One last listen: The sounds of 2013 |

One last listen: The sounds of 2013

Story and photos by Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Stewart Oksenhorn The Aspen Times |

A final look back at 2013. Or more accurately, a listen back, as I bend my ear and recall the best concerts of that year. (Point worth mentioning: I miss a lot of shows, a lot of good and great shows, and among what I missed was the entire Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival, with its killer lineup topped by the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. I promise, I was on other musical duties that weekend.)

The best of what I did see, a baker’s dozen plus one, in chronological order:

Seryn, Feb. 20, Belly Up: I was nervous. I had seen these little-known indie folk-rockers from Texas at Telluride Bluegrass and was taken enough to pitch them, hard, to Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg. He booked them, and my love was justified fully; at Belly Up, they played an even more monstrous show — enough so that Goldberg was on the floor much of the night wearing a big smile. Now bring them back again.

YES, March 12, Belly Up: Apart from wanting, of course, to see original singer Jon Anderson still fronting the British prog-rock champions, it’s hard to see how you could ask for more. Steve Howe remains a mad genius of the guitar, there are still three members from the glory days, and they ripped through three of their classic albums enough to satisfy my buddy Scott, a hardcore YES-head. And current singer Jon Davison brought an Anderson-esque quality to the vocals in a way that was totally enjoyable. (For those who need Anderson, mark your calendar: March 14, solo show, Wheeler Opera House.)

Sam Bush and Del McCoury, March 21, Wheeler: Bush and McCoury seem to come from different ends of the bluegrass spectrum — mandolinist Bush from the far progressive end, guitarist McCoury from the traditional side. But they sure do find a nice sweet spot in the middle to meet — a warm, all-acoustic duo whose material included traditional bluegrass and a cover of U2’s “In the Name of Love.”

Brett Dennen, March 22, Snowmass Base Village: It’s easy to see why a gaggle of teenage girls (and me) scooted up the steep, snowy hillside to get near the stage and sing along. Singer-songwriter Dennen’s tunes and vibe are so warm and empathic, you want to get as close as possible. Close call as to my favorite moment of the afternoon — singing and smiling throughout the song “She’s Mine” or getting a backstage hug from Dennen afterward. (Dennen is already set to return to town: March 15 at Belly Up. I, for one, am ready for more.)

Pedrito Martinez, March 30, Jazz Aspen JAS Cafe: In his local debut, Cuban-born percussionist Martinez and his quartet gave a most interesting, totally absorbing take on Afro-Latin jazz. The instrumentation was minimal, the impact huge.

Portugal. The Man, July 4, Belly Up: This Alaska-born, Oregon-based modern rock quartet delivered some serious Fourth of July fireworks. While drawing on The Beatles and other psychedelic classic-rock influences, Portugal. The Man is up-to-date, helping define song-oriented contemporary rock. I don’t recall the show lagging for a moment.

Carolina Chocolate Drops, July 25, PAC3: Carolina Chocolate Drops are into education; the trio explain the roots — early 20th century, Appalachia, African-American, fiddles and banjos — of most of their songs. It’s a brainy performance, but singer Rhiannon Giddens was breathtaking and Dom Flemons (who has left the band) riveting on an array of instruments in their local debut.

John Butler Trio, Aug. 15, Belly Up: A decade or so ago, I waited and waited for the Australian band to get to Aspen; its jamming take on roots rock seemed a perfect fit. Somehow it took till this past summer, but it was most definitely worth the wait. Butler is as charismatic as he is skilled, and the Aussies in the crowd, who could barely imagine seeing Butler anywhere but a stadium, were over the moon.

Keith Urban, Aug. 31, Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival: Before the rain poured, before I realized I’m not much of a fan of commercial country music, I had an intense Keith Urban moment — Urban shredding the guitar for a long solo (he’s a fabulous player), and me right in front of him, locked into a zone with my camera. Don’t know if I can even call myself a fan, but for that moment I sure was.

Steve Earle, Sept. 23, Belly Up: I love and respect Steve Earle. But in four times seeing him, only once did I come away thinking I had seen anything close to Earle in his element. Now I know I have. My suspicion is that the key element here was the presence of his long-running backing band, the Dukes — I think Earle has too much pride to do anything less than his best with that band behind him.

Jake Shimabukuro, Oct. 12, Belly Up: All was silent for a change on the Belly Up floor as Hawaiian ukulele master Shimabukuro did his magic. The music, played solo, merited this sort of listening.

Brothers Keeper, Nov. 6, Belly Up: All around, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a more enjoyable night at Belly Up. There was a homecoming feel: The band features a local rhythm section of bassist Michael Jude and drummer John Michel, it was in the thick of offseason, and the crowd was heavy with locals. There was a star quality, thanks to frontman John Popper, who also plays in Blues Traveler. There was the return of a musician, singer-songwriter Jono Manson, after a too-long absence. And there was the introduction of a major talent, guitarist Rob Eaton Jr., a Vail resident. Great music, unbeatable vibe.

Everyone Orchestra, Nov. 14, Belly Up: Unique. This band, with a constantly revolving membership, plays entirely improvised music. Matt Butler, in a funky tuxedo, conducted the sextet, which featured members of Elephant Revival, Furthur and ALO. It was eye-opening — you got to see, on another level, just how accomplished and imaginative these musicians are.

Wood Brothers, Dec. 8, Belly Up: With third member Jano Rix taking a more prominent role, brothers Oliver and Chris Wood just get better at making fresh, hard-hitting Americana that draws from funk, blues and folk.

And 10 more memorable ones: Mutemath (Jan. 25, base of Aspen Mountain); The Samples (Feb. 13, Belly Up); Alt-J (April 21, Belly Up); Bombino (May 29, Belly Up); Twenty One Pilots (June 8, Snowmass Mammoth Festival); Railroad Earth (July 14, Belly Up); Tab Benoit (Aug. 1, Fanny Hill, Snowmass Village); Cody Chesnutt (Sept. 11, Belly Up); Tea Leaf Green (Oct. 11, Belly Up); Wild Child (Nov. 22, Belly Up).