You know it’s going to be a good party when it kicks off with a free marching band performance. Portland’s own March Fourth stilted and hooped their way into Telluride’s 19th Annual Blues and Brews Festival this past weekend- much to the delight of the early arriving “festivarians”- on Thursday afternoon. It would be a severe understatement to say that this (free!) spectacle was an injection of ecstatic morale that carried on throughout the weekend. Not to mention that the yellowing Aspen trees cascading down the looming San Juans provide a breathtaking backdrop to the one-stage arena, as each artist will boast. When the musicians are mutually in awe at the surrounding scenery as the attendees are with the music, it makes for a surreal sort of affectionate experience.

 

The one and only Warren Haynes headlined Saturday night with his band Gov’t Mule and stole the show with an epic rendition of “When the Music’s Over” by the Doors. Drawn out, dramatic, ominous, and spot-on, I’m not sure that Jim Morrison ever sang such a stellar version of his own song. Warren is an outstanding and versatile musician, able to fill the giant shoes of late and greats such as the Allman Brothers, Levon Helm, and of course, Jerry Garcia. Mule is notorious for covering crowd pleasers by artists such as The Band, Zeppelin, Traffic, and the Dead because, well, Warren does it best.

Phil Lesh & Friends closed out the event on Sunday evening with a two full sets of nonstop Grateful Dead. Phil has toured with various talents over the past several years, but “friends” in this case consisted of his two bearded sons and surly Warren Haynes, playing the role of Jerry and doing a majority of the vocals. The only time you actually heard Phil’s voice was Bird Song in the second set and during his organ donor spiel before the encore. Actually, the whole thing was more like Warren & Friends- and it was just right.

 

Last year it was the Flaming Lips with their confetti and strobe lights. This year, the wildcard act of the weekend was The B52s with their beehives… and strobe lights. Perhaps the most entertaining part of The B52s was the audience costume contest and the myriad of middle aged women in cotton candy wigs, knee-high pleather go-go boots, and neon patterned ensembles that would make Austin Powers nauseous. The B52s were awesomely bad- but weren’t they always? The waited way too long to play Love Shack and encored with Rock Lobster, which was surely a hit. But Fred Schneider’s sunglasses at night and mad raving about “taking pills” combined with Kate Pierson’s fringe and howls didn’t exactly fall anywhere near the “blues” category of music- or any category, really. It didn’t help the B52’s cause that they were preceded by the classic Little Feat and New Orlean’s Trombone Shorty earlier in the day. It was like brushing your teeth and then drinking orange juice right afterwards.

 

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Sunday afternoon set truly took you back to the seventies. The band’s uniform bushy beards and reflective aviators gave off a Humble Pie vibe and made you feel like a groupie (or “band-aid”) in the movie Almost Famous, tempted to hitch a ride out of town in a VW Bus and follow them off through the mountains to the next venue. Robinson’s voice is down-home without being country and the band is soulful without being overly bluesy.

 

 

Robert Randolph and Anders Osborne were other noteworthy performances.

But it is LA’s Orgone that I would award MVP of the weekend to. Their set was during the hottest part of the day on Saturday and they probably had the best turnout as far as utter madness on the dusty dance floor goes. Super high energy, uber funktastic, and with a babe of a vocalist who worked the crowd with her glowing smile and seductive voice. Folks were buzzing all weekend in their aftermath.

Phil Wiggins on harmonica and Tennessee’s Reverend John Wilkins provided a Sunday morning soul saving service of true blues. The Reverend skipped his weekly southern church sermon to come perform for us lucky folks. Their version of Prodigal Son, a song originally written by Wilkins’ father and adapted by the Rolling Stones, was sweet and raw.

 

I could gush on and on about how the festival was nothing short of perfect over all, but I digress. Last year it dumped buckets of rain and snow during the Grand Tasting- this year we had “sun burned man boobs,” as the annoying Telluride MCs blathered on about over the microphone between acts, warning the men to sunscreen up.

