has their job that they do. You have to really put in the time to make it happen. Everybody in the band has to be the hardest workingman in show business.

GW: I’m looking forward to seeing all of that come together next week at Cervantes in Denver.

RS: I’m looking forward to it too.

GW: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me

RS: Oh thanks for the interview, you kidding?

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 5:13 pm

While the “core four” remaining members of the Grateful Dead are hanging up their collective spurs this Fourth of July weekend, Dark Star Orchestra has no intention of ending their road warrior ways. Dark Star will be in Chicago for the festivities and a performance for the Rex Foundation on July second, and it only seems fitting; they’ve been long considered the top tier of the Grateful Dead cover band food chain. Now anchored with the additions of Jeff Mattson and bassist Skip Vangelas over the past few years, DSO sold out the Boulder Theater on Saturday night, the culmination of two previous nights where they played full Grateful Dead shows from 1974 and 1969.

It was evident from the start that they were molding their own show, or as Rob Barraco mentioned during the encore break, “our own concoction.” A first set opening Blow Away led some to think it was an eighties show, but a extra microphone stand stood waiting for Lisa Mackey, who sings Donna’s parts. Longtime Bobby impersonator and taper maestro Rob Eaton leapt into The Music Never Stopped, with Lisa stretching out her voice despite obvious miscues with the monitor engineer. Jeff “Jerry Garcia” Mattson slow-rolled into Cold Rain and Snow after a longer than usual tuning break, and a slide guitar and organ driven Minglewood Blues provided the down and dirty stomper the crowd needed to erupt.

If there was any lingering speculation that this could be some unknown oddity of a Grateful Dead show, it was put to ease with Bruce Cockburn’s out of place but fully welcomed Waiting for a Miracle, covered by the Jerry Garcia Band but never at a Grateful Dead show. The doo-wop boogie of Evangeline followed the same fate and was played after Bob Weir’s Greatest Story Ever Told. It wouldn’t be a Grateful Dead show without a Bob Dylan song, so Eaton worked in When I Paint My Masterpiece. Eaton and Mattson have developed a strong rapport in their playing and vocals, and as Eaton started to close the song out with a final, “When I paint,” Mattson followed it up with the same line before they both exclaim, “my masterpiece” in unison. It’s the way Jerry and Bob did it, and it’s the way DSO does it, too. Those nuances have helped Dark Star Orchestra go beyond the prototypical Grateful Dead cover band and into the successful touring act they’ve become.

They closed out the set with a couple more rarities that I didn’t see coming: Keep on Growing (played three times between 85-86) and Rubin and Cherise (four times in 1991). Barraco belted out the Derek and the Dominos tune with a little help from Skip, and Mattson was off in his corner doing his best imitation of Jerry imitating Eric Clapton. Ruben and Cherise might not have made many appearances with the Grateful Dead, but it was always a favorite to those who knew Jerry’s solo material. Much like the Dead’s first performance of the tune on March 17th, 1991 when the crowd reaction overpowered the on-stage vocals, the Boulder Theater fans went berserk before making their way outside to smoke and shuffle around during the break. With the first set ending by ten, it wasn’t so much about the sequence of songs or the duration, but more about the focal points and before-mentioned nuances of those tunes. You could tell the band started hitting their stride by Masterpiece, and while this trend seeped into the second set, they were more about flexing the jamming vehicles through an up and down ride that went full sail until they said goodnight.

A frenetic race through Help on the Way>Slipknot!>Franklin’s Tower got things hustling in a hurry, with dual drummers Rob Koritz and Dino English plowing ahead in syncopation no matter the pace. Bob Weir’s politically charged period piece, Throwing Stones, lent a little vocal resonance to the pre-drums/space portion of the set, which seemed to come far too soon. Beer and bathroom lines quadrupled as usual and the already crowded walkways filled with abstract dancers, and I kid you not, at least one person that was sitting on the floor stretching.

We were taking bets on what Jerry ballad they’d roll into before they hit us with a refueling Eyes of the World that took everybody by surprise, in a good way. It seemed like they might take another plunge into the strange after nailing all the different parts of Eyes, but the wheels fell off with the vocal heavy Attics of My Life. Love the song, but it didn’t really fit the hole they attempted to wedge it in. Uncle John’s Band tied things back together for a bubbly attempt at harmonies before a red shirted Mattson (Jerry in red) took off into Casey Jones to close the set.

Keith Godchaux’s Let Me Sing Your Blues Away was the first of a three-song encore. Another Grateful Dead rarity, this tune was played six times, all in 1973. Bob Dylan’s influence crept back into the show, this time in the form of Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), and what a feel-good, sing along vibe it brought. After singing lead on only one song the entire second set, Eaton regained the reigns for Satisfaction; the rocker we needed to send us out shaking. While it was obvious the crowd enjoyed themselves, Mattson walking offstage like an Egyptian let us know the band was digging it too. After a three-night run, it was a surprise any of us still had the energy to dance at all.

Check out more photos from shows - Friday | Saturday

Sun, 04/05/2015 - 6:40 am

They say you’ve got to crawl before you walk, so I guess you have to walk before you dance. The occasionally cooperative early-spring evening presented itself this past Friday in Denver, so I said why not. The near-mile trek from River North Brewery to Cervantes procured flashbacks to the Five Points Jazz Festival as I rounded the corner of Welton and Will Call and made my way into the Other Side for the New Orleans Suspects. The few folks in attendance huddled near the bar and back of the room, anywhere but right in front of the stage, really. Opener Gen Ed was already in the middle of their funk-driven improvisational set, and I’m pretty sure their sax player tried to manipulate our minds and put us into a trance. Unfortunately they ran out of time and we were left wondering what could have been during the changeover between bands.

Having had the opportunity to interview keyboardist CR Gruver and bassist Reggie Scanlan a week prior, the anticipation for a band I’d never seen or heard much of had grown at an unusual rate. I’d listened to their newest CD, “Ouroboros,” their last couple of releases and a few shows on the Internet Archive, but nothing does a band justice like experiencing them live. The New Orleans Suspects features five players that reside in NOLA and all come from accomplished musical backgrounds. Talent isn’t everything, however, as a cohesive chemistry between the members of the band can be just as key. Luckily the Suspects have both to lean on while their buzz continues to build and venues continue to fill.

Like any band immersed in the culture of the Crescent City, the Suspects worked in covers of traditional New Orleans tunes with a mixed bag of originals and takes on their favorite artists. While they certainly get off on having crowds sing along to their material, a recognizable cover can go a long way in energizing the crowd. Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s A Real Mother For Ya had the band smiling and hitting all their parts in sync. But if talent and chemistry aren’t enough, saxophone player Jeff Watkins (James Brown Band, Joss Stone) brought out the party vibes with his white, cheetah-print jacket and sunglasses while tooting out the J.B.’s Pass The Peas as part of a James Brown centric medley. The man looked like he’d just been scraped off Bourbon Street and put on a red eye to Denver, but between his playing and pumping up the crowd, he provided that loose and laidback New Orleans vibe. Songs like The Band’s The Shape I’m In and Get Back by The Beatles showed their love of rock and roll while Smoke My Peacepipe (Smoke it Right) by The Wild Magnolias oozed New Orleans’ Mardi Gras roots. They played a little bit of everything, but put their stamp on every one.

Two originals off of “Ouroboros,” Soothe Me and Magdalena, featured Denver local Tanya on vocals. She stuck around for Get Back and The Shape I’m In, fitting in well alongside CR and Jake’s vocal tandem. Mean Willie Green and Reggie Scanlan thumped right into Magdalena with the same rocking punch as the album version, which is my favorite of theirs. Jake’s growling-drawl complements the slide guitar shriek and when they hit the bridge CR has the perfect New Orleans jazz piano clicking along to the extended sax barrage. The tune really hit highs, lows and beautiful extremities along the way, and might be the best representation of how far they’ve come since initially jamming together at The Maple Leaf.

Swampthing and 36 Cars, both off of their self-titled 2012 release, followed Tanya’s departure. Swampthing was what it sounds like, a swamp rock boogie capturing the amplified NOLA brass. 36 Cars is more of a piano shuffle with a rockabilly twist that CR sings. It really hit me during the latter how much slide Jake plays and how it just sounds so slinky fitting in with the rapping piano. These musicians from New Orleans always find ways to put the pieces together in new ways. It wouldn’t be right to represent NOLA without playing something by The Meters, and represented they were with a cover of Funky Miracle. The NOLA love continued with a hot version of Smoke My Peacepipe (Smoke it Right) and one of the seminal piano boogies songs to bounce out of the bayou, Tipitina.

Joey Porter and Garrett Sayers of The Motet had been hanging around all night, and during the encore break came over the PA telling the crowd to let the band know how much we enjoyed it. It was probably the largest applause of the night, and a romp through Cocaine Jane had everybody ready for more. Unfortunately it was well past one in the morning at that point and the New Orleans Suspects still had another night at The Other Side to rest up for. With members from all different backgrounds and bands, it’s hard to believe these guys formed like any other pickup band in New Orleans just a few years ago. Already well-established in their own right, the New Orleans Suspects wear the cities name like a badge, and why shouldn’t they; they represent the pulse of the city everywhere they go.

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 6:15 pm

With the acquisition of The Goose, a college watering hole at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant, Jay Bianchi has finally extended his Grateful Dead-inspired bar empire into (The People’s Republic of) Boulder, Colorado. Known as The Goose since 2008, the bar is undergoing modest yet incremental transformations. Bianchi is currently booking bands on the patio under the moniker “Owsley’s Presents at The Goose,” with plans to re-brand the bar into Owsley’s Golden Road in May. This is while staying open to the public, of course, because the show must go on.

“I always wanted to have a place in Boulder, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it with being here all of the time, or a certain amount of the time. It seems like Quixote’s and Sancho’s are settled enough that I can spend time here. One of the cool things about being down here are the shows. We do shows from seven to eleven P.M. so more during the day, and I can be here at seven, settle the show, and still go back to Quixote’s and finish up there.”

Jay and his brothers opened the original Quixote’s True Blue in 1996, a year after the death of Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. The sense of adventure in traveling the country to see Grateful Dead shows bizarrely parallels Miguel de Cervante’s Don Quixote. Through a blend of the Bianchi Brothers’ love of the band and their late-father’s admiration for Don Quixote, a new concept was born and has been growing for some time.

“My dad always liked Don Quixote; he named his old GMC truck Rocinante (Quixote’s horse). I kind of had that in my head and I thought about Don Quixote, and how he traveled all across the land checking out stuff. It kind of had the same resonance as going to Dead shows and traveling across the land and all that. It’s in the spirit of adventure to keep making everyday extraordinary-an adventure in every day-instead of subscribing to the societal norms where there’s no real imagination.”

After 19 years of seeing success and innovation come hand in hand with relocations and closures, Jay feels the time is right to tap into the collective love of music in Boulder. The minor fix-up is starting to resemble the counterculture vibe of its Denver predecessors, but Jay understands that too much too fast can be a culture shock for the regulars drinking pitchers and playing corn hole under the sun.

“I think they’re going to see it as a fun place; music is such a fun thing. I think they’re going to learn some new music, and for stuff that they had blinders on to before, they’re going to see it and it’s going to open their eyes. I think there will be some resistance and some people that’ll just say, ‘fuck that, we can’t go there anymore,’ but I think a lot of the people are open minded about it. The crowd attracts the crowd and if they see a bunch of people having fun, then they’re going to come in. That’s how ladies night works in its own little way, because there’s a line out here, so everyone wants to go.”

The Goose’s longtime Tuesday night trump card, Ladies Night, wont be going anywhere in the foreseeable future, as “it doesn’t make sense to stop something that’s doing well.” Restaurant and co-tenant Fatty J’s will also be sticking around to serve pizza, wings and munchies all day and night. But what really makes a Bianchi bar is the music. Jay has and is booking bands most nights of the week, and recently installed a CD stocked jukebox that Sancho’s enthusiasts will find familiar.

“At least in the beginning I want it to be as often as possible,” Jay said on how frequent he’ll book bands. “I think music likes to be outside and sounds better outside. It helps bring people in. There’s less feedback because it’ll just be going into the air.”

Owsley’s Golden Road, though still in the early stages, is starting to take shape as a spot where Deadheads and your everyday college student can mingle inside or on the patio. Even the minors can hang during the day and feed the jukebox while shooting pool and eating Fatty J’s. While Sancho’s has always been known for bringing in Deadheads and jam band fans, their cross-market success has hinged on being directly next door to The Fillmore. Much in the same vein, Owsley’s Golden Road borders the campus of The University of Colorado and is one of the only true bars left on The Hill. So while the counterculture element will be alive and well, which is nothing new in Boulder, the rest of the populace should also be well represented.

Continue for a full transcription of Jay’s interview with the Grateful Web’s John Underwood Schumm below.

FULL TRANSCRIPTION:

Grateful Web: What led you to start opening bars themed around the Grateful Dead and named after characters from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote?

Jay Bianchi: I didn’t really want to do a bar, because I’m not really a drinker. I wanted to do a coffee shop, or something like that, but coffee shops aren’t really conducive to dancing. I could hang out at a coffee shop and dance and have fun, but I don’t know if everybody else could. So I figured alcohol is one of those things that people rejoice and hang out with, and do community stuff with; it’s a good release. Coffee is a little stuffier.

My dad always liked Don Quixote; he named his old GMC truck Rocinante (Quixote’s horse). I kind of had that in my head and I thought about Don Quixote, and how he traveled all across the land checking out stuff. It kind of had the same resonance as going to Dead shows and traveling across the land and all that. It’s in the spirit of adventure to keep making everyday extraordinary-an adventure in every day-instead of subscribing to the societal norms where there’s no real imagination, like in doing your insurance paperwork or something like that.

GW: Did you follow the Dead around?

JB: I would say I followed them but I still kept my wits about me and stayed in school. Maybe that wasn’t smart to do (laughter), but I would fly out and see a show and come back. I didn’t fling myself into the whole thing wholeheartedly.

GW: Your brothers and yourself started the bars, correct?

JB: Yep.

GW: How many of you guys are there?

JB: I have two brothers.

GW: And do all three of you work in conjunction as far as the bars go?

JB: I’m the more adventurous one, they like to have Sancho’s, the more secure thing, and I guess I throw myself into situations in which you’re dealing with a band and there’s a different story everyday. There’s a certain predictability with Sancho’s, where you don’t have a band everyday and you just open the doors and it works. Sancho’s is such a good place that it just works everyday because The Fillmore’s next door, The Ogden is next door, and now the new 1UP is next door. It’s kind of like bands are being booked around it, so it works out that way. It’s all about the music, and music everyday. Sancho’s has the jukebox, and we just put a jukebox in here (Owsley’s/Goose), we just love music and to be around music, so Sancho’s ended up being the perfect spot for that, right next to The Fillmore.

GW: It seems like there’s always a good crowd in there.

JB: We told our real estate agent, find us something near The Fillmore, and we couldn’t imagine that the person next door to The Fillmore would sell it. But they just weren’t into hippies and it wasn’t their scene and they saw that, so they got out of there. It was a good thing. It was what, one man’s poison is another man’s…what is it?

GW: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?

JB: Yea there’s that one and the other is one man’s poison is another man’s drink, or cider or something. Anyway, I kind of forgot the question.

GW: Well we’re just rambling. It was about your brothers and yourself running the joints.

JB: Right, so I kind of go for the adventure and like to do big projects and like to almost torture myself to keep me on my toes. I always told my brother this: if I stagnate, I die, I’ve just got to keep on going even if it fucks things up a little bit sometimes.

GW: And you do keep on going. You’ve had multiple bars. You mentioned the 1UP, and that used to be Dulcinea’s Was Quixote’s the first one?

JB: Quixote’s was the first, eighteen or nineteen years ago in November of 1996, and Sancho’s came after. Then Quixote’s hopscotched across to the seven south location on Broadway and then it closed and Dulcinea’s opened and then Cervantes’ opened and then we moved Quixote’s right next to Cervantes’. Then I opened Owsley’s, which became Quixote’s, sold Cervantes’, and was also involved with The Oriental at the same time. Then I was trying to do music festivals.

GW: Right, you did one over in the five points area?

JB: That was Dancing in the Streets. So I did those and did Summer Days out in the fields. Those are always fun but they cause me turmoil too. I always wanted to have a place in Boulder, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it with being here all of the time, or a certain amount of the time. It seems like Quixote’s and Sancho’s are settled enough that I can spend time here. One of the cool things about being down here are the shows. We do shows from seven to eleven P.M. so more during the day, and I can be here at 7, settle the show, and still go back to Quixote’s and finish up there.

GW: And music at Quixote’s usually goes until what, bar close?

JB: Yeah, until two A.M.

GW: On moving into Boulder, like you were saying, what is it about it? I know Boulder has always had this strong hippy, Deadhead vibe to it. It might have changed a little bit…

JB: It has, that’s what people say. That’s what I always felt, but people tell me, ‘hey, we don’t have a hippie vibe here.’ They’re so happy that this place is here now, because they don’t have anywhere else to go.

GW: That’s true.

JB: So it’s here, but I think that maybe the bigger venues have sucked it out. All the kids go there. You talk to Dave Watts and Joey Porter (The Motet), and there’s no place to play for a smaller band. They’re in bigger bands too but on some off days that want to play too. Somehow The Fox and Boulder Theater have captured the kids but they’re not letting them go where they naturally go. They just sort of dictate that this is the day we celebrate Grateful Dead stuff, but there’s no everyday happening for that.

GW: Speaking of smaller venues, how about The B-Side Lounge back when?

JB: And the place owned by the three sisters, Trilogy.

GW: Yeah, Trilogy, and they have Shine down there now. They do some music here and there. Then there’s the Lazy Dog, and on Tuesday they do a local open jam that’s gotten pretty cool.

JB: It seems like they’re starting to pick it up.

GW: They’ve definitely picked it up. The Goose has long been known as a college hangout. Tuesday night is ladies night and it’s insane. Do you anticipate, with changing the theme of the bar and having music on most nights, that it’ll change that clientele?

JB: I’m hoping that they adapt to it. I think they’re going to see it as a fun place; music is such a fun thing. I think they’re going to learn some new music, and for stuff that they had blinders on to before, they’re going to see it and it’s going to open their eyes. I think there will be some resistance and some people that’ll just say, ‘fuck that, we can’t go there anymore,’ but I think a lot of the people are open minded about it. The crowd attracts the crowd and if they see a bunch of people having fun, then they’re going to come in. That’s how ladies night works in its own little way, because there’s a line out here, so everyone wants to go. That’s not really my thing, the ladies night. It’s such a predatory kind of night and not really my idea of what I want to do, but when I saw it I was like, well, this is kind of cool. I didn’t necessarily like the music but I could see the attraction of it, and it had a good vibe and everybody was having fun. That’s one of the times you can go, ok, cool, I’ll go delve into this for a little while. A lot of people have multiple personalities in their facet, you know? There are Deadheads that like heavy metal, they like folk, they like bluegrass, they like all of the other stuff. And when I was growing up that’s all I would listen to, the heavy metal: ACDC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, well Metallica not so much but Iron Maiden and Dio and all that other stuff. That’s where I came from, that’s my background, but I liked all music and it was a natural evolution for me to…if you really like music, it seems like you get into Grateful Dead or the jam band music in the end. And I think it used to be that people that were really into music ended up in the jazz thing, then the jazz and jam band thing…my dad ended up liking jazz, but those things are kind of conflated together.

GW: Especially in Colorado, we get all of that.

JB: And then the bluegrass picks up the pop culture too, they suck in all of that stuff. It’s all there. If people like music, they’re going to end up liking this place. Having most of the shows-the JGB show was ten bucks-but having most shows free or affordable will make it easier for them to enjoy a concert. If they’re not paying, they aren’t taking a risk. I think a lot of people don’t like to go because it’s a risk, it’s a risk of ten bucks. And it could be crappy. Or you might not like it.

GW: You really never know. People love this spot and the sunshine on the patio. How many days of the week do you plan on having bands play?

JB: At least in the beginning I want it to be as often as possible. I think music likes to be outside and sounds better outside. It helps bring people in. There’s less feedback because it’ll just be going into the air. I had a band yesterday, ladies night is tonight, Wednesday and Thursday…I’m trying to do it as much as possible.

GW: The bar is going to be The Goose until May-ish?

JB: It’s Owsley’s Presents at The Goose right now.

GW: So ladies night is something that’ll be going on until at least then I would think?

JB: It’s not going to stop; it doesn’t make sense to stop something that’s doing well unless all of the sudden the crowd totally changes and that night isn’t doing well. There’s a long way to go before that doesn’t do well. There’s no reason to get rid of it, it’s one of the best nights. It seems like this place does really well until ten, ten thirty

GW: People going to Pearl Street.

JB: Yeah, so we’ve just got to push that a little further, the time zone. And then it would be highly successful. Sunday was great. By eleven o’clock we had done what we would have done at Sancho’s on a good night with a big Fillmore show. We were doing good numbers. Even if we just do afternoon stuff until eleven, and that’s raging, that’s cool too.

GW: How did this location become available to you?

JB: I had a friend that knew the owner and said he was trying to get rid of it. He said the numbers are pretty good there so I looked into it.

GW: Were there any other spots in Boulder you were interested in?

JB: I was looking around this area, the Hill. Pearl Street just always seems to be too expensive. I like having the students right across the street. That seems to be a good market to go to and that’s what I want to do. Even though, how old are you when you start your freshman year, eighteen, nineteen? So they have to wait until sophomore or junior year. But they can come in and eat here too, so that’s one benefit, half restaurant half bar.

GW: So Fatty J’s will be sticking around?

JB: Yeah.

GW: You’ve obviously started putting décor on the walls to give it more of a Sancho’s feel.

JB: Yeah we’re going to have a painting party, have some muralists come in and give it something other than the red walls. We like to fill up areas. There will be more posters and stuff in there too. I’m trying not to give everybody working here too much culture shock at once so suddenly (laughter).

GW: So some of the staff is sticking around?

JB: So far I’m keeping them all. I imagine some of them might not like it, or they’ll convert. If they like music I think they’ll stay here, and I think it’s going to be better financially for them, so I think it behooves them to stay and tough it out. Right now my big thing was putting the jukebox in, and they don’t think anybody will want to pay for a jukebox, and I’m like, we’ll stick the money in ourselves, it doesn’t matter. I just don’t want Pandora. The jukebox just seems like the most democratic way for everybody to get what they want. The bartender can put some songs on, and if a customer doesn’t like it, he can put some songs on. With Pandora it’s almost a dictatorship; the bartender puts it on and people can’t really say anything because they’re insulting the bartender. I guess the jukebox is kind of a dictatorship too, because you only have a hundred selections but people are able to suggest that I change some stuff, and it’s not static. I just brought in a bunch of cd’s because I did think we had too much Dead and too much Panic and that stuff. We slowly have to have people get the feel for what we’re doing. They’re bringing in the speakers for the jukebox for outside, so I hadn’t fully committed because we didn’t have sound outside for the jukebox, but today it’ll be in there.  Yesterday we pulled out the Pandora because I’m just not going to argue with people (laughter). But it’s a process and it’s weird because people aren’t used to jukeboxes anymore. I put it in and people said, ‘wait, there are cd’s in there?’ And yeah, there are and we can change them around. It seems like one of those elementary things, but people have changed so much.

GW: I think people will like it.

JB: I do too. If someone wants to listen to a bunch of Red Hot Chili Peppers or something like that then change needs to be a little more gradual than sudden, but I have to tell them don’t play an entire album. I don’t play all Dead. You have to be fair and make it fun. It allows the customer to be the DJ for a little while, a safe DJ, if someone doesn’t like it you can just say, ‘I didn’t choose it (laughter)!’

GW: Will you have the jukebox going inside while a band is playing out here?

JB: It depends. We could do a reverse where we funnel the band inside for some shows. It might be good to have two separate zones. We’re getting the speakers out here and you can control them separately, each room separately. So when it starts cranking out here, we just turn off the jukebox.

GW: Any exciting names coming up?

JB: John K. (Kadlecik), The Golden Gate Wingmen.

GW: They’re going to be at Quixote’s, right?

JB: Yep, and the fourth day is going to be here. That’s Monday, May 25th, Memorial Weekend. They weren’t sure about it, but once it went on sale it spiked above everyone else, so I said, this might just work out. And then that JGB on Sunday, I was hesitant about doing it because it was March and it could still be freezing cold out. I waited until ten days out to book the third show, so I looked at my ten-day weather map and knew it was going to be nice out. But I did have to wait. It was a calculated gamble. It actually led all of the pre-sales, and then we sold another twenty-five that morning and everybody showed up. We hadn’t had a paid show here yet so I thought everybody would be bitching at the door but everybody said ten bucks, no problem. Then I realized they could just stand out there and watch it (outside of the fence), but they wanted to be in on the party. If there were any people just standing out there I went out and brought them in.

