Telluride Blues & Brews Festival
September 14-16, 2007
Words by Fred Adams / photos by:
Taking the stage to close out the 14th annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, the members of The Black Crowes said nary a word. Opening their set with “Wiser Time,” nearly every member of the band shared what seemed to be a singular, huge smile, as if they had something up their sleeves, but were not going to say what it was.
It did not take long to find the origin of those grins, as Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) stepped to the forefront of the stage and let loose the first of many fiery solos that helped make the Crowes the premiere act of an all-around stellar festival. While Dickinson barely cracked a smile, looking intent to earn the respect of the crowd in this, his first full show with the band, the rest of the Crowes grinned from ear to ear, immensely invigorated by their hot new addition.
The Crowes continued “bringing rock-n-roll to the mountain people,” performing early hits “Jealous Again,” “Sting Me,” and “Seeing Things.” By the time the band finished “Soul Singing,” it was clear to all that the band once again had soul to spare, something not often said since Marc Ford left the band last year. While the Crowes have not formally announced Dickinson as a new member of the band, it would be hard to imagine a better fit. In a set that found each of the band’s members performing at their best, Dickinson’s lead was the burst of sunshine that brought the band back to their glorious best, providing the hard rock edge that made “Mean Town Blues” and “High Head Blues” highlights of the set.
The Best of the Rest
By the time the Crowes set wound down Sunday night, over two dozens artists had graced the stage. The festival got under way early Friday afternoon with a performance by the Rhythm Council, bringing a Mardi Gras vibe to the west with Papa Mali on lead guitar and the tinkling fingers of Henry Butler on keyboards. Tishamingo was next up, featuring the dual lead guitars of Jess Franklin and Cameron Williams. The pair really got things going with the day’s first drinking song, “Whiskey State of Mind,” and kept them moving with a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way.” The rest of their set was comprised exclusively of songs from their latest release, The Point, with an epic “Mitchell” creating a congregational feeling amongst the audience.
Joe Bonamassa followed with an impressive set that blended blues of the old school Chicago masters with the modern Texas flavor of Eric Johnson. The best of the set came during an extended instrumental jam that included snippets of “Just Got Paid Today,” “Do You Feel Like I Do,” and “Dazed and Confused.” While the sound coming from Bonamassa’s guitar was extraordinary, the same could not be said of the festival’s sound system. That cracking and popping in the P.A. would be heard far too often; one of the few complaints from the crowd in what was an otherwise spectacular weekend of music.
By late Friday afternoon, the festival grounds had filled, many arriving just in time to see the return of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the band who proved the be the darling of last year’s festival. Many in attendance were taken in by Grace’s charm, but others were disappointed; some commented that the band did not live up to the hype, and others that they did not care for the direction the band took with their latest album This is Somewhere.
Those who were not moved by Grace certainly got their groove on when Robert Randolph and the Family Band took the stage. Though the set was familiar, Randolph’s enthusiasm was infectious as ever, making it all but impossible to not get up and shake. Los Lonely Boys closed the show Friday delivering a set similar to Randolph’s – songs everyone has heard before, excellently performed by a stellar group of veteran musicians.
The festivities quickly roared in to high gear on Saturday, due much more to the “Brews” portion of the event more than the day’s early performances. With over 53 microbreweries offering more than 100 beers for sample, four ounces at a time, it seemed as though everyone with a ticket made it through the door by the time the free Grand Tasting commenced at noon. While the tasting was set to last until 3 PM, the line at the Sweetwater Brewery tent stretched nearly 100 yards, as seemingly everyone wanted to sample the Blueberry beer that had become the talk of the town. Given the fact that the Sweetwater kegs ran dry in less than two hours, leaving many in line longing for more, it came as no surprise that the Atlanta brewery would take home the “Best of Fest” cup, for the festival’s best and overwhelmingly most popular, brew.
Though, for most of the crowd, Saturday seemed to be more about the brews than the blues, the day did feature some darn good music. Marc Ford and John Mooney both performed very diverse sets, driven by excellent guitar work. After Mooney took the stage, Colin Lake was named winner of the 2007 Telluride Acoustic Blues Competition, and given the time to perform a brief set.
The most energetic performance of the day took place when the blues took a back seat to the Cajun sounds of Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band. The atmosphere Chubby brought to the stage seemed to give new life to the crowd, even those that had been all but down for the count since the grand tasting ended two hours earlier.
Mardi Gras in the Mountains
When Chubby sang, “there ain’t no party like a Chubby party,” he indeed spoke the truth. Adding to the festive atmosphere of the set was a true Mardi Gras parade, featuring flying beads, dancing mimes (on stilts, no less) led by a grand marshal in the form of a Chinese dragon. For many of the young children participating in the parade, bringing Mardi Gras to the beautiful mountains of Telluride was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Before the headliner took the stage, the crowd was greeted by a big name “tweener,” the term used for artist who would perform short sets on the side of the stage as equipment was changed for the main performers. John Hall, who had shown up back stage and stated, “I can’t come to a festival like this and not play,” surprised the crowd with an enjoyable 20 minute set that was highlighted by his 70’s classic “She’s Gone.” While Keb Mo‘s fine performance may have provided the day’s truest blues, his set lacked the energy that Chubby had brought to the stage, sending many in attendance home to prepare for the evening’s late night club performances.
Though the music got going earlier on Sunday, with The Erica Brown Band’s Mornin’ Gospel Hour at 11 AM, the majority of the crowd was late arriving – perhaps from the free flowing brews of Saturday, or perhaps from too much late night blues in the local juke joints. David “Honeyboy” Edwards was next, accompanied by Michael Frank, and provided those in attendance with a true taste of the blues in the genre’s purest performance of the weekend.
While scattered storms seemed to keep some festival goers from returning on Sunday, by the time Eric Lindell and his Soul Roots Movement took the stage at 1:50 (no small feat, given the fact that Lindell had performed the latest of shows the previous evening, until 4 AM), the crowd size had grown, and the final day of the festival was in high gear. When JJ Grey and Mofro took the stage, the P.A. problems returned, making much of the first song nearly inaudible. Once the sounds issues were resolved, JJ put on his usual stellar performance, highlighted by “Brighter Days” and “Florida.”
The Radiators are a band that have never been known to perform any groundbreaking new music, yet they always put on a good party. Their Blues & Brews appearance, accompanied by Bonerama, proved to be no different. Yet, not long after The Black Crowes took the stage, with Luther Dickinson wailing away on lead guitar, the other Sunday acts suddenly seemed much less significant.
While few, if any, of the bands could have drawn 8,000 fans to Telluride on their own, the stellar collection of artists, combined with the stunning scenic setting and bevy of tasty beverages ensured that this year’s Blues & Brews lived up to its reputation as one of the nation’s premiere music festivals.