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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Element Music Festival 7.26 - 7.29.18

Snug Lake Amphitheatre
British Columbia, Canada

Words by J. Picard
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media
Recordings by Eytan Bernet

Empty bullet casings from a variety of calibers "clinked" and "clanked" with every step along the shore of the aptly named "Guns Lake." It was years before the hippies would roll in, at a time where the sprawling 157 acres was owned and operated by members of the infamous Hell's Angels motorcycle club. What remains of that time are many still uncollected bullet shells, a large house, a massive lodge (inclusive of a jail cell) and local lore kept alive by those who shared the region with the Angels and those who have heard the stories. With almost a decade since the bikers called "Guns Lake" their home, a new direction has unfolded. Land owner, Robert Christy, purchased the land in 2015 with the intention of cleaning up the site and hosting an array of music festivals and events. One of the first changes came with the land's renaming to "Snug Lake Amphitheatre." "Snug" is "guns" backwards and would signify a new era for Robert, the site and a reclaiming of a genre of music in Jam!

It wasn't long before the hippies and creative types began to make the trek to the site. Rob had grandiose visions of what Snug could be: An intentional community, a music venue, a place to host retreats. He began to assemble his small independent team that would begin that building process. It started slowly with the team hosting its first event in 2016, a small gathering of family and friends under the moniker Element Music Festival. The event was a success and the rapid growth began with the return of Element in 2017. The team went all out welcoming jam giants The String Cheese Incident, Garaj Mahal's reunion shows, Steve Kimock & Friends and many more with Artists at Large Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company) and Roosevelt Collier.

With the unexpected loss of one of the team's crucial members, Bruce McCaulay, in addition to forest fires in the region and all of the typical challenges of a first year festival, the deck was stacked against the team. Though the resulting output was an incredibly intimate experience for fans that put Snug on the map, it left Rob with a decision to make regarding the future of the projects. The choice was made to continue the building and by the time planning began for 2018's festival there was an influx of calculation that resulted in an equally impressive line-up to the previous year. Robert's vision of a pure jam festival continued with three nights/six sets of Lotus with multiple performances by Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Spafford, Particle, Genetics, Yak Attack, McTuff, Naryan Padmanabha, GD/BC, The Unfaithful Servants, Baked Potato and Artists at Large Jen Hartswick & Natalie Cressman of The Trey Anastasio Band and Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident.

My time in the great white north would span six weeks and would mark my longest time away from my home and my country. What better time to be outside of the States, eh? The month and a half was spent in the British Columbia interior, ripping up and down logging roads on ATVs while dodging the occasional moose or bobcat. The days were long and filled with planning, and the meals, company and sunsets were beautiful. For the first time in my life I had the realization that I may have found my tribe. Leading up to the peak of my trip we explored local towns, a plethora of poutine and I came to decision that Canada is where I felt most at home.

Thursday, July 26:

Logistical prep, building and decorating culminated with so many incredible friends and family arriving at Snug Lake with the same first impression, "Wow!" We've always felt that we just need to get folks to our beautiful corner of the universe for them to see it with their own eyes and understand what the team was doing. Genetics dug into the lower level of the lodge where the space became command central for some of our younger musicians to rehearse, party and get to know one and other. The main level of the lodge was overtaken by our kitchen staff who from the get go filled the space with wonderful smells and vibes. Outside of the kitchen in the venue/bar was our artist hospitality space set up with a buffet along the bar and tables and chairs for the artists to enjoy home cooked meals, farm fresh eggs and a variety of delightful treats. The lodge's wrap around balcony, freshly painted in forest green, became a space for artists and staff to hang and enjoy panoramic views of the beach, Lake Stage and Main Stage.

The team held a meeting for the first time where a variety of things were discussed and the Hoser Cup was presented for the first time to the previous day's MVP. Our head of production, Andy Buxton was awarded the trophy to start due to his excellent oversight of a flawless load in and set up! The hosing began courtesy of our doorless Land Cruiser and a couple of hosers hosing as if dust suppression depended on it... and it did. My family arrived ready for the weekend with fifty MusicMarauders hats in tow for my BC friends! I got them situated in Rob's house and not long to follow Jason Hann arrived for a what would be a weekend full of laughs. Steve Molitz and Particle rolled in next, as if out of my jam past, though with a couple of new players since last our paths crossed. Along our camping ridge and through the aspen grove, beautiful camp sites took shape as vendors prepared their food and wears for consumption. The weekend's first hiccup came in the form of a failed Leslie speaker, which we initially thought was our C3 organ. A swift swap of the Main Stage's B3 and Leslie for safe measure resulted in the late conclusion of soundcheck before the evening's bands began the pre-party!

