On the Festival Trail
May 31, 2002
As Vince Herman, frontman for Leftover Salmon is so fond of saying: “Festivaaaaal!!”The economy may suck. Sundry annoyances like nuclear bombs, blown-up bridges, and scuba-diver attacks may be inevitable and imminent. Our politicians may be duking it out with our large corporations over who can screw us first and worst. Drought may be upon us; the Catholic Church may be in free fall; India and Pakistan are in a holy war with the Israelites and Palestinians over what is the most threatening hot spot on this fair Earth. The Avs have to go back to Detroit for Game 7.Clearly, it’s high time for a festival. Make that a multitude of music festivals. Perhaps as an escape from these troubled times – or maybe because any time is a good time for a days-long gathering in a beautiful outdoor spot to listen to music, buy some tie-dyes and eat veggie burritos – the music-festival business is exploding. Festivals – with names like Smilefest, Hookahville, and Moe. or Les – are popping up on mountainsides and in open fields from New Jersey to North Carolina to California. The latest issue of Relix magazine – a publication devoted to the jam-band scene, which spawns festivals like weeds – is packed with ads for festivals huge and small, new and established.The hope of all the fledgling festivals is to catch fire somehow, distinguish themselves, and become another Telluride Bluegrass or High Sierra – festivals that survive long enough that their recognizable name becomes a draw in itself. (No startup festival ever holds out hope of emulating the massive New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the big daddy of them all.)Other festivals aren’t taking such chances. The Bonnaroo Festival has made its name before the festival’s first-ever note is played by booking the biggest jam-band gathering in history. Bonnaroo – to be held June 21-23 in Tennessee – sports a lineup featuring Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, Phil Lesh & Friends with special guest Bob Weir, Trey Anastasio and a few dozen more. The first Terrapin Station has a built-in audience: Billed as A Grateful Dead Family Reunion, the festival, set for August in Wisconsin, is the first scheduled event to feature the four surviving longtime members of the Dead.Following is a roundup of this summer’s festivals, with a heavy tilt toward those bashes within easy driving distance.A Weekend of BluegrassFriday through Sunday, May 31-June 2SomersetThis is about as homegrown as a festival gets. Set on the beautiful, rural Crystal Meadows Resort, just over McClure Pass, A Weekend of Bluegrass will feature acoustic music performances, workshops, jam sessions and a Sunday morning gospel set. Several of the bands – the Flying Dog Bluegrass Band, the Lone Pine Bluegrass Band – should be well-known to local music fans; others come from Grand Junction and Paonia. Even the headliners – Southern California’s Bluegrass, Etc. and Denver’s Open Road – aren’t acts well-known outside traditional bluegrass circles.Expect a truly laid-back atmosphere. A Weekend of Bluegrass was supposed to kick off last year, but was a last-minute no-go when county officials informed the organizers they would need permits. Jazz Aspen June FestivalJune 20-23, Snowmass VillageThe 12th annual Jazz Aspen June Festival brings some things old, some things new. New is the location. With the usual festival grounds at the bottom of Snowmass Village being torn up for a new golf course, the June Festival has been relocated to the Two Creeks area. Jazz Aspen has been at the festival business long enough to know how to pull off the venue change.Also new are several artists making their first Jazz Aspen appearances, all of whom should put the jazz in Jazz Aspen: trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist Michael Brecker, and the Count Basie Orchestra, featuring vocalist Patti Austin. Hargrove and Brecker will be featured in the Directions in Music program, a tribute to jazz titans Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The Count Basie Orchestra and Austin will pay tribute to Ella Fitzgerald. Closing out the festival is another Jazz Aspen first-timer, John Hiatt.Making return visits are Earth, Wind & Fire; Poncho Sanchez; Dr. John; Robert Cray; and Herbie Hancock, who joins Hargrove and Brecker in the Directions in Music concert.Telluride Bluegrass FestivalJune 20-23, Telluride Town ParkTwenty-nine years young, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival just may be the finest music experience there is. For four days, music fills every corner of beautiful Telluride. And with the spirit of adventure ingrained in the festival, the music usually achieves magical level.The Telluride regulars – Bla, Sam, Del, Jerry, Tim, et al – are joined this year by Lucinda Williams, Ben Harper, Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris, who will be joined by Linda Ronstadt.Bonnaroo Music FestivalJune 21-23, Manchester, Tenn.Organizers of the first Bonnaroo Music Festival claim the event will take place on a “peaceful, 500-acre farm.” Put the “peaceful” part to rest: The mega-fest is already sold out, with jam-fans from across the world searching their maps to find Manchester, Tenn.And the 500 acres seems to be just about enough room for the bands, and maybe