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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

True Troubadour Story: Final Countdown

Posted By on June 24, 2009, 4:38 PM

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Local musician/Renaissance man Paul Jacobsen was fortunate enough to play the Telluride Troubadour Contest up at this year's Telluride Bluegrass Festival. We are fortune enough to gain his insights on the experience. The following is the final report on his initial impressions performing in the same vicinity as Elvis Costello. (JG)

So, I got to play one song on the mainstage. Festival organizers call it, unsuggestively, a “tweener.” So I got up there and played. Or tweened. Or whatever.

And let me tell you: you haven’t lived until The Benmont Tench- he of the Heartbreakers and recordings with anyone you can name and my own personal list of musical heroes with whom I’d die to share a stage in practically any scenario but this, though if this is it, then I suppose this will do- soundchecks his monitors in a wholly different key and time signature than the song that you- maybe 10 feet away, on the little side of the stage provided for Troubadours to perform their one little mainstage song- are earnestly trying to play in front of thousands of people. It took everything I had just to stay focused on my song above the cacophonic tuning and checking coming through every monitor on the stage but mine. How often do you get the chance to soldier through one of the biggest moments of your life while one of your heroes unwittingly increases its degree of difficulty? I think I muddled through with, if not flying, at very least levitating colors.

I suppose when I’d prayed that Works Progress Administration (Who? Read below.) would sit in for my song, I should’ve been more specific. Still, Sara Watkins had a really nice run during the bridge that had some very special moments of very nearly correct notes.

Sunday was a lot of packing up and packing out. A real diehard would stick it out, see Emmylou Harris’ set, and catch the Telluride House Band (Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, etc) closing it out. But we’ve been over this. When it comes to bluegrass, I die softly and, as much as I love her, I decided that- with all of her special guesting- I’d seen the equivalent of one pretty awesome Emmylou Harris set anyway.

MIKE FARRIS & THE ROSELAND RHYTHM REVUE What better way to kick off a Sunday morning than with a full-on revival? That meant Hammond B3, a real deal horn section, gospel backup singers, and a whole lot of impassioned shouting courtesy of Mike Farris, who some might remember as the voice behind The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies (if so, collect your Mid 90’s Cred points at City Weekly). Farris shouted/screeched his way through an hour-plus set, stopping only for the rare breath, spoken word breakdown, or saxomophone solo. The way I see it, shout at anyone long enough and eventually they’re gonna tune you out; just look at pro athletes, who can get a polydecibelic earful and hardly bat an eye. But, hey, he had the 10 am slot, so you gotta give the band credit for treating it like a headlining slot and refusing to wilt into Tarp-Arranging Background Music. The man howled and, in the words of Gillian Welch, shook it like a holy roller, baby, with his soul at stake.

WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION Who? 2/3 of Nickel Creek (the Watkins pieces), Luke Bulla (Jerry Douglas Band/Lyle Lovett), the singer of Toad The Wet Sprocket, the drummer and bassist for Elvis Costello & The Impostors, Greg Leisz (steel player for the stars), and- as mentioned in passing above- the keyboard player for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. As far as supergroups go, they may not have sold the sheer volume of records that, say, Velvet Revolver has. But here’s a group that can really play AND writes great songs AND isn’t the product of some underemployed managers’ brainstorm. You couldn’t miss the pure joy and mutual respect these musicians showed in playing these songs with each other. “These songs” were mostly songs (written, co-written, team-written by combinations of bandmates) from their debut album, due in September (or last Sunday if you were at Telluride. Ahem.) as well as some covers- Ray Davies, John Hartford, David Garza. I don’t wanna overstate it, so I’ll just leave it at: I loved them; they were the perfect way to end my Telluride experience. And I got to see Benmont Tench pick up a Fender and lead the band through a rollicking version of Bo Diddley’s “Mona.”

8-ish hours later, give or take a rest stop and Bluegrass Band In Broken Tourbus Peril (I forgot to mention how Railroad Earth’s drummer and I lamented the demise of the Zephyr Club, how we both loved it, and how this very blog documents its purgatorial state), I was back in Salt Lake with a heap of lessons, experiences, music, a new guitar (won in the contest), and way too many words for City Weekly’s blog.

Well, that’s it. Thanks for reading, mom.

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