WinterWonderGrass CO 2017
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Fruition - Sam Bush Band - The Infamous Stringdusters
WinterWonderGrass, indeed! What a wintry day was Saturday this year, friends…cold and snowy and windy. The trifecta. Everyone was donning multi-layer outfits to combat the elements successfully enough so that they could soak in some hot, hot grass music on the main stage. Steamboat looked a mysterious blur of white and muted sunlight all around us as the mountains wavered in and out of view. However, if the sheer numbers of people present were any indication, then I’d say the indomitable human spirit was the winner that day as we all overcame the cold and snow in favor of some seriously amazing music awaiting us. Like Portland, Oregon’s own Fruition, for example. Their last performance of a six week tour, this sizzling hot ensemble was certainly ready to bring it to Colorado and then some. Kicking things off just right, the band opened with “Somehow, Someway, Someday”, Mr. Jay Cobb Anderson at the mic for lead vocals. Of course, like with so many favorites from Fruition, this vocal solo quickly turned into a multi-voice harmony adding Mimi Naja and Kellen Asebroek to the mix. Tyler Thompson established an early prominence on drums that would continue throughout the set, his metronomic beats keeping the band moving ever forward as the winter winds whipped into their faces, freezing fingers and voices alike. Jay’s bright and boisterous guitar solo around three minutes in most assuredly helped to keep the crowd a bit warmer in front of the stage. And, just like that, Fruition were off to an incredible start ready to warm our hearts with more of their phenomenal music. A little ways down the line they gave us a fantastic WWG version of the title track of their latest album, Labor of Love. Speaking of albums…this number sounded pretty darn album perfect, my friends. Seriously, the harmonies were so tight, the ensemble sound so polished. What a rendition of this delightful song about friendship and relationship and life. Mimi was all over that mandolin of hers like a magical madwoman of multiple notes, the unmistakable tone shining out into the cold air like a beacon of love itself. Jeff Leonard’s bass was nothing short of the perfect foundation throughout “Labor of Love”, each note shoring up the texture around it in an expert and heartfelt manner. And, if you’ve read any of my reviews before, you know I am a sucker for great musical texture. And what provides the root for so much of that? Great bass work. Cheers to Jeff for the very same! Later still, Johnny Bones of The California Honeydrops joined the band for a couple of numbers, the first of which was “I Should Be (On Top of the World)”, a mellow, soulful number sung by Mimi. Luckily for you, my friends, we captured that very song on video amidst the driving snow. Just for you, friends!! Please enjoy!!
What a crazy day for some music, no? All told, it is a super fun way to hear some great string band grooves…awakens the senses. Just after “I Should Be” they went into one of my favorite Fruition songs of all times: “There She Was”. Funky, fresh, fun, fabulous, this song never fails to excite and delight. Seriously groovy and filled with fantastic musical attitude, “There She Was” is a journey through funk and freaky music fantasy that takes you on a ride of pure enjoyment. Kellen was up to the mic for the vocal lead and he crooned the lyrics in a mesmerizing sort of way as the rest of the band provided a rich backdrop of vocal harmonies, varying tempos, guitar solos, running bass lines, a chorus of drum energies, and lots and lots of rock and roll marvel. Johnny Bones was a beast on his horn, too, really adding a nice flourish to this song and throwing down one mean, mean solo — certainly grateful to have him on board. And the breakdown surrounding that horn solo? Exquisite. How can’t you just madly adore this band? So many thanks to them and to Johnny for an incredible WWG “There She Was”!! Bravi!! Wow. Whew! The very next song in line that day was a cover that instantly whipped the crowd into an appreciative frenzy. And what a great cover for this band, too. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” featured Kellen and Mimi kicking complete and total ass on the vocals as the band put together a monster version of this one behind them on their chosen instruments. Short and sweet, this one was a nice surprise and apropos given the mountains surrounding us on all sides. I love it when things line up like that. Right? Quite the crowd pleaser, to be sure. A bit further on, we were presented with the lovely and soul-gripping “The Meaning”, a song filled with emotion and mellow intensity. Kellen took the lead on the vocals for this one as well, singing sweetly out to the snow-covered audience huddled in their winter coats and hats and gloves. “I was born to love you, I will die and go back to stardust…” What poetry, no? And this song is just chock full of the same. Definitely a favorite of this writer. Some really incredible vocal harmonies here as well…something this band has down pat. And the breakdown about three minutes in? Yeah, it was pretty super duper, I can tell you that. These guys most assuredly know how to jam with one another and do it very well. From Mimi killing it on mando to the two gents on guitar and all around the ensemble, it sounded just superb. Finally, they closed things down at the end of their set with “The Way That I Do”, Jay Cobb Anderson back to the mic for lead vocals. What a voice on that man! My goodness! Wouldn’t it be cool to have him sing you to sleep for a week? I smell an auction somewhere in there! Ha! Jay, you know I think you are amazing, good sir! What a percussion breakdown from T. Thom as well. So much rhythm all in one place. Fun times. Oh yes, such fun times. What a fitting way to finish up this fiery hot set from Fruition! It’s no secret these guys are pretty damn stellar, however, after a show like that, there could be no doubt whatsoever. So many thanks on behalf of Colorado and WWG for granting us such a marvelous set! Phenomenal, through and through. Cheers to the lass and lads of Fruition!
