Friday, July 8, 2011

Winter Park, Summer Blues Parts #1, #2 and #3


I’m having another one of my William Wordsworth days. Perhaps I should explain. Wordsworth’s I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud has been my favorite poem for decades. Certainly the imagery is beautiful and spot on, but it’s that last stanza that hooked me the first time I read it. And every time since. I even made a refrigerator magnet with that stanza to remind me of the benefits of daily reflection.

I can tell when I’m going to have a Wordsworth day the moment I open my eyes. Like this morning. That last stanza is about reflection, and this morning I’m in full-on reflection mode from this past weekend’s 9th Annual Blues From the Top festival. The daffodils and my heart are dancing to the Blues (read the poem at the conclusion, and that will make sense).

This is the first year I’ve made the journey to Winter Park, CO, on Saturday morning instead of Friday evening. There were logistical concerns that prompted that decision, and although I missed the Friday night jam at Smokin’ Moe’s, I still heard about a week’s worth of great Blues in an awe inspiring Rocky Mountain setting. It’s just so damn beautiful! And, had I gone up Friday evening, I wouldn’t have had an EXHILARATING wildlife sighting. My good friend Bill was driving, and as we rounded a corner, I noticed what I thought were three small deer having a little nosh by the side of the road. Just as we got parallel to them, I noticed they were in fact rams. I’ve been in Colorado for twelve and a half years and these were my first rams! I’m still pretty excited about it. The last two on my list for sightings are mountain lion and bobcat. If anyone has any good sighting areas, hit me back.

We entered the park just as Michaela Rae was getting started, the teenager’s third consecutive year opening the festival, and she did us proud. I was carrying a boxed kid’s electric guitar for signatures. It’s a beautiful small, fire-engine red electric that I’m hauling around the planet for signatures so we can auction it at my Blue Star Connection Birthday Benefit in December. What better place than festivals to maximize signature value? The front is now almost completely covered. And guitarists only on this one.

After settling in at a table in the VIP tent (thank you John Catt!), all the greetings commenced, at this, the second event of the Blues Social Season (two weeks ago, Greeley Blues Jam kicked off our auspicious season). We’re just as snobby as other society events, but we’re snobby about hugs. We’re huggers. I had no shortage of great hugs this weekend, and I was just speaking to Jill Watkins to fill her in (she couldn’t make it this year...), and after we hung up, I realized I had actually made mention of the quality of a couple of hugs I’d received. So yes, I’m hug snob. I gave and received many memorable, but the top hugs for the weekend belong to Austin Young, Krisanne Young (Austin’s mom), Albert Cummings, Cricket, Janie Soong, Debbie Obermann, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Shara Todd, Carlton Armstrong, Enid Strong, Mary Bridget Davies, Scotty Rivera, and Art Ferrari. Just to name a few. Some people are just gifted huggers, and I don’t want to brag, but...

Speaking of Enid Strong, she and her husband, Dave, are very involved in the Colorado Blues world, this festival, and Blue Star Connection, and I had to get a little crafty on Saturday in order to get the guitar signed. Let me explain: John Catt always comps tickets for me and any staff from the Outlook. For the last couple of years, he’s also graciously given me an All Access pass. As I got to Will Call, hauling the guitar, I gave them my name, and nothing. John forgot me, but I called, and he spoke to the volunteer working Will Call and told him to give Bill and me a two-day VIP bracelet, which was greatly appreciated. A few minutes later I ran into Dave Strong and asked if he knew where John was, as I needed to get the guitar back stage. For the next couple of hours, John and I kept just missing each other, so he finally sent me a text. It said, “Come back stage now.” I thought, well, I don’t have a pass. But I do have a text. So, I showed the text to security, and they let me through. And again, I’d just missed John, but at least I got to get the guitar in the Green Room.

After returning to the VIP tent, I realized that I really needed to go to the Green Room every hour or so to ask for signatures, but again, I was without a pass. And then I realized that I still had the text. Now I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I told Dave and Enid I was going to, and they laughed and confirmed John wouldn’t care. There were three ways to enter the back stage area, and they shifted personnel every hour or so, so I just had to make sure I didn’t show the text to the same person twice. It worked! Now I must say that John Catt needs to be damned proud of his security, because they scrutinized the text to make sure it really came from him. They just didn’t check the time. I saw John first thing Sunday morning, and he gave me a pass. If he hadn’t, don’t think for a second I wouldn’t have used that text. Repeatedly.

Just as the Dustin Pittsley Band was taking the stage, I looked out and realized that I’d never seen that many people that early in the day at this festival. I’d also never seen so much snow still on the mountains either. It was gorgeous.

As my fingers hit these keys, I realize I’m already at nearly 1200 words, and I’ve only just touched on Saturday, and we still have Sunday to go, so I’m going to have to serialize this.

