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The Stewys get bent

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Since last April, Damian Marley has performed four times in Aspen. Word from those shows is that Marley, the current Grammy winner for best reggae album, is the closest thing to his father, Bob, the world has seen since the elder Marley died in 1981.Somehow, I Stewy, the central scrutinizer of the valleys music scene managed to miss all four of Marleys shows. So lets say upfront that this latest edition of the Stewys, the awards for outstanding achievement in local music events, is not the absolute, definitive word. I can imagine that, had I seen one of Damian Marleys performances, I would judge it the finest musical thing that happened this past year. And Marley isnt the only top-shelf act I managed to miss; I missed a lot of stuff.But I also caught a lot of shows some 60 acts, by my reckoning. And I did, I believe, a fine job of cherry-picking. I saw a good portion of the big-name acts, the promising up-and-comers, and the lesser-knowns who I had personal affection for. I am happiest about the fact that only a precious few shows disappointed me.Given the booming state of the local music scene, and the limited time I have to devote to seeing it unfold on stages from the Belly Up to Glenwoods Two Rivers Park, I have tweaked the Stewys a bit. There are more simple observations Ive made, and somewhat fewer best of categories, in which my picks are a notch less than authoritative. I hope you understand.Heres the way I heard it over the last year: Song I couldnt get out of my head: Storms, by Railroad Earth. A magnificent song about overcoming adversity, by RREs fine songwriter, Todd Sheaffer. At Railroad Earths Wheeler gig in January, I asked Sheaffer to play it, hoping that hearing it live would cure me. Not even close. The 10 Best Things About the Belly Up:10. One night, waiting for a show to start, my friend ordered a Heineken. When the waitress delivered it, she told him that, even though it was 9:30, since the show hadnt started, she could give him the happy hour price of $2. If she had said $5, he probably wouldnt have blinked; instead, he might have gotten the cheapest Heineken in town.9. Accessibility to virtually everyone, from older jazz fans to hip-hopping, or head-banging, minors. If I were a 16-year-old music lover, Id be kissing Michael Goldbergs feet.8. The posters, by Seattle artist Scrojo.7. No smoking.6. Earlier show times, and maintaining a reasonable relationship between when they say the music will start and when it actually does.5. Refusing to oversell shows.4. Goldbergs photos.3. The sound.2. The staff vibe.1. The music. Unbelievable what has come to the Belly Up these last 12 months.

Most improved act: For years, Ive wanted to like Yonder Mountain String Band. They are a Colorado band, with the worthy goal of milking rock n roll energy out of bluegrass instruments. But their reach exceeded their grasp, vocally, and especially rhythmically. It didnt help that their popularity, based on an image that appealed to a young, less-than-discerning crowd, outstripped their talent. That point was made clear at the 2001 Groovegrass festival on Aspen Mountain, when Yonder Mountain headlined over Jerry Douglas and Mike Marshall & Darol Anger both light years ahead of Yonder.At a packed Wheeler Opera House earlier this month, Yonder showed that it had not only polished its chops, but had taken giant steps toward making a distinctive, energized rock-bluegrass hybrid. The band is finally earning the audience it has always had. All nights should be like this: June 24 Friday at Jazz Aspens June Festival started with Yerba Buena, a colorful New York band that puts an intoxicating modern twist on Latin styles. David Byrne followed, and captivated the audience with a mix of challenging new material and faves from his Talking Heads years. Capping the tripleheader was jazz-guitarist John Scofield, making his Aspen debut with a JAS After Dark show at the Belly Up.The night might have been even better. The early info was that Scofield was going to play his Ray Charles show; he had just recorded a CD tribute to Charles, Thats What I Say. That was inaccurate. Instead, Sco appeared with his acoustic, instrumental trio. (He did return to the Belly Up in September with the Thats What I Say material, but I missed it.) Joel Stoningtons Show of the Year: Martin Sexton (March 8, Belly Up) (Joel Stonington covers music as part of his beat as an Aspen Times reporter.) Best offstage music thing that happened to me: I got an iPod as a Christmas gift from my father-in-law. (Second best thing: actually learning to use my iPod, in March.) (Music-related, non-concert thing I hope happens this year: a gift of a higher capacity iPod to replace my nano, and thus relieve this serious case of iPod envy Im developing.) Worst offstage music thing that happened to me: I lost a fair amount of musician photos down the digital black hole in November. The most painful to lose were shots of rising roots rocker Shannon McNally, for reasons that would be obvious if you could see the pictures. So, Shannon, next time you pass through town, please wear the black sleeveless shirt, the blue jeans and cowboy boots ensemble again.

