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Road Trip

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer

Road trips don’t lend themselves very well to sharp memories. There are the drugs and booze, of course, and the long hours of straight two-lane highways. But being on the road itself adds a fog to everything: Did that run-in with the cops happen on the ’83 summer tour with the Dead, or was it on the way to the ’94 Telluride Bluegrass Festival? Where was it that I passed out in a hotel room and nobody remembered to wake me up in time for the show – and exactly what show was it I missed? It’s road-trip season, time to add to that history that may not be so vivid in detail, but leaves a distinct impression of adventurousness and the odor of spilled bong water. And before I get to a list of destination concerts to trip to – and those to avoid – let me recount a few vague incidents, which may or may not have happened exactly as I remember, from my foggy past.1. Circa 1984, my college roommate Jeff and I drive eight hours, from New Jersey to Virginia, to spend a few nights with the Grateful Dead. After the Dead turned in a pitiful performance on night one, we sold the rest of our tickets and drove three hours to Baltimore to catch the last few songs of the Radiators show at the tiny club, 8 x 10. Having nowhere to stay in Baltimore, we drove back home, arriving at 8 a.m. Total time gone: 22 hours. Total driving time: 16 hours. 2. Summer of 1994: After a great Buckwheat Zydeco show on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village, Greg the Drummer and I hopped into his 1964 black Plymouth and drove through the night to Eugene, Ore. We set up camp right outside the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium – gotta love the freedom of Eugene – and walked to a show, featuring Zero and Los Lobos, in downtown Eugene. I barely made it through Zero’s opening set, and fell asleep – on the floor, with people dancing inches from my head – through Los Lobos’ set. After the show, we staggered back to the tent, slept and woke up just in time for the early afternoon Dead show. That night, it was back to downtown Eugene for a Los Lobos/Radiators show. After another Dead show the next day, Greg and I drove to Portland to visit my aunt and her family, arriving fried and stinking of three days of driving, partying and hanging around Deadheads. Good thing for all of us that my aunt has some hippie tendencies. 3. Summer of ’95: My buddy Paul and I go to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The freezing cold we can deal with. But when it starts snowing Saturday night, the two of us take shelter in the back of my Explorer. From 10 p.m. Saturday night until noon Sunday, neither of us moves from the back of the car. A mighty accomplishment, especially considering the stench.4. Summer of ’95 or so: Paul and I went to the Front Range with the full intention of getting to Red Rocks early, to get good seats for our first Phish show. Naturally, we party late, oversleep and get to Red Rocks 20 minutes before show time. Glumly sitting halfway back, some guy comes up and says he recognizes us from Aspen. Want to sit with us? he asks. We say sure, figuring his seats can’t be worse than ours. He leads us to front row, center, where he has saved a block of seats. My first Phish show: Red Rocks, best seats in the house. Thanks, Sean.5. Summer of ’95: The folks at the then-new Howling Wolf rent a pair of Winnebagos for a trip to the Dead shows in Las Vegas. I’m not sure I want to spend five days cramped into a Winnebago with a bunch of people, even if they are friends. But the new Hard Rock Hotel has just opened in Vegas, and the manager of Aspen’s now-defunct Hard Rock Cafe says he can set me up with a room and favors if I write a story about the new hotel. So I take a ride in the Winnebago, hop out as soon as we get to Vegas, and check into my own room in the spankin’ new Hard Rock Hotel. The hotel sets me up with tickets for the show (Melissa Etheridge, with Joan Osborne opening) in their in-house nightclub, The Joint. Mornings and afternoons are spent getting stoned on “The Beach,” the pools and hot tubs behind the Hard Rock Hotel; Paul, who has driven to Vegas separately, shuttles me to the Dead shows in the late afternoon.Memorable moment from the Winnebago: Torre, the current City Council candidate, mentions that he doesn’t much like the Dead. I ask him why he’s riding 12 hours to see them, and he says he isn’t sure he’s going to see the shows. “I’m just along for the ride,” he says.