Who to see at Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Fest | AspenTimes.com

Who to see at Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Fest

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Weekly

Contributed photoHip-hop band Black Eyed Peas makes its Jazz Aspen debut, performing Saturday, Sept. 5 at the Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Sure, you know all about the Labor Day Festival. You know the Allman Brothers Band, that grizzled blues-rock machine that will reliably churn out Southern rock hits “Blue Sky” and “Ramblin’ Man.” You’re well acquainted with Elvis Costello, that slightly goofy, slightly angry Brit who put melody and lyricism into punk rock.Yes, and no one needs to tell you about the Black-Eyed Peas – that’s what you eat New Year’s Day for good luck. And the Doobie Brothers – won’t Ma & Pa Doobie be glad the kids have gotten past their sibling squabbles and are back playing together?Bad news, friend-o. You’re in need of an information update. In fact, about those plans for an end-of-summer blowout at the festival on Monday? You really need to keep reading.First, the basics. Jazz Aspen Snowmass has lopped a day off the back end of the event – that’s right, the Labor Day Festival doesn’t quite make it to Labor Day. This year’s party runs just Friday through Sunday, Sept. 4-6, in Snowmass Village. Jazz Aspen can take the upbeat tack and spin it as getting back to its roots: The first Labor Day Fest, back in 1995, was also three days (and featured Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy and the first valley appearance of Maceo Parker). The reality is that Monday has never been a big draw for the festival, and given current economic realities, this looked like the time to do away with it.Now the intricacies. For instance, just because both the Allmans and the Doobies had a bunch of radio hits in the ’70s and have “Brothers” in their name, I wouldn’t throw them in the same boat of “legacy” acts. And don’t expect Costello to trot out familiar tunes like “Alison” and “Veronica.” (But don’t ask me exactly what songs, or even what musical style, he might play. That’s wide open. Read on.)Stewy’s here to help. I’ve been paying attention to the Allman Brothers’ recent set lists, listening to solo projects by members of Drive-By Truckers, and coming up with some odd facts that might not mean anything, but could come in handy for between-set trivia conversations. (E.g.: Citizen Cope’s father lives in Aspen. And one of the musicians who played on Costello’s first album, 1977’s “My Aim Is True,” became, and remains, a member of the Doobie Brothers.) Following is a list, in order of importance, of what you need to see, and why.1. Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Saturday, Sept. 5, at 5 p.m.So what has Elvis been doing since the demise of the punk and New Wave scenes? An easier question is, What hasn’t he done? But let’s go with what he has done, because it’s so fun and impressive to make this list. Over the past decade-plus, Costello has composed string quartets and ballet scores; made vocal pop with Burt Bacharach, New Orleans r&b with Allen Toussaint, and jazz with Diana Krall (aka Mrs. Costello); done albums of alt-country and big-band jazz; and made occasional returns to gut-punching rock. Almost all of it has been excellent; I highly recommend the big-band album “My Flame Burns Blue,” and his most recent release, “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane,” a triumphant piece of American string music that features Nashville’s best pickers.The Imposters are Costello’s current rock band, so I’d expect a set of his rock-oriented material. I wouldn’t count on ballet dancers. And I expect the show to be better than Costello’s local debut, at the 2006 Jazz Aspen June Festival, when he appeared with Toussaint. The material was fabulous, but the combination of rock band and Toussaint’s acoustic piano made for difficulties, soundwise.2. Allman Brothers Band, Sunday, Sept. 6, at 7:15 p.m.Yes, the Allmans appeared at the Labor Day Fest just two years ago – playing a fine set, and breaking the Jazz Aspen attendance record. This year’s show promises to be even better (though less crowded – in response to the huge turnout last time, Jazz Aspen put a cap on attendance), as the Allmans are in the midst of their 40th anniversary tour. The band is probably still juiced by their annual New York City run this past March, which had an eye-popping guest list – Eric Clapton, Trey Anastasio, Kid Rock, Bruce Hornsby, Levon Helm, ZZ Top, Phil Lesh & Bob Weir – join the birthday party. Of course, it’s a far different band than the one that invented Southern boogie back in 1969. Guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks infused new life into the Bro’s over the last two decades, and the