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Nightbeat: Swing on the slopes and bluegrass on the grass

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

There will be some interesting doings on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village this week. The Snowmass Free Summer of Music, to celebrate the Fourth of July weekend, abandons its usual Thursday evening slot to stage a pair of concerts, on Friday and Saturday, July 4-5.But what’s most interesting is to look at the two acts coming to Fanny Hill and where they have come from. Friday evening brings bluegrass quintet the Del McCoury Band, while Saturday has Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, a seven-piece swing band from California.First, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The band was one of the leaders of the neo-swing fad of the mid-’90s. The neo-swing scene felt every bit like a fad, centered around clothes, clubs, kitsch, even drinks, as much as the music. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which had formed in 1989 as a trio, reveled in the moment, appearing in the 1996 film “Swingers” and performing at the Super Bowl. But as all trends do, the neo-swing fad faded quickly. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy stuck around. As the demand for swing subsided, the band cut down its U.S. touring schedule and expanded into Europe and Asia. They have even resumed their recording career; this week will see the release of “Save My Soul,” a tribute to the music of New Orleans. Though Big Bad Voodoo Daddy survived the ups and downs of trendiness – and “Save My Soul” shows they have retained their vitality – there is the sense that the swing fad wreaked some damage. “We were spinning our wheels,” said founder, singer and guitarist Scotty Morris, in a press release that accompanied the new CD. “From ’94 through 2001, we were easily doing more than 200 dates a year. When you’re on the road that long, it is easy to forget why you’re doing what you do. By the time we hit 2001 … we knew it was time to shift gears.” Like swing a few years back, bluegrass has experienced a significant bump in popularity recently. And the Del McCoury Band has a similar place, on the leading edge of the rise, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy had in the swing fad.But there the similarities end. The bluegrass revival seems to be a genuine movement, one whose effects will likely leave a lasting appreciation of bluegrass. The bluegrass bump doesn’t have the feel of a fad: No one seems to go to a bluegrass festival because it’s a cool thing to do; no culture of fashion, lingo and icons has developed around bluegrass. People are coming to bluegrass for the music, first and last. The bluegrass wave is widespread, not marketed to a narrow niche of the hip. The classical music world is getting a taste of bluegrass through the likes of Edgar Meyer, Bla Fleck and Chris Thile, who blend bluegrass and classical vocabularies to varying degrees. The jam-band world has thoroughly embraced bluegrass: At the initial Bonnaroo Festival – a jam-band extravaganza held near the heart of bluegrass country, in rural Tennessee – fans heard Fleck & Meyer and the McCoury Band mixed in with Widespread Panic and Galactic. And the bluegrass bump has already shown endurance beyond the typical fad. The “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, widely pointed to as the trigger for the current popularity, was released three years ago. But the surge continues, and one doesn’t have to look outside of the Roaring Fork Valley to see it. The Bluegrass Sundays series on Aspen Mountain features nothing but bluegrass and bluegrass-derived bands all summer long. The Sunlight Mountain Bluegrass Festival will bring more than a dozen acts to Sunlight Mountain Resort this weekend. The Double Diamond has scheduled a big handful of bluegrassy acts for its summer lineup. A concert series at the newly designated “listening room” at Main Street Bakery will lean toward bluegrass. The Fourth of July appearance of the Del McCoury Band on Fanny Hill seems to be the crowning moment in popular music in the valley this summer (at least until Labor Day hits).It’s unlikely that Del McCoury would ever forget why he’s doing what he does, as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Scotty Morris did; it’s hard to imagine McCoury contemplating “shifting gears.” He’s been playing bluegrass for more than 40 years, and he’s more popular than ever. For McCoury and his band, and dozens of other pickers, bluegrass is in their hearts. They don’t need a bluegrass fad to validate the music they make. For the bluegrass faithful: the Flying Dog Bluegrass Band performs at Main Street Bakery on Wednesday, July 9. Paonia’s Sweet Sunny South plays on the top of Aspen Mountain Sunday, July 6, as part of the Bluegrass Sundays series; also upcoming in the series are locals the Frying Pan Bluegrass Band (July 13), San Francisco newgrass trio Free Peoples (July 20), and another local outfit, Lone Pine Bluegrass Band (July 27). The Sunlight Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Friday through Sunday, July 4-6, is headlined by guitarist Jim Hurst Band, who performs with his quartet and in a duet with Missy Raines. And on the Double Diamond schedule are Tuscarawas River Band, a rocking bluegrass group from the Ohio Valley, on July 14; and Free Peoples on July 20. Deadheads have good reason to hit the road. The Dead – now an octet comprising longtime Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, plus Jimmy Herring and Rob Barraco from Lesh’s Phil & Friends, Jeff Chimenti from Weir’s Ratdog, and singer Joan Osborne – plays Red Rocks Sunday through Tuesday, July 6-8, and Thursday and Friday, July 10-11. Early shows on the tour have Osborne taking over vocals for a wide variety of the late Jerry Garcia’s tunes.Deadheads also have good reason to stay right here. Playing their first-ever concert, on Thursday, July 10, at the Double Diamond, is the Mix. The Mix is not a cover band, but figures to be heavy with Dead material, and tunes from the Jerry Garcia Band repertoire. The band, about to embark on its first tour, features guitarist John Kadlecik and bassist Kevin Rosen from the ber-Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra; keyboardist Melvin Seals from the Garcia Band and the Garcia tribute act, the JGB Band; Gregg Anton, drummer from San Francisco bands Zero and Gregg’s Eggs as well as a songwriter collaborator with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter; and guitarist Jeff Pevar, who has put in stints with Phil & Friends and Jazz Is Dead, an instrumental act which put a jazz-fusion twist on the Dead’s material. Word is that the Mix will throw original songs into the mix.Other road trip options are the Dark Star Orchestra’s concerts at the LoDo Music Festival on July 18, at Mishawaka Amphitheatre on July 19 and at the Breckenridge Music Festival on July 20. Dark Star Orchestra swings back through Colorado for a date at State Bridge Lodge on Aug. 10. Other shows of note: Cabaret Diosa brings its theatrical Latin lounge show to Carbondale’s Sopris Park on Friday, July 4.Chicago hip-hop band the Family Tree plays the Double Diamond Wednesday, July 9. New Monsoon, an acclaimed new septet from San Francisco that combines sounds from India and Latin America with bluegrass and funk, makes its Aspen debut with two shows – an evening set at Aspen Highlands and a nighttime show at the Double D – on Friday, July 11. Umphrey’s McGee, a hugely talented jam band from the Midwest, finally makes an Aspen appearance at the Double D on July 17.Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited play a free show on Fanny Hill on Thursday, July 10. Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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