Wed, 04/22/2015 - 11:36 am

Keith Richards’ blending of rhythm and lead guitars, the “ancient art of weaving,” is nothing new. In fact, it’s relatively common. It doesn’t take a trained ear to recognize, but one night with the southern guitars of The North Mississippi Allstars and Anders Osborne is enough of a case study in showing how to do it properly. Their combined recording effort under the moniker N.M.O. (North Mississippi Osborne), “Freedom and Dreams,” sparked an extensive trek across the states and included a night at The Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado. While technically a co-bill with each band performing separately, the personnel blended together on the second to last stop on the road to create an open-ended game of musical chairs.

Anders and NMA’s Luther Dickinson are anything but strangers. They’ve played together in Southern Soul Assembly with JJ Grey and Marc Broussard. They’ve jammed in variations of Phil Lesh’s bands. The past year might have been the most they’ve worked together, but that doesn’t mean it was the beginning. Anders’ brute-power chords are complimented by Luther’s DIY approach to multi-instrumental mastery, showing their familiarity. Luther’s Delta slide can accompany any of Anders’ tunes; his ability to provide the missing piece to the puzzle uncanny. Since we’re getting into the NBA Playoffs, how about a basketball comparison: Luther has the court vision to see things happening in real time, maybe even before they happen, and has the ability to read and react. He sees where a song is going or where the music is leading them, always focused and furthering the conversation within the moment. This can be said of the entire North Mississippi Allstars trio, with brother and drummer Cody Dickinson and beast of innovative interpretation Lightnin’ Malcolm getting their feet wet with every instrument on stage.

The North Mississippi Allstars started the train ride of a show that blew by like The City of New Orleans (the train that runs the blues trail from Chicago through Tennessee, Mississippi and into the Crescent City) with Mississippi Bollweevil. The over three-hour marathon performance didn’t waste time with stage changeovers or setbreaks, seamlessly integrating the scenery from every stop into different band configurations. The order of the show was technically a set by NMA, a set by Anders Osborne Band, a set by N.M.O. and a couple of acoustic numbers before a NMA closing-encore set.

Cody’s room moving beats bounced in conjunction with the bass, and Luther reveled in his guitar’s southern twang. His always-enigmatic stage presence backs up his blues-garbled, off the cuff vocals that always fight to keep up with his fingers. Changing guitars on the fly and often, they ripped through Never in All My Days and Up Over Yonder. They ran through RL Burnside’s Po Black Maddie, music they grew up with under their father Jim Dickinson’s watch. Luther switched over to bass after a romp through Shake (Your Mama), and Malcolm belted out Big Rock, a decisively upbeat tune differing in structure but fitting the mold. Luther played one of his signature can/cigar box guitars on Rolling and Tumbling (Drinking Muddy Water), and ML (Going Home) saw Cody on guitar as the three piece meandered through the high end, fret straddling instrumental that shined like a take on The Allman Brothers Band.

The Dickinson Brothers walked off while Anders and bassist Carl Dufrene plugged in and drummer Brady Blade perched behind his kit. Malcolm stuck around on guitar for Pleasin’ You, getting on all fours with Anders and slithering across the stage. Anders’ emotively introspective Echoes of My Sense saw Luther relieve Malcolm on guitar and initiate the North Mississippi Osborne’s take on the art of weaving. After Anders’ Back on Dumaine, they branched into Grateful Dead territory with Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, bynow an obligation to the Deadheads they’ve won over through Phil Lesh.

The North Mississippi Osborne segment of the show got under way with Junco Pardna, tailored to what can be thought of as a down and addiction-raddled Osborne prior to his career and life renaissance. Cody and Blade formed a drum tandem for Back Together, which continued the steady stream of songs from “Freedom and Dreams.” Anders provides the main vocal presence for most of their songs, and while his guitar can be dominating, Luther’s master weaving opens new avenues.

The most touching lyrical imagery on the album is found on Dyin’ Days, a morbidly descriptive yet upbeat account detailing the celebration of life after death in New Orleans. Cody worked the keyboard he had adjacent to his kit, and the combined group jammed into a quickly paced refrain of Neil Young’s Down By The River before moving into Kings and Peasants. They wrapped up their jaunt through the new album with Away, Way Too Long and Brush Up Against You, before things went wild on Fiya Water with Cody strumming an electrified washboard to a party vibe full of drums and tambourines. Anders’ fuzz burner, On The Road to Charlie Parker, defines the artist through distortion and aggravated, junk-fueled lyrics written during a reflection on what life had come to be before getting clean (Parker was no stranger to addiction and died at thirty-four). The entire ensemble walked off after the thrashing pinnacle, leaving the stage empty for the first time all night.

Luther played an acoustic Tallahatchee (Bird of The Moon) off of his solo album, “Hambone’s Meditations.” Anders returned to the stage with his acoustic as well, playing a tune named for a lady here in Colorado, Annabel. The second taste of Grateful Dead saw Anders on Friend of the Devil and encouraging the crowd to sing the bulk of the chorus. Anders left the stage after giving his thanks to the sold out crowd and let the North Mississippi Allstars take the wheel for one more spin around the block.

It only seemed fitting to end the show where it began, and the Dickinson Brothers found enough room in the tank to take them right up to the curfew. The blues standard You Gotta Move started a stream of songs that culminated in the traditional gospel tune covered by the Grateful Dead, We Bid You Goodnight. After over three hours of seamless southern rock and retrospective ballad weaving, they did just that.

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 11:30 am

Guitarists will always be in demand. With anywhere from three or more projects in the works at any given time, Brooklyn’s Scott Metzger lives and breathes that sentiment. Most recently known for his work with Anders Osborne and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, his resume is affording him opportunities to branch out on his own. His newest project is WOLF!,  a three piece band based on the addition by subtraction model: Metzger plugs his Telecaster directly into an amp without the assistance of tone-altering pedals. While the album carries a vintage sound, it isn’t all about looking in the rearview mirror. Metzger’s eyes are open to all types of music, and through the Telecaster’s famous twang, his structural takes on generations of genres unfold string to string. Scott recently took time out of his band on the run lifestyle to chat with Grateful Web’s John Schumm on all things music, and what else he has cooking as another calendar year unfolds.

GW: I’m John Schumm with the Grateful Web and I’ve got Scott Metzger here with me. Thanks for taking time out of your evening to chat, Scott. What’s new?

SM: Everything is all right, thanks for calling. I appreciate the interest.

GW: It seems like you’ve been a pretty guy…excuse me, a pretty busy guy recently.

SM: Pretty guy too (laughter).

GW: You’ve been playing with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, with Anders (Osborne), where did you find the time to record WOLF!? Which is the name of the band as well as the album.

SM: The record was actually recorded about a year ago. Everybody’s been so busy. We recorded it, and frankly, I thought it was never going to come out. I didn’t know what would ever happen to it. The timing just seemed right, now, when The Royal Potato Family, which is the label we put it out on, expressed some interest. And it made a lot of sense. So we said, ‘what the hell, put it out.’

GW: Why not. I’ve been listening to it a bunch, all the way through. It’s an instrumental three piece with drums, bass and you playing a telecaster. How did you get into the back to the basics approach of plugging directly into the amp? I know you don’t have any bells and whistles. What was your vision when you were putting the album together, how did it come about?

SM: Well part of it was just playing and being a New York City musician. I can’t lug a big pedal board around with me, you know, if I’m taking the train or playing local. You kind of want a throw and go situation with a small amp, usually a Fender Princeton Reverb, and your guitar. You can only bring what your two hands can carry to a gig here. So part of it was out of necessity and part of it was a love of the sound of the electric guitar plugged straight into an amp, particularly a Telecaster. Guys like Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton are certainly huge influences on what we’re doing and all three of us are very schooled and knowledgeable about that music.

GW: Jon Shaw and Taylor Floreth, that’s bass and drums?

SM: Yes.

GW: How do you know those guys, what’s your connection with them?

SM: Taylor I met through a record with a singer in town here, we ended up on the same recording session. And Jon Shaw I just know through our similar circle of friends. There’s just a bunch of musicians here in Brooklyn. I was sort of randomly introduced to Jon and it’s turned into a real friendship and musical collaboration.

GW: Mentioning the scene in Brooklyn, I know you’ve been to Terrapin Crossroads, Phil Lesh’s place out there in California, and I guess there’s a good scene of musicians out there too. What would you say are the differences between the scenes going on in those two places?

SM: Everybody everywhere is just trying to make good music. I think there’s a very real difference; sort of the aggressiveness that comes through in East Coast bands, especially New York. The West Coast is more of a laid back place whereas the east coast, the pace of New York, is much more frantic. And everybody is closed in here, you know, there’s more intensity. You’re in Colorado, right?

GW: Yes I am.

SM: Have you ever lived in a city or spent any time in one.

GW: I’ve spent a lot of time in New York, so I love it, but living would be another experience.

SM: It’s funny, everywhere I go I find it takes me a couple of days to sort of slow down, because you’re so used to the pace here, especially as a musician. Anywhere you live, musicians work at a little more of a frantic pace. If you’re touring, you’re always on the move and if you’re home you’re doing recording sessions. We aren’t on a regular schedule, ever. That has nothing to do with what you asked me, but…

GW: That’s fine, that’s fine! That’s what it’s all about. So how did you, living in New York, get into a whole Nashville sounding album? It’s got some Django (Reinhardt) stuff going on, some Hank Garland and Chet Atkins Nashville sound. You mentioned a couple of guys earlier. Would you say they were your main influences?

SM: Yeah, I guess so. There’s a country thing, a country scene going on here in Brooklyn, and there’s a major Nashville and Brooklyn connection going on these days; East Nashville in particular. There are a lot of Brooklynites moving down there and vice versa, people from Nashville coming up here. Right now that’s a real connection, and I think it’s spilling into the players and a lot of the clubs are having country music here. It’s becoming a little more common up here.

GW: I like the sound of that, I’m actually flying to Nashville tomorrow, which is always a good time. So what about touring, do you have plans to get WOLF! on the road and outside of Brooklyn?

SM: I’d love to. Everybody’s schedules are so hectic right now. My year is pretty full, the whole calendar for the rest of the year is pretty packed, but I think what we’d like to do is if the right opportunity came along we would make it work. The right opportunity meaning a cool opening slot on a tour we thought was cool and musically made sense. It’s funny, a lot of people that hear WOLF! Really like it, so I’d like to expand on that as much as possible.

GW: And you just released it earlier this month right, April 7th?

SM: Correct, yeah. We did the CD release show a couple of days before that, so the die hard fans could get their hands on it before everybody else, and digitally it became available on the seventh.

GW: So you guys play on weekends, at a BBQ Joint?

SM: It’s the best BBQ in New York City, for sure. It’s called Hometown BBQ in Red Hook. It’s absolutely killer. The atmosphere fits the soundtrack; the soundtrack of our music fits the atmosphere! It’s like a perfect marriage.

GW: I’ll have to check that out next time I’m up there.

SM: Oh yeah, it’s home base. If you’re not a vegetarian, you owe it to yourself to make it out there.

GW: No, I am not a vegetarian, so I’d love to. I love BBQ.

SM: Good man.

GW: I know you have a lot of dates with JRAD coming up, what else do you have coming up through the year that we should know about?

SM: The JRAD thing, we’re hitting a lot of the festivals. I’m also doing quite a few of the festivals with Anders Osborne, playing in his band. It’s great, a very, very good band.

GW: They were just here with North Mississippi (Allstars) last weekend.

SM: Oh yeah that’s right, I heard that’s been going really well for them.

GW: Yeah it sounded great.

SM: There are scattered, local WOLF! dates as well on top of that, and between those three things, I’m pretty busy, staying pretty busy. I’m also doing a couple of weekends with Phil coming up at Terrapin Crossroads, but I’m not sure if that’s been announced yet.

GW: Very cool, maybe I’ll leave it off of the transcription, just maybe. Well cool; I appreciate you taking the time for this Scott. I love the new album. It’s great to listen to all the way through! Hopefully I’ll get to see you down the line.

SM: Thanks so much, I appreciate it man, because there was a long period there where I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to see the light of day, or if anybody besides the three of us were going to hear it, and the guy that engineered the session.

GW: Yeah I’m glad it finally made it out.

SM: Cheers, that makes two of us.

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 1:08 pm

When you see The Chris Robinson Brotherhood in your town, which they’ll no doubt be visiting sooner than later, the former Black Crowes vocalist will likely be the most recognizable. That’s not what this band is about, however, as this is no patchwork group assembled to orbit a central star. This is a band in the truest sense, with five members sharing the stage and songs that have come together as an evolving unit over four-plus years. In the thick of it is guitarist/vocalist Neal Casal, an open-book with two handfuls of solo albums dating back to the mid-nineties and a still-growing list of associated names and acts. To those familiar, he’s always been his own musician. To those following him, he’s always brought his own musical personality into the fold. This is evident in his budding writing-relationship with Chris and their growing songbook.

The Grateful Web’s John Schumm caught up with Neal as CRB’s tour heads toward Colorado for three nights: this Friday and Saturday at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver, and Sunday at Mishawaka Amphitheatre on the banks of the Poudre River. Neal spoke candidly about CRB’s collective mentality as they continue pushing into new territory both in their live shows and penmanship, the Grateful Dead’s influence on their vision and what it means to be your own musician in a scene of similarities.

GW: My name is John Schumm with The Grateful Web, how’re you doing?

NC: Excellent man, how are you?

GW: I’m great, just sitting here in Colorado. We’ve been getting some rain over the past couple of days, but it’s a nice change, we could use it.

NC: Where are you in Colorado?

GW: I’m down in Boulder. So Chris Robinson Brotherhood, you guys are on tour now, right? Are you in the middle of it?

NC: We’re in the middle of it. We played a few shows in Big Sur last weekend, then Nevada City, and then Arcata last night in Humboldt, and now we are in Bend, Oregon for a day off.

GW: Cool, so you guys have a show tomorrow in Bend, and then after a few more you’ll be here in my neck of the woods, in Denver, at Cervantes Friday and Saturday. And then to Mishawaka, which is always a cool spot.

NC: A beautiful spot, one of my favorite spots to play.

GW: Hopefully the weather is a little more cooperative, I’m sure it will be. We’re in the middle of one of those bi-polar weeks we get here.

NC: It’s been a bit rough, huh?

GW: I mean, not bad. It’s the springtime, so we’ll get some here and there, usually in the afternoon we’ll get a couple hours of rain. It’s just been a little gloomy out. But you know Colorado, it’ll be bright and sunny tomorrow and probably beautiful for the show.

NC: I hope so.

GW: So you guys are in year four of The Brotherhood, getting going back in 2011.

NC: Yeah, that’s right.

GW: For a musician like yourself who’s released a bunch of solo albums and appeared with tons of other bands and artists, was there much of a learning curve? Did you have to adjust much to Chris’ material coming in?

NC: The entire band had a lot of learning to do together, really. I mean Chris certainly had an idea of what kind of band he wanted to start, but it hadn’t started yet (laughter), so we all kind of wrote the language of this band together. Chris came in with a certain amount of finished songs, but not many. Our writing collaboration started at the outset of the band, and most of the band members had never met each other before, so we were all new to each other; it was a completely new experience. We all learned together, we wrote this book together, but it was based on a concept; the concept to create a band that would do two sets, at least three hour shows kind of using the Grateful Dead model, and also the kind of band that would not be afraid to write longer songs and to have a lot of extended instrumental sections in our songs and a lot of free, explorative space in our music that would not conform to pop standards. We weren’t looking for a record deal, we weren’t after those kinds of prizes, you know? Everyone had a good amount of adjusting to do. Chris had to adjust to me, everyone had to kind of lean towards each other to make it work, and that’s what made it work, that’s what makes it a true band and not just a singer of a popular band that started a solo project. It’s really not that, it never was and it never has been for a second, actually.

GW: Like you were saying with the whole collaborative effort, the first two albums, Big Moon Ritual and The Magic Door, were both recorded during the same sessions and released a few months apart in 2012. And with the newest album, 2014’s Phosphorescent Harvest, the songwriting seems to have more direction, and it seems you guys are that much more comfortable, whether it’s Chris and yourself writing or the whole band coming together. I was going to ask about that vision: having a concept for a band, and the way you guys have brought it all together. It’s been pretty cool to witness.

NC: There’s definitely been a progression over the years. To put it simply, the arrangements of the songs were simpler in the beginning, and as we wrote our collective language together, things expanded. Our arrangements and the writing of our songs took on a lot more depth. Speaking for myself, a lot of that depth came from my getting the chance to play with Phil Lesh. In 2012, the beginning of the Terrapin Crossroads era that we’re in, I was lucky enough to start getting the call from Phil to be a part of his rotating cast of musicians. I did some heavy weeks of learning there at Terrapin, deep in the trenches of learning the Grateful Dead catalogue and playing all of those songs that I’ve never learned before with Phil, with Joe Russo, with John Kadlecik, you know, these Furthur and Grateful Dead members; these musicians that were up to speed on this music, which I wasn’t. I went through a very steep learning curve with all of that in a really huge way, and by that I mean learning the Grateful Dead’s canon of music is a deeply instructive experience. The people that don’t know them think they were just doing some endless three-chord jams, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. When you actually take the time to learn how to play their music, you find out how incredibly complex and sophisticated it is. There are odd time signatures, there are so many twists in their music-constantly-that it makes it a really deep thing to get into, and I took a lot of really important lessons from those Rambles that I did at Terrapin. I use that knowledge and put it directly into my parts of the songs I was writing with Chris, and you can hear that direct influence on Phosphorescent Harvest. It’s like you said, you can hear how the band was deepening our commitment and our arrangements and we were just kind of digging deeper into all of it and blasting past the surface and more into the heart of what we’re all about. And for my part, a lot of that had to do with playing with Phil that year, and I did some playing with Bob (Weir) too, on that Move Me Brightly film. That was also that year and I got to learn Bob’s take on things, a little bit.

GW: Right, the Moving Me Brightly DVD.

NC: It’s called, Move Me Brightly.

GW: That’s right, Move Me Brightly.

NC: Yes, it was for (Jerry) Garcia’s seventieth birthday and I got to play with Mike Gordon and once again Joe Russo and Jeff Chimenti and Bob, and Donna Godchaux was a part of that too. So I got to dig even further into the Dead lexicon through seeing some of Bob’s perspective.

GW: That’s pretty interesting, getting to see both sides there from two different members.

NC: And you know, since then I’ve met Bill Kreutzmann a couple of times and I’ve become quite good friends with his son, Justin, so you know, it’s all part of learning how this stuff works. I try to use those lessons in my work with CRB.

GW: It’s like people say, you’re never finished learning and trying new things to implement into your craft.

NC: That’s exactly right.

GW: On the subject of learning the Dead’s material, did you listen to or see the Dead at all when you were younger, coming up?

NC: Oh yes, I’m from the East Coast so I saw The Dead a lot in the eighties and nineties. I saw the Jerry Garcia Band live. So yeah, I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid. I somehow ended up with a copy of Steal Your Face. I don’t know how, it’s an odd first record to have, but I have that record and I was obsessed with it from the time I was twelve years old (laughter). So you know, I’m a head from way back, for sure. But as a musician I had never learned that much of the music because if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I’ve made many solo records and played with a lot of people. I was never that concerned with learning other people’s music because I was writing my own.  I never spent time learning anyone’s music. Not just the Dead, anyone at all, really, because I was doing other things and trying to make my mark. So I had never really learned the music; how to play it, how to sing it deeply, until I started working with Phil in 2012. And man did he put me through my paces, which was great. He’s demanding as such a harmonically advanced musician; I happily got my ass kicked by Phil.

GW: I did want to mention, while we’re on the topic of Phil, is that Chris Robinson Brotherhood, minus Muddy, your bass player, will be joining Phil and Eric Krasno this summer at the Lockn’ Music Festival. I know you guys were there last year. That should be cool.

NC: That’s going to be great, so cool.

GW: I’ve been listening to a bunch of your solo records over the last couple of days, and I think one of my favorite things your bring to the table with CRB is your own influence. It’s now clear that you’ve learned the Dead’s music, and you’ve played it and are inspired by it, but there are also all of these things that you grew up with that are coming out in your live and studio playing. And I also notice that with CRB, and that’s the best part about it. It’s your own interpretation of these things.

NC: It is. For me, the one thing that I’m not going for in my love of the Grateful Dead is mimicry. Never, never am I trying to mimic those band members or anything like that, because I’ve worked for a long time on developing my own music and worked within other styles and genres and feelings and so many different things through my life. It’s fine for some people if mimicry works for them; I have no problem with that. I think there’s a place for it. But it’s not what I’m doing, and it never will be. And I think anyone like yourself, who’s listening at all, will hear pretty quickly that that’s not what I’m doing. With the Dead stuff, I’m certainly influenced by them, and you can hear it. I don’t deny that, I’m quite proud of it, but I’m just trying to bring forth an essence, you know? It’s an essence, a feeling. It’s soulful feeling in the Dead’s music that’s worth continuing. The soul of it is worth trying to further (laughter), if you will, so I’m going for the soul, not the actual details of it. There are certain melodic aspects of the music that I try to bring forward in my own music or whatever I’m doing with CRB because I feel that it’s worth it. But getting every little detail right, every little piece of the equipment right, every last nuance of Garcia’s playing or singing or anything like that, that’s just not what I’m going for. It’s just an essence, a soulful quality…the celebratory quality of the Dead. It’s the mournful quality of their music. The whimsical aspects, the more emotional-the emotional levels are what I’m trying to reach with their music as sort of the vehicle to do it. But it’s not for mimicry; it’s not for imitation. I think those guys would be the first to tell you, if you’re paying attention to them at all, that finding your own individuality is what this is really all about. It’s not about copying somebody else, so that should be clear.

GW: It absolutely is. Betty’s Blends, Volume Two: Best of The West, CRB’s newest live release, is coming out this June. Betty Cantor, whose name will make most Dead Heads’ eyes pop out, is the culprit behind choosing and mixing the individual tracks There’s a version of “They Love Each Other” on there, a Hunter/Garcia Dead tune, and it sounds great. Like you were saying, there are nuances that Jerry might have had, but your tone and your approach, you make it your own, which I think is the case for all of your songs. And I think when you’re playing a Dead song, and this is the one I wanted to bring up, that it definitely is not just mimicry; it’s everything you just said. I think that comes across very clearly.

NC: Thanks for noticing. It’s important to me, it’s really important to me that those differences are clear, because if what I’m doing is crossing the line into mimicry then I’ve really got a problem, I’ve missed my mark. But all you have to do is just comb back through any of the number of records I’ve made; I have my own voice on guitar, as a singer, as a musician. It’s something I’ve earned over a long period of time, so that’s that.

GW: Totally, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing your style, craft and approach to songwriting coming through with CRB now. We mentioned the last album, are you guys writing anything these days, any plans for another studio album?

NC: We do, yeah, we’re writing songs now. I’m actually going to meet Chris in a little while in one of our hotel rooms with some guitars. We have a song we’re almost finished with and ready to play on stage. So we’re going to nail that one together tonight and move onto the next. I think the collaborative work that I do with Chris is really important to me, I respect him so much as a musician. He’s someone that inspired me for well over twenty years. I was a huge Black Crowes fan right from day one; I saw them in their earliest days right when their first record came out. I saw them opening for bands in 1990. They were sort of like the saving grace of the nineties for me, because they were a band that embraced traditions in the right way. It’s been amazing for me to see this come around, to work with someone that influenced me so greatly, and I also have never done any collaborative songwriting ever, before hooking up with Chris, and this whole co-writing thing is something that I didn’t think I had in me, and I’ve discovered that I do. We sort of bring things out of each other in these really powerful and constructive ways. We’re not even close to the end of what we can do there. I feel like we’re just tapping into the best of it now. So yeah, we’re working on tunes, we’re going to make another record for sure, and we’re going to continue this thing. We have no intentions of slowing down at all.

GW: That’s great to hear. I know you guys have been hitting the road hard the past few years and it doesn’t look like that’s slowing down either.

NC: No, it’s not. We’re very busy.

GW: We talked about your solo material, and obviously you’re writing with Chris on the road. Have you worked on any solo material recently, or is CRB encompassing most of your time?

NC: This is encompassing most of my time right now, for sure, and that’s exactly where I want to be. But I have some solo songs on the backburner that have been there for a little while, you know, every now and then I write another and throw it on the pile, and one of these days I’ll make one of my own records. It’s something that I’ve done for so many years that it’s just part of the fabric of who I am. It’ll at least happen at some point, but at the moment I’m well busy with the CRB, that’s my main focus and taking up most of my time. It’s been an enormously creative four or five years for me with this band and I by no means-like I said-I think the best is yet to come from us.