Before I go for now, I would like to just like to say a few words about my very dear friend (and equally gifted hugger), Austin Young. At fifteen years old, this fantastically talented guitarist possesses a grace many adults never realize. He was on the kids’ stage for most of the weekend, and I made sure to make my way over for his sets. During the course of the weekend, I heard more than a dozen people come over, shake his hand while saying, “You belong on the main stage.” They’re right, of course, but Young Austin smiled that warm, friendly, joyful smile of his, and said “Well, thank you!” from the bottom of his genuine heart. Having just returned from Clarksdale, MS., for the Pinetop Perkins Foundation Youth Masterclasses, Austin is riding high, and I feel like a proud parent. That night, I sat in the Green Room having dinner with Ronnie Baker Brooks after his closing set, just the two of us, and out of the hour or so we had together, most of it was spent talking about Austin. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Exactly one week earlier, I spent that much time, and a bit more, on the phone with the guitar instructor for the PPF program, Bob Margolin, and he too can’t say enough great things about Austin.

Austin and I are going to have a nice long interview soon, so I can dedicate an entire blog to him, but first, I have to finish Blues From the Top 2011. More tomorrow. ~Honey Bee Sepeda~

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay: 10
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 20
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils. 1804


So, where was I?  Ah yes, Dustin Pittsley was just taking the stage.  The boys from Oklahoma revved up the crowd and let everyone know why their Colorado popularity is exploding.  This was their first Blues From the Top appearance, but clearly won’t be their last.

In between each of the main stage acts, we enjoyed sets from The Future of the Blues, the kids’ stage.  Ranging in ages ten to late teens, the Future Stage produced some wonderfully memorable sets, demonstrating the remarkable musical abilities inherent in some kids, and how fun that can be when they are given both encouragement and room to grow.  I think the youth stages at both BFtT and Greeley Blues Jam show how serious we Coloradans are about the future of our beloved music. 

A couple of weeks ago, Young Austin received the first standing ovation of the GBJ, and this past weekend, he got a few more, as did all of the kids.  At the risk of sounding corny, one would have to be soulless not to tear up and feel a glowing warmth from head to toe and beyond watching and listening to these kids give it their all, with the Blues flowing through their young veins. Every great now and again I get some mild grumbling about how often I put kids’ bands on the stage at the Outlook, usually opening for a bigger act.  I’ll take the grumbling, because along with John Catt of BFtT and Pam and Al Bricker from GBJ, I firmly believe it is my responsibility and obligation to do whatever I can to nurture and motivate these talented kids.  The Catt, the Brickers, and the Bee will continue our support of these kids and their music for as long as we draw breath.

Speaking of forever, I have a new bestie.  Mary Bridget Davies and I finally got to spend some real time together.  Coincidentally, I was the first person to congratulate her after placing second at this year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis in February.  This time however, we had a lot more than just two minutes to talk, and she’s like family now.  More so since a dozen or more people kept asking if we were sisters.  Yes, there is a resemblance.  Mary is younger than I am, but I kept insisting she’s the elder sister.  And let me tell you, my big sis can SING!  Among the several dozen people I knew at the festival, I was one of a very few who was in Memphis and heard her.  I blogged that entire trip, and mentioned that out of the eight finalists, the Mary Bridget Davies Group was our primary competition.  All the bands were good, but I thought the Lionel Young Band had it hands down until Mary opened her mouth.  That’s when we got concerned.  As we know, the LYB took first, and MBDG second.  Mary (or Betty, as I call her), will be at the Boulder Outlook on Friday, September 2, and you don’t want to miss this show.  Her voice sends chills all over the body, while the mind reels at so much power coming out of such a little girl.  Love you, Betty!  See you in September.

Next up on the main stage was Girls With Guitars, featuring Cassie Taylor, Samantha Fish, and Dani Wild.  Now, I know both Samantha and Cassie, but little English rose, Dani, was new to me.  These three tore it up!  Yes, they are very attractive, sexy young women, but there is no questioning their hard work.  Their set was tremendous, perfectly composed, and flawless in their rotation of voices.  All three of them can sing their asses off!  Cassie has a CD release party coming up on August 24 at the Outlook with the Cassie Taylor Band, so for those of you who missed this weekend, you can at least hear one third of the Girls.  And, Cassie’s band is damn good as well. 

Then it was time for John Nemeth.  I adore this man’s music, and it had been about a year since last I heard him, so I made my way to the front of the stage.  Gretchen Troop was standing with me, and I turned to her and said, “I just love him.”  To which she replied, “I love everything he does.”  So did the rest of Winter Park.  He came out in a plaid suit that only he could pull off.  He actually looked retro great!  However, I’m not digging the new beard.  Just saying.  But that voice...

