Projecting the vibe of a purist approach to live rock ‘n roll, The Ride Music Festival threw together a lineup that placed an overt emphasis on individuals that have mastered the art of tearing it up on a six string. Scaled down Southern rock outfits, revitalised rhythm and blues leaders, and solo endeavors from members of historically revered bands came together to form a fairly cohesive showcase of eclectic approaches to the cornerstone of rock music – the guitar.
Many of the performers on the bill have played Telluride before in recent history, and some like Colorado’s Big Head Todd and the Monsters took the stage in Town Park less than a year ago. Despite the lack of scarcity, the Boulder alt-rockers were able to attract their loyal fanbase to three different shows throughout the weekend. That quantity of sets proved to be ineffective in casting a shadow on the impressive stable of supporting artists on the bill.
Among the other Telluride favorites that made their way to the San Juans were the North Mississippi Allstars. Sons of the late great producer Jim Dickinson, Luther and Cody have continued the decorated musical legacy of their father with impressive River State rock. Luther in particular deploys an arsenal of guitars that range from classic electric axes to obscure custom cigar box models that often added enigmatic tones to their blues ballads.
Even with the embedded variety each instrument offers, a comforting thread ran through takes on “Goin’ Home” and “Shake.” Towards the end of the set, Cody shed his drum kit for a effect-laden washboard solo that drove into a psychedelic breakdown version of “Be So Glad.” Somehow balancing the floating space that evolved, Luther pushed his fret maneuvers into overdrive and wailed over the dark groove. Closing with a deep delta blues version of “Drinking Muddy Water” the Allstars set was an early highlight of the weekend.
North Florida’s JJ Grey is no stranger to performing in Telluride, but this time he vocalized his appreciation after the opening tune “A Woman” saying, “I can’t believe we are in Telluride right now, let me tell you, it’s something man.” That inspiration carried over into his lively role as a front man backed up by the fully stocked ensemble Mofro. He jumped, literally, and then jumped between guitars, singing, and playing a Hammond B3 organ. During a grooving breakdown of “Brighter Days,” he expanded on his praise for the town saying, “when I came here before, I wasn’t seeing it for what it was, but now not only can I see it, I can feel it.” The energetic performance earned him the praise of the crowd, and their will brought on the only encore of the weekend. Turning up the heat, Grey invited Luther Dickinson back to the stage for an incredible instrument duel with trumpet player Dennis Marion.
Giving the previous multi-instrumentalist a run for their money, headliner Ben Harper’s rack of axes stood boldly on the side of the stage. Various electric, slide, and acoustic guitars were traded like they were drinks and money in the beer tent. The initial approach from Harper and company was straight forward rocking and grooving, with mandatory space for him to launch into reaching solos. The impressive balance of being able to seamlessly move between each dynamically different guitar and genre, while still keeping his beautiful vocal tone constant, was apparent during “Faded” and “Spilling Faith.” The latter is a tune he co-wrote with Ringo Starr, and a spacey voyage into the foundation of the track segued right to the heart of “Get There From Here,” another new song he co-wrote with the Beatle. Harper would change pace for the remainder of the evening, and focus on his simplistic pop ballads. It worked, and a special moment of crowd interaction during “Better Way” included the song fading out to them chanting the chorus in unison.
The second day of music brought an equally impressive cast of musicians to Town Park. Much like the brotherly love brought by the North Mississippi Allstars, the kinship between The Wood Brothers transmits an unmistakable sonic bond. Unlike the North Mississippi Allstars though, this duo has added texture to their lineup in the form of a drummer to liven up their progressive folkgrass. Where Oliver channels the key ingredients of Americana with his soulful vocals and steady guitar, Chris ventures into his acclaimed jazz and fusion standup bass roots. The two meet in the middle with ease, and everything from the folk narrative “The Luckiest Man” to the stripped down twang of the bluegrass anthem “Postcards From Hell” were among the best of the weekend.
Next on deck was the man who has played with everyone from The Dead to The Allman Brothers, and now claims Widespread Panic as his current music fraternity home. For The Ride he would go rogue and put on a clinic of different ways to properly bust out a solo. The different avenues all lead to the same destination, and that was Herring telling tales of wisdom and experience that come from nearly 30 years of jamming with the best. A completely guitar focused cover of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” also seemed to connect the dots between Herring’s own influences and Ben Harper’s display the night previous.
In wake of the guitar saturation, The Ride did keep one trick up their sleeve to close out the weekend. Hailing from Denver, and personifying proof of independent music’s ability to succeed in the modern era, The Lumineers brought a fierce set of high energy folk rock to a willing crowd. With only one album under their belts, the trio of Wesley Shultz, Jeremiah Fraites, and Neyla Pekarek were sure to make each track count on the record. That same mentality applied to their first performance in Telluride. “Hey Ho,” “Stubborn Love,” and “Classy Girls” found the perfect balance between folk songwriting and the uplifting accents of indie rock. The trio filled out their lush sound with additional members on stage, and the times where all instruments could be heard at once were triumphant moments of auditory bliss. The only negative of their standout set was when it was cut short, and boos from the crowd echoed the need for these guys to come back soon for a proper dose. Here’s to hoping it is at next year’s The Ride Music Festival.
Guitarist Steal the Show at The Ride Music Festival