Widespread applause: Stewys honor best of local music scene | AspenTimes.com

Widespread applause: Stewys honor best of local music scene

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesAnd the Stewy for Best Show goes to Widespread Panic, with lead singer John Bell, at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival.

ASPEN Im grateful and amazed that I get to do this: spend a few hours working hours looking back over my year, reflecting on the best musical moments, comparing the hottest jams, the sweetest songs, the most enjoyable experiences. It reminds me just how magical and powerful a force music is for me it can change my outlook entirely, make me see and feel things I would not otherwise know, connect me to something outside myself. For 15 years Ive been doing this exercise of the Stewys picking the most notable, the oddest, the newest in the local music scene over these past 12 months and ol Stewy never gets tired of it. Not even close. Next to time with my family and friends, good BBQ and enchiladas (and burgers and fries, donuts, Buffalo wings, etc.), I can think of nothing better than getting lost in memories of the musical moments Ive had, and shared with others. Except, of course, the next concert ahead.Heres what rocked this past year. Best John Oates guest appearance: Woody Creeker John Oates, of Hall & fame, was everywhere this year: releasing the excellent CD, 1000 Miles of Life, hosting a series at the Wheeler Opera House and popping up on stages with everyone from Sam Bush to the Funky Meters to L.A. hard-rock supergroup Camp Freddy.The best one was with jam-band Blues Traveler (July 5, Belly Up), when Oates raised the energy level of an already smoking show, and his contribution to Carolina Blues made the song the nights highlight. Personal discovery of the year: Brett Dennen. I was surprised to see that the 20-something Californians show (May 23, Belly Up) was sold-out. Maybe it had to do with the fact that it was a triple-bill, with Mason Jennings and Missy Huggins? Both Jennings and Huggins were excellent, but clearly the word was out on Dennen, one of the most uplifting, soulful spirits out there not to mention an improbably graceful dancer. Best downvalley experience: I dont get downvalley nearly as often as Id like, and Im certain Ive missed a boatload of memorable nights at Steves Guitars. But damn, am I happy I made the journey on July 13 to Sopris Park for the show by Panjea. The band an African-inspired ensemble led by Chris Berry, who spent years in Zimbabwe, and featuring former String Cheese Incident mandolinist Michael Kang, plus Motet man Dave Watts on drums was impressive enough. The capper was the Bonedale crowd loose and grooving in a way that just doesnt happen at the top of the valley. Biggest puzzlement: Bob Dylans Band. Ill take it as a given that Bob can hire capable musicians. I will also assume that he has done so (though he has done stranger things than back himself with mediocre musicians. Seen Masked and Anonymous?) And I could envision Dylan hiring excellent players and then sabotaging their playing with a sour mood, an insistence on playing tunes they had never rehearsed, or some other Bob-esque maneuver.What I cant grasp is Dylan being in fine spirits which he was, dancing and smiling and singing as well as he can, Aug. 30 at Jazz Aspens Labor Day Festival and the band behind him sucking. Which they did, standing motionless, emotionless. Its a wonder that they still knew how to breathe. Best interview: Henry Rollins. For a punk guy, hes got some great manners: Yes, sir this; No, sir that. On the other hand, he never shies away from giving his opinion. On anything. At length. Colorfully. Expletives not deleted. Best classical concert: Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijovs Azul, performed by cellist Alisa Weilerstein, conductor David Robertson and the Aspen Chamber Symphony. It was as if Golijov said to himself, I wonder what I could write that would please Stewart Oksenhorn. Most cosmopolitan show: Thievery Corporation (April 15, Belly Up) put on what might have been the most cosmopolitan event Aspen has ever seen, as singers from Iran, Guyana, Jamaica, Brazil, Argentina and Washington, D.C. took their turns onstage. Each singer added a new foreign flavor, building on one another to make this a uniquely exotic performance. Best idea Ive ever had (apparently): Four songs into the Los Lobos show (March 22, Belly Up) billed as an Acoustic en Vivo gig, with the band playing old Mexican tunes on acoustic instruments I thought, Man, this is great; I could listen to this forever. Followed by the thought: What would really be awesome is if they did a set of the acoustic Mexican stuff, then a set of their typical electric, East L.A. rock n roll.Within two or three songs, all of the band had gone into plugged-in mode, wailing away on their Latin-accented rock.Genius thinking, guys. Best family moment: It was almost too perfect a 7 p.m. start (early enough for my wife Candice); an acoustic show (soft enough for my wife); on a Friday night (no school or work the next day); with Michael Franti (my wifes favorite). We had our daughter Olivia set for a sleep-over.Yes, too perfect. Three hours before showtime, I got the call: The sleep-over was canceled; one of the kids had strep throat. So Olivia, decked out in her Michael Franti How You Feelin T-shirt, would be coming with us for her first Belly Up experience. There went date night, but it was special nonetheless. I brought Olivia to the lip of the stage and the first person she saw was a friend from ballet class. And before Franti took the stage, an 8-year-old girl came out to sing a Michael Franti song. So with Olivia in a comfort zone, only slightly overwhelmed by the whole experience, the Stewy family boogied away.Somehow, every time Franti appears, it turns into not just a great musical time, but a great family outing. Best song performance: No, I dont recall every song from every show I saw. But the memorable ones well, they stay in my memory.Heres whats still playing in my ears: the Neville Brothers, with singer Aaron Neville, doing Sam Cookes A Change Is Gonna Come at the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest (June 7); Bob Dylan (even with his band comatose) singing Visions of Johanna at the Labor Day Festival; Ruthie Foster, Jorma Kaukonen and Robben Ford getting together for an encore of Dylans Dont Think Twice, Its Alright, Feb. 25 at the Wheeler; Widespread Panics Tall Boy encore (Aug. 28, Labor Day Festival); Bla Flecks solo banjo piece during the Sparrow Quartet show (Feb. 7, Wheeler); Tom Morello covering Bruce Springsteens The Ghost of Tom Joad (Nov. 8, Belly Up).The winner is Foster, Kaukonen and Ford doing Dylan brilliantly. Foster and Kaukonen traded verses, Ford added not blistering guitar leads but tasty, subtle fills and you could hear the crowd, as one, sigh in appreciation of the beauty. Best singer: Nominees are Ruthie Foster, Aaron Neville, Dianne Reeves, Widespread Panics John BellThe Neville Brothers hadnt played Aspen in a decade, so I had great anticipation for their appearance at the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest. The day of the show I had a small panic attack: Jeezum, Aaron Neville is 67 what if that angelic voice had lost its glow over the years?Not to worry; Brother Aaron is in great shape, as cool-looking and heavenly sounding as ever. His singing A Change Is Gonna Come makes time stop for me. Throw in his lead vocals on the Nevilles own Yellow Moon, and give the Stewy to Aaron. Best Aspen debut: Socialibrium, Mos Def, Sparrow Quartet, Thievery Corporation, Tom MorelloA tough call; worthy additions all to the local music scene. But make mine the Sparrow Quartet, singer/banjoist Abigail Washburns group that combines Appalachian strings and Chinese folk music, blue and gospel and bluegrass. A historical note: Washburns mates banjoist/boyfriend Bla Fleck, fiddler Casey Driessen and cellist Ben Sollee all have other projects occupying them for the next few years. Their Aspen show, Feb. 15 at the Wheeler, was among their last handful of scheduled concerts maybe ever. (They do have one more special appearance, May 3, in New York City, as part of a tribute to Pete Seeger.) So figure their Aspen debut might also be their farewell a sad thought, considering the music. Danny Gatton Memorial Award for Best GuitaristRockabilly picker Danny Gatton won the first Stewy for Best Guitarist; shortly after, he killed himself. Sad he was a singular talent, ranked 63rd on Rolling Stones list of the best guitar players.This years nominees (and win or lose, no suicides, please): Bruce Cockburn, Robben Ford, Leo Nocentelli of the Meters, Jimmy Herring of Widespread Panic, Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, Ani DiFranco, Eddie Roberts of the New Mastersounds, and Russell Malone, who accompanied singer Dianne Reeves in her Jazz Aspen June Festival appearance.The winner is Leo Nocentelli, who played with the Meters well, three-quarters of the original Meters at the New Orleans Traveling Road Show gig (Aug. 8, Belly Up). I had never seen Nocentelli perform before; the guy is badass all around. Favorite musician, non-guitarist, non-singer category: Ronnie McCoury, mandolinist of the Travelin McCourys; bassist Chris Wood of the Wood Brothers; Bla Fleck, banjoist of the Sparrow Quartet; bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile, who performed together in an Aspen Music Festival duet; T.M. Stevens, bassist of Socialibrium.The Stewy goes to Fleck who, as great as he is, never stops pushing forward. The solo piece he played during the Sparrow Quartet show displayed ideas I hadnt heard from him before, mixing jazz, classical and folk styles. A few weeks later, he released Throw Down Your Heart, his Africa-inspired album, recorded in Africa with top African musicians. Best Show (the Big One): Nominees are: Sparrow Quartet; Brett