***Following is a selection of upcoming Colorado concerts, within easy road-tripping range. (Multi-day music festivals will be detailed in an upcoming edition of The Aspen Times.)Big Adventure 2003, May 10, Fiddler’s Green – This is the 10th anniversary for the Denver area’s biggest mosh pit. Among this year’s acts are Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Pennywise and Unwritten Law. There will also be a second stage and sideshow attractions.Big Head Todd & the Monsters, with Hootie & the Blowfish, May 17, Red Rocks – The dilemma here: Arrive early and get good seats for home-state heroes Big Head Todd & the Monsters, or show up late to avoid hearing Hootie & the Blowfish? Tough call. Styx, Journey and REO Speedwagon, May 30, Fiddler’s Green – Serious question: Who goes to see these aged, dated rocker concerts? Somebody must; there are plenty of them every summer. I’m curious.See also, Paul Rodgers and Kansas, below.Trey Anastasio, June 2, Fillmore Auditorium – When Phish went on its hiatus two-and-a-half years ago, Trey Anastasio didn’t slow down a bit. Phish’s singer-guitarist recorded and toured with Oysterhead, a so-so threesome with bassist Les Claypool and drummer Stewart Copeland, and the Trey Anastasio Band, a powerhouse nine-piece with a horn section. When Phish returned late last year, I worried it might mean the end of the Trey Band, but, no. Anastasio is not only touring with his band, but also just released the live album “Plasma,” a follow-up to last year’s superb self-titled debut.Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers and Kansas, June 3, Fillmore Auditorium – It’s generally bad news when the musician has to be identified: Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers. As for Kansas: When I was a kid, my best friend’s family was tight with Don Kirshner, the host of “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” as well as Kansas’ manager. Whenever Kansas came through the New York area, I always had the opportunity to see them from front-row seats. I never took up my friend on it, and I’ve never regretted it. So, no, 25 years later, I won’t be recommending this concert.Coldplay, June 5-6, Red Rocks – So many English bands hailed as the next great Brit-pop act; so many English bands I listen to and say, huh?Finally, there is Coldplay, a Brit rock band whose music is ambitious, original and actually makes sense to me. The band’s latest CD, “A Rush of Blood to the Head” is far better than anything by Oasis. Apparently a lot of Americans agree; Coldplay’s date at Red Rocks sold out instantly, and a second show was added. Ron Sexsmith and Eisley open the shows.Blues Traveler, July 3-4, Red Rocks – Since the death of bassist Bobby Sheehan and the slimming down of John Popper, Blues Traveler seems to have lost career momentum. But traditions die hard, and Blues Traveler’s annual Fourth of July bash at Red Rocks carries on. Leftover Salmon opens on July 3, with an opening act to be decided for July 4.The Dead, July 6-8, Red Rocks – The Dead, make that the Grateful Dead, stopped playing Red Rocks, their holiest of holies, after 1987. And if you, like I, never got to make the pilgrimage, this is as close as you’re going to get. After successfully touring as the Other Ones last summer, the four surviving original Gratefuls decided to rename themselves the Dead and carry on with their long, strange trip. The band continues to expand: In addition to guitarist Jimmy Herring and the dual keyboards of Rob Barraco and Jeff Chimenti, the Dead recently added singer Joan Osborne to the lineup.The Dixie Chicks, July 8, Pepsi Center – The Dixie Chicks have gotten a lot of negative attention for their comments about George W. Bush, their president and fellow Texan. Their fans don’t seem to be letting the criticism faze them, however; the Dixie Chicks’ concerts and albums are selling about as well as before. A too-rare victory for common sense.Elvis Costello and the Imposters, July 16, Universal Lending Pavilion – After spending some years