Along with his Flip Tops, the powerhouse that is Nick Moss took the stage next.  Damn!  Just damn!  This man is not just from Chicago, he IS Chicago.  His big brother, Joe, was with him, and he came out to show us all that it runs in the family.  And not just by blood.  The next day, Nick’s wife, Kate Moss, took the stage with Samantha Fish, and she PLAYED that guitar.  More on the Moss chicks in Part III.  There is another one, and her name is Sadie Mae.  There’s Chicago Moss growing all over us.

Saturday’s headliner was one of my all time favorite bands, the Ronnie Baker Brooks Band.  I don’t even know where to start.  Yes I do.  I hadn’t seen Ronnie, Carlton, or CJ before their set, so wearing my RBB jersey, I stood right in front of the stage.  By about the third song, Ronnie glanced down and saw me, and then pointed at me and gave me a shout out!  Made my weekend!  A few seconds later, I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned and there was Cricket.  In the middle of one of her world class hugs, she said, “I’m so glad Ronnie pointed you out. I’ve been looking for you all day.”

Their set had to be cut a bit due to curfew, but it was still fantastic, fun, funny, great, etc.  I could tell who had never seen the band live before, because the first time anyone witnesses Carlton Armstrong on bass, there is an exhilarating fear.  Chewing on a licorice stick, Carlton moves in an almost Zen-like fashion, with facial expressions that induce the aforementioned fear.  He looks terrifying.  The first time I met these guys was two years ago at the GBJ, and I hid from Carlton for most of the day.  He scared me.  I’ve since discovered one of the loveliest people I know, with a wicked sense of humor, and a relaxed and easy way with people that utterly defies his stage presence.  And I miss him already. 

Now we come to one of the weekends Defining Moments.  Two weeks prior, it had been Kent Obermann who tapped my shoulder and said, “Coco Montoya is looking for you.”  At this festival, it was Kent’s drop-dead gorgeous wife, Debbie, who provided the Moment.  She tapped, and said, “Someone is looking for you.”  I looked at her inquisitively, and she said, “Ronnie Baker Brooks.”  I just love the Obermanns!  They are always the harbinger of good news. 

And gorgeous Debbie can cook.  After sitting back stage with Ronnie for a while, my friend Bill and I walked the 50 yards to the condo the Obermanns had rented.  They were hosting a small party, and it was great fun.  Kent and Debbie, their two kids and their spouses, along with Cricket, Janie Soong (Tommy Castro’s merchandise manager and road den mother), Merrily, Gretchen Troop, and Carlton made up the party.  Debbie and her equally beautiful daughter, Megan, had made great guacamole and fajitas, and there was homemade beer, and some of the best laughs friends can have together.  I’ve known Kent and Debbie for a while, but this is the first time we had the space to relax together, and I certainly walked back to the hotel that night with the feeling of newness.  I have a new family to add to my big extended family, and I’m thrilled.  We even watched the Honey Badger video together, while laughing till tears ran.

I leave this installment of the series with a note from Janie Soong, as in its own funny way, it sums up the familial camaraderie between us, particularly at the Obermann party:

A little bit of trivia for you...Carlton was the first to call Cricket, Merrily & me "the Powerpuff Girls," Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles, respectively.

I will never call them by their other names again.  Stayed tuned for Part III.


And now we’re on to Sunday.  Blues From the Top Sundays always start at 10:30 a.m. with a gospel set.  This year was Ashley Cleveland, and wow!  This was the most rocked-out gospel performance I’ve ever witnessed.  By appearances alone, gospel is the last genre of music one would assume from this band, but gospel they are, and I witnessed a number of tissues on faces by the time Ashley’s voice was quiet.  She’s a powerhouse, and I personally hope BFtT brings her back.  I’d also like to have the flowing cardigan she was wearing.  It was beautiful.  And I’m so shallow...

They were followed on the main stage by one of Colorado’s great Blues heros, Sammy Mayfield, and judging by the audience reaction to his introduction, he inspires a lot of pride around these parts.  Right before he and his band went on, I was backstage and I heard someone say, “I think he has Mr. Wonderful with him.”  I spun around on my heels and said, “Mr. Wonderful is here?!  I LOVE Mr. Wonderful.”  About a year or so ago, Mr. Wonderful and Frank Terry came to one of the Blues jams at the Outlook, and Mr. Wonderful did a cover of “Stand By Me” that had tears streaming down my face.  It was and still is the best cover I’ve ever heard of that great classic.  

