Mountains, music and micro-brews: Telluride Blues and Brews 2012

Mountains, music and micro-brews: Telluride Blues and Brews 2012
September 25, 2012
Myles Cochrane

The stunningly picturesque mountain town of Telluride, Colo. isn't only known for its annual world-class blues festival in September. Located at about 8,750 feet above sea level, the former silver mining camp with a population of a little more than 2,000 has been the site of vacation homes for Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise, is one of the world's greatest ski resorts, hosts a legendary bluegrass festival and a film-fest with nearly as much prestige as Cannes as well as Sundance -- and heck, that's not even the half of it.

So, with a not-too-shabby blues festival of our own here in Humboldt County, I was ecstatic and thankful for the opportunity to head to the mountains to sample a wide variety of thrilling acts and a small variety of average acts both familiar and alien to us here on the North Coast.

But before I dive into the pool of performances that were hot and not, let me first describe the dedication spilling from the pores of Telluride Blues and Brews showgoers. Instead of just simply showing up when the gates open, the veteran attendees begin lining up at the opening of the bridge-entrance to Town Park as early as 3 a.m. only to wait until almost noon for an all-out race against each other and campers to throw down tarps and chairs in prime spots.

Because my dad basically “slept the line” on all three days of this year's 19th Blues and Brews go-around, he, my stepmother, my wife and I were all able to make haste to acquire prime viewing
spots. Thanks pops!

Kicking the music off with swagger on Friday, Sept. 14 was Pickwick -- a Seattle-based soulful five-piece with an organ-embellished sound. Their singer, Galon Disston, made the goods even better with his vocal range and timbre similar to Patrick Carney and Van Morrison, respectively. They'd fit in nicely at HumBrews or the Jambalaya.

Also making waves on Friday were the bluesy and lo-fi garage-rock duo Little Hurricane and closers The B-52's (who played HSU in 2009). 'Hurricane is like a dark version of the White Stripes but with equally inspired members and hearing a crowd of thousands sing along to “Love Shack,” “Rock Lobster” and “Private Idaho” never fails to induce a big smile (despite the fact that they aren't a blues band). The festival's best performance, though, came Friday with New Jersey soul-funk stars Robert Randolph & the Family Band. With dirty and booty-shakin' basslines embellished by Randolph's pedal steel guitar prowess and melodic, gripping, growling vocals, there's no question as to why he has been able to collaborate with the likes of Buddy Guy, Santana, Dave Matthews, Elton John and more. Their cover of Jimi Hendrix' “Voodoo Child” was a transcendental experience.

I wasn't impressed nor disgusted by psych-rockers Heartless Bastards or LA swamp-rockers Little Feat.

Saturday featured a ton of artists Humboldt County has come to know and love, mostly via HumBrews: Bay Area psychedelic soul-funk six-piece Monophonics, funk-fusion groovers Orgone out of Los Angeles, hit-sampling marching-band-acrobat-dancer collective March Fourth Marching Band out of Portland, Nawlins-blues-rock guitarist Anders Osborne and the day's best surprise, (I can't believe I missed 'em in Arcata!) New Orleans funky-hip-hop brass expert Trombone Shorty. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is an electrifying and charismatic performer who used a cover of “When the Saints Go Marching In” as icing on the cake for his already satisfying originals. Saturday's closers Gov't Mule did what they were there to do: Provide the crowd with a more funkified version of the Allman Brothers with a lot of covers. Their takes on the classics (like their speedy version of 'Zeppelin's “Whole lotta Love”) were a little too fast in tempo for the bluesy nuances I look for in a blues fest. While many docked Saturday for its funk emphasis rather than blues, the micro-brewery tasting from noon until 3 p.m. sure was a nice touch. Revolver Brewing out of Texas offered a Blood and Honey brew that is still making me salivate.

While Sunday's performers like Miami gospel-funk stars The Lee Boys, roots-R&B singer-songwriter Kelley Hunt, acoustic-blues duo Phil Wiggins (harmonica) and Reverend John Wilkins (guitar) and The Chris Robinson (Black Crowes singer) Brotherhood all put on good shows, Louisiana soul-blues master Tab Benoit stole the show that day. Closers Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead bassist) & Friends played for more three hours, and well, it got a little repetitive. And again, it wasn't blues.

So while the festival could change it's moniker to “Telluride Music and Microbrews” for its lack of traditional blues choices, the performances, scenery and vibe was still worth the price of admission for those less insistent on having guys like B.B. King, Joe Cocker and Buddy Guy on board (who've all played the fest before). Still, the pretzel-necklaces, laughter, remote-control flying cameras, bungee-trampoline, kids attractions, smiling faces, rock-wall, hacky-sackers, brew-tasting, fun conversation, eclectic food options, quality vendors and uncharacteristically warm weather made for an amazing time. I'd do it again.

Let's just cross our fingers that Robert Randolph & the Family Band schedule a performance on the North Coast soon and that Trombone Shorty as well Tab Benoit return ASAP.
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