GW: I would imagine, it seems to keep getting better every year. I know I’m looking forward to these shows coming up at Cervantes’. I’ll probably be there both nights.

One thing I wanted to bring up before I let you go: I was talking to Reggie Scanlan, who played bass for The Radiators and now The New Orleans Suspects, and he was really into photography. I know in the past, and probably the present, you have been too. I know you’ve put out a book of your own photography, and even took the album cover photos for a few albums with Ryan Adams and The Cardinals. What is photography to you, is it a hobby, is it a parallel to music for you?

NC: I’ve been around photographers for as long as I can remember, but I never did it myself. I guess I thought it was always the domain of others, I didn’t think it was something I could actually do. I don’t know why, I didn’t have that sort of confidence, but I guess I thought it was a different kind of art form for the people trained in the field and who really knew what they were doing. As I got older, I came to find out that I was wrong about that. Just like playing the guitar in a punk rock band, you can do anything yourself, you know what I mean? You can make up your own rules, your own style, and if you have something you can contribute and you have an eye for it and the inspiration, you can do anything, It doesn’t matter if you went to school for it or not. So I didn’t start taking photographs until I was well into my thirties and I began to notice that after going on fifteen to twenty years of touring, that I was starting to forget where I’d been, really, and I always prided myself on my memory. But I found that I’d been to too many places to remember, and I started taking photographs simply to document the life that I was leading.

A photographer who’s quite famous now, she wasn’t at the time, but her name is Autumn de Wilde, and if you look up her name you’ll see that she’s shot album covers for some of the biggest bands in the world, and has released several books. Well Autumn is a friend of mine and she had seen some of the pictures I had taken when I had gotten home from a tour, and she encouraged me to take photography seriously. It took a little coaxing, but I figured if Autumn said I should, then I better take it seriously because of how much I respect her. So I did, and it just took off from there. I also find that in music, people always need photographs. They always need them for records or websites or whatever they’re working on. And as a musician I have an amazing vantage point. I get to be in a position that nobody else really is because I’m in the band. I’m in an incredible place to take photographs, so I get access that nobody else gets.

GW: Right, it’s much different than the guy with the camera in the pit during the first three songs of a show.

NC: Exactly, I get to be where the band is because I’m in the band (laughter), you know, so it just seems like a natural thing to take advantage of that. So I do, I bring a camera with me everywhere I go. I shoot the musicians I’m around, I shoot the life I’m leading, the places I get to see that other people don’t, and it’s turning into a body of work now. It’s really exciting and rewarding to be able to build on this body of work every single day. I’ve contributed a lot of photographs to the CRB stuff too: the first Betty’s Blend are almost all my photographs, and there are a number of them that will appear on the new Betty’s Blend. My pictures have been on the CRB website. Photography is cool because it goes so well with music, it adds to the artistic life.

GW: The last few years I’ve been working for touring bands, and one of the first things I do when we get to a venue is take pictures. I take pictures of where we are, because when I get out of that sort of work, I don’t know if I’ll ever be back to some of those places again.

NC: There you go, it’s the same origin. My mom never got to travel, most of my friends are locked into jobs they can’t leave, in one place, and I get to do all of this cool shit. I’ve been to Europe, I’ve been to Japan, New Zealand, Australia, every inch of the states, so it seems criminal not to document it.

GW: Absolutely, people are going to want to see it, and you’ll want to see it, of course, down the line too.

NC: And what’s great about photography is you can do it alone. You don’t need a team of people to do it. It can happen all by myself. All I need is a camera. There are no rules, nobody is telling me…I can shoot whatever I want, there are no advertisers behind the lens of my camera, there are no rules, no guidelines, and no restrictions. It’s a very free thing. That’s one of the best things about it.

GW: Liberating, I love it.

NC: It’s very liberating, there’s tremendous liberation in photography as a matter of fact. Even though I’ll admit that the absolute glut of images that comprise our world now, even with that, you can still choose. You have the choice of what photograph you’ll take, what photograph you’ll share. It’s up to you what you’re going to do with it. Are you going to make a decent contribution or a shitty one? If you have a brilliant musician in front of you, or even an incredible redwood tree, you can make something beautiful out of that and you don’t need anybody else to help you do that, you can do it all on your own. I don’t know, with music and photography and everything, I’m just trying to make a contribution of some small value. It doesn’t have to be huge, I’m not trying to make any big moves here, but the smaller ones can really mean something. And guitars and cameras are good instruments, good tools for that goal.

GW: And it sound like you’re doing well with both of them.

NC: I’m trying man!

GW: (laughter) Well that’s what it’s all about. It’s like we were saying, keep working every day, because you’re never finished.

NC: No, never. Never, never!

GW: Well Neal thanks for taking the time to talk to me, especially on your day off. I know how that goes.

NC: No worries, it was great.

GW: I really appreciate it. I’m looking forward to the shows this weekend.

NC: Excellent man, let’s have some fun!

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 6:41 pm

While no longer touring with Tedeschi Trucks Band or the newly retired Allman Brothers Band, Oteil Burbridge is still finding balance between his family life and career. As one of the most recognizable bass players to crisscross the jam band web and beyond, this isn’t as easy as it seems. While he will be hitting the road this summer with the Aquarium Rescue Unit, weekend gigs and festivals are those that allow him to be with his young son and wife the most. These are fortunately becoming more common, with promoters putting together super jams and one-off lineups of musicians they think would fit together much in the same way you’d put together a fantasy sports team. It’s been happening at Jam Cruise and New Orleans Jazz Fest for years, but what was once reserved for late-night Phish after parties is now a concept booked all over the country. For musicians like Oteil it’s mutually beneficial, as he gets to work the weekends and be home with his family during the week. On top of that it’s introducing musicians from every background to one another. This cross-pollination is in the essence of creativity and spontaneity, and fits a player like Oteil, who’s been schooled by some of the greats over a fruitful career that kick started with Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit twenty six years ago.  It now comes full circle as Oteil and ARU embark on a tragic-comedy thrill ride through music and life itself starting late-July in Colorado. Oteil recently chatted with the Grateful Web’s John Schumm about getting back together with his old band, his family, career, and canoeing down the cosmic web that is the modern touring industry.

GW: This is John Schumm with the Grateful Web and I’ve got Oteil Burbridge with me. We were just talking about BB King’s music, as he passed away this morning. Before we get going, is there anything you’d like to say about BB? It seems like he got to everybody in some way.

OB: I mean, what can you say? I’m smiling ear-to-ear listening to him. He’s such a great person and I think I said it all on my Facebook page. Just considering the time and place he was born, it’s amazing that he could come through all of that and- aside from his career- to just not be bitter. But then you think about all he did, all the people he made happy and becoming known all over the world, loved all over the world. It’s just amazing. He had so much humility. His humility was as big as his iconic stature. He and Willie Nelson are the only two people I’ve met personally who are like that, where you really get that from them. It’s just so huge; it’s unbelievable.

GW: It’s one of my great regrets not being able to see him perform.

OB: Man, my wife and I bought tickets to see him at The Fox Theater. It was the first time I had seen him play live and he was telling old stories most of the night. It was like, ‘wow, you’re an icon.’ I was so blessed to see him live before he passed, he and Bobby “Blue” Bland. I’m really grateful for that.

GW: Which is saying a lot, because you’ve played with bands like The Allman Brothers, Tedeschi Trucks, Aquarium Rescue Unit, the list goes on and on.

OB: (Laughter) Yeah but BB King, he’s on another level. All of those people you mentioned, BB King is their hero, The Allman Brothers and everyone else.

GW: Did you listen to much BB growing up, were you into that type of music?

OB: No, not at all. I was way more into funk and jazz and fusion when I was younger. Col. Bruce had really helped me appreciate blues starting way back in the old acoustic, delta blues period, and that’s what helped me understand the electric blues. If you didn’t have chops like John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth, then it went right by me, but I was younger and thank god I met the Col. because I never would have been so into bluegrass and delta blues and all the stuff that evolved out of that music, all of the gospel and everything. All that music really helped me understand and appreciate it.

GW: I had a chance to speak with Col. Bruce a few weeks ago when I was down in New Orleans. He can be equal parts hilarious, sensitive, fortuneteller, you name it. When did you first meet Col. Bruce, and you just mentioned how he influenced you musically, but what does he mean to you to this day?

OB: I met him at a period where I was very frustrated with music, and seeing how he viewed music was such a relief. I was completely down on this planet and on myself, you know, and he was like, ‘this place is crazy, dark, and if you’re not down and feeling bewildered by all of this then you really are crazy, you should be shocked and appalled at what you’re seeing (laughter).’ But he also showed me the beauty. And he showed me what was funny about it and taught me to embrace the tragedy, but not to get so caught up in the tragedy that you miss the beauty and the hilariousness. He wanted all of that to come out in your music. He wanted you to embarrass yourself, stub your toe, be funny, be serious, be in pain, be in joy, be hopeful, be pessimistic; he wanted all of it. And I think that was a lasting thing for me, he changed the way I look at music and at life.

GW: I know you got back with the Col. and Jimmy Herring and maybe even Sipe down in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, and you guys are going to be touring once again as Aquarium Rescue Unit. Obviously that was such a long time ago when you guys first got started, but what’s it like getting back on stage with these guys? What’s different about it these days besides years of new experience?

OB: (Laughter) We’re old men now! I was in my early twenties and barely my mid-twenties when that happened, and I’m way more at ease in my own skin now. I think it’s kind of hard for us to think that twenty-six years have passed. It’s a little bit unnerving. Like wow, are you kidding? But you’ve got to accept it. It’s real. But I don’t know, I feel much better now than I did then; but that’s just from being older. It’s really great to get back together with them and just laugh about things because that’s a big part of what I remember about hanging with the Col. and that whole time. It wasn’t just the music, it was how much I laughed about everything; it was just like the way he looks at life.

GW: When the Col. stepped away from Aquarium Rescue Unit, you stuck around and kept the band going. What was that period like?

OB: I remember it kind of being one of those things where you never know what’s going to work or not work. I just knew that I didn’t want to recreate him, and to just try and go in a different direction or let whatever the new thing was to be what it is and not try to make it what it was with the Col. Because people like that can’t be replaced. You can’t go get another weird guy like the Col. because there is no other weird guy like the Col. (laughter). So we were just trying to keep on playing and make a living, just trying to keep going.

GW: Speaking of making music together, are you guys planning on working up any new material for this summer, or mostly riding with the older stuff?

OB: You know, going into it I begged the guys, I said ‘please let’s do some new stuff, I’m tired of the old stuff,’ but when when we started playing together, I realized that I’m starting to hear the old stuff differently now and I can really change it, anyway. I didn’t feel as concerned with it all of the sudden once we finally got there. We did work on a couple of new things that day that we got together for the photo shoot, but you know, I don’t know if I’ll be pushing so hard to do so much new stuff as just go ahead and make the old stuff newer. We probably will do some new stuff anyway, because why not, but in the old days I was never concerned about it, and I realized I don’t really need to be concerned about it now. If you don’t like how it is, change it (laughter), so we’ll probably just change it, and it’ll feel brand new.

GW: And like you were saying, with that many years in between when the band first started and getting back together, and with all of the bands you’ve worked with, and Sipe and Herring, you know, you guys are bringing your newer influences, or more so experiences you’ve had since then to lend to direction.

OB: We’ve done some reunion shows before.

GW: Right, around 2007.

OB: And they were fun, but I felt like I didn’t want to get stuck there doing those old songs, but that’s just the wrong mindset. When we got there we just started laughing and the feeling we had together made all of my worries go away and it’s like, whatever, I’m sure we’ll come up with some new stuff on the spot. There’ll be songs made up on the spot, and we’ll probably do different things with the old stuff, and you know, I’m not worried about it (laughter).

GW: Absolutely.

OB: It’ll be fun.

GW: A free flowing environment, that’s cool to see.

OB: I am hoping to do some Grease Band stuff, that’s still my favorite stuff is the Hampton Grease Band. And the album Arkansas, there’s just something really mystical about that Arkansas record. But that Grease Band is just so…I don’t know how people wouldn’t get that. It’s so dynamic; it’s such a great piece of recorded work.

GW: I don’t know if I’ve listened to all of that.

OB: Oh my god dude, your life is completely about to change.

GW: Well I know what I’m doing this afternoon (laughter).

OB: Dude, go this afternoon and buy the record, get on Youtube, and then call me back, or text me, and you’ll see why Zappa and Duane Allman and Dickey Betts and all of these people were-and all of the people that worked with him over the years-you’ll find out why they did it. I mean, it’s just one of the best records of all time. When I first heard it and when I listen to it now I am completely laughing my head off and screaming and hollering. It’s just a great band, man. Mike Holbrook on bass, we have the same birthday.

GW: Weird.

OB: Yeah man, it’s really great music, just really great music.

GW: I’ll definitely give it a listen and let you know.

OB: It’s called Music to Eat, by the Hampton Grease Band. Duane Allman was the one that got him that record deal so he could put that record out.

GW: Wow.

OB: Another connection in the web, as I say. No coincidences for me.

GW: There seem to be so many connections through all of the band members, these bands, would you say one of the ways you ended up with The Allman Brothers is through Col. Bruce, in a way?

OB: Absolutely, in a cosmic way, because what better preparation could I have for The Allman Brothers than by playing with the Col.? And the fact that Duane and Dickey were such fans of his, to the point where Duane got him that record deal to do a double album. I mean he got signed at Columbia for three hundred grand at Columbia in 1969.

GW: That’s insane!

OB: Lynyrd Skynyrd got signed for nine grand (laughter), in 1969! I didn’t have any Allman Brothers albums when I got that gig, now I look back and go, oh yeah, we were mixing jazz, funk, R&B, bluegrass and blues, and Avant-garde-well, not Avant-garde, I don’t believe that’s what Bruce is. Bruce is an extraterrestrial; he’s not Avant-garde. People who play Avant-garde are trying to play like extraterrestrials like Col. Bruce and Sun Rah and Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, but these people are not playing Avant-garde, they’re not from this planet (laughter)!

GW: They’re in their own little world.

OB: (laughter) It’s a whole other world! Way out there, many, many light-years, many thousands, perhaps millions of light years away to come here and give us some light and laughter. So I thought what great preparation, because The Allman Brothers were mixing funk, jazz, R&B, blues, country, and some out stuff, you know, and wow, I didn’t even see it coming. I could see no connection at the time, and now I think, oh my god you idiot, it’s part of the web!

GW: It’s all right there.

OB: Yeah, a direct connection right from Bruce and straight to me.

GW: That’s such a cool story. I didn’t realize the connections as far as that first album. You mentioned getting with ARU and initially wanting to do new stuff. Did that ever take place with the Allmans? I know you joined in 1997 and through the recent breakup. Did it ever get like that with The Allmans, where it felt like nothing new was necessarily coming through?

OB: Well it’s kind of the same thing, though slightly different, because when you have a band that achieved the level of success as the Allman Brothers, you have the de facto hits, which you have to play. People are coming to hear the soundtrack to the last carefree time in their lives, which is when they started paying bills and having kids and going to PTA meeting and all that. That’s the soundtrack to their rosy period in life, and people are always going to want to hear those songs. Fortunately they’re timeless songs and in the songs that have jams there are solo sections for us to do something completely different, so I never got tired of that. I’ll never get tired of “My Cross to Bear,” I’ll never get tired of “Please Call Home” or any of those songs, they’re just great songs and don’t lose their luster. Obviously it wasn’t the soundtrack to my youth (laughter), so from my perspective they’re just timeless songs. For both of those reason, or all three of those reasons, I’ve never had that problem with The Allman Brothers.

GW: I know you’d played with Derek in the Allmans and Tedeschdi Trucks, so you had that familiarity. Your brother Kofi was in TTB too. How did that work out, managing to play in both of those, with the Allmans and Tedeschi Trucks?

OB: Well, The Allman Brothers weren’t doing a lot of gigs anymore at that point. They’d been slowing down for a number of years. So we had plenty of time to do dates with TTB also, it wasn’t a problem trying to schedule it.

GW: Right, with the Allman Brothers doing the Beacon runs and not a lot of full tours.

OB: Yeah, they just weren’t doing fifty to sixty gigs a year anymore at that point. It was more like twenty, which leaves a lot of time open.

GW: I wanted to mention the Super Jams you’ve been a part of with Roosevelt Collier. I know you guys have come out to Colorado, I know you just did a gig in south Florida with Anthony Cole and Roosevelt and your brother, as well. What led to these? They really seem to have taken off within the past year or so.

OB: Roosevelt and I have been wanting to work together for awhile, and we both had done super jams together down at New Orleans Jazz Fest and a lot of promoters are starting to put these things on, their dream bands. It’s a really great idea, because I’ve been getting to play with so many people. I’ve been playing with mostly the same small group of people the last seventeen years, and now its really expanded. And to play with so many great musicians in these jams, and having to learn a lot of new songs, it’s is a lot of fun.

GW: And when you say new songs are you doing mostly covers or do you do your own individual songs from your groups?

OB: Well some tunes are Soulive tunes. We’ll do a Soulive version of a cover, maybe, or an original that Krasno wrote or anyone else wrote, or the covers they like to do. And of course we make them all our own (laughter). I keep thinking, I hope they’re all on tape because when we get to the solo sections it’s like we’ve written three new songs by the time two soloists are done. All of those are great tunes and that’s not even the song we’re playing, we’re coming up with something new. It’s really fun because almost any tune is just an excuse to go off, whether it’s a cover or whether it’s your own. And I’m learning so many old funk covers, and I love funk, I’ve been into funk forever, but I’m realizing how little I know about it. I’ve been learning a lot of these way more obscure funk groups that I’ve never even heard of, like The Soul Vibrations, The Fatback Band (laughter), all of these different bands, The Whiteville Brothers. I’m like, wow, there’s a bottomless well of this funk stuff I didn’t even know about.

GW: I’ve got my homework cut out for me. You think you were missing out; I’ve got a lot to catch up on (laughter)!

OB: There’s so much out there no matter what track you take (laughter). That’s been so great. And getting to play with these players, I’m really grateful for this time in my life, its been so much fun.

GW: I actually heard about those South Florida Get Downs from Anthony Cole, and he was saying great things, and how fun they were.

OB: Matt Lapham, the bass player they usually use a lot, we started emailing and he sent me some of AC’s originals. Dude, that’s some of my favorite stuff I’ve ever heard, ever! Stevie Wonder-anybody-ever. I really, really want to play in a band with him and do his originals. That stuff is so amazing. It’s been so great, all the people like that you find out about with these. It just opens up so many new things to you, if you weren’t familiar with a band before.

GW: It seems cool, and I know the crowd loves it. It’s got that spirit of Jazz Fest, Jam Cruise.

OB: Jam Cruise to me is like Jazz Fest on the water (laughter).

GW: Once you left TTB and settled in Atlanta, you started working on a solo album, Water in the Desert. How long has that been in the works and when can we expect to hear it?

OB: I’ve been working on it for like seven years (laughter), but my biggest project was trying to start a family with my wife, and we just had a baby boy three months ago.

GW: Congratulations!

OB: Thank you. So that’s dominating my time now. And between doing homework and learning songs for the next gig, interviews and being a dad and husband with a newborn, it just sets me back again. So I don’t know when it’s going to come out, but we only have about four songs left to mix or something like that (laughter), so slowly but surely getting down to the end of it.

GW: Now is that going to be a Peacemakers CD or is this your own Oteil Burbridge-thing?

OB: It’s not Peacemakers because the Peacemakers were Marc Kimbrell, Chris Fryar, and Matt Slocum. So to me, without those guys, it’s not the Peacemakers, it’s an Oteil record. It’s really more featuring Kofi and the singers, Alfreda Gerald and David Ryan Harris and Mark Rivers, more so it’s them featuring me, it’s me trying to get a little better at writing lyrics, hopefully a lot better, and just where my head was at, the things that were on my mind at the time and much less of a bass feel record.

GW: You’ve got the vocalists, but are you going to sing on it at all?

OB: No. I have, but the singers I like are so much better than me. And I have people asking me to sing, like Adam Deitch. He said, ‘you should really sing, I know you don’t like your voice and you think there are all of these singers that are better than you, but dude, Hendrix hated his voice too, so just do it.’ And I’ve had some other people ask me, so maybe I will. I don’t mind doing it live, I probably will again at some point, somebody will talk me into it.

GW: With all of the side projects, all of these bands you’re in and playing with, and the family life that’s taking hold, where’s your focus musically right now, besides the get downs, ARU and the new album?

OB: You know, I’m just taking things as they come. My whole focus is on my kid and my wife and right now I’m just trying to make a living and be able to have more time at home, which is a hard thing because the more I’m home, the less money I have. The more money I have, the less time I have with my son. So it’s one of those things where I’ve been really lucky in getting a lot of weekend work, and not long tours. I’m really fortunate. So work wise I’m just really taking it as it comes. As far as musically, where my head’s at, I want to do my banjo record and sit around and play banjo. That’s what I want to do. You know, if I had forty million dollars I would be doing my banjo band (laughter). We’d be doing my Afro-Billy, African grooves with Kofi Burbridge harmonies and vocals and Lamar Williams Jr., who is the son of the bass player that replaced Barry Oakley in The Allman Brothers, he’s doing all of the vocals and lyrics for my Afro-Billy project, but I don’t really have time to do that like I would like to. You know, to help my wife raise our son and to make a living. I’ve been so lucky with the super jams, because I’m honestly still having my cake and eating it too. A lot of these are super jam weekends; it’ll be a Phish after party, or a Grateful Dead after party or a Widespread Panic after party, Jazz Fest or Jam Cruise or whatever. Jam Cruise is actually the longest I had to be away from my family (laughter), except for New Orleans Jazz Fest, but they came down for that so that was cool. I’m basically just canoeing along with the slow of the river with my wife and baby in the canoe and trying not to lose my paddle (laughter).

GW: It’s amazing, because in such a touring dominated industry these days, it’s nice to be able to fly out and do those weekends and not being on these marathon tours like TTB.

OB: I think a lot of people are starting to get hip to the weekend; the country guys have been doing it for a long time.

GW: Oh yeah, the weekend warriors.

OB: Because they have families. It’s like, let’s go play this weekend and go home. So hopefully more of it will be going that ways, but I am lucky to be doing it right now and I feel very grateful that the minutes with my baby boy are just incredible.

GW: What’s his name, if you don’t mind?

OB: Nigel Mandela Burbridge.

GW: I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, so congratulations once again! I’m looking forward to catching you guys, ARU, this summer in early august in Boulder and Denver, glad I’ll be in town for those. And I’ll let you know what I think of those Col. Bruce albums.

OB: Dude! There’s this one song, “Hendon.” It’s listed as three parts, and the first part is called spray-paint. So they’re doing a double album on Columbia Records, have this huge deal in 1969, and they hadn’t finished the lyrics to the song yet so he picked up a can of spray-paint and sang the warning label on the spray-paint can at the top of his lungs. It’s the best song. It’s a minute and twenty-seven seconds of pure genius. You’re going to lose it; I lose it every time I hear it. It never gets old, it’s so funny.

GW: Well I’m on it this afternoon.

OB: Do it! Go back and forth between him and BB King and you’ll have had your church for the next year (laughter).

GW: (laughter) Hell yes! Thanks again for taking the time Oteil and I’m looking forward to catching you soon.

OB: Absolutely, it was my pleasure.

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 2:14 pm

Chris Robinson Brotherhood (CRB) is much more than individual players built around a popular musician. While there’s no doubt that Chris’ past with The Black Crowes has helped fuel their ongoing surge, it’s unfair to the band and their music to label it as such. This is a band in the truest sense, and over the past four years and counting it would be difficult to argue against such a notion. With three albums of original material and a variety of choice covers in the bag, CRB’s live shows are reaching the point where there’s no need to play the same songs night in and night out. Sure, there are songs like “Rosalee” that the band hangs their collective hat on, but in the spirit of the Grateful Dead, set lists have become more diverse. This was the case Friday and Saturday nights in Denver, at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, where the band played four total sets of rock and roll with psychedelic slivers abounding.

Show One

The band is longhaired and bearded. There’s a freak flag hanging behind their gear and a statuesque owl perched overhead. Smoke slithers from a burning clump of sage past Mark Dutton’s tapestry-draped bass amp. Dutton, for the record, is in blue jean overalls. There’s a strong hippie vibe that’s only accentuated by Cervantes itself, which is reason enough for the freak five to continue frequenting the joint after their two-night run this past New Year.