Sammy had nine people on that stage, including my good friends, Andy Irvine on bass and Scotty Rivera on drums.  Round about the middle of the set, as I was dancing away in the pit, I glanced up and Scotty was smiling at me.  So I did what any girl would do:  I blew him a kiss.  He then did something pretty amazing.  Right in the middle of playing, he was able to shift one of his sticks to the other hand and blow me a kiss without missing a beat!  Very impressive.  As was the entire band, and with Mr. Wonderful’s energetic performance, I think we were all a little exhausted after their set.  And happy.

Joanne Shaw Taylor was scheduled to perform next, but she couldn’t make the journey to Colorado as she’s ill (nothing too serious I was told), so Samantha Fish and Kate Moss took the main stage, and every man at that festival (and a few women I imagine) was spellbound and mesmerized by these two beautiful women tearing up guitars with talent and force.  The feminist in me was beaming. 

Speaking of beaming, there was another Moss woman performing last weekend, and this was her second time on the main stage at BFtT.  She was there last year, and there is no better term for her than “crowd pleaser.”  Her name is Sadie Mae Moss, and she very recently turned seven.  She is the daughter of Kate and Nick, and the musical gene is hers for the taking.  She sang a few songs with her dad on guitar and Grace Ritter, the daughter of Category 5 Amplifier’s Don Ritter, on tambourine.  I believe she’s nine.  Yes the kids are really cute, but they are also talented (Grace is also a bit of a photographer, carting around a camera almost her size).  Sadie Mae is comfortable on stage, and has a terrific presence.  She seems to be aware of and embracing her destiny.  Let’s hope she continues, because at seven she already has a very good voice.  It’s only going to get better. 

Next up, my good buddy Albert Cummings!  It had been two years since we last saw each other, and as we do tend to have a lot of fun together, I was really looking forward to spending some time with him.  Unfortunately, we had some time, but not enough.   There’s always so much going on at festivals, with a lot of people wanting time with the artists, so there’s nothing to be done.  What little time we had, however, consisted of, as usual, laughter.  The first time I met Albert he called me a bitch.  It was in 2006, dead of winter in Winter Park.  He was there for a Blue Star Connection Benefit with Tommy
Shannon, of Double Trouble fame, and George Rains, drummer for Jimmie Vaughan at Smokin’ Moe’s.  I went to the green room after the show to interview Tommy.  All three were there, and it went like this:

AC:  John tells us your friends with Bob Margolin.
HB:  Yes, I’ve know him since I was a teenager.
AC:  So you’ve heard all the Muddy Waters stories first hand.
HB:  Yes, and I actually got to meet him once.
AC:  [SLIGHT PAUSE] You bitch!

Yes, the first time I met Albert he called me a bitch.  The same trio came to play the Outlook a bit more than a year later, and as they arrived the evening before the show, we all had dinner.  I reminded Albert of that first conversation, and he said, “That’s right.  You bitch.”  A couple of months later, I flew to Dallas for a Category 5 benefit show for BSC at the Granada Theater, and the same trio was on the lineup.  I was at the theater helping with the auction items and getting ready for the doors to open, when I saw Albert walking up the street.  I ran out to say hello, and we talked for a few minutes, along with Mike Widner, a Blues promoter.  Albert then needed to go to the hotel to change, and I had to get back to work.  A few minutes later, Mike Widner walked into the lobby, approached me with a very uncertain and uncomfortable expression and it went like this:

MW:  Um, Honey?
HB:  Yes Mike.
MW:  Um....Albert told me to tell you you’re a bitch. 

The look on Mike’s face when I burst out laughing was priceless.  It was one of relief and confusion.  I guess he’s not used to a woman laughing at being called that name.  Just by point of clarification, Albert is the ONLY one who can get away with that, so don’e even try it! 

Next up came courtesy of the United Kingdom; the Matt Schofield Trio, and wow!  It was my first time, but hopefully not my last.  It’s great to bear witness to this most soulful and original form of American music being nurtured in other countries.  Keeping the Blues alive should be an international endeavor. 

The iconoclastic Jimmy Hall and Wet Willie closed the festival, and there was no shortage of happy, dancing people enjoying this reunion.  The crowd stayed strong until the end.  It was still a packed park of sun-glowing Blues lovers, spent from the weekend, but still not ready for it to end.  Well, at least that’s how I felt.  Anyone else?  Every year, parting is such sweet sorrow.

But part we must, and I’ve already started the countdown for next year.  However, we do have one more John Catt/BSC event to come this summer.  On August 6, in Littleton, Colorado, join us for the first annual Blue Star Connection Festival with Emma Henry, Jack Hadley, Ana Popovic, Deanna Bogart, Mike Zito, Zac Harmon, and...wait for it...The My Tommy Castro Band!  We’ve just a bit more than a month, so don’t wait, get your tickets now.  And while you’re at it, check out the great things Blue Star Connection is accomplishing.

~Honey Bee Sepeda~

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