Widespread agreement on Labor Day (Dylan excepted)
September 4, 2008
SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” There was much agreement on the activity at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ 2008 Labor Day Festival.
Leading the way was the seemingly unanimous praise of classic rocker John Fogerty, who reveled in playing his Creedence Clearwater Revival hits, added a handful of relevant but old-school swamp rock tunes, and generally acted like he was privileged to play his set. Georgia jam-band Widespread Panic, which opened the 5-day festival with headlining shows on Thursday and Friday, pleased even the pickiest of Spreadheads with deep, tight grooves, and back-to-back set-lists that were heavy with fan favorites from their early days. If anyone was complaining about the addition of lead guitarist Jimmy Herring, who has joined Panic since their last Jazz Aspen appearance, in 2005, it was done in whispers that couldn’t be heard.
There were common sentiments that singer-songwriter Tift Merritt is a rising star; that Dwight Yoakam plays the kind of country music that even people who don’t like country can get behind; that British quartet the New Mastersounds are among the finest American-style jazz-groove bands on the globe; that Yonder Mountain String Band is becoming another top-shelf Colorado acoustic band.
And then there was the festival’s one great debate. Not surprisingly, it centered around the eternally enigmatic Bob Dylan. On one side, there are those who complained ” rightly, but a bit beside the point ” that Dylan’s voice, at least on the live stage, has been reduced to a bare croak. Also on the negative ledger were those who observed ” again rightly, and more to the point ” that Dylan’s band is monotonous, and restrained in expression, both musical and emotional.
On the other side, in roughly equal numbers, were fans who noticed that the 67-year-old Dylan signals his apparent good spirits through head-bobs, the occasional smile, and even some little dance moves. Dylan’s songs were, on the whole, recognizable, and the diehards had to be cheered by the inclusion of both “Visions of Johanna” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” two examples of what sets Dylan apart as a songwriter.
The disparity between band and bandleader caused some head-scratching. If Dylan were reclusive and incommunicative, as he can be, it would make sense for his band to follow suit. But shouldn’t a jubilant Bob translate to a loose and jamming band? So why didn’t it?
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Away from the stage, there were thumbs-up all around for the flow of the festival. Even with record overall crowds ” albeit for a festival expanded to five days from its usual four ” there was little overcrowding, except for the crush just before the headliners on Friday and Saturday nights. Jazz Aspen had to be cheered to see both solid numbers at the box office and a comfortable experience on the grounds.