Blues Traveler sparks fond memories |

Blues Traveler sparks fond memories

Stewart Oksenhorn
John Popper of Blues Traveler, performing in a 1997 gig with the High Plains Drifters at the old Double Diamond in Aspen. Aspen Times photo/Stewart Oksenhorn.

A few additional notes about Blues Traveler. (See the related story, “Traveler’s new groove” for more.)The return of Blues Traveler to Aspen brings a smile to my face not only because Blues Traveler is coming to Aspen to play in a club, but also it reminds me of my favorite rock ‘n’ roll show in this town.It wasn’t Blues Traveler, but the High Plains Drifters, a Blues Traveler offshoot that appeared at the old Double Diamond in March 1997. The group, a short-term project put together for the sole purpose of touring the Colorado ski towns, was headed by singer-songwriter Jono Manson. Manson, who headed the New York City band Joey Miserable & the Worms, was often referred to as the “godfather” of the downtown Manhattan club scene that spawned Joan Osborne, the Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler. Flanking Manson in the Drifters were John Popper and the late Bobby Sheehan of Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors guitarist Eric Schenkman, and drummer Mark Clark.It was Manson’s band; he handled almost all the lead vocals, even on the handful of Blues Travelers tunes. But it was Popper who provided the magic. Leaving the singing to Manson, Popper concentrated on his harmonicas. Seeing a huge guy – this was before Popper drastically reduced his size – getting that kind of music out of the tiny instrument was surreal. It was loud, sweaty, almost overwhelming. And witnessing it from a foot or 2 away, from a band obviously doing it solely for the joy of the music … well, that’s my definition of rock ‘n’ roll.That Popper is one of the unique forces of musical energy is confirmed by his guitar playing. At a Blues Traveler show in Angel Fire, N.M., in the mid-’90s, Popper had a guitar mounted on a stand. Playing one-handed guitar – the other hand held the harmonica, which he continued playing furiously – Popper ripped off fantastic leads. Also at the concert, as Popper introduced one new song after another, he seemed almost embarrassed at the wealth of music in his head.Bobby Sheehan, meanwhile, merits some mention. Before his death in 1999, the bassist was practically a part-time Aspenite. While the road claimed most of his time, when Blues Traveler was on break, Sheehan could usually be found in Aspen, where he often took the stage with local and touring acts. “Runaround” was the song that made the band temporary pop stars, but Sheehan’s “The Mountains Win Again,” almost certainly inspired by Aspen, was my favorite song on the album “Four.”

All jazzy at Belly UpRock fans were obviously cheered by the news that the Double Diamond space would reopen as the Belly Up. And with the Belly Up proving itself as a top-tier venue, there is an unmistakable air of ecstasy among the local rock faithful.But who knew we’d be getting an excellent jazz club throw into the deal? The JAS After Dark show by the John Scofield Trio at the Belly Up last week demonstrated how well the space worked for relatively quiet, sit-down jazz. The floor, with an arrangement of tables and chairs, seats 50 or so comfortably. The sound – both from my seat and as reported by guitarist Scofield – was excellent. There’s even space at the back of the floor for those who want to stand and shake a bit, and the tier behind the floor is high enough that the view is not obstructed.And there is, in fact, jazz coming down the pipe. The Belly Up will host late-night shows during Jazz Aspen’s JAS Academy Summer Sessions later this month. Among the scheduled acts are vocalist Nnenna Freelon (July 20), New Orleans/Cuban fusion band Los Hombres Calientes (July 27) and pianist Chuchito Valdes (July 29). JAS Academy artistic director, bassist Christian McBride, will play a pair of shows on July 22: a jazz set early, and a funkier set, with guest DJ Logic, later.Also during the JAS Academy, Los Angeles multicultural funk-rap band Ozomatli will headline the JASummerNight Swing benefit, July 23, at Iguana’s at Aspen Highlands.Smorgasbord of sounds

Before the jazz, though, there must be rock. And reggae. And hip-hop.DJ Z-Trip returns to the Belly Up Saturday, July 2. Z-Trip released his debut album, “Shifting Gears,” in April; it features rappers from Jurassic 5 and Lyrics Born, as well as Chuck D of Public Enemy, plus Mars Volta keyboardist TK. The Los Angeles-based Z-Trip is one of the rare DJs earning a reputation as a live performer, having opened for rockers Ben Harper, Linkin Park and Dave Matthews.Throwback metal band Danger Kitty returns to the Belly Up Sunday, July 3, with the Grooveline, a tribute band to old-school ’70s funk, on Monday, the Fourth of July. Jamaican roots reggae band the Abyssinians are set for July 10.Mo’ musicAnd even as the parking lots disappear in Snowmass Village, the music keeps rolling in. Michael Martin Murphey’s West Fest opens today with performances by Dan Seals, Big Blue Heart and Murphey himself. Also appearing through the weekend are Craig Morgan (Saturday), Ian Tyson (Sunday) and others.The Snowmass Free Concert Series, which opened last night with Buckwheat Zydeco, continues with countryish singer Shelby Lynne on Thursday, July 7. Lynne is touring behind her new album, “Suit Yourself.”

Lynne’s appearance rolls into the first of three Massive Music & Movies weekends in Snowmass this summer. Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite, riding high on last year’s critically acclaimed album “Sanctuary,” opens the weekend on Friday, July 8, with local Smokin’ Joe Kelly opening. Singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin follows on Saturday, July 9, with New Orleans rocker Eric Lindell opening.Following the concerts are outdoor film screenings: “Blazing Saddles” on Thursday, “Animal House” on Friday, and “The Sound of Music” on Saturday.And the bands played onIn Carbondale, Colorado singer-songwriter Wendy Woo plays Steve’s Guitars tonight. Contemporary funk band Mama’s Cookin’ headlines the Fourth of July bash in Sopris Park.Basalt’s Wednesday night concert series has Smokin’ Joe Kelly & the Gypsies on July 6.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is