their equipment. Over three-dozen acts have been announced, and they represent not only the biggest and best of the jam-band scene – Widespread Panic, Phil & Friends with Bob Weir, String Cheese Incident, Trey Anastasio, Galactic, Moe., Disco Biscuits and Soulive – but also hip-hop group Jurassic 5, rocker Ben Harper, power trio Gov’t Mule, groove band Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, blues-rockers North Mississippi Allstars, New Orleans icons Dirty Dozen Brass Band, gospel acts Blind Boys of Alabama and Robert Randolph and a few dozen more. Independence IncidentJuly 3-4, Steamboat SpringsString Cheese Incident sets up in its home state for its annual two-day Independence Incident. Like last year, the incidents will be in Steamboat Springs, but the festival site has been moved to to a bigger hillside site known as the Tennis Meadows. July 3 is bluegrass day: Opening for String Cheese will be banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs & Friends, as well as Yonder Mountain String Band. July 4 is the funkier stuff, with James Brown and Corey Harris doing opening sets. High Sierra Music FestivalJuly 4-7, Quincy, Calif.The biggest jam-band outing until Bonnaroo came along, High Sierra should still be a major event on the Hippie Highway. This year’s fest, the 12th annual, matches Bonnaroo with some three-dozen acts, including Medeski, Martin & Wood; Bruce Hornsby; Leftover Salmon; the Radiators; Sound Tribe Sector 9 and mucho ms.And High Sierra, set in the mountains of Quincy in Northern California, will probably always be more geographically desirable than Bonnaroo.Moe. or LesJuly 12-14, Brandywine, Md.The best-named festival out there, Moe. or Les features nightly sets by both Moe. and Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade. Also on the bill are Lake Trout, Yonder Mountain String Band, Jazz Mandolin Project, and Project/Object.KBCO World Class RockfestJuly 20-21, Winter ParkDay one of this annual event is the Jeep World Outside Festival, a touring festival that mixes music with interactive adventure sports. On the music side is a lineup of Sheryl Crow, Ziggy Marley, Train and O.A.R. On the sports side are chances to bike, snowboard, swim and climb on manufactured terrain.Day two is just music, provided by the Indigo Girls, Jack Johnson, the B-52s, and William Topley.RockyGrassJuly 26-28, LyonsWith Telluride Bluegrass regularly filling to capacity, RockyGrass, also run by the Planet Bluegrass folks, has expanded to first-rate status. This year’s party includes such intriguing duets as Sam Bush and Doc Watson, Bla Fleck and Tony Trischka, Tim and Mollie O’Brien, and Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. Other highlights are a Hot Rize reunion, The Sam Bush Bluegrass Band, and the RockyGrass House Band, featuring Sam, Bla, Tim, and Tony Rice.Terrapin StationAug. 3-4, East Troy, Wis.Deadheads, rejoice! Peace and togetherness seem to have returned to the Grateful Dead camp. After a few years of feuding – mostly over how to handle the band’s catalog of recordings – the Dead core is reuniting. Terrapin Station will feature closing sets each day by the Other Ones, a band featuring the surviving Gratefuls – Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir – that has been dormant since just after Jerry Garcia’s death. Opening main-stage acts will be bands led by the Gratefuls – Weir’s Ratdog, Lesh’s Phil & Friends, Kreutzmann’s Trichromes, and Mickey Hart & Bemb Orisha – as well as Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. There will also be conversations with the band members, and a memorabilia exhibit.A second stage will feature Jorma Kaukonen, Warren Haynes, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, and Robert Randolph & the Family Band.Terrapin Station will be held at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, a favorite venue of the Dead’s.NedFestAug. 3-4, NederlandThis festival, more properly known as the Nederland Music & Arts Festival, includes performances by the Charlie Hunter Quartet, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Vinyl and Shanti Groove. The festival grounds are adjacent to Barker Reservoir in Nederland, 17 miles from Boulder. Folks FestivalAug. 16-18, LyonsLike RockyGrass, Planet Bluegrass’ Folks Festival has benefited from the popularity of Telluride Bluegrass and the appreciation for acoustic music generally, and has gained in size and quality of the acts.Headliners for this year’s Folks Festival include John Prine, Randy Newman, Shawn Colvin, and Michelle Shocked.Jazz Aspen Labor Day FestivalAug. 30 through Sept. 2Buttermilk Ski AreaFor years, Jazz Aspen has been in hot pursuit of Bob Dylan. The effort has paid off; Dylan will headline day three of the Labor Day Festival, on Sept. 3. For those who think landing Dylan is merely a lure for aged hippies, try again. Dylan’s recent albums rank with his best ever, and Dylan, backed by his now-steady touring band, is giving routinely blistering concerts.And Dylan is far from the only major draw. Also on the bill are Willie Nelson, Phil Lesh & Friends, young acoustic darlings Nickel Creek, and Gov’t Mule, led by Phil friend Warren Haynes. More acts are still to be announced.This year’s Labor Day bash has been relocated from Snowmass Village to the base of Buttermilk.