While show time was set for nine, the room was sparse in the early going. The late-goers started shuffling in at a quarter to ten and clogging the bars and sight lines, but a wholesome presence filled the pit between the stage and front of house console. Brotherhood Steam Beer, a collaboration with San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing, poured from the taps downstairs and by the time the band took the stage around ten, the crowd was well drenched in it’s malty, dry-hopped bite.

Watching a band tune their gear, no matter what decade it looks like they might have crawled out of, is a moment shared with the audience. Listening to those first notes brings the crowd in and hanging onto every chord, lick and whisper as the band plots their intro. Chris’ lanky frame bobs and weaves over rhythm segments with his guitar, his familiar southern drawl meets ocean breeze attitude in a laid back yet fluid groove with the rest of the band.

The aptly chosen Roy Brown tune, “There’s a Good Rockin’ Tonight,” initiated the mostly CRB-original filled first set. One of their newer songs, “Roan Country Banjo,” has lyrics that bloom like a page out of Robert Hunter’s songbook. The engaging writing between Neal Casal and Chris has taken off, and they have zero reluctance to include these new numbers in their still infant stages in front of a live audience.

The only other cover of the set, Buddy Holly’s “I’m a Hog For You,” kept things rollicking as the crowd sang along. While Buddy wrote the tune, the Grateful Dead happened to play it in the early seventies before Pigpen checked out, placing it on the large list of covers the Dead played and in turn made their own in one way or another, at least sonically. The Grateful Dead’s lasting influence can be felt at a CRB show, whether it’s the crowd, the choice of songs or even instrumentally through experimentation and an improvised, in the moment trajectory. A combo of originals, “Meanwhile in the Gods” and “Tulsa Yesterday” closed the set.

A band steeped in delta and electric blues, it was no shock when the second set started with a couple of back-to-back blues burners: “Boppin’ the Blues” by Carl Perkins and “Tomorrow Blues,” off of CRB’s Big Moon Ritual. Their choice in covers, some recognizable and some more obscure, all fit the web. The south meets west blend influences are clear in CRB’s songwriting, and backed by the covers worked into their repertoire.

Lee Dorsey’s “Get Out of my Life Woman” amplified the roots rock outfit’s fire in the lungs soul, whereas “Vibration and Light Suite,” off of Phosphorescent Harvest, cultivated an electric circus through Adam MacDougall’s eerie Moog wail and other assembly of sounds. It’s through their original material, songs like “Wheel Don’t Roll” and “Beggars Moon,” that you see the nearly handful of years together developing in full. An extended take on a New Earth Mud song, “Sunday Sound,” with the band jamming and soloing through every space to close the set, made it pretty evident too.

The band returned for an encore combo of “Catfish John” and “Big River.” While neither song is a Grateful Dead composition, they’re both tunes associated with the Dead depending on whom you’re talking to. And with the Johnny Russell tune coming to a close, so did night one of Chris Robinson Brotherhood, as the freak gang along for the ride made their way into the night.

Show Two

The annual Five Points Jazz Festival is filled with ox tails and pig ears sizzling to the soundtrack of local brass and gospel groups. By dusk it had become a de-camped tent city on Welton Street, a shell of its earlier jubilance. The dormant vibe did give way to a growing buzz, however, closer and closer to Cervantes. Once inside, it was clear the bulk of the audience had already jammed in by nine. Even the balcony-a haven for space the night before-saw crowds posturing for sight lines.

CRB sauntered on around ten and started the first set with “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” a tune that’s synonymous with just about every bopper and rocker out of the golden age of rock & roll. The slow roll built part by part and eased in the heads that had been waiting with a good shot in the arm. The band interplay spilled right over from the night before, with Neal and Chris weaving rhythm and lead parts and the rest of the band taking turns soloing out any early show wrinkles. Adam MacDougall’s Moog and fluttering clavinet wizardry didn’t take long to surface beside the articulate guitars and pocket shuffle. “Nice to see your Saturday Night selves,” Chris said, slit-eyed and grinning.

“Jump the Turnstile,” off of Phosphorescent Harvest, saw the band flexing their vocal harmonies. The song came to a near close before Neal ripped through a solo that sounded like his amp was bubbling underwater. Neal and Adam really led the charge on this one, with Chris’ rhythm guitar coming alive. A new tune, “Oak Apple Day,” slid right into the key-mistry and saw the attentive crowd trying to decipher the alliteration-fueled lyrics, most for the first time.

The first of two Slim Harpo covers, “The Music’s Hot,” upped the pace with Neal dialing in flavors of up-rooted country-funk. “Little Lizzy Mae,” off of Magic Door, preceded the more balladic “100 Days of Rain,” “before seguing into “Can You Hear Me.” The latter had backing harmonies reminiscent of their Buddy Holly cover from night one, and Chris preaching the gospel. Another track off of Big Moon Ritual, “Star or Stone,” slowed things down before firing through the end of the set with the second Slim Harpo tune, “Got Love.” Chris rambled through the ongoing rhythm, channeling his southern blues with fiery slide guitars, harmonica and a soul revival howl; something to satisfy The Black Crowes fans in the house and give us a taste of that electric boogaloo. “We’re going to take a quick break, thanks for coming out tonight,” Chris said before they traipsed off stage and we trickled out of Cervantes into the cool Denver evening now completely devoid of the tents and early day festivities.

The second set was washed with material from all corners. Starting with a take on Tony Joe White, they kicked into “Saturday Night in Denver,” alternating the name but bringing that Louisiana love. “Shore Power” kicked off the first of three straight CRB originals. Released in anticipation of Phosphorescent Harvest and also included on the most recent live release, Betty’s Blends Vol. 2: Best From the West, “Shore Power” is pure CRB through and through with relentless key and guitar parts tumbling around Chris’ vocals.

A Bob Dylan sandwich started with “Tough Mama,” followed by The Black Crowes’ “I Ain’t Hiding,” and completed with “Going to Acapulco. “ The first was covered by Jerry Garcia in his solo bands and comes as an underrated Dylan tune. The latter is even more of a rarity, found on The Basement Tapes recorded with The Band.

It seemed like it would be difficult to trump the energy they mustered in “Shore Power,” but then they dropped “Rosalee” to close out the set. To me their most recognizable tune and most likely to bring any juncture of either set into frenzy, this tune has it all. The well over ten minute version was more than enough to close out two monster nights of Chris Robinson Brotherhood, but an encore of Hoyt Azon’s “Never Been to Spain” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia” brought us all back to earth and wondering the next time they’ll be back through town.

This is a fully electric rock outfit with blistering leads complementing a solid pocket of Mark Dutton and drummer Tony Leone, and it feels like they’re just getting started. Chris Robinson Brotherhood is advancing traditional tunes to new ears, and in turn weaving all aspects of American music into their own songbook. The material Neal and Chris continue to work-up is priming their sets for expansion, making these two and even three night runs doable without repeating songs. I don’t necessarily want to say that they’re carrying a torch, but they’re lighting one everywhere they go.

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 9:19 am

Long before their marriage and musical union, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks found success in their individual endeavors. Susan has been belting out independent and Grammy nominated blues since the mid-nineties. Derek, growing up amongst the famous and exploitative shadows of The Allman Brothers Band, has been touring since he was a teenager and now embodies the spirit of the slide guitar. With Susan leading the way vocally and Derek howling through his Gibson SG, their combined effort has evolved into a traveling caravan eleven people deep. By inviting Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and Doyle Bramhall II along for the ride, The Wheels of Soul have really started spinning, and look to keep rolling through early August.

Anybody familiar with the weather in Colorado will roll their eyes when you mention a spring concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The wind, rain and violent bursts of lightning roll over the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and descend upon Morrison with impending wrath. It isn’t unusual. Red Rocks, like most of Colorado, has had its fair share of storms over the past two months, and in turn led to show delays and soggy, abandoned socks scattered throughout the lower south lot. With shows seemingly booked earlier each year, it’s just something you live with and (hopefully) dress accordingly for.

Due to the influx of traffic and the oncoming storm, Doyle Bramhall II could be heard but not seen for some in the lot, and not heard at all for others. Those already inside the venue were able to catch his set before taking cover, whereas those still parking were encouraged to stay in the shelter of their cars. Once the lightning ceased to dance across the apocalyptic sky, a colorful montage of rain jackets crowded the ramps leading into Red Rocks; the soul shaking voice of Sharon Jones ringing like a beacon to the wet and weary concertgoers.

Though Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings’ soul-revival sound is polished and feel-good, just seeing her running around on stage with her vocal range and energy is enough to make you smile and appreciate life. Only a couple of years removed from her initial diagnosis with cancer, Sharon is back and better than ever, and seems to be keeping it in high gear during her performances. With a throwback sound comes throwback style, and Sharon didn’t disappoint, taking us through a variety of old dance moves while her band kept the rhythm going. With wind and rain surrounding her, she decided to kick off her shoes and dance around in the puddles surrounding her vocal monitors, at one point exclaiming that she better not get electrocuted while bringing the house down with a cover of “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” In true soul fashion, she traipsed offstage while her band continued playing her outro. A queen and a star, Sharon is a must-see for any fan of soul and R&B looking to lose themselves in dance and time.

While the rain had slowed to a trickle, the wind was relentless as the eleven-piece ensemble emerged to the joy of a near sell-out crowd. The singers, the horns, the drummers, bass and guitars, this grouping is tight knit and roars with a collective identity. They started with Sly and The Family Stone’s “Are Your Ready,” initiating a show-long Sly sandwich. Dual drummers and percussionists Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson quickly churned into “Made up Mind,” the name of their second and most recent studio album, without so much as a pause. The soft rock muzak-feel of “Anyhow” gave way to the much grittier “Break in the Road” by Betty Harris. “You were the only man that could turn me on and make a bad girl out of me,” Susan growled over the blasting horns and Derek’s snake-charming fret slides. Susan has the range, and the emotive struggle she conjures in her vocals lets her tackle even the most revered covers.

The band rocketed through an instrumental take on Led Zeppelin’s “What is and What Should Never Be,” playing around with the Jimmy Page riff before zipping into an aptly chosen tune, “The Storm.” Derek tapped into a dose of acid-soaked Jimmy Hendrix blues, and the wind whipped his solos around Ship and Creation Rocks to a point where it was nearly inaudible at the top of the natural amphitheater. Kebbi Williams’ sax solo led into “Midnight in Harlem,” one of the bands most popular and exceptionally arranged tunes off of Revelator. The Mike Mattison composition features exceptional harmonies from himself and backup vocalist Mark Rivers, and saw each selfless individual pushing the team forward while integrating solos across the board.

Doyle Bramhall II returned to the stage looking like a cross between a spaghetti western Clint Eastwood and a mescaline-fueled member of Carlos Santana’s band at Woodstock. Kofi Burbridge ushered in another original, “All That I Need,” with a flute solo before continuing to work the keys. The horn section featuring Kebbi, Maurice Brown on trumpet and Saunders Sermons on trombone rolled along a sixties’ soul bridge to the sky like a sunny side up-sounding Derek and the Dominos tune. “Derek said we’re going to go as long as they let us,” Susan said after the song. “We’re just going to keep going until we get tackled, or until my fingers fall off…I can’t feel my fingers, is that bad?”

Doyle remained for a take on Elmore James “The Sky is Crying,” a song covered by nearly every recognizable R&B artist and numerous musicians with connections to TTB. With Doyle and Derek both having played with Eric Clapton, their familiarity with this song was off the charts and made for some soaring solos. Doyle is more trudge through the sludge, feeling his way through solos before wafting frenetic notes out like lightning bolts. Doyle even sang one of the verses, letting Susan showcase her often-overlooked guitar technique despite her numb fingers.

“Idle Wind’s” swamp rock rhythm flew under the radar with a light bass run from Tim Lefebvre and minute piano accompanying Susan’s voice. Kofi soloed on flute as Sue built her vocals to climax, the drum pace quickening from a hop to a skip. Channeling his long history with The Allman Brothers, Derek’s slide guitar slithered through the anything but idle winds that felt like a class five hurricane in the hills. An extended drum segment abbreviated the song, with the band rejoining as the dual percussionists nailed their kits in unison.

“Oh Lord, I thought it was Summertime,” Susan said after inviting Doyle, Neyla Pekarek from The Lumineers, along with Sharon and her horn section to the stage. Sharon teased Susan about how she had to perform in the rain compared to wind alone. “Can you tell we have a lot of fun up here?” Susan quipped before launching into “Tell Mama,” written by Clarence Carter and popularized by Etta James. The tight grooves and powerful horn section-reminiscent of The Blues Brothers-backed the three part lead vocals, with Sharon encouraging Susan to “tell em!’” They could have said goodnight right there, but all good things deserve another, and they returned to the stage with twenty artists in tow: all of the aforementioned folks and the remainder of The Dap Kings.

Starting with a horn-tastic take on Sly and the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song,” they kept it going with “I Want to Take You Higher.” The vocalists took control over the wash of guitars and horn barrage during the chorus and had the entire crowd singing along. Then the guitarists started trading licks chop for chop, with Binky Griptite upping the ante. Sharon howled at the moon as Derek’s trademark slide wound us down slow, the full-blown soul shakedown culminating in a blinding array of improvisational freedom. Susan sent us off with thankful and appreciative words, The Wheels of Soul spinning onto their next destination and set of ears to turn on.

Sun, 08/09/2015 - 9:23 am

Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit’s reputation rests on freelance improvisation and artisanal jazz and blues, but twenty-five years of observational polish didn’t hurt the second of two nights at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado. Like old friends shooting the breeze, they’d already revitalized their well-established familiarity. The sights and sounds were altered, but haven’t they always been?

A sage at seventy-one, Col. Bruce is like Atlanta’s I-285, with Jimmy Herring, Oteil Burbridge, Matt Slocum and Jeff Sipe the crisscrossing interstates within the encompassing loop. It’s an enigmatic grouping on a stage full of smiles. Oteil was especially animated, singing “Working on a Building” off of their self-titled live debut to start the show. Making music together again is certainly hitting a cord. The resurrected lyrical oddities are as marvelous as they come, nostalgic for both band and fans.

“Another Man Done Gone” was a blues to the core song of the south, with Col. Bruce on harmonica to start. Following band intros that mentioned “Oteil from Egypt” and “former friend of Dick Cheney’s, Matt Slocum,” the soul shaking “Isles of Langerhorn” showcased their hankering for the bizarre. The hormone producing regions of the pancreas defines the song’s name. The song itself, however, has much more to chew on than a WebMD diagnosis. “Zambiland” showed why ARU is considered one of the originators of the jam band. With a litany of instrumentals objectifying complacency, they set the tone for the now well-developed genre of noodling raconteurs. Sun Ra’s “Space is the Place” melted into “Rampage,” giving way to a combo of new tunes, “The Dragon” by Sipe and Bruce, and “Phantom on the Curb,” by Slocum and Bruce, to close the set.

“My Brother’s House” started the second set, with reggae keyboard flares that U-turned into blaring teeth on string overdrive before wrapping back to the bar band bop. The crowd really jumped for “Fixin’ to Die,” a song that can be traced back to blues artist Bukka White and covered by Bob Dylan. Jimmy Herring’s distinct shrill saw him darting all over the place in in a fury, fully provoked by his bandmates with an inside joke feel. “The Col.” Oteil shouted as they brought the tune to a close and started into another blues staple, “Smokestack Lightning.” Col. Bruce growled alongside the intro, channeling Howling Wolf before letting Herring take the familiar blues riff for a walkabout. The ballpark organ vibes accompanied Col. Bruce’s slide guitar, and Herring matched him in rhythmic ascension to no end.

“1911” allowed the Col. to rap with the crowd in his exquisitely odd and fantastical way, supported by heavy hitting chords dark in unison and pounding away beside him. His bellowing monologue was indicative of the personality he’s characterized over the years. Prior to encoring with “Cheese Frog,” Oteil and Col. Bruce exhibited an array of odd motions such as a salute, bow and skip. To someone that had never seen them play in the past, I felt like I had stumbled into a concert twenty something years prior, and while being in the moment, there was the feeling of an inner circle; if you don’t know, now you know. And anybody that’s seen Col. Bruce and this juggernaut band will say the same.

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 5:14 pm

The nostalgia that takes hold when an artist like Gregg Allman rolls into town is unavoidable, and really, why would you want to avoid it at all? Coyotus Maximus brought along his newest band for two sold-out shows at the Boulder Theater last week, mixing up old songs with new tricks. Having a lifetime’s worth of material to choose from, Gregg and company spread open the songbook and presented a different set of retrospective hits each night.

The Richie Furay Band opened both shows with sweet, folk-rock. With two fathers, a son and a daughter, we heard classics from Furay’s career with Buffalo Springfield and Poco. While support acts are often overlooked, Furay was a homerun. The crowd even moaned when the musician turned Christian minister introduced the final song of his thirty-five minute set, “Kind Woman,” which, as usual, was “dedicated to my bride, year forty nine now.”

Watching both shows behind the mostly seated crowd shed insight into the nature of The Gregg Allman Band’s performances. Despite the range of tunes in his arsenal, Allman is still defined by a number of selections recorded with both The Allman Brothers and his solo bands; so much so that he feels obligated to play a handful each night. It’s a badge of honor to have so many hits, and the band even presented re-worked renditions of songs like “Whipping Post.” Having a horn section composed of dual-Memphians Art Edmaiston on saxophones and Marc Franklin on trumpet, as well as Jay Collins on sax, kept things fresh for the handful of tunes that were repeated over both nights, and breathed new life into the never-get-old selections.

Each show started with a tune associated with The Allman Brothers (Statesboro Blues night one and Don’t Keep Me Wondering night two), followed by “I’m No Angel,” the semi-autobiographical track off of Gregg’s 1986 solo album of the same name. With lyrics serving as a poignant reminder of his excessive indulgences in rock and roll’s greatest vices, Gregg belted out the tune in his own proud, nostalgic manner. The elder statesman of southern rock has a revitalized howl in his lungs after bouts with a variety of maladies over the years, and it’s clear that a healthier lifestyle is benefitting his performances.

While both setlists followed a similar framework, the plug and play selections defined each night.  Night one saw “Come and Go Blues,” “Queen of Hearts,” “Trouble No More” and “Stand Back” flesh out the set. In a nod to Warren Haynes, Allman took the reins on “Soulshine” before taking a sabbatical from the stage and allowing his guys to get loose. Night two went in a slightly different direction, with Brothers’ classics “Done Somebody Wrong” and “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” giving way to a series of solo tunes that should have had fans out of their seats. But there was something reserved about the pace on numbers like “Before The Bullets Fly” and “Sweet Feeling,” as well as “Floating Bridge” off of Gregg’s newest studio release, “Low Country Blues.” All were played exceptionally well, with the organ and keyboard interplay between Gregg and Peter Levin flying high on “Ain’t Wasting Time No More,” but the enthusiasm from night one wasn’t nearly as present throughout.

I knew going into the second show that it would be difficult for the band to match the energy expended during night one. Having two days off prior to the first show probably helped push them over the top, and in turn might have left them feeling a little sluggish night two. Song selection impacts this as well, as some of the crowd seemed in the dark on Gregg’s solo tunes. Sure, some of the songs were less well known, but the audience seemed to be sleepwalking. That’ll happen on a Wednesday night, but the band is supposed to feed off the crowd, and vice versa. That being said, this band doesn’t have a slouch in it. With drummer Steve Potts and veteran Allman Brothers’ percussionist Marc Quinones driving alongside the bass lines of Ron Johnson, they never had problems finding a groove. With so much talent in one band, it’s not unusual for them to critique themselves and iron out any wrinkles show to show. It does make me wonder, however, if being in attendance night one skewed my perception of the second show.

Following band introductions, they kicked into a rotation of Allman Brothers’ tunes clearly intended to elevate the energy for the finale. Tuesday night included “Don’t Want You No More” and “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” whereas Wednesday saw “Black Hearted Woman” and “Hot Lanta.” “Freight train, each one looks the same,” Allman sang while strumming an acoustic guitar next to bandleader and guitarist Scott Sharrard. “Melissa” is one of the songs Allman picks up a guitar and gets out from behind his organ for, and preluded “Midnight Rider” both nights towards the tail end of the show.

The ending read through the Allman Brothers catalogue was a nice touch to bring the crowd back into it before the encore. A night after encoring with “One Way Out,” Gregg and the band hit a high with a solitary “Southbound” to end night two. Gregg dedicated it to “my friend, Mr. Dickey Betts,” and words like those leave hope for the The Allman Brothers to reconvene for one last tour. Edmaiston made his way downstage for a ferocious sax solo that reminded everybody how much the horn section adds to this soul and blues-swinging juggernaut, leaving us on a high note and whistling our way out the exits.

No, it’s not The Allman Brothers, and no, it’s not The Gregg Allman Band of old. This is a southern soul, rock and roll revue filled to the brim with B3, horns and weaving slide guitar. Seeing Mr. Allman behind the organ and standing onstage playing guitar in such an intimate venue is something I’d have never imagined through the years of seeing The Allman Brothers tour sheds and amphitheaters. And to see him do it twice, back to back, with two thirds of the setlist altered…well, somebody pinch me. The full frontal nostalgia was unavoidable in terms of songs played, but with this band, something old can always become something new again.

Sun, 11/15/2015 - 9:40 am

Dave Brandwein and his eight bandmates are running coast to coast and daring you to keep up. Turkuaz is enjoying its most successful tour to date behind a conceptual album filled with nods to eighties babies and the high velocity funk they’ve come to embody. On the heels of a blowout show in Denver and a weekend at Hangtown Halloween Ball, Dave took a few minutes out of his day off in San Francisco to chat with the Grateful Web about what makes them tick in a touring industry heavy in so-called funk and jam acts, and what keeps them from being just another face in the lineup.

Grateful Web: So it’s Monday, and Turkuaz has a couple of days off before getting to Bend, Oregon. What are you guys up to, what’s the band doing?

Dave Brandwein: We just played Hangtown Halloween Ball, which is this fall festival here in Northern California that a bunch of the High Sierra (music festival) people are involved in throwing. It was really fun. We hung out there for a couple of days and actually split up. Some of the guys went to Reno, where one of our bandmates’ folks are, and the rest of us are came down here to the Bay Area, San Francisco, and we’re hanging out here for the day enjoying the city. And tomorrow we make what should be a beautiful drive up to Oregon. We’re actually going to do an interview in Portland in the morning and then go back down to Bend for the show Wednesday night. So we’ll get up there for the interview Wednesday morning and get back down to Bend for the show that night.

GW: Yee haw, you guys are running all over the place.

DB: Yeah, it should be a nice drive. A full day of driving Tuesday. 

GW: Now are you guys in a van, a sprinter?

DB: We have two different vans. We rented some bigger vehicles for tours before, but in terms of our day to day, it’s usually two vans and one of them pulls our giant trailer with all of our gear in it. Our other van is actually another reason they went to Reno, because we have some people that can help us out and work on it there and I think it might need a new transmission, they’re figuring that out today. We may have to have them leave it there and use a different vehicle, and pick it up after the northwest, because we go all the way to Texas. So they’ll just pick it up with a new transmission. We’re used to touring (laughter), we’re used to things like that.

GW: You guys have been on a pretty extensive tour so far and it’s not over yet. You’ll be in Eugene, OR for Halloween. Do you guys have anything planned for that night as far as covers, costumes or anything for the holiday?

DB: We’re still working on that. The people of Eugene will have to come and check it out and see what we end up with. I mean, on any given night one thing we’ve learned is just to focus on putting on the best show possible. As you may know, we’ve done a lot of cover sets and things like that in the past, and we’ve also had a lot of special shows with New Years and stuff like that, and I think it’s important that the main thing is to put on the best show possible. So we’re still brainstorming for Halloween, we’ll see what we come up with.

GW: Let’s say someone walks up to you on the street, what would you tell him or her that they could expect at one of your shows?

DB: It’s always hard for me being inside looking out and trying best to describe us from the audience’s perspective, but I would say that it’s a true show in every sense of the word; as much visually as it is an auditory experience. Nine people on stage provides for a lot of stimulation and a lot of entertainment. I think in our show, each member really gets a chance to shine and stand out and show their musical talent as well as their showmanship. And it’s really, really electric in terms of the energy that goes into it. I’d have to say there’s never a dull moment, really, in the show. Loud, fast and really fun not only for the audience, but for the band too, which I think goes a really long way.

GW: I was hoping to make the Denver show, though I wasn’t able to. I heard it was rocking.

DB: (Laughter) Yeah, that was the best one of the tour so far, I would say. There’s something about Colorado.

GW: I was checking out the tour blog you guys have going and Craig (Brodhead-guitars, keys) mentioned that Denver is “a new capital for music,” and I was wondering what you thought about that and Denver in general as a city to pass through?