Sam. Bush. Band. Need I really say anymore? I mean, as you well know, I could leave it right at that. But am I going to? You know me better than that! Saturday was still aswirl with bright white flakes whipping to and fro as the weather kept the spirit of this festival alive and searing hot in the spirits of those gathered for some great and gargantuan grass grooves. And, believe-you-me, Sammy and his band did not disappoint. They started things off with a nice little, building intro into Sam leading things forward on his magic mandolin, the band churning stronger and stronger in support as the song took shape settling into the familiar chords of “Play By Your Own Rules” to the utter delight of the crowd. Uncle Sam lit up the microphone with the vocals as we all sang along under the snowy skies. Scotty Vestal sounded crisp and polished on his banjo as always, nailing down note after perfect note either soloing or in support of Sam’s mando. Then you’ve got Stephen Mougin on guitar and vocal harmonies…just the kind of man for such a job as well. That gent can play, my friends! And sing. And make the best faces in photos by Will Rawls. Seriously. He is an all around talent. And one cannot fail to mention Todd Parks on bass, the cornerstone of every good Sam Bush Band number. Foundational and expert in every way, Todd’s proven himself the consummate member of the band. Of course, such exquisite bass stylings go hand-in-hand with the drumming of Chris Powers. Driving force and rhythms, time and again. And what a complete ensemble sound! Love this band! Off to a very strong start, Sam and the fellas were not going to sit on their laurels. To the contrary. They followed “Play By Your Own Rules” up with an old SBB favorite, “Transcendental Meditation Blues”, with Sammy up to the mic to deliver the lyrics in his signature vocal style. It’s a lot like having your favorite uncle singing you tale after incredible tale all while jamming like a gifted madman on mandolin. Not bad, right? Not bad at all! Scott threw down a solid banjo solo about two minutes into things which he traded right off to Sam on mando, melody from one instrument to the next seamlessly and professionally. Watching musicianship of this high caliber is always such a treat — certainly one of the reasons so many of us have flocked to the bluegrass genre and sub-genres. Hot on the heels of the previous song, it was time to “ride the bluegrass train” according to Sammy. Which is probably why they played “Riding That Bluegrass Train” immediately after he said that. Or it was just a weird coincidence. Either way, we all found ourselves hurtling along the musical tracks with this one, at the behest of the Sam Bush Band. Things got nice and funky in the middle, with a jam led by Sam on mandolin, really getting nasty up in there…nasty good, that is. Vestal answered with some well-placed, tasty notes of his own only to hand things back to Sam who, in turn, traded off to Mougin who unleashed a torrent of notes on his guitar. What a round robin…that kept on going! Incredible music to stupendous music to marvelous music and back again. These guys are pretty good, you know? Yeah, more like grass gods. A little down the set, they played a personal favorite of mine, a chill and happy-making one called “Everything Is Possible”. Why not get into music with a good message, right? Nothing wrong with that. And this groovy selection is most certainly is that in spades. I mean, with a line like “Who’s to say something wonderful won’t happen to you?” in there, how can’t you feel a bit better just for having heard Sam and his Band lay this one down for you? Great central jam in this song, too. Just some seriously good music going on. Lucky for WinterWonderGrass, right? A little further down the set came a tune from the Band’s Storyman album which was co-written by Sam and Scott. This sizzling hot one called “Greenbrier” is a rocket ship ride into the outer reaches of bluegrass badassery, to say the least. So many notes coming from the entire stage: mandolin and banjo and guitar and bass and even those drums, all engaged in the mystery and sorcery that is incredibly awesome string band music. What a journey to go on with this band! Rich in texture and in melody and in energy, “Greenbrier” is an all-around bluegrass feast, with more than enough for everyone to leave sated, happy. One of the things I love most about a tune like this is just how it showcases the musical acumen and skill of these heroes of ours, these legends of the stage. Watching Mougin’s hands move like wildfire over the strings of his guitar; seeing Vestal’s calm, collected, measured approach to killing on banjo; observing Sam in all his glory and majesty…these things are so special to witness. “Circles Around Me” is a consummate Sam Bush song known far and wide in the grass community. It is almost synonymous with the King of Telluride himself. Please enjoy this video we captured this special WWG moment with the Sam Bush Band!!