band has worked up a store of relatively fresh material.3. Citizen Cope, Friday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m.Citizen Cope is a bit of a mystery to me. (Not unlike his father, Aspenite Sterling Greenwood, publisher of the occasionally printed Aspen Free Press.) Cope – aka Clarence Greenwood – gets raves for his albums, which cross hip-hop with folk, rock and blues. But they appear about as regularly as his dad’s news-sheet; Cope’s last proper album, “Every Waking Moment,” was released in 2006 (although his website promises a new one, “The Rainwater LP,” come February). He’s hardly a prominent name, though he has made some very notable guest appearances, including one on Santana’s “Shaman.” Cope played in the early days of Belly Up, a few years back; word was he is worth seeing. Count me interested.4. Drive-By Truckers, Sunday, Sept. 6, at 3 p.m.Last year, Alabama’s Drive-By Truckers earned my Stewy Award for Best Show of the Year for their Belly Up gig, and a spot on my list of Best CDs of 2008 for “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark.” Lead singer-guitarist Patterson Hood has an album of new material, “Murdering Oscar (and other love songs),” but I’m guessing those aren’t part of DBT’s repertoire. The band has a brand new album of old material, “The Fine Print,” which features newly completed recordings of past, uncompleted songs – including covers of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Tom Petty’s “Rebel.” Advice: Do NOT miss Drive-By Truckers simply because it means having to sit through the Doobie Brothers to get to the Allman Brothers.5. Michael Franti & Spearhead, Friday, Sept. 4, at 8 p.m.Is singer-poet-activist-filmmaker Michael Franti oversaturating Aspen, having performed two shows this past spring at Belly Up, and having appeared at the 2007 Labor Day Fest? Almost certainly not; his show – as heavy on dance grooves as it is on significant messages – plays well here. But just in case, this show comes with an added attraction: Cherine Anderson, a Jamaican singer and actress who is spotlighted in Franti’s band. Franti arrives at a career high – “Say Hey (I Love You),” from last year’s “All Rebel Rockers” album is his first Top 40 hit – but coming off a big health scare, having had surgery for a ruptured appendix last month.6. Black-Eyed Peas, Saturday, Sept. 5, at 7:15 p.m.The slick, commercial hip-hop of Los Angeles’ Black-Eyed Peas isn’t my cup of tea, and Jazz Aspen’s history with hip-hop – Kanye West’s 2006 performance – isn’t a great one. But Black-Eyed Peas are hardly Kanye West, and the novelty of having an act-of-the-moment – BEP’s recent album, “The E.N.D.,” is at the top of the charts – makes this a unique moment.7. Umphrey’s McGee, Saturday, Sept. 5, at 3 p.m.Midwestern sextet Umphrey’s McGee, which blends a jam sensibility and the sounds and tightness of progressive rock, is making just its second local appearance. The band, led by the impressive guitarist Jake Cinninger, released the studio album “Mantis” in January. How they fit their usual show, built not only on jams but extended compositions, into a short opening set might be a challenge.8. Doobie Brothers, Sunday, Sept. 6, at 5 p.m.My first concert: the Doobie Brothers, fall of 1976, Chicago Auditorium. The details are sketchy because it was also: My first experience with Thai stick. But I do remember that I absolutely loved both the concert and the Thai. At the time, the Doobie Brothers were one of the few bands whose catalog I knew very well, and to me, it seemed like one great song after another. Haven’t seen them since; I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re playing much the same set. Their last album of new material was 2000’s “Sibling Rivalry,” though they are said to be working on a follow-up.Away from the main stage, my top pick is Railroad Earth, which plays a late-night show Sunday, Sept. 6 at Belly Up. The band, from the mountains of rural, northwestern New Jersey (seriously) plays solid acoustic bluegrass/rock, but the main draw is the songs of leader Todd Sheaffer. Also at Belly Up are Drive-By Truckers (Friday, Sept. 4), and the Fort Collins electronica group Pretty Lights (Saturday, Sept. 5).Jazz Aspen makes up for cutting a day from the Labor Day Fest by stepping it up at the Outside Music Lounge side stage. Friday brings the local debut of the bicoastal soul band, Pimps of Joytime; Saturday has groove band Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, led by the keyboardist of the Greyboy Allstars; and Sunday features the great Buckwheat Zydeco.The Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival runs Friday through Sunday, Sept. 4-6, in Snowmass Village. Tickets are available at the Belly Up box office, at jazzaspen.com, or by calling 544-9800 or 1-866-527-8499.stewart@aspentimes.com