DB: We’ve only been going to Colorado for the past two years now, but it does seem that, for whatever reason, there just seems to be such an influx of people moving from all over the country to Colorado, and to Denver specifically. And those same types of people from all walks of life and all different places in the country that are moving there are huge music fan. It just so happens that whatever anyone is bringing there, that they’re just fun loving, cool people who just really love live music. So I think with that type of population of people that moved there, it has only added to how much of a music market it is. I mean we were there on the same night as so many other amazing shows, like Dopapod and I think Dark Star (Orchestra) was close by and Moon Hooch, and we still had a packed house at Cervantes Ballroom. That just goes to show how much there is to go around there, in terms of fans and music lovers. It is really cool. Other than that I don’t know enough about how it used to be, but the consensus among musicians is that it’s one of the…at the very least one of the music capitals right now.

GW: I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that your new album, “Digitonium,” just came out and is doing well. I saw that it debuted on the Relix Jam Band charts at number five. I think you guys eclipse the jam band genre, which is really all encompassing these days, but regardless, it’s awesome and great to see that the album is climbing like that and you guys are pulling good crowds at the shows.

DB: Thanks. This album was definitely different for us and we were hoping people would like the direction that it goes in. It’s a separate thing than a lot of what we’ve done in the past. We’ve always said and still say that we love being part of the jam and festival scene, but we think that our music also speaks to different groups of people as well. That’s what I’d like to see happening more-even going into this next phase-just seeing more crowds mix, and not just for us but for other bands too. Especially with the festival becoming a lot more mainstream with the additions of things like Coachella. I think everybody can start getting back into the live music thing and away from the EDM on one end of the spectrum and also from pure pop music on the other end of the spectrum. I think that there’s a group of bands that are both in the studio and on stage doing things that the masses can kind of grow to love and be just as excited about as the jam scene is. So that’s something we hope to be a part of, melding some of those musical worlds and getting more people involved.  

GW: With jam music you get a lot of funk, which is what you guys are referred to as, a power-funk group. Funk as a label gets thrown around a lot, kind of like jam bands. What’s your interpretation of funk right now, and what is your band doing to separate and distinguish yourselves?

DB: With the case of funk, especially where its roots are, it’s just sort of been watch and learn over the years to see and draw inspiration from the music we love that is classified as funk. And I think that for us it’s as simple as that. I’m not going to claim to have any crazy life experiences that put me in the same realm as a James Brown or Sly Stone or something like that, obviously. Aside from the obvious differences, those are the people that invented it, and all we’re really doing is taking it and applying our musical sense to it. That involves a lot of classic rock and even some eighties pop and things like that, and we sort of just apply our own songwriting and production styles to the original funk music that we grew up on and continue to listen to.

The real thing about it is it’s pure, fun music. And that’s what this album is for us. Although it has a lot of funk on it, we started to stray away a little bit into some songs that are more lyrically driven and a little less groove oriented and a little more of a song in the classic sense. But funk will always be at the forefront of what we do. As far as what sets us apart, again, a lot of the funk stuff and jam scene is more groove based and instrumentally based and we have four lead vocalists in the band and are very song and lyric oriented, too. So I think within the jam scene that’s a big difference with us. We’re maybe a little more in that Sly Stone category, as far as lots of different vocalists and a lot of song structure involved in it.

GW: I was recently listening to “Digitonium,” as well as the newest EP, “Stereochrome.” There’s a pretty big difference in what you hear on the album as opposed to the EP, which shows the range you guys have and what sort of ideas have been coming into your heads. What was the idea behind the new record, and what was different from the EP? What was the process behind each?

DB: I can tell you exactly. We basically went into making “Digitonium” way back in September of 2014. We knew-although a small handful of songs were written before going and doing it-we knew exactly what kind of sound we were going for and we knew exactly what the concept was behind it, which is much more synth heavy, futuristic kind of funk sound that we’d never done before. And we wanted the recording to be really hi-fi and more modern sounding, although it does have eighties elements and stuff like that, but essentially it’s the most modern thing we’ve done so far. But going into that we had a couple of songs that we knew absolutely weren’t going to fit and some stuff we’d even been playing a bit live, and we wanted to get it down at a certain point.

So we went in and started “Digitonium” in the fall, and then we had a bit of a break between that and going back to finish it. And in that break I was like, ‘what if we use these few songs we’ve wanted to do just for a quick EP?’ We decided to go into my studio in Brooklyn, record it straight onto tape and do it in a couple of days. The polar opposite of how we’re doing “Digitonium,” with layer upon layer on each song. So “Stereochrome” may have been a bit more for us than anything. I’m sure it’s a little confusing to some people who picked up the EP and then they got the album and was like, ‘man, this is the total opposite.’ But it was kind of nice for us in the process of being so meticulous on the one hand with one record. We had these tunes we wanted to do at some point, so hey let’s go in and do them straight to tape, mix it, master it, and put it out.  And that’s exactly what “Stereochrome” ended up being, these few more soul, old school kind of tunes that we had. I don’t think we used a piece of gear made after 1970 to do the entire thing.

GW: And it takes on that sound, it really does.

DB: Yeah you can tell the difference in about a second of putting each record on, totally different approach that we took. And I think it does show our range, I’m glad to hear you say that, because it’s definitely a bit of a confusing two things in a row to put out.

GW: I can see where that would be confusing. I was curious myself at first, but looking into “Digitonium,” that’s how I see it. Not necessarily the roots of what you started doing, but you had the idea for the album, you kill it over what, twenty-two songs. There’s so much going on. I love it. And the other one is so much more stripped, and I think putting them out so close together really does show the different things you guys are capable of doing. It shows different sides.

The first single from “Digitonium” is “The Generator,” and I did want to mention the music video. That was hilarious. The costumes, the mannerisms and the facial expressions you guys hit on are so perfectly tuned in with the music. It’s hilarious.

DB: Yeah that was done by my wife Dani, who does all of our visual stuff from photos to videos to merchandise and wardrobe. That was her concept for sure. When she heard the song, she said, ‘I know exactly what I want to do for this.’ She put a team together, we found a 1985 Panasonic VHS camera to film it on to really go for that authentic eighties’ look, and I think we got it (laughter).

GW: You definitely did.

DB: They rigged up that old crappy camera to do all sorts of crazy things. They put it on a dolly and were spinning it around and moving it side to side. They actually did some really cool things with it. And we are really, really happy with the way that video came out.

GW: You just put out the new album and are in the middle of a tour, so obviously it’s hard to think about what’s on the horizon, but what’s next for you guys? Where do you want to take things next?

DB: I think in 2016 we have a little time off before and after New Years where we’re going to do some writing, and that’s one of the things I’m going to need to decide. Doing “Digitonium” was such an intentional thing. I guess my thought is for the next batch of songs and next album to maybe be where things go naturally in the writing process more than aiming for something particular. But I think we’ll find out what exactly that is. Most of all it’s just continuing to make stuff that our fans and we enjoy. But yeah, we’ll do some writing in the first part of the year and hoping to record, again, sometime in the summer. But yeah, that’s pretty much it. I mean we are hoping to expand and keep on touring and get to the point where in 2016 we’ve played pretty much everywhere in the country. We could even expand a little bit. Maybe start to expand into Canada, and you know, just kind of spreading the word and spreading our fan base. I think “Digitonium” is a strong enough release for us where we can continue to tour in support of it all the way through the next festival season. And that’s definitely our plan; we want to focus on that for a while. But of course continue writing and getting ready to do some new stuff in the future.

Another thing that we want to do at some point is performing a full “Digitonium” show once the album’s been out for awhile and people are familiar enough with it that they wouldn’t mind if we did it at one of our shows. I think we’re going to plan at least a series of special shows where we’ll do the entire album front to back. So that’s another thing we’ve been thinking about. And the vinyl for both the album and EP will be out a little before the holidays-right around the holiday season-so that’s something to look forward to. And we have another music video coming out in the near future for another song off of “Digitonium.”

GW: Very cool. Do you have any ideas for the concept of that video, or still brainstorming?

DB: (Laughter) We’re not going to use a VHS camera for this one. It’s going to be way weirder than the last one.

GW: I can work with that.

DB: It’s going to be strange, that’s all I can promise. It’ll be upsetting to children, however you interpret that (laughter).

GW: (Laughter). Well cool. Dave, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I’m looking forward to the next time you guys make it to Colorado and I’ll be keeping my eyes open.

DB: Thanks man, later.

Thu, 11/26/2015 - 10:06 am

It’s the week before Halloween and Brock Butler and Matt McDonald of Perpetual Groove are on different phones and in separate rooms within the same Atlanta recording studio. With two shows in Charleston, SC on the docket, and two more later in the year in Colorado, the band had taken to rehearsals to work out covers and dust off the tunes they’d gotten back to playing earlier in the year.

“Not nearly enough,” guitarist and lead singer Brock Butler lamented when asked if they used to rehearse like this during their heavy touring years. “We didn’t have the time to do it the way we do it now. There’s never enough [of a] break between shows to go rehearse for three days at a nice place and take our time and really work through things,” Matt adds. Enter the sudden yet not entirely surprising announcement of the band’s 2013 hiatus.

For two long years Perpetual Groove was gone but not forgotten. Their largely southeastern fan base was uncertain of what exactly a hiatus entailed, and as it turns out, so was the band. “I would say contact was minimal to none at all,” Butler said of inter-band communication during the time off. By not disbanding the group entirely, they left their fans hope for the future, though apparently it was one-sided. Fortunately luck and happenstance can occasionally bypass hope, even in the form of loss.

“If you stole Matt’s guitar, fuck you!” Brock exclaims between bouts of laughter. After hearing about Matt’s stolen guitar-in Denver of all places-Brock took to Facebook to voice his displeasure. While Matt had jam-bushed Brock at a solo show in Athens, GA before the theft, it wasn’t until the stolen axe rippled across social media that their combined years and memories got the motor humming again. Following a series of phone conversations over the next few months, Brock recalls a text he received from Matt at the start of 2015: “Matt sent a text to me and the wording was, ‘hey, do you have a minute tomorrow for a call where we can discuss the future,’ and to me that implied that there is one.”

While a two-year layoff might have crippled some bands’ chemistry, Perpetual Groove is no worse for the wear. In fact, they’ve broken through mental hurdles and erased outside perceptions that once weighed on them. “I think we’re all better musicians than we were a couple of years ago, and I think that translates,” Matt says. “I think we’re all just a lot more comfortable. We no longer struggle with identity, like when you’re an up and coming band trying to write new and challenging things. Having that comfort of knowing who you are musically, and a lot of us as a person too, it translates directly.”

Their extended history and recent bouts of soul searching within and outside of the band bore a common thread. “One thing that was said over and over by all four of us before we started was that we didn’t really want to go and grind it out anymore. That didn’t seem to be a very productive way of doing things on every level,” Matt said about their cumbersome old touring schedules.

Matt had taken his own leave of absence between 2008 and 2012 to focus on his family and other musical interests, so when Brock hit the point of needing to rehabilitate his own lifestyle only a year into Matt’s return, it came as a surprise. Sure, Brock seemed increasingly lethargic and frail during performances leading up to the hiatus, but it was difficult to fathom how the band was back together again yet hanging it up so soon. As bleak as the future looked-much like Matt’s own time away-the fans stayed with them, following Matt, bassist Adam Perry and drummer Albert Sutton’s work in Ghost Owl, and Brock’s solo appearances and Facebook uploaded acoustic renditions of tunes meaningful to him. They might have been gone in the combined sense, but refused to be forgotten, whether they knew it or not.

With the band back on the same page and ready to return to the stage, the idea was floated to play two nights at The Georgia Theatre, seemingly putting the band back on the fast-track to their pre-hiatus years. Except this time Perpetual Groove had grown up, and as agreed to, concluded that there would be no extensive touring in 2015. “We announced what we were doing for the whole year back in June. So we had a very clear path of getting our toes wet [and] seeing what the water feels like. And it feels pretty nice,” Matt said about picking and choosing offers while constructing their battle plan to re-assimilate with their fans.

So far they’ve dipped their toes in Georgia, Florida, Brooklyn and at the Resonance Festival in Ohio, with their Halloween run in Charleston, SC preceding two nights in Denver at Cervantes Masterpiece Theater by a little over a month. While they’ve never properly toured the west coast, the Colorado connection has always been kind to them. Like Brock said, “…it pulls people from different regions.” Colorado has always been a hub for transplants from all over the country, and the southeast has shared a connection with Denver, and Colorado in general, even before the green rush. “There were the obvious markets, and like I said earlier we were in the this really fortunate position to kind of pick and choose where we wanted to get our toes wet this year. And Denver was, I’m certain, one of the first cities named,” Matt explained.

“The real answer is because it’s the closest market with legalized cannabis,” Brock laughed. While legal weed has upped the ante with tourism and incoming residents, Denver has always been a music hungry city. Like Atlanta, which is hosting Perpetual Groove, Widespread Panic and STS9 on different stages for New Year’s runs, Denver is a hotbed for multiple concerts week in and week out. The non-native Coloradans from all across the country have an affinity for the bands that come from their neck of the woods, helping to pack venues when bands like PGroove come to town.

Their return to Colorado certainly isn’t empty handed. With a successful and reinvigorated grouping of shows behind them, they’ve found themselves not only rehearsing more than ever, but in the studio. “Paper Dolls” is not a new song, but the band found it relevant in a number of ways. Starting with a digital break-beat before falling into a synth fueled eighties ballad in the vein of Sting, the forthcoming lyrics separate them from the rest of the so-called jam-bands. The autobiographical tone is PGroove through and through, and aside from the shows, the most encouraging signs yet that the quartet is hot on the comeback trail. While conversations about a new album and the future of their Amberland festival are just now being explored, there’s little doubt that Perpetual Groove is back and will be in a city near you in 2016, even if it isn’t a part of a marathon tour.

With newfound comfort as a collective and a strategic mapping of how to re-launch Perpetual Groove, they’ve found exactly what makes their dream worth chasing, and for Perpetual Groove fans across the nation, that’s much better than no dream at all.

If you’ve missed seeing Perpetual Groove’s name on your local venue’s marquee over the last couple of years, the wait is over. Following a soul-searching hiatus that allowed members Brock Butler, Matt McDonald, Albert Suttle and Adam Perry to re-connect with new perspective on life and music, the show is ready to go on. Armed with the newly recorded “Paper Dolls” and a handful of shows behind them, Perpetual Groove is ready to hit Colorado for two nights at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom before concluding 2015 in Atlanta. Guitarist/vocalist Butler and keyboardist McDonald took time out of their Halloween rehearsals to discuss life after the hiatus and the state of the band, and even scratched the surface of hopes and plans beyond the New Year.

Grateful Web: Thanks for joining me you guys. Brock was just telling me that you’re both calling from rehearsals down in Atlanta. What are you guys working on right now? Are you rehearsing for the shows coming up this weekend, new album stuff, new songs?

Brock Butler: Halloween always introduces a lot of fresh covers, and it was that way for a few years where whatever we learned at Halloween would serve as a nice, fresh bit of cover material to introduce each year.

GW: So Halloween this weekend is in Charleston, at The Pour House. You guys are doing two nights there. While we’re on rehearsing covers, you guys have performed with each other for ages now and have longstanding onstage chemistry. Did you use to rehearse like this before tours and shows when you guys were touring throughout the year?

Brock: Not nearly enough, I don’t think.

Matt McDonald: We didn’t have the time to do it the way we do it now. There’s never enough break between shows to go rehearse for three days at a nice place and take our time and really work through things. It was always writing on the road, for the most part, and rehearsing at the show. At least at soundcheck.

Brock: Considering the tour schedule that we used to keep, I think our body of work is actually quite solid given the manner in which most of it was written. There was probably one time a year where we definitely had to sit down and say, ‘ok everybody needs to be here, this is what we’re doing.’ It would usually be towards Halloween and New Years type shows.

Matt: Around Amberland we’d usually get some work in.

GW: While we’re on the subject, do you guys have any plans-I know it’s still in the early going-but are there plans down the line to revive Amberland?

Matt: Definitely maybe.

GW: I like that.

Brock: If the question is are there plans, then no. If we adjusted a little bit for context and said has it been remotely discussed, the answer is yes.

Matt: I feel comfortable saying there aren’t solid plans but there is a discussion. But it’s more of a ‘it would be nice’ discussion right now. I think after we finish this year, or after we get past Halloween, really, we’ll probably start to talk a little more in focus about 2016 and the game plan, if you will.

Brock: Yeah because Amberland is an incredibly taxing event in every sense of that as far as musically, financially, all of that. Or at least for me it’s incredibly taxing, so that would have been quite a thing to try and tackle when we went from not even really talking to each other all that much to going, ‘yeah, let’s get together and play again (laughter).’

GW: When you guys went on hiatus in 2013, how did that discussion to get back together go? I know Matt, Albert and Adam were in Ghost Owl and had that going on, but you mentioned that you weren’t really talking. What was your level of contact during the hiatus and how did the conversation get rolling again?

Brock: I would say that contact was minimal to none at all. I did an acoustic show in Athens and Matt came down and just jumped up and we did a show about a little over a year before and that was the first encouraging thing where I felt like, let’s just get right to it and just put all the bullshit aside, and that was a lot of fun. I heard Matt got a guitar stolen, I believe in Colorado, wasn’t it Matt?

Matt: In Colorado, yes.

Brock: So put that in your article, if you stole Matt’s guitar, fuck you (laughter)!

Matt: (laughter) Seriously! Brock had I think put up the post on Facebook and he and I had touched base a couple times after I saw him in Athens, just a here and there kind of thing. And I called him, because I was actually driving back from Colorado.

Brock: Woo…

Matt: And we spoke at length, I think, for the first time on that drive and that was at the beginning of December last year. I would say we were starting to speak pretty regularly by the time Christmas rolled around. Just after New Years we talked about the band.

Brock: Matt sent a text to me and the wording was, ‘hey, do you have a minute tomorrow for a call where we can discuss the future.’ And to me that implied that there is one, so I’d say Matt did a lot of the pre-production if you will, the leg work of already having Adam and Albert, and the thoughts on if they were willing to discuss it. And everybody was hip to that.

GW: I know you guys went into the studio at some point and recorded, most notably, “Paper Dolls,” which you released recently. I know that’s a song you guys had been playing before the hiatus, so what’s going on in the studio? Did you record more than that-any new songs-is there an album in the works?

Matt: We recorded “Paper Dolls” in September. All this whole year has kind of been getting our toes wet again. Does that make sense? So that’s why we’ve done the shows the way we’ve done them with two night runs being pretty spaced out. One thing that was said over and over by all four of us before we started was that we didn’t really want to go and grind it out anymore. That didn’t seem to be a very productive way of doing things on every level. So we did “Paper Dolls” because it was appropriate on a lot of different levels, and it was one that was already there. I think next year or the end of this year we’ll probably go into the studio and work on some new stuff. The details of that haven’t really been hammered out yet, but everyone has been playing it real loose and cool, I guess just getting our toes wet and better yet just having a good time playing these tunes again, and going and doing this with each other. So I definitely think we’re going to do more of it, but a lot of the conversations that you’re asking about are just starting for us.

GW: Yeah, it’s still so early on.

Matt: I mean yeah, it’s been less than a year since we started talking about doing this again, and it was like ok, let’s do The Georgia Theatre. And the thing happened with the theatre pretty quickly, and we had some other offers you know, so let’s space it out. We announced what we were doing for the whole year back in June. So we had a very clear path of getting our toes wet, seeing what the water feels like, and it feels pretty nice. So yeah, a lot of those conversations are just starting right now, to answer you honestly.

GW: Understandable. I think it’s smart dipping back in like you were saying. Doing the weekend warrior thing, playing weekends and going home. It’s got to be nice instead of a full on tour right off the bat.

Brock: And I’ll tell you, as far as writing new material, and in my experience I feel…if people are going to butt heads at all, because right now it’s not like, ‘how does that go,’ it’s already established material we’re covering. So writing new stuff can be where everyone has their different tastes and its been whatever we’ve been listening to over the past two years, so it should be interesting when we sit down and start to discuss music. I’m excited for it, because you get everyone’s take on what kind of band we are and what kind of band we are possibly going to be.

Matt: To piggyback off what Brock was saying, what we found with “Paper Dolls” is that we’re all in a very similar place now as far as our wants and needs in the studio and how we all approach it and we’re all familiar with it at this point. We’re super lucky to have Tom Lewis be the gentleman that was in the studio with us as a producer, and he was close friends and worked heavily with Newt Carter, our front of house engineer for years, and that relationship-Tom’s excited for us to all go and do that again. So I think that gets the four of us more confident and excited because it was just a perfect vibe, just mellow and kind of how you’d want it to be. So I’m excited that Tom wants to do that with us, so I think we’re in good hands with somebody that’ll let us do our own thing and still provide a little nudge in the right direction when needed.

GW: With two years away from it and coming back and being on the same page, has anything shifted perspective wise or in the direction of the band when you guys came back together?

Matt: I would venture to say that we’re probably more comfortable with it and have a stronger sense of identity than we ever have before.

Brock: That’s well put. That’s definitely well said. I agree with Matt on that. I think everyone is glad to be doing it again and have the opportunity. Sometimes if you do anything for far too long, you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore and I think that manifests itself in the music we’re making and how we’re all engaging with one another. A gratitude for having another go at it.

Matt: I think we’re all better musicians than we were a couple of years ago too, and I think that translates. And I think we’re all just a lot more comfortable. We no longer struggle with identity, like when you’re an up and coming band trying to write new and challenging things. Having that comfort of knowing who you are musically, and a lot of us as a person too, it translates directly.

GW: Like you said about being better musicians, you’re never finished learning. There’s always something new to tackle. So you guys are coming out to Cervantes on December 3rd and 4th. The crowd here is thrilled to have you back. What is it about Denver and Colorado in general that helped it make the list of the few shows you guys are doing in 2015?

Brock: If you were to ask me where are PGroove’s main markets, they’re the ones that always had a good audience and response. So we do two nights in Brooklyn, two nights in Florida, two nights in Georgia and then two nights in Colorado. Colorado, I think the reason that that it’s so great is it pulls people from different regions. It’s close enough to some of the west coast stuff. We never really did get out to California and the true West as much as I would have liked, but it’s so much trickier to get out of your market if you aren’t widespread promoted. Denver is just an awesome city. So is Boulder and Vail. We’ve always had very solid support from the audience and fans and friends out there.

Matt: Even from our first time out there I remember there was a super strong transplant [population]. I know it’s even more popular now (laughter) but early on Georgia and Colorado connections were everywhere.

Brock: Oh yeah, even before they legalized the weed, I knew like ten different people from Georgia that had all moved out to Colorado. I was like, there must be something to it.

Matt: (Laughter) There were the obvious markets, and like I said earlier we were in this really fortunate position to kind of pick and choose where we wanted to get our toes wet this year, and Denver was, I’m certain, one of the first cities named. Colorado as a whole; Boulder is also good, Aspen, pretty much everywhere.

Brock: The real answer is because it’s the closest market with legalized cannabis (laughter).

GW: (laughter) You don’t want to go all the way west to Oregon, it’s too far right now.

Brock: We’ve got to be efficient here, travel dollars you know.

Matt: I think we’re going to make it out west for like a week next year it’s looking like. So we’ll finally go past Colorado for the first time.

Brock: That’s news to me, that’s exciting.

GW: That is exciting. You heard it here first.

Matt: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, we’ll hit them all.

Brock: If it’s news to you it’s news to me.

GW: With the return of Perpetual Groove no longer in question, we’ve been focusing on the future and not so much the past, and about all the stuff happening into 2016. What are you guys individually looking forward to the most as the band ramps up activity again after a couple of dormant years?

Brock: Well I’m really excited about…I already have a couple ideas for framework for some songs for everybody, because that’s usually how it goes: somebody brings in the frame and we all kind of finish it out. So I’m excited to, if I have an idea, and being familiar with these guys and knowing what kind of contributions in addition some will make to some things, I’m looking forward to presenting everybody with some of the material I have and hearing everybody else’s. That would be my answer.

Matt: Yeah I mean mine would fall in the same place. I know all of us have new stuff and new execution, and it’ll be good. After writing for so many years together, one thing when you first sit down to write is, you kind of hear, instinctively, what Brock or Adam or Albert will do or add and you start to have your own ideas about it. What can be the most fun sometimes is when you have an idea in your head of what someone might do and then they do something completely different. You know, that’s why you want them to be the other people writing with you. It’ll be nice to do that. So that and seeing friends, you know. Playing shows is pretty fun, we tend to have a pretty good time onstage, so just continuing that, for sure.

GW: Well we certainly enjoy ourselves in the crowd as well. Thanks for taking the time do this and I look forward to seeing you at Cervantes in December.