as a crooner, Elvis Costello resurfaced as a rocker with last year’s exceptional “When I Was Cruel.” To put aside concerns that he’ll return to the finger-snapping tunes of his recent past, Costello is touring with the Imposters, the band that backed him on “When I Was Cruel.”The charmingly named Universal Lending Pavilion is situated on the equally charming parking lot of the Pepsi Center.Neil Young & Crazy Horse, with Lucinda Williams, July 29-30, Red Rocks – Attention Neil fans: Do not arrive late for this one. Opening act Lucinda Williams has just released “World Without Tears,” her third consecutive country-rock masterpiece, which cements her reputation as the finest record-maker of the moment. And attention Lucinda fans: Don’t leave early. Neil Young may not be making albums these days as good as Ms. Williams, but he remains among the world’s top two or three rock gods. And good things – or memorable bad things – are known to happen when old Neil teams with his long-running garage band Crazy Horse.Metallica, Aug. 1, Mile High – The Summer Sanitarium 2003 Tour is the headbanger’s delight: Metallica headlines, with a heavyweight, heavy-metal supporting lineup that includes Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Deftones and Mudvayne. Willie Nelson & Family, Aug. 8, Red Rocks – It’s a high time for Willie Nelson. He turned 70 last week, an occasion which has been commemorated with a handful of tribute concerts and CD releases. More than ever, Nelson is being treated as an American hero, appearing on commercials and dueting with everyone from Keith Richards to Kid Rock on his latest albums.Norah Jones, Aug. 14, Ford Amphitheatre; Aug. 15, Red Rocks – Norah Jones’ beautiful voice made her debut CD the big winner on Grammy night. And Jones and her band put on a fine performance at the cozy Aspen District Theatre last year. Will Jones’ subtleties work in bigger venues like Vail’s Ford Amphitheatre and Red Rocks? New York singer-songwriter Richard Julian opens both shows.Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals and Jack Johnson, Aug. 27-28, Red Rocks – Ben Harper and Jack Johnson make an ideal concert pairing. The two are good buds, and both are developing loyal followings in the jam-band world, even though both play music that falls outside the jam mold. It’s a shame, though, that the date is so far off: Harper just released “Diamonds on the Inside” and Johnson’s “on and on” comes out this Tuesday, May 6, and it would be ideal to see them perform fresh off those new albums.The Allman Brothers Band, Sept. 19, Red Rocks – Through numerous lineup shuffles – including the ouster of founding singer-guitarist Dickey Betts – the Allman Brothers have stood tall as a great live band. Witness their three-week runs at the Beacon Theatre, which have become a New York happening every March. Betts is still persona non grata, but the Allmans seem to be heading even higher. Their recent studio CD, “Hittin’ the Note,” is a classic. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe opens.Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Sept. 25, Mile High – Not a bad way to close out the concert season. Springsteen & the E Streeters haven’t put out a great album in ages – despite the awards and critical attention earned by last year’s “The Rising” – but onstage, they remain incomparable.* Some more reasons to aim the car toward the Front Range:Ziggy Marley (May 28, Fox Theatre); John Mayer and Counting Crows (June 7, Fiddler’s Green); Lou Reed (June 17, Boulder Theater); Wayne Shorter Quartet (June 20, Boulder Theater); Red Hot Chili Peppers with Snoop Dogg (June 20, Fiddler’s Green); Susan Tedeschi with the Robert Randolph Family Band (June 21, Universal Lending Pavilion); Vans Warped Tour with Simple Plan, Rancid, Andrew W.K. and more (June 22, Mile High)Also, John Hiatt (June 24, Universal Lending Pavilion, with Leo Kottke; June 26, Fox Theatre; June 27, Mishawaka Amphitheatre); Dave Matthews Band (July 21, Pepsi Center); Bisco Inferno III with the Disco Biscuits (July 25-26, Mishawaka Amphitheatre); John Scofield (Aug. 1, Fox Theatre); Bjrk (Aug. 18, Red Rocks); James Taylor (Aug. 20-21, Red Rocks); REM (Sept. 13, with Wilco; Sept. 14, with Ed Harcourt, Red Rocks).


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