Danny Gatton Memorial Stewy for Best Guitarist: Danny Gatton, the lightning-fast rockabilly guitarist, earned the first Stewy for best guitarist way back when. A year or so later, he died by his own hand. No connection.The nominees are: John Scofield (June 24, Belly Up); Derek Trucks (Aug. 6, Fanny Hill); Doug Pettibone of Lucinda Williams band (Aug. 16, Belly Up); Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars (March 15, Belly Up); and Charlie Sexton (Nov. 22, Belly Up).Its Trucks, with his influences of jazz, Indian, soul and rock, in a photo finish over the jazz monster Scofield.(Wish I could have considered: Buckethead, who played a pair of dates at the Belly Up.) Excellent interview subjects: Margo Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, Paul Barrre of Little Feat, Charlie Sexton. Old Folks Boogie: All musicians should age like Little Feat (Feb. 23, Belly Up) who, nearly 40 years into it, are still learning new tricks, and pulling off the old ones beautifully. Best show by Colorado band: The nominees are: the Motet (Sept. 5, Jazz Aspens Labor Day Festival); the Drew Emmitt Band (Nov. 26, Belly Up); Yonder Mountain String Band (April 15, Wheeler Opera House); and Zilla (April 15, Belly Up).Till a few weeks ago, it looked like the Motet had this wrapped up. The percussion team of Dave Watts and Scott Messersmith led their groove band through a sizzling set at Jazz Aspens Labor Day Festival (and salvaging a mediocre day with reggae singers Alpha Blondy and Maxi Priest). Drew Emmitt, even with extra firepower from String Cheese Incidents Billy Nershi and Keith Moseley, was a notch below. Then on April 15 two unexpected lightning bolts hit from the Front Range. Yonder Mountain lit up the Wheeler in the first show of its two-night stand. Then Zilla, an instrumental, improvisational trio led by String Cheese drummer Michael Travis, followed the same night with their transcendent, trancelike groove.Still, the Motet holds on for the Stewy.(Wish I could have considered: Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Dec. 27, Belly Up)



Best rhythm section: Widespread Panic (Aug. 31-Sept. 1, JAS Labor Day Festival). Powered by bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Sonny Ortiz, Panic is the groovingest thing in the jam-band world. The highest I got: Aug. 31, Widespread Panic, Labor Day Festival. Pot cookies. I misunderstood the dosage specifications; instead of half a cookie, I ate half the bag. I also probably should have taken seriously the warning about not consuming on an empty stomach. (See also Best rhythm section above.) Best song performance: The nominees are: Fruits of My Labor by Lucinda Williams (Aug. 16, Belly Up); Elko by Railroad Earth (Jan. 31, Wheeler); The Mountains Win Again by Blues Traveler (July 1, Belly Up); Late at Night by the subdudes (Aug. 11, Fanny Hill); and Life During Wartime by David Byrne (June 24, JAS June Festival).And the winner is The Mountains Win Again. Not just a great jam ballad, but one written about Aspen. Bobby Sheehan, the late Blues Traveler bassist who wrote the song, used to spend time off the road here. The crowd may not have known that history, but they seemed to recognize that The Mountains Win Again has particular resonance in these mountains. Unforgettable moment: Trying to find a comfort zone for my 6-year-old at Michael Frantis Chili Pepper & Brewfest gig (June 18, Fanny Hill), I brought her onto a platform on the side of the stage. A huge Franti fan, Olivia danced her way onto the stage, earning cheers from the crowd and an invite from Franti to sit on his lap. (She declined; her envious mother would not have.) So there we were for most of the show: Candice and I also huge Franti fans dancing and watching our daughter have the time of her life, bonding with Franti, and getting her first taste of the spotlight.

