The Colorado Blues Season is officially open! Saturday was the seventh annual Greeley Blues Jam, the kick off festival, and they did it up right. Even Mother Nature cooperated offering up perfect weather, with just enough cloud cover to keep it from getting too hot. All the heat came from the performances.
I entered the Arena to the frenzied energy of Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, and they raised a lot more than just hell. Dwayne has arms like Big Bill Morganfield that dwarf the accordion, over which Mr. Dopsie has absolute dominion. He’s also funny and enjoys a lot of playful audience interaction, keeping people dancing and laughing. After their highly energized performance, I set out to find Dwayne to give him my card for the next time he comes through Colorado. They would be a lot of fun at the Boulder Outlook, so we’re going to be talking in the next week. It’s a good thing too, as throughout the course of the day, I ran into many of the Outlook’s regular supporters, and several inquired as to the possibility of booking these young men.
While I was backstage waiting for Dwayne, I ran into my friends, the Nighthawks. We had a tremendously fun reunion which lasted most of the day. Last month they took home a Best Acoustic Recording BMA for Last Train to Bluesville, so it was good to get the chance to congratulate them. It’s a wonderful CD.
Just as I was preparing to head to Second Stage for Another Kind of Magick, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, Blues festivals have Defining Moments, every year, every festival. Something wonderful or magical or both always happens, and Saturday was no exception. I turned around and there was my friend, and Blues singer, Kent Obermann saying, “Coco Montoya is looking for you.” I’ve met Coco once, a year and a half ago, and I certainly didn’t expect him to remember me. I was blissfully wrong. I went around to the artist area and there he was. I approached, extended my right hand for shaking, and he just smiled at me, spread those massive arms, and gave me a great big hug. That was a Defining Moment for me, and on it’s own would have left me in perma-grin mode for the day had Trampled Under Foot not delivered another one a couple of hours later. I’ll get to that.
Another Kind of Magick out of Cheyenne, WY earned some respect as they showed the crowd what dedicated teenagers can do with some God-given talent. Those kids threw it down! By the end of their set, no one was surprised to hear they had made it to the semi-finals at the International Blues Challenge in February. Out of 110 bands, only 44 advanced to the semis, and as 15-year-old harp-wiz Nic “Cottonseed” Clarke is a Colorado boy, we claim the entire band as our own, so there were a lot of proud Coloradans in Memphis cheering them on. For my Boulder-area readers, they will be playing the Outlook on October 14th, which also happens to be National Honey Bee Day. I know how I’ll be celebrating. And by way of disclosure, Nic calls me his Outlook Mom, so I might just be a tad bias.
Next up on the Main Stage, The Nighthawks! There are reasons aplenty why this band is a favorite of so many Blues fans, and they collected a bunch more by the end of their set. They first collected me in 1980, back when a young Mr. Jimmy Thackery was on guitar. Mark Wenner is still the voice of the The Nighthawks nearly 40 years after first founding the band, so I’ll admit to a strong sentimental attachment here. Which is why I rarely left Mark’s side the entire day, poor guy. Fortunately, they weren’t in a rush to get anywhere, so they stayed for the music, and somehow listening to the bands while sitting with these guys added another layer of wonderfulness to the day, and I’m still up in the clouds where I’m happy to stay for a while.
I did manage to get in a lot of running around and socializing. I wrote an earlier blog about Greeley being the kick off for the Blues Social Scene, and boy was it ever! On the way home, my good friend, the great singer Jill Watkins and I were marveling at how much love was there, in one venue, begging to be absorbed. Neither of us could count how many friends we saw, how many hugs were happily given and accepted, how many welcoming smiles were worn by so many happy souls. On a side note, I think two of the biggest smiles I kept running into all day were worn by Pam and Al Bricker, the determined duo behind this event. The day was successful on EVERY count, at EVERY level, and the flow of the sets was absolutely inspired. I heard numerous comments on that, so it wasn’t just me who thought the flow was perfect. Congratulations to the entire GBJ committee and volunteers on a hugely successful day! You’ve all earned your smiles and ours.
After the Nighthawks blew the place up, Colorado’s Big Jim Adam and John Stilwagen, 2011 IBC Finalists in the solo/duo division, took Second Stage and delivered a rousing 45-minute set to an enthusiastic crowd, all trying to get closer to the stage. They are two perfect examples of the great talent we have in this area, and along with the other Second Stage acts, the Otone Brass Band and the Erica Brown Band (all of whom were GREAT), we don’t have to wait until festival season to hear good Blues.
We’re Blues blessed in these parts, and we should all remember to check calendars and support live Blues year round, because it isn’t the seasonal festivals that keep the Blues alive. They are the celebrations of the ongoing efforts of local live music venues around the country, without which musicians wouldn’t be able to make a living. In these parts the two work together: the primary reason I have a friendship with Pam and Al isn’t from seeing them once a year at their festival; it’s because we see each other at a number of live Blues shows throughout the year; we see each other at Blues From the Top in Winter Park, the Grand County Blues Society’s prestigious annual festival (June 24 - 27 this year). They decided to book the Nighthawks after seeing them for the first time at the Outlook last October. See how this works? We’re family.