And the beer was cold and tasty and plentiful. The crowd was smiling and costumed. What more could one ask for from the grand finale of the Telluride summer festival series? No actual blues in sight except for the clear summer sky.

 

Allison Cohn loves gold spray paint and nonsense. She also has a very difficult time sitting still and keeping quiet. She can often be found dancing like a fool when she isn’t hiding out in her mountain lair or gallivanting around the globe.

About The Author

Editor, Music Desk
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Allison Cohn loves gold spray paint and nonsense. She also has a very difficult time sitting still and keeping quiet. She can often be found dancing like a fool when she isn’t hiding out in her mountain lair or gallivanting around the globe. Allison is 303 Magazine’s Music Desk Editor, specializing in jam bands, funk, bluegrass, and all things bizarre and avant-garde. If you have something intriguing to share, you can reach her at allison@303magazine.com.

One Response

  1. Dave Shaver

    I respectfully disagree with your view of the festival line-up this year. I've attended every Telluride B&B Festival since 1997 and my summary this year was: 1) Top three fests ever in terms of weather, 2) Excellent Grand Tasting with great selection of breweries, and 3) Hugely disappointing music line-up.

    You barely mentioned MarchFourth Marching Band, which was, IMO, by far the best act; they did way more than just march in; the stage show was excellent. Second was unmentioned Robert Randolph, who played some amazing riffs. In third place (and final, as far as the music goes IMO) was Tab Benoit, also unmentioned in your review.

    I'm desperately hopeful that the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival will get back to a reasonable blues-oriented line-up. The experimentation with "off-script" acts is disappointing and very tiring in the last four or so years.

    The The Ride Festival (www.ridefestival.com) — using the same stage a few weeks earlier and with far fewer acts — had a more blues-oriented line-up for its first year. With 1/4 the crowd they mustered North Mississippi Allstars, JJ Grey & Mofro, Big Head Todd and the Monsters (twice), Ben Harper, and Los Lobos. All were all excellent. I felt more blues at a non-blues event than we had this year at the B&B. :(

    I'd suggest that readers look back at the line-ups of past B&B festivals and compare to recent trends. If you've been to more than a few B&B's over the year, think back to the acts you really liked and those that fit the "theme" of the festival (whatever you think the first "B" stands for.) It is OK to change over time and experiment with different flavors; yet stick to the core line-up being "right".

    For me, the acts I remember over 15 years include the likes of Lonnie Brooks, John Mayall, Clarence "Gatemouth Brown" (RIP), Otis Taylor, Stefan George, Tommy Elskes, Derek Trucks. Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Kirk James, Tommy Elskes, Robert Cray, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jeff Healey (RIP), Elvin Bishop, Kenny Neal, Dickey Betts, Taj Mahal, Alex Maryol, Blues Traveler, Blind Boys of Alabama, Bernard Allison, Popa Chubby, Tommy Castro, Buddy Guy, Joe Cocker, B.B. King, Indigenous, Elvin Bishop, Susan Tedeschi, Sonny Landreth, Bruce Hornsby, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tab Benoit, Grace Potter, Eric Bibb, Los Lonely Boys, Keb' Mo', JJ Grey & Mofro, Joe Bonamassa, Ana Popovic, Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, Jimmie Vaughan, Big Head Todd, MarchFourth Marching Band, etc. Note that not all of these are pure blues yet all put on a great blues-oriented show.

    The biggest disappointments have mostly come in the last three to five years — they don't "fit" the festival, IMO. Topping the list of dislikes are Black Crowes, The Flaming Lips, Willie Nelson, Ryan Shaw, Phil Lesh, Little Feat, and the B-52s.

    Every festival needs to be ever-improving and often-changing. I'm not a deep music geek and may no longer represent the target market for this festival. I'm eager to hear more music and be exposed to things I've never heard. I just hope that such exposure is in line with the festival's promise of "Blues".

    Reply

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