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Festivating from the comforts of home

Stewart Oksenhorn
Trey Anastasio performed at the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee - and in downtown Aspen, in the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival. (Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times Weekly)
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For a moment, I was feeling left out of the festivating fun. Joel, the cub reporter, took in a few days of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Nate, the sports editor, just returned from the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee (the sports guy!). Stewy’s big summer trip was an overnighter to Denver, for a visit to Children’s Hospital (don’t worry, she’s fine). I heard no music but did enjoy some excellent Indian and Thai cuisine.Trey Anastasio’s show to close the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Festival last Sunday was just the medicine I needed. Not only was Anastasio’s performance outstanding, with the former Phish head in obviously great spirits, but there were elements of the experience that probably would have happened nowhere outside the comforts of home. I danced for most of the show in the third row, where there was so much vacant space that no one bothered to check for the ticket I didn’t have. (What were things like third row at Bonnaroo, Nate? Pretty cozy, huh?) Before the show, I wandered backstage, hoping to meet Trey and planning on spending a few minutes as a stalker if necessary. Not necessary; hanging out with Anastasio was as easy as walking up and introducing myself. I missed his late-night appearance with local band Seventh Hour at Club Chelsea and, after getting over wishing I was there, remained thrilled about the appearance – just as I heard that Elvis Costello, and Vince Gill to boot, sat in with local bluesmen Big Daddy Lee & the King Bees at Jimmy’s Friday night. The icing on the cake was my pre-concert activity – another concert, this one with Yo-Yo Ma playing the world premiere of a cello concerto.Given that kind of day – and the fact that the night before I saw Costello on the Jazz Aspen stage, and the night before that, Diana Krall – it’s become hard to feel cheated on the music front. I might have missed Bonnaroo and Telluride, two of the finest festivals going, but the Roaring Fork Valley can seem like a summer-long music festival, with the widest variety of music on multiple stages – and for the most part, without sardinelike crowds – in spectacular venues. So screw the road trips: $3-a-gallon gas and sleeping in the back of a van with three smelly hippies. My butt’s staying in the valley. I’m seeing my music, and I’m happy about it. (But could someone please get Wilco, Beck, Ryan Adams, Radiohead and Gomez to play here?)

The Jazz Aspen chiefs considered the June Festival a bit of a crapshoot. They didn’t know how Trey Anastasio would go over with the all-important patrons and had little feel for opening-night headliner Jamie Cullum, making his local debut. But Anastasio was a highlight of Jazz Aspen’s 17-year history (even if the patron section seemed short on patrons). Cullum, by all accounts, was a major hit after a shaky start. Attendance was huge; the VIP area was bigger and better than ever.So now Jazz Aspen has only one more gamble to worry about this summer, the Labor Day Festival. All four headliners announced last week – LeeAnn Rimes, John Mellencamp, Kanye West and Matisyahu – are new to Jazz Aspen; only Matisyahu has even appeared in the valley before. And with country crooner Rimes and hip-hopper West, Jazz Aspen presumably has to count on a heavy draw from out of the valley. For the moment, I’m not betting against Jim Horowitz and his crew.

No, Aspen doesn’t technically have a blues festival or a Dead-oriented gathering. But Belly Up is doing a passable imitation of both in August.Blues lovers won’t want to leave town the weekend of Aug. 12-13. B.B. King’s 80th birthday celebration tour stops at Belly Up on Aug. 12, with blues-rocker Joe Cocker, who has made two memorable appearances at Jazz Aspen in recent years, following the next night.The preceding weekend should pull a good number of Deadheads to Aspen. Aug. 5, Dark Star Orchestra, the tribute band to top all tribute bands, returns to Belly Up. Aug. 6 has pioneering acoustic combo, the David Grisman Quintet. Mandolinist Grisman was a partner with the late Jerry Garcia in the short-lived bluegrass group Old & In the Way; years later, the two teamed for numerous recording sessions in Grisman’s northern California studio, which have been captured in a series of CDs.Another notable aspect of Anastasio’s show was that several of the highlight moments came with brand-new songs (presumably to be included on “Bar 17,” scheduled for release later this summer). It’s not uncommon for acts to be most energized by their freshest material, so it’s worth mentioning that numerous acts playing in the valley this summer come armed with new recordings.

First, Belly Up. Blues band Indigenous (playing Saturday, July 8), led by Nakota tribe member and guitarist Mato Nanji has the new CD, “Chasing the Sun.” Zox (Sunday, July 9, opening for Rusted Root, a band that hasn’t had a new album in ages), a New England rock band with a Sublime feel, recently re-released its album, “The Wait.” Zox was featured earlier this month on the Warped tour. Rock band Built to Spill (July 12, in its Aspen debut) arrives on the heels of the CD, “You in Reverse.”Liza, singer-guitarist of old Aspen funk favorite Zuba, has released the solo CD, “Bird on a Wing.” She performs at Belly Up on July 15. Chicago acid jazz band Liquid Soul, which has made many Belly Up appearances, returns July 26 with its latest, “One-Two Punch.” DJ Logic, Vernon Reid and Widespread Panic’s Jojo Hermann all make guest appearances (on the CD, probably not at the show).Cracker, fronted by Camper van Beethoven’s David Lowery, plays Aug. 25; the band’s latest, “Something You Ain’t Got,” came out June 6. The New Orleans Radiators – a band that tours a lot and records infrequently – plays Aug. 31. Their “Dreaming Out Loud,” a decent effort from a band not known for their studio output, was recently released.

Those looking for a festival atmosphere should check out the Mutaytor, who make their Aspen debut Saturday, July 8, in Snowmass Village’s Massive Music & Movies series. The group, which has performed this summer at Wakarusa in Kansas and Milwaukee’s Summerfest, is a Cirque de Soleil-type act, redesigned for those who prefer the environment of a Grateful Dead show to a Las Vegas hotel. The group includes fire-spinners, hula-hoopers, teams of drummers, Chinese parade lions and music that mixes techno, funk and jam-band sounds.Opening the show is Particle, a Southern California techno-jam band that has its own new CD, “Transformations Live for the People.”Other shows that should keep my mind off of High Sierra, 10,000 Lakes, Lollapalooza and all those other festivals I won’t be going to.At Belly Up: Vermont soul-rock band Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, with Steel Train (Thursday, July 6); country-star-turned-bluegrass-picker Ricky Skaggs (July 10); punk-rockers-turned-roots-rockers Social Distortion, with Super Suckers and Nine Black Alps (July 16); and reggae singer Pato Banton (July 30).

Also, rapper Tricky (Aug. 10); Texas swing kings Asleep at the Wheel (Aug. 17); the Aspen debut of country hellraiser Hank III (Aug. 20); New Orleans groove group Galactic (Aug. 22-23); dobro standout Jerry Douglas (Aug. 26); estranged Allman Brother Dickey Betts (Aug. 27); and hip-hop greats Jurassic 5 (Sept. 8).Carbondale can festivate, too, with their best summer music lineup yet. The town’s Sopris Park starts grooving with Texas roots band the Gourds (Tuesday, July 4), followed by folk-rockers the Mammals (Sunday, July 9), world-beater Toubab Krewe (July 16), New Orleans-bred singer-pianist Henry Butler (July 23), and mystical, Central American-inspired group Kan’Nal (Aug. 25, on the Fourth Street Plaza). Mountain Fair, July 28-30, features Eufórquestra, Pete Wernick & Flexiglass, Crooked Still and Wendy Woo & the Woo Crew, along with locals Frank Martin and Jan Garrett & JD Martin Gospel.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is stewart@aspentimes.com


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