Working through the Labor Day lineup
August 21, 2005
You haven’t seen Widespread Panic since the hiatus ended. You don’t have a clue what John Fogerty does these days. Joan Osborne is a total wild card. Nobody’s heard anything from Loggins & Messina in nearly 30 years. And exactly who are Gabby LaLa, Oteil Burbridge and the New Mastersounds?In a nutshell, you’re in a panic deciding what to see and what to skip come Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival.Relax, I’m here for you, lighting the way through the festival that now spans five days, three stages and late-night gigs in two towns. Following are the main-stage acts, listed in order of must-see-ness.1. Widespread Panic, Friday, Sept. 2, 6 p.m.Widespread Panic’s 18-month hiatus seems to have fulfilled its purpose of rejuvenating the band. The pride of Athens, Ga., and the biggest thing on the jam-band scene, has toured almost nonstop since returning to the stage in March. Reports are that the band is in top shape, having fully adjusted to guitarist George McConnell, who replaced the late Mike Houser in 2002.My guess is that the second of Panic’s two-night stand will be the better: It’s Friday night; Thursday is their first show in nearly a month, and they’ll benefit from a night of acclimating to the altitude.2. John Fogerty, Sunday, Sept. 4, 6:30 p.m.The former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman has a reputation for being cantankerous. And his recent album, “Deja Vu All Over Again,” hardly ranks with his best. But he is also known, even in his post-CCR days, for giving it all up for the good of rock ‘n’ roll when he hits the stage. His recent tour, on a double bill with John Mellencamp, has drawn far more on his CCR material than his solo stuff. Hard to argue with that. And Fogerty, as far as I know, is making his Aspen-area debut.
3. Widespread Panic, Thursday, Sept. 1, 6 p.m.On the other hand, the combination of being in Colorado – a state they have long favored – and the short breather might make them come out swinging on night one. Expect to see opener Jerry Joseph join Panic onstage; Joseph has penned several Panic songs, including the popular “Climb to Safety.” (See No. 14, below.)4. Galactic, Friday, Sept. 2, 3:30 p.m.New Orleans quintet Galactic hasn’t been to Aspen since their 2001 Labor Day appearance. The band’s most recent CD, 2003’s “Ruckus,” was a departure from their freewheeling jazz-funk and a mild disappointment. But the band, the same five players who converged in New Orleans looking to soak up the Big Easy beat, should be on a roll: They celebrate their 10th anniversary a week after the Snowmass show. And they are not quite the same band they were four years ago. Late last year, vocalist Theryl de’Clouet, whose place in the largely instrumental group was always tenuous, left the group.(For the real Galactic fan, the birthday bash is at Tipitina’s Uptown, in New Orleans, Sept. 9-10, with most of the city’s stars – from Meters bassist George Porter to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to de’Clouet – on the guest list.)5. Maxi Priest, Monday, Sept. 5, 4 p.m.I was all set to put British reggae star Maxi Priest, the so-called King of Lovers’ Rock, near the bottom of the list. But then I thought of Alpha Blondy (see No. 8, below), another reggae singer from a foreign land who made a monster local debut at the Labor Day Festival. And Priest has a recent album, “2 the Max,” released in May. My sources were split: one was very high on Priest; the other, my reggae go-to guy, said Priest was a mixed bag, part excellent roots reggae and part schmaltzy singer of sappy love songs. But it would be lame of me to throw someone at the bottom just because I don’t know much about him.
6. deSoL, Friday, Sept. 2, 2 p.m.I have yet to see deSoL, which has made two visits to Aspen’s Belly Up. But their eponymous debut album, which has a single in the top 10, is a Santana-esque blend of Latin grooves and rock. The word out of their recent Belly Up show is that they’re “like Los Lonely Boys, only better,” and (this may not matter to you but it does to me) they’re from the great state of New Jersey. Also, lead singer Albie Monterrosa actually took the time to call and thank me for a story I wrote on the band, an occurrence which happens with the frequency of a moon-landing.7. Joan Osborne, Saturday, Sept. 3, 4:15 p.m.I nominate Joan Osborne for having one of the oddest, most varied careers in pop music. She was at the center of the downtown New York club scene of the mid-’80s that was integral to launching the jam-band movement. In 1995, she released “Relish,” with the pseudo-spiritual single “One of Us,” and earned seven Grammys and became a pop sensation in the process. Then she waited five years before striking again, with the decent “Righteous Love,” which was largely overlooked. In 2002, Osborne emerged as a stand-in for – of all dead rockers – Jerry Garcia, singing his tunes as a touring member of the Dead. That year she also released “How Sweet It is,” an inspired album of soul and rock covers. The next year, she had become the voice of Detroit soul, featured in the film “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” a documentary about the Motown studio band known as the Funk Brothers.The latest news is that Osborne has finished a new album of original material, her first re-teaming with the group of producers/writers/musicians responsible for “Relish.” (For trivia hounds, that crew also formed the core of the Hooters, the ’80s Philadelphia band that had hits with “And We Danced” and “All You Zombies.”) She was back in the studio recently recording a Christmas album.So what do we expect: extended Grateful Dead jams? Covers of “Only You Know and I Know” and “I Second That Emotion”? Fans screaming for her to sing “the god song?” “The Little Drummer Boy”? New stuff? Obscure stuff?8. Johnny Clegg, Thursday, Sept. 1, 3:30 p.m.Fifty-something singer-guitarist Johnny Clegg might be the unknown quality to make a big splash next week. A native of England raised in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Israel, Clegg began learning Zulu music after settling in South Africa. Clegg, of European descent, became known for mixing native African, English lyrics and Western melodies, which made him an enemy of the regime – such segregation ran afoul of the apartheid-era laws – but earned him a huge following among music lovers and anti-apartheid activists. 9. Alpha Blondy, Monday, Sept. 5, 2 p.m.The Ivory Coast reggae singer Alpha Blondy has become a Labor Day Fest regular; this is his third appearance in five years. It’s hard to complain about that; the charismatic Blondy’s colorful shows are a reminder of the spirituality of reggae music. It’s a slight letdown that he will play at 2 p.m. His other appearances came right at sundown, which seemed to set the mood right.
10. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2 p.m.Saxophonist Karl Denson has proved his funkiness as frontman of both the Greyboy Allstars and Tiny Universe. But I’m wondering slightly: The Greyboys reunion of 2003 went practically nowhere. (One of the few places it did go was the Labor Day Festival.) Tiny Universe’s last album, “The Bridge,” was released in 2002. The band’s website has the exciting news that Denson & Co. have been in the studio recording new tracks – but that dates back nearly a year.It’s not a good sign when both Loggins & Messina and John Fogerty have more recent news than you.11. Loggins & Messina, Saturday, Sept. 3, 6:30 p.m.In a phone interview last week, Jim Messina said all the right things about his reunion with Kenny Loggins after some 30 years apart: not about the money, having a blast, recapturing the magic, etc. But what was missing was the “Holy God, I could kill myself for not having done this years ago!” spirit that should be behind any reunion worth going to.Still, they probably do sound good. Messina has been busting out the awesome “Kind Woman” from his Buffalo Springfield days, and they probably have the good sense not to play Loggins’ movie music (“Danger Zone,” “Footloose”).Now a Buffalo Springfield reunion – no one would have to convince me to hear that.12. Terence Blanchard, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2 p.m.What’s this? A jazz act on Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day lineup? Yes, trumpeter Terence Blanchard has plugged in a bit on such fine, semi-grooving albums as “Bounce” and this year’s “Flow.” But unless Blanchard and his combo have figured out a way to make themselves heard, this appearance could be an exercise in frustration for audience and band. If they go full-on electric, this could be quite good.
13. Willie Nelson, Sunday, Sept. 4, 4:15 p.m.I’d be more excited about seeing Willie Nelson if he were more excited about playing material from the new “Countryman,” his first reggae album. But the album was actually recorded about a decade ago, and Nelson was quoted saying that the recordings were so long ago, he’d forgotten about doing them in concert. So even though he has been covering Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” regularly, I don’t know that Willie’s performance will be much different than the last time he played here, in 2002.14. Jerry Joseph & Friends, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2 p.m.Rocker Jerry Joseph has been on the fringes of bigger success starting with Little Women, his Boulder band that spanned the ’80s and ’90s. His last album, “Conscious Contact,” was a winner artistically, but he remains best known through his association with Widespread Panic: He has written several Panic songs, and he teamed with Panic bassist Dave Schools to co-lead Stockholm Syndrome while Panic was on its break.15. The Motet, Monday, Sept. 5, noonThis demonstrates the elevated status of the Labor Day lineup. Colorado’s Afro-Cuban-tinged funk band the Motet, led by percussionists Dave Watts and Scott Messersmith, jams, as they have shown in numerous local appearances.
1. Particle, with special guest Gabby LaLaParticle, a California electro-jam band, was born at a late-night show following a 2000 Phish concert. Earlier this summer they earned attention as part of Hydra, a collaboration with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. Their opening act, squeaky-voiced singer Gabby LaLa, is expected to join them onstage, making for a very different kind of sound. Particle will be playing its new Calilicious show, featuring songs by California bands from the Dead to the Doors to Guns ‘n’ Roses.Particle plays Thursday and Friday, Sept. 1-2, at Belly Up in the JAS After Dark series; deSoL shares the bill on Friday. Particle also plays Thursday at the Village Stage on the Labor Day Fest grounds.2. Jerry JosephThe insider pick: Joseph plays a JAS After Dark date Friday, Sept. 2 at the Blue Door, conveniently timed after the Panic show. If your wish is to see members of Panic in a venue even cozier than, say, Carbondale’s Ship of Fools, this is your best bet.3. The New MastersoundsMeters fans, take note: On their recent album, “This Is What We Do,” British quartet the New Mastersounds demonstrate that what they do is sound remarkably like the Meters. They play the Village Stage Saturday, Sept. 3, and that night at the Snowmass Conference Center with California Afro-beat band Aphrodesia.4. Oteil BurbridgeBassist for the Aquarium Rescue Unit and the Allman Brothers Band, Oteil Burbridge also leads the soul-fusion band Oteil & the Peacemakers, who play the Village Stage Sunday, Sept. 4.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org