Sun, 12/06/2015 - 6:36 pm

Perpetual Groove is back. Playing in Denver for the first time since February of 2012, they settled into their two-night run at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom on Friday with a show that stretched into the wee hours of Saturday morning. The four piece trance rock outfit is riding high with their return to the stage after a two year hiatus; rejuvenated after a collision course of self-discovery and introspective exploration. With the longtime core intact and amicable, their fans in the mile high city came out ready for a reunion, and the two sets served up memories in jubilant fashion, even paving way for more to be made.

Following a set by The McLovins, PGroove-as their fans call them-took the stage just before 11P.M. The chatty crowd eclipsed the first notes of Pearl Jam’s “Release,” which started slow with an emphasis on the vocals. “TSM2” got the crowd singing along and grooving to the lighthearted jam from their first album, “Sweet Oblivious Antidote.” “All that I know is I hope that you know that we’re all doing fine,” Brock Butler sang in a truly emotive moment for those longtime fans seeing the band, and a healthier Brock, for the first time in years. Denver has been obsessing over Brock Osweiler for the past couple of weeks, so it’s only fitting that the real Brocket Launcher came to town and put on a show.

“53 More Thing to do in Zero Gravity” preluded “Stealy Man,” both off of “All This Everything,” before finishing the first set with a raucous “Sun Dog.” Easily one of my favorites, they can take the hootenanny instrumental explosion in different directions, and tend to each time. This version was strong as could be and a highlight of the show to that point, especially Albert Suttle’s intricate drumming breakdowns and range of syncopated beats. Their boundless energy put an exclamation point on the first set, leaving the near sellout crowd high fiving one another as the house music and lights came on.

“Cairo” started off the second set after a relatively short break. With tight drum and bass interplay between Suttle and Adam Perry, Matt McDonald took the music to a foreign land of synthesizers and slow trance dreams, trickling over the “perpetual groove.” Another signature song came in the form of “Three Weeks,” which defines the band’s sound. It is, in essence, groove music with all sorts of effect-laden sounds. The inner “emo” that spills across a number of their songs is seen here as they’ve never shied away from wearing their emotions on their sleeve, or in this case, their lyrics. It has a similar framework to a number of their tunes in terms of how it unfolds, which sees soft and sweet strumming and lyrical interplay leading into a frenzied uptick in rocking instrumentation before bringing it all home.

The heavy arena rocker, “TTFPJ,” geared things toward a take on Weezer’s “Say it Ain’t So,” which a lot of the young folks in the crowd probably recognized from the “Guitar Hero” video games. McDonald played guitar in addition to Brock and the crowd sang right along. The lighthearted, vibrant fiddling of “Playground” is in fact a musical playground, much like their other instrumentals, and was emotional in tone. “Two Shores” brought the second set to a close, as Brock let us know that “when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”

The bands’ affinity for the nineties continued into the encore, with Brock coming out solo and playing an acoustic rendition of “Big Empty,” by The Stone Temple Pilots. It was no surprise considering the Pilots’ recently fallen front man, Scott Weiland, but was a touching rendition and resonated with those in the room that caught what Brock was doing. The rest of the band came back out for another of their signature astral ballads, “It Starts Where it Ends,” signifying a sign of more to come after a powerful return to Denver.

While the first night had come to a close, the band set the stage for a potentially blazing second show on Saturday night, with numerous jams and fan favorites left hanging in the rafters of Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom. Yes, fans of any band will critique shows night by night, but everybody seemed to leave with the feeling that Perpetual Groove is back and better than ever. In my opinion, that’ll always trump no PGroove at all.

Sun, 12/13/2015 - 11:28 am

Kyle Hollingsworth is well known as the keyboard player for The String Cheese Incident, but over the years he’s become just as recognizable by his insatiable thirst for craft brews of all sorts. Those worlds collided Saturday evening at The Fillmore in Denver as Kyle Hollingsworth’s Hoppy Holidays paired a thirty brewery collective with a live band soundtrack featuring John Brown’s Body, Kyle Hollingsworth Band featuring Jennifer Hartswick, and headliner Anders Osborne. There was revelry in the air at the Conscious Alliance benefit, resonating with malts and music. Though still early in December, the holiday spirit surrounding Colorado’s love of live music and craft beer was hopping.

From the moment doors opened to the old Mammoth Roller Skating Rink, tap handles were in motion and beer was flowing from the booths gathered together on the dance floor and along the upper gallery. Longtime local breweries such as Avery, Boulder Beer, New Belgium, Left Hand and Oskar Blues joined relative newcomers Wibby, Crooked Stave, Fate and numerous others. While focusing on the craft brews of Colorado, there were exceptions, including Lagunitas of Petaluma, CA, and one of my personal favorites, Destihl. And if you wanted a sweeter change of pace, Redstone Meadery was doling out their honey wines.

While Destihl out of Illinois had me making multiple trips to continue sampling their Wild Sour Series: Flanders Red, the votes favored locally based Crystal Springs Brewing Co., a fantastic joint in Louisville, Colorado. With so many selections to choose from, it was difficult to recall them all when it came time to vote, but it seems like my taste buds were aligned with most of the others in attendance. Lost Highway Brewing Company was a close second place, and can be found just down the street from The Fillmore for delicious Belgian styled brews and snacks along Colfax Avenue.

With the sampling going until 8:30, there was more than enough time to chitchat with those in attendance. Whether they were here for the bands, the booze or both, everybody was feeling festive and looking jolly. Some were lingering around televisions showcasing college football conference championship games. Others were still shuffling booth to booth, but a decent few made their way to the front of the dance floor to get their thinned blood shaking to the grooves of DJ Russo, a well-known fixture in Boulder and Denver.

As the beer sampling slowed, John Brown’s Body took the stage and reminded us that we were, in fact, at a concert. Front man and lead vocalist Elliot Martin paraded the stage with his long dreadlocks whipping from his receding hairline, pumping out energy we had yet to feel in the cavernous hall. JBB has been touring for ages, and were even the first band I saw after moving to Colorado in 2006. While lineup changes have altered the band and their sound, the message is still clear and pours forth with each appearance. They’ve evolved beyond the roots reggae band that started out on the east coast, developing a louder, funkier sound with the three-piece horn section igniting them. Their swagger brings the crowd into their inner sanctum, and at the end of their set the event had clearly transitioned into a concert setting over beer festival. John Brown’s Body’s lively Colorado shows are always crowd pleasing and had the jovial hordes guffawing while waiting on Kyle to take the stage.

With the crowd now ready for the show, The Kyle Hollingsworth Band came out with energy louder than Kyle’s ugly Christmas sweater. A funky “You’ve Got the World” off of Speed of Life, was one of many highlights, including SCI numbers “Let’s Go Outside” and an absolutely ripping “Rosie” that went ballistic both on stage and within the crowd. The originals were throttling as the set went on, and they slayed their covers too. We were treated to tastes of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean,” and an out of the blue take on Terrapin Station. Trumpeter and vocalist Jennifer Hartswick brought the roof down with her renditions of soulfully recognizable covers. While you might know her from Trey Anastasio’s band, she stepped in with Kyle and company and belted out pristine renditions of “Piece of My Heart,” by Erma Franklin and popularized by Janis Joplin, and James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.”

Some were surprised Kyle wasn’t headlining the show, as it bore his namesake, but having the southern swede Anders Osborne close out the night with his rail splitting guitar overtures and stories of addiction gave the audience a shot in the arm. Anders wasted no time ripping through one of his autobiographical descents into darkness, “On the Road to Charlie Parker,” and grooving alongside John Gros on the organ and keys. Hollingsworth sat in on keys alongside Gros for the traditional “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” widely covered and one of the crowd pleasers of the night. Carl Dufresne’s aggressive punch on bass had the whole band kicking along, and Scott Metzger and his trusty Telecaster’s iron twang always fits in with Anders’ style. Whether Anders is in town with Southern Soul Assembly, North Mississippi Osborne or even his own band, it’s not to be missed. With such a filled to the brim lifestyle now behind him, his stories unfold in his songs and lay siege to your conscious, for better or worse.

The beer goggles were out in full force as the crowd made their way into the cool Colfax night with an abundance of sloppy high fives and discombobulated motions. While some were off to bed and some off to have another beer, it was clear the event was a success, as Kyle’s brew fests usually are. We can only hope to see lineups (bands and breweries) like this in the years to come, because they truly mix the best of Colorado’s scenes. Hoppy Holidays to all, and to all a good brew.

Check out more photos from the show.

Sun, 01/03/2016 - 3:12 pm

With a quick turnaround on the heels of a three set New Year’s Eve show, The String Cheese Incident spoiled friends and family to more of that cheesy goodness on their second night at Broomfield’s 1st Bank Center. While the costumes and elaborate spectacles were reeled in (as much as they can be at a SCI show), the 3D screen was stunning and the music seemingly more engaged. Hangovers be damned, the band and crowd came to jig.

The boys of SCI took the stage late, around 8:45, but wasted no time treating the faithful to one of their well known anthems, “’Round The Wheel.” Pandemonium swept across the venue as multitudes of different colored glow sticks rained down and the lighting rigs sprang to life alongside bearded Bill Nershi. The band was all smiles as they continued into “100 Year Flood.” Michael Kang and Jason Hann played eye to eye while the band unfolded in harmony, slipping into a synth fueled Michael Travis freestyle and the ever-uplifting “Shine.”

“45th of November” caught some of the seemingly committed and costumed fans with their pants down. Kyle Hollingsworth, wearing a red onesie, wrote the music and longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter provided the words for the live rarity, as Kang mentioned. Hollinsgworth sang a snippet of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” on the tail end.

“Outside and Inside” brought a balancing dose of fun-loving Nershi funk before going off the deep end with the transformative jazz of “Birdland,” featuring electronic breakdowns and bass bombs by Keith Moseley, and fiddle-licking good picking. With the conclusion of the Weather Report instrumental, the first set on the first day of 2016 was in the books.

“If you can’t beat them, join them,” Nershi proclaimed as SCI returned to the stage, launching into the electronic funk-grass stomp of “Colliding.” “Rhythm of the Road” led into Nershi’s home ode, “Colorado Bluebird Sky,” and the video screen displayed the Colorado flag waving in the wind of white-capped rocky mountain peaks.

Things started jamming together with “Stay Through” and Bob Marley’s “Exodus.” The back-to-back punch of “Rivertrance,” in all its psyche-Celtic glory, and the lighthearted bob of “Rollover,” extended into quite the instrumental to end set two. The crowd cheered in appreciation as the band departed the stage, setting up a lengthy and memorable encore as the clock turned past midnight.

Michael Travis and Jason Hann welcomed Kris Myers of Umphrey’s McGee for a wild drum jam before the rest of the guys returned to the stage with Umphrey’s Brendan Bayless on guitar. “We’re going to keep this party going,” Kang said before Bayless led them through a take on Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” He had no trouble hitting the falsetto notes, and they jammed right into Hollingsworth’s “Let’s Go Outside” to round the whole thing out.

With the New Year hangover in the rearview mirror, the costumed fans made their way to the exits under the audible eargasm that is Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” playing over the PA. “We’re going to party, Karamu, fiesta, forever,” and the jig goes on.

Check out more photos from the show.

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 3:34 pm

The ever-changing Everyone Orchestra and its ringleader Matt Butler is a carnival collective of musicians juggling their instrumental talents in an all-out improvised landscape. For the first of two shows at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver, Butler welcomed Michael Kang and Michael Travis (The String Cheese Incident), Oteil Burbridge (Dead and Co.), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Natalie Cressman (Trey Anastasio Band), Rob Compa (Dopapod), the Dirtwire duo of David Satori and Evan Fraser, Jay Starling (Love Canon), and newcomer C.R. Gruver (The New Orleans’s Suspects). The talent onstage translated into a jammed out two-set show that reached for the sky and ended around two in the morning.

Beats Antique’s David Satori and partner in crime Evan Fraser opened the show in western attire, mixing electronic beats with down home roots and blues. I’d never heard of Dirtwire, but their set nearly stole the show and their cowboy outfits were appropriate with the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in full swing across town.

Butler took the stage in a white jacket embroidered with psychedelic patterns and a top hat, giving the crowd something to stare at as his back is usually facing them. He welcomed first time member CR Gruver, a fantastic singer and piano player and no stranger to the Denver scene. The guitar onslaught featured Compa on electric, Kang on his modified mandolin-guitar and Starling working a resonator and lap guitar. Oteil, though difficult to see in the back corner, thumped the band along to Butler’s cues and had a rapport with Travis’ drumming from the start.

While Butler conveys his vision to both band and crowd with a dry-erase board and animated mannerisms, the band does the rest. It’s a fun-loving groove session. There were certain highs that had the crowd into it, but with little singing and loose structure, momentum dragged and individual solos garnered the most applause. The brass combo of sax man Steve Berlin and trombonist Natalie Cressman, who is equally impressive with her vocals, was a highlight, along with Gruver, who more than held his own. While improvisation is their shtick, the jams could have lassoed some of the individual players’ tunes for the sake of familiarity, as things grew monotonous at times.

While he band returned from a short set break with renewed energy, the encore had rolled around by the time they found their sound. With Saturday night featuring most of the same players, and a night of Butler’s ring leading under their belts, the sound can only elevate for night two. If you’re willing to get out of the comfort of formulaic songwriting, and I mean way past the grey area, then the Everybody Orchestra is for you.

Check out more photos from the show.

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 11:36 am

Touring behind the November release of “Set in Stone,” Stick Figure’s sixth album since 2007, Scott Woodruff and his band are hitting their stride. Fresh off of support roles on nationwide tours, the reggae foursome is on a cross-country jaunt in command of their own destiny from now to May. Headlining clubs from coast to coast, Kevin Bong (keys), Tommy Suliman (bass) and Kevin Offitzer (drums) have joined Scott in the solidified lineup that’s growing on the fly. With Cocoa the Tour Dog along for the ride, Stick Figure is captivating audiences with their reggae blend, and are making three stops in Colorado before heading west. Tonight they take the stage at The Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, tomorrow at The Aggie in Fort Collins, and Friday night in Denver at The Gothic. Scott took time out of his day off to chat about the long ride he’s endured to this point, and how all the hard work is finally paying off with their newest release and headlining tour that has him making the music, he loves with the friends he holds closest.

GW: Hey Scott, this is John Schumm with the Grateful Web. Thanks for taking the time to chat.

Scott Woodruff: Thanks for having me.

GW: I know you guys are down in Colorado Springs for the first of three Colorado shows, but how’ve you been since that Fall Tour with Slightly Stoopid?

SW: We’ve been good. We released our last album, “Set in Stone,” November thirteenth. That was actually the last day of that tour at the Norva. Where was that, Virginia Beach?

GW: Norfolk, Virginia.

SW: Norfolk! That’s right. Then we had a couple of months off, and we started rehearsing all the new songs for the “Set in Stone” Tour. We’ve been on the road about two weeks now, and it’s been fun.

GW: You guys are getting into a busy schedule with the headlining tour. It seems like you’re touring from now in Colorado, off and on, into May. Colorado, especially Denver, seems to absorb all types of music as their own, with reggae no exception. You guys are doing three shows here with Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Denver. With three shows in one state, is there something you look forward to in coming to Colorado more than other stops?

Scott Woodruff | Stick Figure

SW: It’s for sure one of the most beautiful states in the country. Whether it’s the summer or winter, we always love coming here. When we’re playing shows here, it’s primarily the crowds. I feel like Colorado just has a love for reggae music in general. Unlike this tour, we typically come through and plan it to have two days off to go snowboarding. We’re all big into skiing and snowboarding, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to work this time around because we’re heading out to Salt Lake City after the Colorado shows. But yeah, we’re all about being outdoors and being in nature, and Colorado is one of the best spots for that.

GW: I hear that. Have you guys played The Gothic in Denver before?

SW: Yeah, we played there two years ago on the Winter Tour with The Expendables. We opened up for them. But that was the only time we played The Gothic.

GW: Who’s opening for you this go round?

SW: Katastro is the first band of three. They’re out of Arizona and more of a rock band, but it’s awesome because it breaks up the night a little bit. And then Fortunate Youth from LA, and they’re more roots music.

GW: That’s a cool lineup. I don’t know how long you guys can stick around, but there’s a Moe’s BBQ down the street from there with a bowling alley that’s open late. So keep that in mind, it’s right down the street from The Gothic

Anyway, you released “Set in Stone,” the newest album you mentioned, in November. Going back to your first album, 2007’s “The Sound of My Addiction” was followed by a few others that you played all of the instruments on. Did you tour as a one-man band during those years?

Scott Woodruff | Stick Figure

SW: No, I never really toured. There were a few shows here and there with friends leading up to 2012, but no. I just started producing as a hobby, and I did it for fun in high school, and that’s where “The Sound of My Addiction” came about, and through college, I just had a little spot in my apartment and always recorded. Eventually, it turned from a hobby into a full-time thing. And in 2012 after I put out “Burial Ground,” which is the fifth album, we kept getting cool offers for tours and stuff. Up until then, it wasn’t something that I was that eager to do. I thought maybe someday, but once 2012 came we got an offer to do a tour with The Green, and I figured yeah, let’s try it, I’ll get a band together and see what happens. It was real quick, about two weeks. We met Kev, our drummer, and asked if he wanted to do this one-time thing and we just started jamming and went out on our first tour and have been doing it ever since.

GW: So how did K-Bong, Kevin, and Tommy come together with you, how did you assemble them?

SW: I met them all in California. K-Bong I met in San Diego right when I moved there back in 2009, I think. We did a couple of local shows here and there, local San Diego bars, and he would play keyboards. When he joined the band, I had put out an ad saying I was looking for a keyboard player, and I said beginners welcome, and he was taking piano lessons at his local college. He didn’t really even know how to play, but we just started jammed around a bit, and he just picked it up as he went (laughter).

GW: You would never think that, watching and listening to the show.

SW: (laughter) I know, and if I had never said beginners welcome, he may have never hit me back or anything. Everyone that’s joined the band has kind of been there. When we did our first tour, it was the beginning of summer, and it left at the end of summer. So Tommy, the bass player, and I had always played guitar together, but he had never played the bass guitar, ever. So I said ‘dude, you should buy a bass and learn the bass, and we’ll go out on tour, it’ll be fun.’ He just started practicing every day all summer, and that’s how he learned to play bass, and he sounds awesome. And I met Kev, I forget how I met Kev, our drummer, but eventually, everything just worked out perfectly. Now we have a new guy, a fifth member who’s a multi-instrumentalist. He plays bongos, percussion, and guitar, and all the keyboard parts I used to do as well. And he does vocals. He definitely helps fill out the sound. His name is Johnny Cosmic.

GW: Johnny Cosmic?

SW: Yeah, that’s his stage name. We just call him Cosmic (laughter)

GW: When you got the guys together for the touring lineup, as far as “Set in Stone” goes, did you continue writing and plying all of the music, or did that have the guys on it as well?

Cocoa the Tour Dog

SW: That one is the same as all the others; I did all the music and recording and production and all that. Most of the music is recorded when we’re off tour. So we’ll go on tour for three months, and we’ll have two months off, and during those months off I’m just recording all the time. Every day I take it like it’s a day job, and I record music. It doesn’t feel like a job because it’s what I love to do. So I try to spend a lot of what’s considered time off writing music, and that’s when I usually get most of the work done. So it was over the course of the past three years since we’ve been touring, during our time off, that I recorded the album. For me, it’s just easier that way. I can get it exactly how I want it, and there’s no going back and forth or anything. The end result is exactly how I envisioned it.

GW: And how would you say that changes from the album to the live setting, where you have the guys with you? Would you say they emulate what you’ve done on the album, or do they have the freedom to expand a little bit?

SW: We definitely simulate. We try to play it pretty close to the album because typically that’s what people want to hear. They want to hear what they know. But everyone throws their own spin on it, you know, nobody is ever going to play it exactly like I play it. Kev is a very versatile drummer, so he can do all sorts of stuff that I can’t. So he throws his spin on it, and for the most part, I just let the guys do their thing, and it feels good.

GW: Having been with the band for a while and knowing each other so well, when you’re writing songs are you ever thinking about how it would sound with the band on stage?

Scott Woodruff | Stick Figure | Gothic Theatre | Denver, CO

SW: Yeah, well, before I would have all of these different parts, and there would have to be three or four keyboard players onstage. But this is the first album where I’ve put in energy knowing this song is eventually going to be played live. And I really thought about it differently, and that’s the first time I’ve ever done that, just in the past couple of years. Which made for some cool tracks, some cool parts.

GW: I would definitely say that you see growth on this album if you go back and listen to some of your earlier albums. And I’m sure that’s translating directly to the stage out on the headlining tour. How has the reception been on tour so far?

SW: It’s been incredible. We’ve never done a tour where we’ve heard crowds singing like this. All the shows in California were sold out, and we weren’t expecting the success we’re having on this tour. So it feels like all the hard work is paying off.

GW: Great to hear. Touring is so essential in an industry where relevance in record sales continues to dwindle. You said you hadn’t really toured until 2012, but since then what do you enjoy most about hitting the road with your bandmates, crew, and Cocoa the Tour Dog?

SW: Just being able to see all the new places. We’ve all become such good friends over the last couple of years, so it’s really just traveling around the country with your best friends, and every day is a new spot I’m getting to play music, which is what I love the most. And like you said I’ve got Cocoa the Tour Dog, and she comes everywhere; she loves to travel. We’re just so blessed and honored to be able to do what we love to do.

Stick Figure

GW: You guys have been on tour in a support role, and now you’re headlining your own shows. Let’s say a band that’s opening for you asks if you have any advice for them. Anything you would impart to them at this point?

SW: I would tell them to just keep doing it. We probably could have started headlining years ago, but we did get on some great support tours that put us in front of these big audiences. Over the last three years, we’ve done so many of those, and so many people got to hear us live, and they weren’t even necessarily going to the show for us. They were there for a band like Slightly Stoopid or Rebelution, then got to hear us, and if they like it, they become a fan of ours. So you know, support tours are huge, but it really comes down to having a good product. That’s what people come to your shows for. If they love the songs and love the music, they’re going to want to see it live, and I think that’s one of the most important things.

GW: Well surely fans and newcomers alike are excited for that product to be on display at The Gothic on Friday. I don’t want to jump too far ahead seeing how the tour is so long and you just released the new album, but what do you see happening this summer and beyond?

SW: We’re not sure. We don’t actually have any tours locked in. There’s been talks here and there, but we do have a lot of festivals lined up, so it might be a summer full of festivals every weekend, which is always fun. Then we’re going to try and get over to Europe next fall. That’s the plan, and we’ll see what happens.

GW: That’s awesome. This is clearly an exciting time for Stick Figure as you continue to carve out your name and sound with shows around the country. Thanks so much for joining me, Scott, and is there anything else you’d like to add?

SW: Just looking forward to seeing you in Denver on Friday, it’s going to be a fun one!

GW: It’s going to be a blast. Take care and thanks again.

Stick Figure plays The Black Sheep in Colorado Springs Wednesday, The Aggie in Fort Collins Thursday, and The Gothic Theater in Englewood/Denver Friday Night.

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 1:36 pm

Stick Figure is no longer a one-man reggae act from Massachusetts. In the midst of a headlining tour that’s seen sold out shows at every turn, the five piece band revolving around the music of Scott Woodruff is turning up the heat. Following shows in Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, the gang descended upon The Gothic Theatre in Denver (ok, Englewood) for another packed performance in support of their newest album, ‘Set in Stone.”

Taking the stage just after eleven, the band launched into their six-album catalogue. The years of touring in a support role on major tours has allowed Woodruff and company to gel as a band while playing in front of unaccustomed listeners, many of whom showed up Friday night. Drummer Kevin Offitzer and bassist Tommy Sulivan rolled the band into action, and newcomer Johnny Cosmic switched seamlessly from guitar to percussion and keyboards, playing all sorts of backing parts that Scott played portions of on their previous tours.

Sporting a new light show, the reggae greens, reds and yellows bled across the stage and through the tiered balcony. With the focus on “Set in Stone,” tunes like “Sound of the Sea” and “Weight of Sound” helped round out a strong set that had the crowd in a perpetual sway. Cocoa the Tour Dog received continuous praise each time she made her way across stage, taking her spot front and center next to Woodruff, her partner in crime. While you might question the role of a dog on tour, Cocoa always seems bizarrely intrigued by the sonic atmosphere, making her a beloved fixture on tour.

K. Bong’s signature piano groove on “Smokin’ Love” brought the house down as Scott rapped his way through the track that features Collie Buddz on the album version. Smoke poured from joints burning throughout the crowd while hands waved through the air; definitely a high point of a memorable show and evening.