Best singer: The nominees are: Margo Timmons of Cowboy Junkies (Feb. 27, Wheeler); John Bell of Widespread Panic (Aug. 31-Sept. 1, JAS Labor Day Festival); Ben Harper (April 3, Belly Up); Lucinda Williams (Aug. 16, Belly Up); and Dianne Reeves (June 25, JAS June Festival).The winner is Ben Harper, whose voice moves from a roar to a whisper, and hits all the emotions in between.(I wish I could have considered soul singer Sharon Jones, of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.) Behind the music: What was up with John Fogerty jumping around the Labor Day Festival stage like a kid, singing almost every CCR hit? As I heard it, Fogerty had a reputation for being surly and stingy about digging into the Creedence catalog he had lost legal control of.A few weeks after the crowd-pleasing performance, The Aspen Times ran a wire story about Fogerty having settled his decades-long legal battle, and regaining control over the songs he had written. I wouldnt hold out much hope for the Creedence reunion though. Show I Really Wish I Hadnt Missed: And the nominees are: a list longer than both of your arms. Here we go: Buckethead, Damian Marley, Seal, Sufjan Stevens, Dickey Betts, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Neko Case, Robert Randolph, Dead Kenny Gs, Martin Sexton (breathe, Stewy, breathe), Greyboy Allstars, Robert Walters 20th Congress, Los Hombres Calientes, Chick Corea, Fishbone, Chuchito Valds, Benevento/Russo Duo, Matisyahu, Popa Chubby, Slightly Stoopid, Robert Cray, William Topley, Soulive, KRS-One, Taj Mahal, the Blasters, Rebirth Brass Band, Rev. Horton Heat, Mofro, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and the New Mastersounds.But wait; thats just the Belly Up. In Snowmass, I missed Tony Furtado, Shawn Colvin, Charlie Musselwhite, Barrington Levy and the Funk Brothers. In Carbondale, Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez, the Asylum Street Spankers, Kelly Joe Phelps and Tim OBrien. In Glenwood Springs, the Stringdusters, Jackie Terrasson, Kermit Ruffins and David Sanchez. And those are just the ones I really missed, like actually lost sleep over.The one Id go backward in time to see, with all the metaphysical risks that entails, would be Dickey Betts, the ousted Allman Brother who played the Belly Up June 13. For weeks I couldnt walk around town without hearing someone buzzing about it. Show Im Kind of Glad I Missed: Shelby Lynne (July 7, Fanny Hill) has developed a reputation for combativeness and foul language. When she appeared at Jazz Aspens June Festival in 2004, she was on best behavior, turning in a charming set opening for Al Green. Getting the good side of Lynne twice in a row might have been too much to expect; several reports from her free show on Fanny Hill had the alt-country singer showing up late, and being a pain in the ass to concert organizers and attendees. Best show: The big one. And the nominees are: Lucinda Williams; Ben Harper; David Byrne; the subdudes; Railroad Earth.The winner is David Byrne. The former Talking Heads frontman came to the 2004 Labor Day Festival facing high expectations; word from his appearance at the Bonnaroo Festival was that his show, featuring the Tosca Strings, was killer. But the Labor Day gig was abbreviated due to weather, and the Tosca Strings didnt play at all. The show, a complex mix of European classical, South American rhythms and African funk, proved worth waiting for.(Wish I could have considered: Dickey Betts.) If I Felt Even Slightly Qualified to Give an Award for Best Classical Concert It Would Go To: the Kronos Quartet, whose Aspen Music Festival concert (July 8) gave the Benedict Music Tent the sort of vibrant, up-to-the-moment energy that the classical music world should be clamoring for. Most Disappointing Show: Alpha Blondy (JAS Labor Day Festival, Sept. 4), the reggae singer who bowed out after a few songs, claiming a sore throat. Or something. Leading candidate for 2007 Best Show Stewy: I suppose the obvious choice is Trey Anastasio, the former Phish frontman who makes his solo debut at the JAS June Festival (June 25). But Im equally psyched about the night before, when Elvis Costello and special guest Allen Toussaint play a tribute to New Orleans. Other early contenders: Medeski, Martin & Wood (playing the Chili Pepper & Brewfest, June 10); the Mutaytor, a sort of Burning Man on wheels (Massive Music & Movies, Fanny Hill, July 8); the subdudes (Snowmass Free Concert Series, July 20); Nickel Creek (Massive Music & Movies, Fanny Hill, Aug. 19; and the big blues weekend at the Belly Up: B.B. King (Aug. 12) and Joe Cocker (Aug. 13). And enormous thanks, to the people who put on music, help me cover it, and enable my endless need to talk about it: Jim, Mark, Joe, Andrea at Jazz Aspen; Michael, Steve and everyone at the Belly Up; Steve Standiford of Steves Guitars; Janice and everyone at the Aspen Music Festival; Gram and the Wheeler crew; Aspen Times compadres Steve, Joel, Chad, John, Jeanne, Bob, Allyn, Paul and Mark; Rachel and Alan and anyone else who takes the time to talk music.Special thanks to Josh Behrman.And, for things nonmusical, huge thanks to Candice, Olivia, Tony and Fluffy. Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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