Jazz Aspen Snowmass reaches yet another plateau
SNOWMASS VILLAGE It would have been so easy for an extremely good Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival to enter the realm of near-perfection.All it would have required is for John Fogertys band to arrive a day early, slip backstage, incapacitate the members of Bob Dylans band for just a few hours (chloroform? ropes and gags?) and take their place onstage. Dylan, who seemed both cheerful and out of it, probably wouldnt have noticed especially since hes played before with at least two members of Fogertys group, drummer Kenny Aronoff and guitarist Billy Burnette.In his Saturday night set, Dylans voice was as good as could be expected that is, a croak with zero range, but with most of the words delivered, and his phrasing as random and idiosyncratic as can be imagined. His mood was reassuring, as he sort of danced, definitely smiled, and did some strange movements that were indecipherable, but came out of an emotional looseness.The set list had plenty for the casual fan (an opener of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, which said casual fan would know better as Everybody must get stoned; and an encore of Like a Rolling Stone and All Along the Watchtower); something for those who prefer the obscure (Under the Red Sky), and at least one of the gems that makes Dylan who he is (Visions of Johanna).What was inexcusable was that Dylans band was lame. Neither in personality nor musicianship did the group distinguish itself, turning virtually every song into nearly the same serving of middle-of-the-road country-rock. In the end, I call it a wash a pleasure to see Dylan in high spirits; a disappointment that his band doesnt (or isnt permitted to?) join in the fun.No such problem whatsoever with John Fogerty. The former Creedence Clearwater Revival leader is fully recovered from the battle with his old record label, which had Fogerty abandoning his Creedence material, and earned him a reputation for sourness. For the second time in four years, Fogerty took the Labor Day Festival stage like a kid with a slew of new toys namely, hits like Looking Out My Back Door, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Bad Moon Rising and Born on the Bayou. Fogerty ran the stage from end to end, ripped wonderful, signature country-rock licks, and engaged the crowd. His band was with him all the way, never more so on the new tune Gunslinger, in which all six string players lined up at the front of the stage to show solidarity in the Bush-bashing anthem.Shining even brighter, at least for a certain segment of the listening public, was Widespread Panic. The Southern jam-band, which headlined both Thursday and Friday nights, has added lead guitarist Jimmy Herring since their last appearance here, in 2005. The roster change has taken the group from solid to exceptional, as Herrings air-tight, super-fast leads help bring the jams to one climax after another. The faithful known as Spreadheads, of course seemed unanimous in their praise of the shows. The set lists, both heavy on older material, and spiced with covers like Van Morrisons Stoned Me and Neil Youngs Mr. Soul, also earned thumbs-up. One higher-up in Jazz Aspen said he would love to see Panic close every summer in Snowmass.Weak links were difficult to find among the opening acts. New York quintet Olabelle put its Band-like stamp five vocalists, ultra-rootsy on several Grateful Dead tunes. Global Noize played solid, Headhunters-derived jazz-funk, but updated it with turntablist DJ Logic and Indian-born singer Falu. The New Mastersounds turned in a monster set, with guitarist Eddie Roberts leading the way. Country music was well represented by Dwight Yoakam and the Jerry Douglas Band. Yoakams take on country is old school grit; dobroist Douglas and his band wander into rock and jazz, but never leave country far behind except when local singer John Oates sat in for a pair of well-executed soul-pop numbers.Colorados Yonder Mountain String Band closed the five-day run with a high-spirited take on bluegrass that added rock n roll drive and personality to the mix.The weather cooperated, the sound was nearly faultless, the crowds were reported to have behaved themselves, and Jazz Aspen reaches another plateau in festival-throwing.Now lets get Dylan a new firstname.lastname@example.org
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