With LA reggae group Fortunate Youth in direct support kicking things off, the funky reggae party lasted well into the far South Broadway night. While Stick Figure is just now hitting their headlining stride, the band is tour seasoned and has been burning down stages with some of the biggest names in reggae for years. With dates selling out regularly, they’re riding an exciting wave with no break in sight, swiftly carving out their name in the scene.

Sat, 02/06/2016 - 12:22 pm

The New MastersoundsEddie Roberts is a musician with little interest in lyrics, which is ironic because he’s a blast to chat with. The English guitarist and leader of the band now resides in Denver, Colorado, which comprises three shows of the eight stop tour through Colorado they start on Sunday. Known as an instrumental funk group during their sixteen plus years together, The New Mastersounds are fresh off 2015’s “Made For Pleasure,” and are already in the process of releasing a live, in-studio recording that they tracked in just over three hours time. Eddie took my call on a day off that saw him healing from a recent ski injury and preparing for a few days on the beach with Widespread Panic. Throughout the conversation we spoke about the new albums, how the band has evolved over the years internationally, and what enticed him to move from New Orleans to Denver.

Grateful Web: Hey Eddie, how’ve you been, what’s been going on?

Eddie Roberts: I just had ten days off; we finished a three-week tour. We started in New Orleans for New Years, and I got to play with my heroes, Zigaboo (Modeliste) and George (Porter Jr.) of The Meters, which was incredible, a highlight of my career. Then we did Jam Cruise and a few other little shows and then I came back to Denver for ten days and headed out again next week. Unfortunately I had a ski accident last Friday, so I’m recuperating from that, but it looks like everything is going to be ok.

GW: Well that’s the first concern, ski accidents are never fun.

ER: I had a bit of surgery the other day, a bit of internal bleeding, so that wasn’t fun (laughter).

GW: Yikes, where?

ER: I won’t tell you exactly where (laughter).

GW: Gotcha (laughter).

ER: But there was great treatment and the whole team at the hospital took good care of me and I felt in good hands. So yeah, heading out to Panic En la Playa next week.

GW: With Widespread Panic.

ER: We’re going to do that and then come back to Denver for a whole C-O run, which is great; I’m excited for that.

GW: You’ve got eight total shows going down in Colorado. Denver is definitely an accessible music city, as there are always concerts going on and it seems like a natural fit for The New Mastersounds. Coming from Leeds, England and having lived in San Francisco and New Orleans, what led you to Denver, what was the driving force that got you here?

ER: Well the main driving force was I got married and my wife’s been living here for five years, so it was pretty easy (laughter). There was a question of whether she would move to New Orleans or would I come here. But I love Denver, we’ve been playing here for ten years and I love the scene here. I have so many friends here and it made a lot of sense. I’m really happy with the decision.

GW: You can’t really go wrong with New Orleans or Denver, so I think you made the right choice either way.

ER: The weather works better for me here than New Orleans

GW: Right, not as humid.

ER: And it doesn’t rain a lot. The weather here is incredible.

GW: A day like today where it’s sixty degrees at the end of January and being able to go ski an hour away is pretty incredible. Since you’ve moved here I know I’ve seen your name around Denver and the ski towns with bands like The Everyone Orchestra, but I was wondering if there are any other side projects here in Denver that you’ve been playing in?

ER: Yeah well I actually set something up and did a few shows with it in December of last year. It’s a project with Gabe (Mervine), the trumpet player from The Motet, a local hero Chadzilla (Chad Johnson) on drums, and a couple of jazz guys on upright bass and piano. We did a couple of shows at Ophelia’s, it’s kind of like a regular Wednesday spot that we’re trying to do, but the problem is that we’re always away. But we’re definitely going to be doing more of those, and it’s called Orgy in Rhythm.

GW: I’ll keep an eye out. I haven’t actually been to Ophelia’s. I know The New Mastersounds are playing there as part of the eight night run in Colorado, but have you been playing there pretty often, is having music a new thing for them? I’m not familiar.

ER: Yeah it’s a fairly new place; it’s probably just one year old now. But yeah I kind of discovered it last Spring and started hanging out down there and luckily it became one of my favorite drinking holes, with great cocktails and just a great vibe in there. And I said from the start, ‘I want to play down here, I want to put something together to play here,’ which is why I did that thing with Gabe, and then we just did Cervantes, and got involved with those guys too, so you can hit a slightly different demographic, and it’s a little more upscale and has more of a supper club jazz club vibe to it. You can book a table, have food and watch The Mastersounds, and then go to Cervantes late to get down low and dirty. It’s a nice kind of flip side to it.

GW: I’m looking forward to stopping by there and hopefully I’ll catch your show. You mentioned how you got to play with one of your heroes, George Porter Jr. from The Meters. You also have the Mt. Sun brewery event coming up at The Boulder Theater in February, and he’s going to be playing bass with you in that band as well.

ER: Yep, and Kyle Hollingsworth (String Cheese Incident) is playing. I’m really excited to be asked to play on that, it’s going to be great fun. I’ve never played the Boulder Theater. I’ve not been to the Boulder Theater, and I’ve only played the Fox when we’ve come through. So I’m excited. It was time.

GW: It’s a beautiful room, and that event with the Mtn. Sun beer on tap is always fun, always a good time. But it’s cool to see that you’re on the lineup this year, I’m looking forward to it. I wanted to talk about your most recent album that came out this past October, “Made For Pleasure.” You guys recorded it down in New Orleans, and you had some vocalists on it like Charly Lowry and reggae singer Spellbinder, that you met here in Denver.

ER: I met him at Ophelia’s actually.

GW: Having different vocalists on albums and tracks, do you ever bring any of these singers out on tour with you?

ER: We’ve been taking Charly out with us for the last couple of years since I met her. She’s based in the Carolinas and I actually met her doing an Everyone Orchestra show and I really wanted to work with her. So she’s been on the biggest shows, New York, she came on Jam Cruise just recently. Unfortunately she can’t be there for the Denver shows because she has her own band, but we try to do it. It’s just not something we can do all the time, but she’s going to be doing Jazz Fest in New Orleans with us this coming April, so yeah, it’s just nice to kind of mix it up.

We do actually have the horns with us, the horn section that is featured heavily on the new album, The West Coast Horns. Those are the guys I started working with in San Francisco. I had a band called West Coast Sounds but I got so busy with The New Mastersounds that I didn’t really have time to do that, but I wanted to keep playing with them, so we got them into The Mastersounds. So you know, we feature them quite a lot on the new album and they’re going to go on the whole Colorado run with us.

GW: That’ll add a different dimension to everything.

ER: Yep, and of course Spellbinder will come out for the Denver shows.

GW: I know one of the songs on the last album, “Fame,” is a cover of Iggy Azalea. I know you write and compose music, but do you ever write lyrics or contribute to anything vocally?

ER: No, I’m not a songwriter at all, I’m no good with lyrics. In fact, I don’t know the lyrics to any tune out there (laughter). I don’t know what it is, but it just doesn’t sink in. I can hear the voice as an instrument, the tones and the sound and rhythm of it, but I don’t hear the words. It’s really strange and has always been the case, which is why The Mastersounds is a predominantly instrumental band. So I’ll get singers to write lyrics and maybe we’ll discuss themes and go through it a little bit together, but mainly it’s on their head. Actually, our drummer (Simon Allen) wrote a tune on the last album, “Just Gotta Run,” and the first time he’s actually written a tune with lyrics.

GW: I noticed that “Made for Pleasure” was written in more of a collaborative process between the whole band. I know you’ve been working on a new album that’s supposed to come out this year. I was wondering if you could tell us anything about that and if it was recorded in New Orleans like “Made for Pleasure,” and how the recording process changed between the two albums?

ER: I mean that is quite a different project. Basically what happened, because we spent six week on tour in the fall, was we were finishing up in Nashville, and just had this idea to go into the studio, which is all analog and a facility where you can take it from table to vinyl, and it would be a cool idea at the end of the tour to book a day in that studio and just go in and make an album in a day, which is what we did. We got a small studio audience, about twenty-five people. We set up the gear, set up the sound all afternoon, and then the audience came in and we laid down like sixteen tracks in about three, three and a half hours in pretty much one take, so kind of like a live album but with studio production. And then we mastered three hours on the one-inch without any mixing or anything else. The engineer just had to set the levels as we were playing. We spliced that onto a quarter inch tape and cut vinyl straight from the quarter inch tape. No digital process whatsoever. We chose ten tracks, five tracks a side, because you can’t fit much on vinyl. So yeah it was sort of a cheeky idea to go in and do this whole analog thing, which we’re all fans of. It has a little live energy and a little lo-fi about it, and it was cool, really fun.

GW: And out of the ten you chose, were they all new compositions?

ER: No, this was kind of doing our classics, really, and just playing them the way we play them now as opposed to how we did when we recorded some of those tunes in 2001. And I had a different keyboard player on that, our original keyboard player Bob left in 2007, and Joe came in. We’d been on the road for six weeks so it was to capture the arrangements and the way we were playing the tunes at that point, that was kind of the idea of it, to just go record a whole album in a few hours. We’d normally go in and do it in one week, which is pushing it, but that was sort of the idea. There’s actually one cover on that, which is a tune we’d been doing for a few years but hasn’t been recorded on any of our live albums or anything. It’s a tune called “In The Middle,” which we’ve kind of done our arrangement of, but the original was by Grant Green.

GW: I like how you’re playing fifteen years or so of material in new ways, you’re continuing to put the “New” in The New Mastersounds.

ER: Well put (laughter).

GW: Starting with Panic En la Playa, you guys are swamped through the spring, touring clubs and playing festivals across North America and Europe. Having found success on multiple continents does the music come off as a universal language everywhere you go, or do shows alter from one continent to the next?

ER: We pretty much play the same. In the early days coming to the US, things were a little more jammy, and less so in Europe. We were very much trying to make funk 45’s when we started out. It was more three-minute tunes and wham bam thank you ma’am style of playing. In the UK, our sets would be forty-five minutes long, and now we go back and nothing changes, this is our sound. We used to play forty-five minutes and now we play for hours. We learned it here in the US and exported it to Europe. But I’m excited to do this Colorado run. Now being a resident, it feels like I’m playing in my backyard.

Catch The New Mastersounds at the following Colorado stops in February:

2/7-Keystone

2/9 Aspen

2/10 Fort Collins

2/11 Denver

2/12 Denver

2/13 Denver

2/14 Steamboat Springs

2/16 Telluride

Sat, 04/30/2016 - 9:19 am

Nikki Glaspie has been glued to a drum kit for most of her life. With a career that’s seen her back Beyoncé, initiate the beat in Dumpstaphunk, and now heading her own band, The Nth Power, she’s seen all corners of the industry while banging away behind bands of all sizes. Nikki recently spoke with The Grateful Web’s John Schumm to discuss The Nth Power’s tour, their new album, “Abundance,” and their mission to spread love through music.

GW: How’ve you been Nikki, what’s going on?

NG: Nothing much man. I’ve been busy, extremely busy. As busy as I’ve ever been in my life, I think.

GW: I know you’ve got the big tour coming up and a few shows in New Orleans. Are you already down there?

NG: Yeah, we’re here.

GW: Where do you live when you’re not on tour?

NG: New Jersey, super close to the city. But yeah, we’re in New Orleans right now.

GW: And you’re down there for Jazz Fest, right?

NG: Yep, we have a couple of shows.

GW: I know the band came together in New Orleans. When you perform down there, does it feel like a homecoming, in a sense? Does it feel special, seeing how it’s where you got together?

NG: Yeah, absolutely, it totally feels special every time we’re here. It’s like coming home, you know? I’m very happy and honored to call New Orleans home.

GW: I’m sure you got very acquainted with the city when you were touring with Dumpstaphunk for those few years as well.

NG: Yep.

GW: Are there any shows you plan on attending while you’re down there, any guests you plan on having come out to your shows in New Orleans?

NG: Well, not particularly. I don’t really make any plans because they always tend to get worked out for me. I always get calls. People are like, ‘hey, come over here, come over there,’ so I don’t ever put anything in stone, you know?

GW: You’ve got the Fiya Fest show and a couple of other shows around town before heading West to Colorado. Denver is a solid market for touring musicians. Fans always seem to turn out. What is it, besides routing, that gives Colorado such strong representation on your tour?

NG: You know what, I honestly don’t know the answer to that question (laughter). Denver is awesome. It’s great. I think that the people are just open to music and they want it, so it’s become a great market.

GW: And you’ll also be in Boulder, Ft. Collins and Steamboat Springs, lots of pockets full of music fans. It’ll be a great few shows to kick off the west coast swing. I’ll definitely be at the Denver show at The Bluebird next Thursday. When was the last time you were in town?

NG: The last time we were in Denver was December.

GW: Not too long ago.

NG: Yeah, not too long ago.

GW: Now that the band has been together for a few years, more or less, where is the music taking the band, or where is the band taking the music following the newest release, “Abundance?”

NG: Honestly I think it’s the music that is kind of guiding us or leading us, I think that’s really what’s happening. And that’s a great thing about it; the music is kind of opening doors for us and leading the way, leading the charge. Of course we try and put everything we have into the music, but it’s sort of a living and breathing organism on its own. When you write something, you never know if people are going to like it, or if it speaks to them or whatever, and it seems like that’s the case. People have told us how much the music means to them and how it has helped them and we’re honored and excited for things to come.

GW: Nick (Cassarino) sings lead on a lot of the compositions you guys have written, but is the writing process pretty collaborative in the band?

NG: As far as the music is concerned it’s very collaborative, but Nick is the lyricist, he writes a lot of the lyrics. We might move some things around, but he’s the principle lyricist, for sure.

GW: It feels like there’s a spiritual vibe on the record. Does faith factor into the songs and into the performances the way love does?

NG: Yeah, absolutely. We’re all very spiritual people, so that’s just what naturally comes out, you know? We believe in the healing power of music and we believe in the healing power of love, and that’s what we believe in, simply that. Our faith, our hope is that we can make a change through the music and the love that we put into the music.

GW: You can feel that in the crowd at your shows, the way people are moving and getting down. It’s wonderful to see a message like that resonating with the band and the crowd as one. It’s pretty special.

NG: We just hope our music inspires a change. We hope that our music helps people, and that’s really why we do it: to help, and that’s it.

GW: I love it. It’s definitely inspiring and I can’t wait to catch the show next Thursday in Denver. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Grateful Web, and we’ll catch you in Colorado. Enjoy Jazz fest!

NG: Thanks, have a good one.

Thu, 11/10/2016 - 4:28 pm

Ten months after Perpetual Groove’s post-hiatus return to Colorado, they penciled in another four-show fling along their current fall tour. With last year being their return to the stage, 2016 feels like the return to the norm, and then some. Wednesday and Thursday nights saw the band take the stage in Boulder and Fort Collins with two very different shows in terms of energy and song selection, which is no surprise considering the close proximity of each show.

Their decade long history of touring Colorado’s abundance of venues wouldn’t be complete without stops at the Fox Theater and the Aggie Theater. Armed with a sturdy repertoire peppered with new tunes, the band stretched their single two-hour plus set each night for youthful yet temperate crowds. I could tell I wasn’t the only one feeling elated after murkier times plagued the aforementioned hiatus era.

Songs like “Stealy Man,” “Holy Ship,” and “Mr. Transistor” balanced out night one and were interjected with timely covers like “Golden Path” and “All My Friends;” tunes you’d think they wrote themselves if you hadn’t heard the originals by The Chemical Brothers and LCD Soundsystem.

The moody, brooding lyrics that comprise a number of their songs make Perpetual Groove the band they are: a rock ensemble catapulting beyond traditional musical confines yet dwelling in the spiritually contemplative side of Brock Butler and company.

Night one sticks out more for Brock administering a marriage proposal (she said yes) during “Walking in Place” than anything else, which is no knock on the Boulder show, but it left me wanting more. Like the Coors light commercials say, “If the mountains are blue, go for two,” so when a ride to Fort Collins presented itself during the show, I obliged, happy to indulge.

“The feelings they come swarming, same as early morning rays”

The Aggie show saw the band relaxed yet upbeat from the start, infusing quicker songs with long melodic jams while Albert Suttle held the pace.

The psychedelic “Cairo” enveloped much of the midway point of the show, spawning a take on an un-recorded song, “Aim,” before drifting back into “Cairo.” Adam Perry seamlessly trotted alongside the drums, forming a hell of a duo, and it was then that I felt the emotional tug not only through the low boom, but the lyrics.

Perpetual Groove concerts, to me, bring back a flood of memories over a ten-year span, and “Cairo” unleashed them all. While night one might have been less energized, I also realized I was emotionally detached. Night two, between a mix of song selection of energy, plugged me back into that zone

The show came to a close with the Talking Heads’ “Naïve Melody,” a tune the college crowd sang along to while Matt McDonald smiled on and Brock whispered the lyrics through the hall.

The emotional appeal of Perpetual Groove’s music isn’t for everybody, but when you’ve grown up around it and seen so many memories spawned at their shows, it’s impossible not to feel that magic. While it might not be sparked at every show, you can surely bet it will be close on their tail. If all else fails, try, try again.

Fri, 12/02/2016 - 3:12 pm

Ever since Jaden Carlson picked up guitar, the Colorado Buffaloes football team has been more limping disaster than trampling stampede. But 2016 is the Year of the Buffalo, with the squad having a chance to win the Pac12 Championship and maybe more. Meanwhile Jaden-somehow only sixteen-is headlining The Fox Theater for the second time in her youthful career.

Gone is the acoustic hippie child in a flat-billed hat. Evolved is the electric guitar gunslinger. Now tackling keyboards and a series of modulated synthesizers onstage and at home, it’s uncertain what she’ll do next, but Boulder County embraces their budding teen impresario much like the Black and Gold.

With a backing band featuring Adam Revell on keyboards, Eric Imbrosciano on drums, and Chris Hunnicutt on lead bass, leg pumps, and all around amazing facial expressions, the quartet felt their way through original compositions from 2014’s “Polychromatic” and a few choice covers.

Following sets by local Boulder acts Envy Alo and Amoramora, Jaden paced downstage center amidst snaking cables slithering in and out of her amp, guitar and keyboards. I wouldn’t call her nervous, because this is where she thrives, but her strive for near-perfection radiated tension as the clock ticked down a quarter to eleven.

Hunicutt seemed to get a laugh out of the whole scene, loosening up the room while Jaden focused on changes and making sure the band followed her lead. His dramatically comedic overtures at times came off as mimicry, and other times helped Jaden relax and keep her poise. Their interaction was nothing short of entertaining, and he dug deep in the playbook with “Crazy,” taking on lead vocals for the Gnarls Barkley tune.

With the clock striking midnight, surely past the bedtime of most sixteen year olds, the band wound down from their surreal headlining performance that saw sit-ins from Justin Neely of Eminence Ensemble, Clark Smith of DynoHunter, and Dwayne Jubee Webb lighting up the microphone.

When the Buffs came together under Mike Macintyre in 2013, they were young and talented but it took a few years to develop their winning ways. Jaden’s adolescent career has slowly grown and now more than ever it’s clear she can take any direction she applies her talents. With so much experience behind her at such a developmental age, the rise is real.

Tue, 12/06/2016 - 6:29 am

Kyle Hollingsworth’s Hoppy Holidays-now in its third year supporting local non-profit Conscious Alliance-keeps on giving Coloradans what they want. With over thirty breweries pouring their best suds for those peeled away from the couch and college football, jubilant times flourished under the signature Fillmore chandeliers.

The String Cheese Incident’s keyboardist has always shared an affinity for craft beer and good causes, and on Saturday invited fellow cheesehead Bill Nershi for a special duet set. In addition to the duet and Kyle Hollingsworth Band, JJ Grey & Mofro headlined.

With the tasting on tap the moment doors opened, hoards of reds, greens, and ugly Christmas sweaters waffled around the dance floor. Breweries like Odd 13, Destihl, and Lost Highway poured “tasters,” and Melvin Brewing took home the fan choice award, giving them a tap at The Fillmore for the next four months.

Wearing a tie-dye onesie, Kyle introduced Executive Director of Conscious Alliance Justin Levy, who said a few words about the event and what it means to have musicians like Kyle working alongside the non-profit that focuses on “supporting communities in crisis through hunger relief and youth empowerment.”

As Nershi put it, “let’s duet to it!” Clearly enjoying themselves, the guys bounced through Cheese tunes “One Step,” “Lost,” and “Lester Had a Coconut.” Nershi opted to stand instead of sitting on the large recliner mid-stage that certainly did give off the vibe you’d expect for an intimate duo set. “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel was a pleasant surprise, as was “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” a novelty Christmas tune befitting of Nershi’s colorful holiday suit.

With the beer tasting winding down, Kyle and his band (Dan Schwindt on guitar, Brian McRae on drums, and Paul McDaniel on bass) turned up the party vibe and ushered in the feel of a true concert. Nershi joined on electric guitar for renditions of “Texas” and “You’ve Got the World,” and Kim Dawson also guested on vocals.

Dressed in a dapper grey suit and sporting a full salt and pepper beard, Jacksonville, Florida based JJ Grey emerged with a guitar slung over his shoulder and dove right into “Six Ways From Sunday,” transitioning Kyle’s dance vibes into more of rock ‘em stomp ‘em shakedown.

With seven-studio albums worth of material to choose from, Grey’s set touched all over his career arc. From the sweaty, sultry “Lazy Fo Acre” off of 2001’s “Blackwater” all the way to “Ol’ Glory,” the title track from his most recent offering, he has a grab bag to choose from and takes full advantage.

Whether the psychedelic swirl of “Circles” or the harmonica driven “Country Ghetto,” Grey shuffles the stage, ever the gesticulating front man in delivery of the songs representing much of his own life. Some songs can seem so personal, but his message resonates with all walks of life and can be applied day to day.

With longtime bassist Todd Smallie holding down the low end alongside drummer Craig Barnette, and twin trumpeters Marcus Parsley and Dennis Marion blasting through solos on “Orange Blossoms,” the band was locked in and full of energy despite being the final night of their tour.

Hollingsworth joined Eric Brigmond on keys for “Ho Cake,” swapping solos with guitarist Zach Gilbert and the rest of the gang, and “I Believe” brought the crowd together in a touching moment with Grey delivering the sermon.

With the beer long dried up, the amps unplugged, and the house lights illuminating the empty ballroom, another annual installment of Hoppy Holidays came to a close, and might have been its most merry yet.

Check out more photos from the show.

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 5:02 pm

The Travelin’ McCourys’ show in Nederland on Friday wasn’t a voracious late night affair fueled with moonshine fumes and guest sit-ins. It wasn’t an improvised, slam-grass stomper. It was five musicians atop their craft advancing in banter and harmonious bluegrass memories while chiding one another between songs like a vaudeville act.

The Caribou Room sits atop a hill within the mountainous town of Nederland, Colorado, and is relatively non-descript save for its fluorescent red sign perched out front. Known for carrying on the liberal spirit partially dowsed from the Republic of Boulder, Nederland is a diamond in the rough. A peculiar town for a concert venue, The Caribou Room is fit for professional touring outfits but retains the vibe of the peace-touting Ned-Heads and their psychedelic swirl on Rocky Mountain hospitality.

Brothers Rob (banjo) and Ronnie (mandolin/vocals) McCoury’s father, Del, is enshrined in the liner notes of the figurative book of bluegrass. Del’s guitar, voice and signature white bouffant are written in among names like Lester Flatt and Bill Monroe, and his sons are on the same track.

Following Minneapolis-based Pert Near Sandstone, the McCoury Brothers punctually saddled up on stage just after ten. Featuring award winning musicians in Jason Carter (fiddle/vocals), Alan Bartram (standup bass/vocals), and Coby Kilby (acoustic guitar), the quintet got down to business with “Walk in the Rain,” a Bob Dylan penned tune recorded by the brothers on the “Ronnie and Rob McCoury” CD (1995).

A series of covers included Bill Monroe’s “Will You Be Loving Another Man,” and the first of two Grateful Dead songs, as well as the first single The Travelin’ McCourys have released, “Cumberland Blues.”

“Here’s another one from the bluegrass legends,” Ronnie said before Alan led them into “Walk of Life” by the Dire Straits. Ronnie also tackled “Let Her Go,” by Passenger, with the strings lifting the already beautiful melody to new heights.

The second Grateful Dead song of the night, “Loser,” fit the band and the encore. The rambling, gambling, liquor-stained lyrics by Robert Hunter are a breath of fresh Americana forty something years and change later.

The professional ease that comes from playing music with a figure like their father their whole lives might be on display, but the brothers have forged along and earned their own accolades, as the rest of the band has. After all, there’s no better way to evolve your sound than by mastering the craft first.