Speaking of family, WE HAVE A NEW BABY! Elijah Christopher Ogle was born on April 8th to Danielle Schnebelen of Trampled Under Foot, and Travis Ogle, a super guy and a tremendous sculptor. This little cutie has the arts flowing through his veins. And there is no mistaking he’s a Schnebelen. He favors Travis in the eye area, but is otherwise all Danielle. And my goodness, this little baby is chill. While Danielle and her brothers, Nick and Kris, were setting up and tuning, John Catt was holding Elijah for his photo ops (so many people wanted a picture of him, that John and I toyed with the idea of charging five bucks a pop for Blue Star Connection; however, we figured Danielle might frown upon our selling photos of her infant, even if it was for charity). The kid has cute down pat! I so very much wanted to hold him, but by the time they got there, I’d met numerous people shaking numerous hands, and knew it best not to risk the potential germ exchange. Damn near killed me, too (particularly as he provided Defining Moment #3). So, while Mom and the Uncles were on stage, Mary Chesis took over holding duties, and, just as Danielle promised, when their set started, he passed out. He slept through the entire set. Is it just me, or do kids seem to rebel younger and younger these days?
Elijah was the only one sleeping during that set. The Nighthawks hadn’t heard them yet and asked me what I thought. I grinned and said, “Just wait.” I then went around to the photographers’ pit, right up front. My work in the Blues industry affords me the privilege of all access passes to these festivals, and I am most thankful for having access to the pit. I’m only five feet, two inches tall, so if I actually want to see anything, I have to be right up front. Nick opened by himself, behind the drums, resonator in hand, and got the crowd’s attention. By the time Kris and Danielle joined him on stage, the entire crowd was angling to get closer. It’s always fun to be in a big crowd where at least half of it is hearing Danielle’s voice for the first time. I love the sound of collective gasps. Danielle evoked a lot of them yesterday. But then she always does.
Her brothers, Nick on guitar/vocals and Kris on drums, are supreme musicians, and this family affair is the most creatively successful of any I can think of, at any time in recent history. That distinction is clearly evident by their latest cd, the WONDERFUL Wrong Side of the Blues, and they spent most of their 75 minutes on their newer material. But not all of it. Here comes Defining Moment #2: Danielle walks up to the mic, points at me standing in the pit, and says, “This one’s for Honey!” And they launched into their original, “Honey Bee.” So clearly I’m going to start saving for Elijah’s college fund.
They closed with “Goodbye.” My only complaint about TUF, is that I’ve yet to get through an entire show without crying. Before first hearing the ballad this past March, Danielle’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” was typically what sent me in search of tissue. With “Goodbye,” she’s added to her arsenal in her battle against my mascara. Which leads me to Defining Moment #3, courtesy of Elijah. I had grabbed a clean napkin after lunch and put it in my pocket, so I reached in for it and dabbed at my watering eyes a couple of times. Then I noticed a slightly sour odor coming from my face, which I thought was odd. As Danielle extracted another round of tears, I again took said napkin and dapped said tears. It was right then that I remembered that while John was holding Elijah for his photo ops, he’d spit up a little (Elijah, not John), and I had dispensed of the evidence in the aforementioned napkin. So, my face was sporting my tears and her son’s recycled lunch. Pretty. But well worth it. For any readers not familiar with Trampled Under Foot, I urge to watch this. It’s not great quality, but Danielle’s raw emotion does the driving.
Coco Montoya was next up on the Main Stage, and he thrilled us all! Some artists suffer the altitude, but Coco’s voice was spot on. What was also spot on was the sun: spot on Coco the entire set. The brief period of day when the sun was on the stage was the only period of the day that didn’t have cloud cover, but Coco’s shirt didn’t even wrinkle. The man is a pro! The audience was also suffering the sun, but they still held strong and stayed right up front, dancing for the entire set. Coco is one hell of an entertainer. He and his band know how to hold an audience in the palms of their hands, and they did just that.
The last two sets, the North Mississippi Allstars Duo and Robert Randolph and the Family Band, continued the Perfect Flow motif of the day. A very successful day. The NMA Duo produced a full band of sound. I hadn’t realized they were coming without bassist, Chris Chew, and wondered how much of my first live NMA experience would be compromised. Answer: none. With all due respect to Mr. Chew, Luther and Cody Dickinson came out and for 90 minutes demonstrated their Blues and Roots legacy with tremendous force, originality, and soul well beyond their young years. Their father, the late Jim Dickinson, always told them, “Play every note as if it’s your last because one of them will be.” They did. He also told them, "You need to be playing music together. You are better together than you will ever be apart." Saturday, as the sun was finally settling down, everyone in that audience was glad Luther and Cody followed their father’s advice.
I have to confess that I had to leave just as Robert Randolph and the Family Band were taking the stage. I didn’t want to, but I had an early morning appointment. I’ve seen enough on youtube to know that I missed a great performance, and that is my cross to bear.
I’d like to extend my great thanks to the following people: Dan King, for letting me do a job with such extraordinary perks; Pam and Al Bricker, for always extending the kind of hospitality that is making this a much-talked about event out on the circuit; To Kent Obermann for saying, “Coco Montoya is looking for you;” and to all the musicians who work damn hard year round to keep these nasty old Blues alive for all of us nasty old Blues lovers.
See you next weekend in Winter Park! ~Honey Bee Sepeda~