Amazing that they can play in such harsh conditions, right? I really felt for their poor fingers on that blustery stage. My final memory of the show was Sam and the gents covering “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers. Not a bad parting shot, right? And, damn, did it ever sound fantastic! Suffice it to say, SBB brought it to the very end. So much energy and so much superb music shared with the chilly crowd of WonderGrass. It really is hard to say enough good things about this group. I have seen them many times and have loved every minute of every show. Just goes to show that worthy music moves the soul…it’s almost impossible to stop it. Just like the music of Sam Bush and his Band. Just like that. Thanks so much to all the fine fellows on stage who made such a cold night so hot for us all! Bravi to the Sam Bush Band!
Main stage, big time, big band, big expectations. And, what did the Dusters open with? None other than “Big River”. Yeah, that’s right. “Big River”. And what a way to walk back into the venue after a quick condo run! The air around me thick with the sounds of The Infamous Stringdusters, their mad good vocal harmonies and madcap antics on stage coupled with world-class musical skill and talent, a spring in my step as I wandered ever onward through the snow towards the stage…and then, bam. Music. Certainly one of my favorite bands to see live, the Dusters clearly came correct that night and ready to wow the hell out of us and reanimate our cold bodies with some searing hot grass music. And “Big River” proved to be one perfect opener per the crowd’s very positive reaction. Great song, played well. Why not go nuts with excitement? Off to a very promising beginning to be sure. Let’s keep this thing going, boys! Just a tad into the set, they played a song of theirs that’s been getting a lot of radio play on SiriusXM’s JamOn station and as well it should. “Black Elk” ripped open into the night taken at a quick clip, melting the gathered ice as well as the gathered faces in the crowd as one. Jeremy Garrett threw down some crazy tasty fiddle work only to be followed by Andy Falco on guitar with some string-ninja moves of his own. Chris Pandolfi wasn’t to be left out either, raining down note after precious note from his banjo onto the souls of the audience huddled in the freezing dark. Wow, what a rush! I’d never heard that one so intense and so fast before. Really changes the fabric of the experience…I dug it.
Sam Bush joined them for the next couple of numbers, starting with “Get It While You Can” and did Sammy ever get some while he could! Let’s see…put one of the finest mando players on the planet in to guest with one of the tightest and most polished ensembles in grass music? OK, yes, I’ll have some of that, please! Two helpings, if I could! And just how much do I love Andy Hall’s dobro playing? Seriously, that man is a wizard on his instrument, one of my favorites to be sure. Both instrument and player. This excellent standard from the Dusters’ catalogue augmented by Mr. Bush proved to be quite the powerhouse to great approval from the crowd. What wasn’t to love, right? A little further into the set they gave us a fine WWG version of “A Hard Life Makes a Great Song” which should be of some hope and inspiration to us all. When you are feeling a bit overburdened by this life, maybe this particular song could be of assistance? I mean, at least your hard life would make a great song. Now, if you could only get the Dusters to write it up! So much tasty dobro in this one, too! And where would the band be without the stalwart bass amazingenss of Travis Book? I love the way he hauls that thing all over the stage, too. What a workout that must be! Not to mention his harmony work…stellar. Certainly makes for a great grass band show, for sure! Garrett and Falco made some supremely fine contributions of their own throughout the song, dancing in and out of the texture to take melody only to weave their way back into things as if nothing had changed. Expert work and a pleasure to witness. Finally, to close things down, we got some more Allman Brothers! Indeed, so, good friends…what were the odds? First Sammy then the Dusters? Excellence! The oh-so familiar strains of “Jessica” echoed out to the mountains and through the minds and joys of the crowd and we all began to dance and revel in our luck and laughter. Nothing like hearing that well-known melody coming from a dobro, right? Damn, Andy Hall!! How incredible could you possibly make this one? Pretty damn incredible as it would turn out. Jeremy’s fiddle was afire with all sorts of insanity too, rounding things out in a delightful fashion. And did they band jam this song, too…wow! Everybody took a good chance to get down here, and get down they did. A helluva supreme closer for this wonderful show! So many big thanks going out to the band and their folks for helping to make WinterWonderGrass so amazing for its first year in Steamboat! Loved it, guys…thank you a million times over!!