Dennen, with Mason Jennings and Missy Higgins; Widespread Panic (first show); Los Lobos; Socialibrium.Widespread Panic takes it. With new guitarist Jimmy Herring onboard, a good venue, an appealing setlist, Stewy finally gets a Grade-A Panic attack. Give them the Stewy. Biggest surprise (pleasant): Having heard several recordings of California bluegrass band Hot Buttered Rum, I was expecting some mediocre progressive string music in their April 8 show at Belly Up. In fact, the main reason I went was to see the opening act, the Travelin McCourys. I came away raving about Hot Buttered Rum, who not only sounded great, but were an enormously appealing presence onstage. Biggest surprise (unpleasant): I was going to go the Its-all-good route here, on the theory that music is inherently good. But … Dr. John (Chili Pepper and Brew Fest, June 7). Mac, youre better than this mail-it-in crap. Doctor, heal thyself. Best non-musical stage show: Aspenite (and Aspen Times columnist) Barry Smiths one-person, multi-media show, Barry Smiths Baby Book (Dec. 11, Wheeler). Just thinking about the People Who Sent Telegrams bit cracks me up. And where the hell is … ? Bruce Hornsby hasnt made a public appearance in Aspen for going on 10 years. (He played a private gig a few years ago at Belly Up.) Come on, man dont you remember how good those 1995 gigs were at the Wheeler? Worst cancellation: Femi Kuti, son of Nigerian legend Fela Kuti, was on the Belly Up books for Jan. 20 and he was certainly on my books, after his explosive show in 2007. But he canceled his entire North American tour citing illness. Get better and get Aspen back on your schedule.Runner-up: Bootsy Collins James Brown tribute show, scheduled for Oct. 4 at Belly Up. It was the second time he canceled the show here, so Im not holding my breath for the next scheduled date. But if it does happen, Im there. Show I really, really wish I hadnt missed: Dirty little secret revelation time here. I dont go out every night. I do miss shows. A lot of shows. A lot of good shows. And this past year, I missed even more cant-miss shows than usual.Among them: The Raconteurs, Method Man & Red Man, Govt Mule and Warren Haynes solo, John Hiatt, the Roots, Andrew Bird, the Dandy Warhols, Mavis Staples, the Band of Heathens, Jason Isbell, Easy Star All-Stars, Martin Sexton, Tea Leaf Green, John Browns Body, Randy Newman, Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen, Leo Kottke (breathe, Stewy, breathe) …Rev. Horton Heat, Galactic, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the GZA/Genius, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Guru, Devotchka, Steve Forbert, Tift Merritt, Patty Griffin, Squirrel Nut Zippers, ZZ Top, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the Gourds, Sonya Kitchell, Buckethead, Vieux Farka Tour, Burning Spear, James McMurtry, UB40, Black Francis, Todd Rundgren, Kathleen Edwards.And remember: These are just the ones I really, really wish I hadnt missed.Topping the list: Im going to pick three. The Raconteurs, because how often do you get to see an of-the-moment band, led by a genuine rock star, in a club (hopefully in this case, more than once); Randy Newman, because Ive never seen him, and he seems like a one-of-a-kind talent; and Warren Haynes (second night of his two-night stand) because the description of the end of the show Haynes singing the gorgeous Ill Be the One to his wife, sitting on a couch onstage sent chills down my spine. Show Im glad I missed: Foreigner (Dec. 27, Belly Up). I actively disliked Foreigner when they were in their heyday. Add the nostalgia factor, the $150 price tag, the fact that virtually no one from the original band is still in the group, etc. Favorites for Best Show Stewy, 2009-10 (assuming theres still a music scene, a Stewy to cover it, and an Aspen Times to print it): Leftover Salmon with special guest Karl Denson (June 5, Chili Pepper and Brew Fest); Particle, with special guest Michael Kang (June 6, Chili Pepper and Brew Fest); Jimmy Herring Band (June 9, Belly Up); Ani DiFranco (July 19, Belly Up); Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas & Edgar Meyer (Aug. 13, Benedict Music Tent); Punch Brothers (Aug. 17, Harris Hall); Michael Franti & Spearhead (Sept. 4, Labor Day Festival); Drive-By Truckers (Sept. 6, Labor Day Festival); and the Allman Brothers Band (Sept. 6, Labor Day Festival).And a million thanks to the people who help me do this: Josh Behrman and Vanessa Adam, Alan Richman, Mitch Haas, Gram Slaton, Steve Standiford, Amy Kimberly, Nate Peterson and Jon Maletz; Michael, Kim, Roy, Ralph and everyone at Belly Up; Jim, Mark and Andrea at Jazz Aspen; Janice and everyone at the Aspen Music Festival.Thanks to my editors Jeanne, Steve, Rick and Bob and everyone else at The Aspen Times.Extra special thanks to my family Candice, Olivia, Fluffy and Angelina and my parents.Keep on rocking in the ski world.stewart@aspentimes.com


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