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 12:32 pm

Continuing a highly successful run through 2016, Stick Figure rang in the New Year with a pair of sold out shows at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver.  Colorado has been kind to the band the past year, and in return they’ve delivered a number of shows across the state. No resolution should change that.

In 2016 alone Stick Figure sold out The Gothic and opened for Rebelution at Red Rocks. This June they’ll be back on the Rocks supporting jam-rockers Umphrey’s McGee. But Saturday night at Cervantes was their first time toasting champagne and hosting a New Year’s countdown onstage. You could say the highs keep getting higher, and Colorado promoters can’t get enough.

Stick Figure is multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Scott Woodruff’s baby. It’s been that way since the beginning, with subsequent albums recorded with him at the helm of each instrument. But with the live band the music comes, well, alive. KBong (Keys/vocals), Tommy Sullivan (bass/vocals), Kevin Offitzer (drums/vocals) and Johnny Cosmic (guitar/keys/vocals) accompany Woodruff, most often seen with a guitar.

A full room at Cervantes is normally madness in a haze of smoke. Bodies collide and making your way to the bar or, bless you, the bathroom, is a case study in stepped on toes and spilt drinks. Fortunately the reggae scene is filled with friendly folks and the intoxicating atmosphere of New Year’s Eve is a special night.

Cocoa the Tour Dog wandered the stage while the band played selections from their six albums, including their newest release, “Set in Stone.” A cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” was the surprise of the show, while New Year staple “Aud Lang Syne” accompanied the midnight countdown.

Cocoa sprang to life when confetti streamed down, nipping inflatable beach balls in the flurry. Other times she nestled up to the front row rail riders. She doesn’t steal all of the attention, but she certainly gives the band a run for their money.

Stick Figure’s hard charging 2016 has helped produce a more confident sound and swagger in their live show. It’s fair to say they’re no longer any young band finding their way in the scene, and that Colorado can’t get enough of that “Smokin’ Love.”

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 12:39 pm

“If you book them, they will come,” says the fictionalized, desert dwelling Jim Morrison in “Wayne’s World 2.” Pretty sound advice when you’re booking top end talent like Aerosmith circa 1993 for an inaugural festival, but what about a band that’s never performed together?

Fresh off the high seas of Jam Cruise, The Motet’s Dave Watts opened his Rolodex, and in conjunction with Cervantes’ proprietor Scott Morrill, hosted a Saturday night birthday bash filled with local and nationally renowned musicians including Oteil Burbridge.

Fellow Motet members Lyle Divinsky (vocals) and Gabe Mervine (trumpet) were in attendance, and Joey Porter filled in on keys for the absent Ivan Neville. We did get a taste of that New Orleans Neville sound with Ivan’s cousin, and fellow Dumpstaphunk bandmate, guitarist Ian Neville. Lettuce guitarist Adam Smirnoff provided more six string shimmer, and whether planned or jambushed, The New Mastersounds’ Eddie Roberts lent a hand as well. Local Will Trask provided additional percussion, and saxophonist Nick Gerlach rounded out the horn section.

If the crowd gathering outside Cervantes’ box office was any indication, the sign taped to the door drove the point home: “SuperJam is Completely Sold Out. Jeff Austin Still Available.” The capacity (and then some) crowd in the swollen sweat box of The Other Side no doubt cannibalized the one time Yonder Mountain String Band front man’s audience in the main room, but perhaps that’s not so surprising these days.

The fired up funk ensemble hammered through two sets of covers, including Carl Carltons’ “She’s a Bad Mama Jama (She’s Built, She’s Stacked), The Beatles’ “Come Together,” and what I believe was a jam on “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” by Parliament. They played a funk catalogue so thorough that Dr. Dre might have found some new tunes to sample.

Oteil’s playing has such a big personality as he expounds upon the pocket, his face lit with improvised direction in the crowded musical conversation. There aren’t many that can say they’ve spent extended time with both The Allman Brothers Band and The Dead, but to top it off, he received an education from Col. Bruce Hampton during his time in The Aquarium Rescue Unit. From bars and clubs to arenas and stadiums, Oteil can fill any room not only with his tone, but his most humble demeanor.

The non-musical highlight of the night belonged to the “Adult Pinata.” Filled with a variety of erotic themed goodies and joints that had the allure of a disco ball, birthday boys Watts and Morrill smashed it in one fell swoop to the delight of the rail riders.

Security began clearing drinks from the still packed crowd with the band continuing to play well past one in the morning, my cue to catch a Lyft home for the marathon Australian Open final between Nadal and Federer…pinch me, I never thought I’d be writing that in 2017.

P.S. It wouldn’t be right without giving props to Nick Gerlach for wearing the same Cleveland Cavaliers hat I had on.

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 1:24 pm

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, nearly five years removed from their debut album and initial lineup, seem to be following the Grateful Dead’s career arc more than ever.

At year five, the Grateful Dead were smack in the middle of their most fruitful creative period; transitioning from danceable, psychedelic torchbearers of the San Francisco sound to cosmic cowboys herding round the emerging poetic lyricism of Robert Hunter. Dual 1970 albums “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” are hailed as high watermarks for the Dead, and in 2016, the CRB found their skeleton key to a similar wealth of creative output.

On the heels of 2016’s “Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel” and “If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home By Now,” Chris Robinson and his band of merry pranksters debuted their winter tour on a fittingly frozen Thursday evening in early February at the Ogden Theatre in Denver. While the band has grown out of Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom, crowd sentiment echoed a longing for their old stomping grounds. But for such a fiercely independent band, you can’t fault them for taking the next step. Plus, you didn’t think AEG would pass on them forever, did you?

As Robinson’s passion for all things Grateful Dead has evolved through friendships with surviving members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, it’s hard not to acknowledge similarities. Chris lives in the Bay Area, and the band houses a creative bunker in Stinson Beach. There’s also the affinity for covers, and last night saw “Lazy Days” by The Flying Burrito Brothers, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Bob Dylan, and “Rock and Roll” by The Velvet Underground. But through it all there’s a fantastical story eloping between the shared strings of collaborators Robinson and Neal Casal, and that’s where the band has flourished.

While stories masquerade through the psychedelic blues unleashed by lead guitarist Casal, there’s folklore and fantasy congruent with the dope-smoking gnome on cans of Brotherhood Steam, a beer produced in conjunction with Anchor Steam and sold on tour. Never one to shy away from psychedelic imagery, Robinson crows through folksy, roots driven songs to the beat of Tony Leone and bassist Jeff Hill while unabashedly lending us an eye into his sometimes turbulent and self-reflective history.

Their signature energizer, “Rosalee,” closed the first set with fiery key work from Adam MacDougall, and familiar tunes like “Roan County Banjo,” which has developed over the last year or so in the live setting, were dotted throughout. Plenty of new songs joined the rotation, squeezing out covers and providing us with what they’ve been up to. “Blue Star Woman” even made its live debut.

With the perception of the CRB being a placeholder until the next Black Crowes tour fading with every new album and accolade, it’s become clear that this is what Robinson has become. When the Grateful Dead released their two 1970 albums, it launched them into another stratosphere that ballooned right up until Jerry Garcia’s passing in 1995. With that trajectory in mind, it’s now fair to wonder what heights The Chris Robinson Brotherhood can fly their freak flag from.

Check out more photos from the show.

Sun, 02/12/2017 - 9:58 am

If James Brown is the Godfather of Soul, The Meters are without a doubt the Forefathers of Funk. The legendary rhythm assault led by bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste teamed with guitarist Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds and John Medeski on keys Thursday night at the Boulder Theater for what’s been dubbed The Foundation of Funk.

Following a wake-up set by local openers Analog Son, the funkateers ambled on stage in a wash of red lights and applause from the sizeable yet unspectacular turnout. There were plenty in attendance, but just as much open space to dance and maneuver a foot long camera lens sans-fear of elbows and spilt beer.

With the obscure name they might have been just another funk act in the eyes of the consumer, as Colorado’s long played host to ambitious musical collaborations. Playing shows at both Cervantes and Ophelia’s within the same weekend also doesn’t help sell tickets.

The set consisted of a number of jams centered on The Meters’ catalogue, and mostly abstained from vocals. On the heels of George and Zigaboo, the guys lifted along an excursion through the annals of funk. Recognizable tunes like “Cissy Strut,” “Funky Miracle,” possibly “Just Kissed My Baby,” and what sounded like a take of “Spooky” by The Classic IV kept the motor running. Zigaboo joked throughout, including a comical dig on Eddie Roberts always being the best-dressed man in the room; which is entirely accurate if you’ve seen him before.

While the crowd wasn’t what was anticipated, those in attendance clearly got it. When The Fox Theatre opened back in 1992, The Meters topped the billing to welcome in a new era of live music in Boulder. Twenty-five years later, and The Fox’s sister venue is right there for the ride, nodding and bobbing with George’s pulsing four string bass.

Check out more photos from the show.

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 4:19 pm

On a day when college football’s number one ranked Georgia Bulldogs collapsed in laughable fashion on the road against Auburn-that other team from Alabama-fellow sons of Athens’, Perpetual Groove found themselves in a completely different scenario.

Brock Butler | P-Groove

There was no mention of rankings akin to ‘rat poison,’ no Toomer’s Corner. This battle wasn’t won between the hedges. In fact, Denver, CO wasn’t even a hostile environment. The sports comparisons should end there…oh, wait, guitarist Brock Butler wore an Atlanta Braves hat.

Perpetual Groove | Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom

The silhouette quartet took the stage at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom and swiftly rolled into “Gorilla Monsoon.” The upbeat first set featured longstanding rotational songs where brooding lyrics meet acute instrumental awareness through a bevy of pedals, synths and space noises. A take you to the edge “Mayday” crashed into Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper,” featuring James Charles Duncan Jr. on keys. Fan favorite “Three Weeks” brought the set to a close.

Brock Butler | P-Groove | Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom

Cervantes is a reminder of Denver’s diverse musical appetite. Saturday night featured bluegrass madness with members of Greensky Bluegrass railing away at the adjacent The Other Side. Making your way through the packed confines of the narrow room felt like a claustrophobic scrum pile. The bluegrass thrust forward a different headspace, while the room provided no space.

Perpetual Groove

Set two took off Albert Suttle shuffling the band into “Playground,” and longtime Paul Simon cover “Diamond’s on the Soles of Her Shoes,” featuring Spafford’s Andrew Johnson on keys. “Cairo” rounded out the night, preceding the set-closing “Walkin’ in Place.”

Perpetual Groove

“Paper Dolls,” released following their hiatus, started off the double encore, and Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” sent us home dancing to Adam Perry’s grooving baselines and Matt McDonald’s keyboard wizardry whizzing through our heads.

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 6:13 am

Hard work pays off for those that practice, practice, practice.

With four years alongside one another on the road and in the studio, Hard Working Americans embody the grit, grind and salt of the earth vibe their name implies. Some call them a super group. I call them the sum of their parts, and hot damn do those parts work well together.

Dave Schools and Todd Snider

No longer selling tickets on the names of those parts alone, specifically bassist Dave Schools and freak poet vocalist Todd Snider, the champions of rock and roll Americana are doing it with songs they’ve compiled intermittently between commitments to their other bands. They’ve become an in your face live show devoid of gimmicks and top-heavy production.

The Fox Theatre - Boulder, Colorado

Tuesday night at The Fox Theatre felt like a homecoming. Back in the city where they made their live debut in December 2013, fans completely sold out the show. As if the box office line wasn’t long enough, fans were spilling into the lobby and crowding the stairwells as opener Jerry Joseph concluded his set.

Boulder native Daniel Sproul

While the departure of founding guitarist Neal Casal left a brief vacuum, local-Boulderite and Rose Hill Drive guitarist Daniel Sproul, who no doubt had his share of fans in attendance, is a natural and welcome fit.

Hard Working Americans | Boulder, CO

The band opened with a reeled back take on “Straight to Hell” by Drivin N Cryin, which was included on their cover laden self-titled debut in 2014. With an emphasis on lyrical content, Sproul and Jesse Aycock (lap steel, guitar) wove their way around Chad Staehly’s honky tonk keyboard while Snider warmed up his raspy poetic musings.

Todd Snider | Hard Working Americans

“I Don’t Have a Gun” continued stirring the instrumental pot. Snider prophetically cupped his microphone as if it were a sacrificial heart held high to the gods of Aztec lore, while Duane Trucks-in his Conway Twitty shirt-kept the beat moving along. Blues rompers like “Throwing the Goats” brought out the heavier sounds, encouraging the crowd to ‘shake, shake, shake.'

Hard Working Americans

Not all lyricists harness the poet label. Jim Morrison considered himself more poet than rock star (debatable, sure), and Snider may fancy himself somewhere along those lines as well. The correlation shined through on “Been Down So Long” by The Doors, with Snider not just a performer, but a compelling linguistic conquistador milking the most out of every syllable.

Hard Working Americans | Fox Theatre

The band alone is worth the price of admission, but Snider embodies a rustic raconteur; the personification of Americana roots music through folk, country and rock and roll. His internalized rhyme schemes and propensity to rouse a story from seemingly nowhere aids this group with their identity.

Duane Trucks and Dave Schools with Hard Working Americans

With commitments to their other bands, including Widespread Panic for both Schools and Trucks, Hard Working Americans don’t have the luxury of touring and recording year-round. So, when they come to your town on a chilly Tuesday evening, buy the ticket (early) and shake, shake, shake.

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 8:11 am

Did I say one? Better make it two. While Dead & Company trounced Dallas this past Friday with a meaty rocker of a show, Saturday night in Austin received a more deliberate performance befitting the band’s early era of improvised exploration. Which was better? Well, that depends on the opinion of the most opinionated fans in music. But we can all agree that for one weekend there was a seventh flag flying over Texas: the Freak Flag.

Dallas, Texas | 12/1/17

The fact that the Lone Star State received any shows at all is a development fourteen years in the making. Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann last played Texas with former band mate Phil Lesh in 2003 as The Dead. Want to dig deeper? The last time the Grateful Dead played Texas was 1988 when Jerry Garcia had seven years left on his troubled soul.

The Grassy Knoll

Things have changed since 1988: the Cold War has thawed-despite Russia’s prominence in national media-and I’m no longer an infant. Americans that once condemned Dallas for the assassination of John F. Kennedy now flock to see America’s team, The Cowboys, and join the corporate rat race built on the extensive railroad lines that dominated the region in the late 1800’s.

Deep Ellum -- Dallas, TX

These days, the only blues left down in Deep Ellum are hues of spray-painted buildings, and on this Friday, plenty of tie-dye dotting the road to Victory Park and the American Airlines Center.

American Airlines Center | Dallas, TX

Fingers in the air, Deadheads meandered down Elm Street with brown-bagged Lone Star Beers. Vendors gathered in an adjacent lot hawking goods. Tailgating is nothing new at a concert, but DeadHeads have made a living off of it or at least paid to get to the next show.

vending in Texas

You’ve got your dreadlocked wooks cooking up grilled cheese and veggie burritos, your lot shirts, with a little Texas flair (and of course the ubiquitous Morning Dew t-shirt). You’ve got your pop-up bars stocked with well and top-shelf spirits, your makeshift head shops. There’s always something shaking on “Shakedown Street.”

Dallas, Texas

Of course, there’s also the carelessly sinister side: hundreds if not thousands of deflated balloons litter the parking lots. The nitrous mafia coordinates their hustle from corner to corner to stay a step ahead of the (out of sight but not out of mind) law. Like a clown at the circus, the street peddlers clutch balloons of varying colors and oversee cash transactions with minimalistic yet rapid-fire dialogue, bleeding (willing) hippies dry.

But hey, how about the music?

Dead & Company | Dallas, TX

A fun and energetic first set featured a fine mix of murder and robbery tropes, each bringing to life deceitful storybook lyrics. Even the slower paced “They Love Each Other” sticks out with this ensemble because of the energetic tenacity John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge bring to music.

Dead and Company | American Airlines ArenaMinus the swinging and swaying of “El Paso” and some playful banter, the “The Music Never Stopped>Easy Answers” sandwich highlighted the first set. To all the haters in the crowd-“You don’t have to say a word, you got dick to say.”

Dead and Company | American Airlines Arena

“Here Comes Sunshine” got the band ready for a robust second set that revolved around a pre-drums segue of “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain>Eyes of the World.”

Dead & Company | December 1st, 2017

Post-drums Bob howled at the moon and only missed a few vocal cues on “Dear Prudence” before the set got stir crazy and closed with “Casey Jones.” An encore of “Knockin on Heaven’s Door” bid us adieu until the next evening.

American Airlines Arena

The three-hour-plus stretch from Dallas to Austin is vast and empty minus the wonderfully oversized gas stations and the city of Waco. Traffic engulfs the once little liberal capital, snarling it into a tech Mecca. It’s been washed clean of its Armadillo World Headquarters days, and a sign on the road now marks the once-discreet beaches of Hippie Hollow. But hell, it’s Austin, and it beats Dallas just about any day.

Austin, Texas

With posters running low and lines for just about anything moving slow within The Frank Erwin Center, the band took the stage and eased into “Jack Straw.” The first set amounted to ease along sing along, and while it had its moments, the Dallas adrenaline had subsided. Instead came doses of the X-factor between the lines of each song. Exemplary playing, but it took them a bit to get in the groove and find their footing.

Dead down in Texas

The set bopped along with Texas references in “Minglewood Blues,” and despite the slower arrangement befuddling everybody in the arena but Bob, the crowd came to life with his howling of “Austin Phillies start looking good.” John gave everybody a shot in the arm with a bluesy “Next Time You See Me,” and the set-closing “Sugaree” had great leads, but overall the set felt cobbled together.

veggie burritos!

After a set break filled with seat shuffling and soul-searching, the band jumped out of the gate with “China Cat>I Know You Rider” before plunging into a lengthy “Dark Star” and “The Other One” filled with exploratory jamming.

Dead and Company

“Uncle Johns Band” got the audience back into the game, er, show, and “St. Stephen>Morning Dew” fulfilled the hype before a requisite “One More Saturday Night” encore. “Morning Dew” was high energy, similar to “Sugaree,” but I’ve never really thought of either as a set closer.

Stevie Ray Vaughn -- Deep Ellum

While Dallas was the preferred show for this Deadhead, it’s only my opinion. The rocking stomping energy and accelerated jamming was more in line with my vibe, though I always enjoy a more introspective trip through space and time, which Austin presented. If you’re going to do it right, you need to see at least two shows, as the script and narration vary wildly night to night. Well, until next time, Texas. Adios.

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 4:05 pm

Despite their emergence in the mid-sixties at the height of the counterculture era, the Grateful Dead were never considered an overtly political act. While no friend to the corporate establishment or a cog in the government machine, the band left the protest songs to musicians such as Bob Dylan. That’s not to say that their lyrics don’t touch on the thematic landscape of America’s political woes, but like poetry (and beauty), interpretation is in the eye of the beholder.

Wednesday night at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, Dead & Company roared through two sets of tunes fixated on death and poetic justice. You couldn’t help but sniff the subtle jabs to the establishment in the shadows of our nation’s capital.  

Shakedown @ Jiffy Lube Live

A brutally hot afternoon on Shakedown Street-the carnival-like shantytown of vendors hawking everything from tie-dye shirts to garlic salt dusted grilled cheese-saw crowds in high spirits with sweat-soaked clothing but spirits not dampened.

As the sun dipped behind the high arching pavilion, shielding the massive grass lawn from the never-ending heat, the band took the stage and lit into “Shakedown Street.” With the crowd singing along to imagery of darkness swallowing a once prosperous and possibly metaphorical town, it was hard not to decipher a deteriorating political landscape twenty miles down the road.

lots of cool stuff on Shakedown Street

The set continued to dive into the Dead’s American songbook, with a fully integrated John Mayer taking the reins of the fantasy-laden “Dire Wolf” before Bob Weir revved into “Hell in a Bucket,” another ode to crumbling societal norms that feels as proper now as it did in the late eighties.

While the band’s pace can be called into question, especially the off-tempo “Bertha,” the band chugged along and lost no momentum as Weir strapped on his acoustic guitar for a bouncy “Friend of the Devil.” The acoustic fit right into the electric madness and perfected the sweet yet sad ballad of “Peggy-O,” our second foray into the imaginary word of Robert Hunter’s Fennario.

Dead & Company | photo by Katie Friesema

An amazing jam between Mayer and pianist Jeff Chimenti rocketed “Cumberland Blues” into the stratosphere, before Weir howled his not so subtle stab at political ethos in “Throwing Stones” to conclude the first set. Bob’s voice-and frame-emanated through the amphitheater with unbridled strength as he emphasized each syllable and put a bow on the set with the mention of “the darkness never goes from some men’s eyes,” bookending what he started in the set opening “Shakedown Street.”

While the first set played with themes of death and politics, the second set embodied them. After warming up with “Here Comes Sunshine,” they launched into the always-exploratory vehicle of “Playing in the Band” before drifting into “China Doll,” dourly known as the suicide song. Everybody has their opinions when it comes to Grateful Dead songs and setlists, but I would have preferred they hold onto that downer until the post-drums/space segment of the show, if at all (and I know I’ll take plenty of flak for that). Oteil Burbridge did get his chance his chance to shine on vocals, so there was upside.

Dead & Company | Bristow, VA | photo by Katie Friesema

“China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider” got the crowd moving again just in time for the previously mentioned Drums/Space segment of the show, and the darkness came full bore with “New Speedway Boogie,” a song written about the atrocities at Altamont and the death of the hippie “movement.” “One way or another, this darkness got to give.” It all seems so relevant, even today.

“A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” written by the political folk maestro himself, Bob Dylan, stole the show for me. Grateful Dead shows have always had a place for Dylan tunes, and this stunning performance had Bobby going full prophet with the crowd hanging onto every word embodying dark swings of emotion in a dark period for American culture. To a fan that came into the scene on RatDog, this was full circle to me, and also fairly relevant, if you choose to look at it that way.

One can spend countless hours arguing interpretations of poetry and song lyrics in online message boards and on social media, and the music of the Grateful Dead is no exception. The lyrics to “Throwing Stones” and the set closing “US Blues” don’t shy away from political conventions, and the rest of the material played Wednesday night could be seen through the same lens. Grateful Dead music means different things to different people. And a song can change in meaning to an individual over time, much like the old adage that no one song is ever played the same way.

Dead & Company | Jiffy Lube Live | photo by Katie Friesema

If there’s one snippet to take away from Dead & Company, it’s that they’re rallying to make America grateful again.

Tue, 08/27/2019 - 3:29 pm

Neal Casal, the fifty-year-old guitarist and songwriter, played his final act Saturday evening at the Lockn' Festival in Arrington, Virginia. Judging from the smiles of all those surrounding him onstage, nobody saw it coming.

Revered in the music community for his countless contributions to Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Hard Working Americans, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and Circles Around The Sun, not to mention his twelve solo albums, Casal was unknown commercially, but in high demand across the spectrum.

Neal Casal - photo by Alan Sheckter

If you’ve ever dug through an old record collection and noticed certain names pop up in the liner notes of varying genres, well, Neal Casal embodied that. Names like Lucinda Williams, Willie Nelson, The Jayhawks, Fruit Bats, James Iha, and Blackfoot, to name a few, jump off his resume.

Since 2011, Casal spent the bulk of his years recording and touring with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. He found himself immersed in the musical community of the Grateful Dead that Robinson craved following his break from The Black Crowes. Between playing with Phil Lesh at Terrapin Crossroads, to crafting set break music for the 2015 Fare Thee Well performances, spawning Circles Around The Sun, Casal became a mainstay in the extended scene.

Neal Casal - photo by Alan Sheckter

That said, Casal was always steadfast in maintaining his own identity:

For me, the one thing that I’m not going for in my love of the Grateful Dead is mimicry. Never, never am I trying to mimic those band members or anything like that, because I’ve worked for a long time on developing my own music and worked within other styles and genres and feelings and so many different things through my life.”

A glimpse through any social media platform shows how many people he touched over his lifetime, with tributes and condolences coming from all corners. The band he spent his final performance with, Oteil Burbridge and Friends, is no exception.

Social media is also where Casal shared his other true passion: photography. With an all access pass to every corner of the touring and recording industry, he sagely documented it all, resulting in his published photo collection, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: A View of Other Windows.

Neal Casal - photo by moran

His Instagram feed is a barrage of beautifully crafted throwback photos showcasing the annals of his Americana tinged trip, in which he’ll be remembered smiling, with a camera in one hand and a guitar in the other.

Those close to him shared the following message on Tuesday morning:

Circles Around The Sun

As many of you know, Neal was a gentle, introspective, deeply soulful human being who lived his life through artistry and kindness. His family, friends and fans will always remember him for the light that he brought to the world. Rest easy Neal, we love you.”