March madness is upon us, with spring break getting into full swing. And the final month of the ski season means the Telluride music scene is about to go off, with big names, hot rising stars and even a festival thrown into the springtime mix.
Things will start heating up right off the bat, with le jazz hot on the mountain Thursday afternoon. The new Playin’ on the Plaza Winter Concert Series kicks off with the incredible Charlie Hunter Trio, and Hunter is a phenom and a master of the seven-string guitar. Launched by his early lessons with guitar guru Joe Satriani, Hunter went on to tour with Michael Franti; fans may know him from the Garage a Trois project with Stanton Moore. Hunter now has some 17 albums under his belt, including the brilliant new CD, Baboon Strength, which showcases his wizardry. Look for the Charlie Hunter Trio to tear it up in Mountain Village this afternoon.
The Playin’ at the Plaza shows are happening on Thursday afternoons, and include next week’s with the Subdudes, and the highly anticipated return of funk royalty, Porter, Batiste and Stoltz the following week. The free shows all start at 3 p.m. at Heritage Plaza. At the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon this weekend, look out, because it's about to get downright steamy with Fishbone in da house.
Edgy, funky and wildly entertaining, Fishbone's current lineup includes Norwood Fisher, Angelo Moore, John Steward, Dre Gipson, Rocky George, and John McKnight, who fused their talents to unleash the tremendous Still Stuck in Your Throat in 2007 to critical acclaim. Fishbone’s cover of the Sublime tune, Date Rape, garnered widespread airplay, and helped them nail a few other gigs, including as the house band in Outkast’s movie Idlewild and in a Christina Aguilara video. Jazz, ska, gospel, punk, rock and reggae with an edge, this show be a rager, and the Moon will probably go to capacity with Fishbone on Friday night.
Saturday night, the Moon will continue to jump with Joey Farr and the Fuggins Wheat Band. After honing his skills at a young age with a diverse bunch of bands, including Whurm, Trip 7, Freak Speely and Closet Farmers, Farr decided to do his own thing a couple of years ago, and teamed up with his friends, bassist Mike Chronister, and drummer Jake Schaffer to create the Fuggins Wheat project. Fresh and energetic, Farr's somewhat unorthodox guitar style drives the power trio in their sweaty, cooking jams. The band is working on its debut studio release, and are on fire. Catch 'em, late night Saturday at the Moon. Suh-weet!
Holy cow, talk about sweet, the big show this weekend is the KOTO presentation of the John Cowan Band at the Sheridan Opera House. One of Telluride's most beloved performers from his many years of jaw-dropping appearances at the Bluegrass Festival, the amazing “Johnny C,” returned to his roots with the terrific New Tattoo CD a couple of years ago, much to the delight of Newgrass Revival fans.
After his forays into pop and soul, rock and other forms, Cowan says he's back to his signature sound with help from his tremendous band, which includes Jeff Autry on guitar, Shad Cobb on Fiddle, John Frazier on mandolin and Bryon Larrance on drums.
“John Frazier is actually from the Boulder area, but now is out in Nashville. He's a phenomenal mando player, and a great guy,” says Cowan. “Also, we have Bryon, who is actually a jazz guy. We're kinda wondering why he's hanging out with us,” he laughs, and adds that the new players have brought an added dimension to the JCB. “We're pretty darn excited about this line-up. It's the same kind of music, newgrass or whatever you want to call it, but we’ve added drums, and don't have the banjo now.”
Cowan notes that fans can expect a pile of new material in the coming months. “We have a bunch of stuff coming out. I've kind of been in legal land for a couple of years, but we have gotten with a record label, Koch Records. They've got people like Jerry Douglas, so it's a really good label. Anyway, we have a studio record in the can, and they're also gonna release the Telluride album, which is a compilation of some of the shows I’ve done as a solo artist which were recorded over about ten years.”
Whoo-hoo, can't wait for that. In the meantime, JCB is making a quick run through Colorado, with dates in Lyons and Paonia, plus the Sheridan Opera House on Saturday night. Cowan explains that the band is coming to Telluride to help out KOTO radio.
“Well, that’s why we’re doing this show for free. KOTO has really gone above and beyond to help us get our music out there through the years,” he explains. “Plus, it gives me an excuse to come to Telluride. How bad can that be?” The band is pumped to get on the road, he said. “We're completely tweaked up. We haven't been out since January, so we're chomping at the bit to get out there.”
Not to worry, the band won't be tweaking, but Cowan has more than a few stories to share about his many visits to Telluride. “No nitrous this year, darn it,” jokes Telluride’s official Court Jester, who earned the title for more than a few notorious antics back in the day. “The Nightgrass stuff is pretty tame now, but back in the 80s, there wasn't anything official after the festival, so it would just be the guys from Newgrass and whoever else was performing that year, and we'd all just jam out at the Opera House until the sun came up. It was like being backstage at a Grateful Dead show.”
So, times have changed a bit, but even if they’ve lost a few brain cells along the way, Telluride fans know there’s nothing like Cowan’s amazing soaring vocals and incomparable style. He plays a mean bass, too. Look for the Sheridan Opera House to be all abuzz when the one and only John Cowan Band takes the stage.
By the way, Tony Rosario will be opening the show. “I am going to get my tired Puerto-Rican backside schooled by one of the most soulful singers to ever walk the planet. Mr. John Cowan – I love the man,” laughs Rosario, who adds that he and Cowan share a few stories of their own. “Fortunately he is an old friend and a card carrying member of the Sylvan Park Laundromat Crew. Don't kid yerself – them some bad-ass boys!”
O-kay, I guess it’s an inside joke! Be there to find out what it's all about, Saturday night. The SOH has a number of hot shows on the docket in the next couple of weeks, including the return of Donavon Frankenreiter. Surf’s up when Frankenreiter rolls into town, as he's established himself as one of the more original voices on the acoustic-rock scene, with hooky tunes like his Triple-A radio staple “Free” which he did with help from his buddy Jack Johnson. The pro surfer’s third album, Pass it Around, finds Frankenreiter collaborating with some of other heavy-hitters, including Ben Harper and G. Love.
“I learned a lot with this record. I learned that it’s not all about me, but it’s about coming together and creating the songs together. I learned that I could let go a little. I feel like I had to go through what I was going through in order to get to where I am today.”
It’s a happy place. Hang ten with Donavon Frankenreiter and Band, Tuesday at the Opera House.
Next weekend, it's the Grammy-nominated Latin powerhouse, Grupo Fantasma, who will play the SOH on Friday, the 13th. No bad luck here, GF wowed the crowd at last year's Telluride Jazz Celebration, and the band is off-the-hook sensational. GF also plays the Community Concert Hall at Ft. Lewis College in Durango next weekend. Muy caliente!
Then there’s the big St. Paddy's Day bash coming up with Jo Jo Hermann and Friends slated for a rager on the 17th. Get tickets and more at sheridanoperahouse.com.
Time for a festival? Yep, the ultra-hip Fifth annual Plunge Music Festival is ready to kick off March 20, and believe it or not, summer festivals are not that far away.
In fact, announcements are flying about upcoming line-ups and ticket deals. The Telluride Jazz Celebration and Bluegrass Festival are now just three months away – secure passes soon! Also, Telluride Blues and Brews tickets went on sale this week, and the lineup should be announced shortly.
Nearby, The Four Corners Folk Fest has extended their early bird deadline until March 13, with a great lineup, which includes Tim O'Brien, Darrell Scott and Eddie From Ohio. Desert Rocks in Moab is currently firming up their line-up, too. Check it out at desertrocks.org.
It’s gonna get crazy around here. Happy spring.