Fan favourite Genetics kicked off the festival in The Barn. Atendees shifted across the site as not to miss the action and wisely so. The four piece out of Colorado/Michigan wasted no time shredding and kicking it into high gear from the start. Black lights, psychedelic tapestries, disco balls and lasers complimented the soundscape and added to The Barn experience, as well as couches and tables to chill on in the back of the room. Things felt good as Genetics stepped aside for Portland based trio McTuff. As the band's set unfolded, surprised faces coupled with positive chatter about "how good these guys were" circulated throughout The Barn. Heavy organ and foot pedal bass, melted with heavy drums and ripping guitar for a sum that felt much bigger than its parts. To close out the evening, Particle took the stage to a room of music fans who were getting weird, dancing wildly, rolling around on the carpeted ground and letting loose in the safe embrace of Snug Lake.

As night turned to morning, a handful of musicians and staff kept the party going in the jail cell of the lodge laughing, ribbing and telling stories until the sun came up...

Coleman's Thursday Gallery

Friday, July 27:

The sun rose on what would be a beautiful day in the BC interior. The air smelled of pine and the swallows dipped and dove in every direction. Coffee resulted in some great conversation, which resulted in cannabis, which segued into creative motivation. There were a few loose ends and tasks to tend to on the morning before additional guests arrived at Snug, but overall the site was clean and beautiful! The Lake Stage came to life for the first time, with Yoga hosted by Emmy Chahal and sitar courtesy of Naryan Padmanabha. Such a relaxing start to the day could only be followed by some transitional sitar from yoga to space. Sitar sounds bounced off of the lodge and climbed up the hill while the beach began to welcome swimmers and floaters to the gem of Snug, its lake. It was even more beautiful of an experience than we could have imagined.

Artists at Large Jen Hartswick and Natalie Cressman arrived at Snug and barely had a chance to settle in before they found their way to The Lake Stage where Genetics were outputting an acoustic take on some of the band's classics. With the boys having played all three Elements, it was cool to see them in a different scenario and they nailed it. The set transitioned back to electric with Jason, Jen and Natalie joining in and throwing down! It was early in the afternoon and the day was already unfolding like a dream! At one point I peeked into the Elemental Wonder Wagon, Rob's vintage bus that was full of rocks and minerals, where I found he and his mother Dale handing out little crystals and stickers. At one point the Health Inspector arrived to poke around and concluded with Rob and I that everything was in tip top and that he wished he could return with his family to enjoy the event. McTuff opened the Main Stage and what began as a sit in by Jen and Natalie turned into a large portion of the set with the trio repping as a five piece. It was the perfect day time set to compliment the fantastic work of Big Fun Circus who was in full regalia and entertaining the young and old with bubbles, face painting and stilt-walking! Moments like that really exemplify the family vibe that Snug creates.

The festival's staff from the green team to the kitchen to gates were all operating at full steam ahead ensuring smooth sailing for EMF heading into Particle's monstrous two hour set on the Main Stage. Jason Hann sat in on a couple of tracks and added a great layer to the refueled Particle! Resident artist and sign-maker Phil Evans was awarded the Hoser Cup for his wonderful work on a variety of projects! Dinner was served at the lodge and "local" Grateful Dead tribute band GD/BC set the scene for a wonderful flow from day to night. Up at Rob's house the mood was light and the vibe sort of summer campish as we jumped room to room, drinking, smoking and laughing. The sounds and lights of Lotus poured into the living room as Natalie made cookies for the house. Downstairs at Rob's a bunch of us piled into Hartswick's and Abby Radbill's (box office) room where a mini bar had taken shape and Jen was telling stories in a Jersey accent. Things were getting loose as we gathered out on the patio; the vantage point was perfect to see the near full moon rise over Lotus and the lodge.

Lotus opened with heavy-hitter, "Bellweather" and continued with favourites "Suitcases," "Shimmer and Out," "Flower Sermon" and "128" among many others over the course of two sets. The temperatures had dropped, but the energy was high coming off of the first of three nights of Lotus and heading into a Karl Denson's Tiny Universe latenight. Our staffers shuttled folks up to the barn which glowed a blacklight purple hue silhouetting inverted umbrellas and dream catchers. The funk was laid on thick and was intertwined with the music of the Allman Brothers Band. Soaring guitar peaked over a group with heavy chops lead by the now member of the Rolling Stones touring band in a little ole barn in our corner of the dense Canadian woods. Once again following the latenight a group of musicians, staff and family found party refuge in the safe haven of the lodge. Inside jokes began to take shape with laughter that hurt, yet felt so good. Night turned to early morning and the last of the stragglers made their way to bed if only for a few hours.

Lotus Live at Snug Lake Ampitheatre on 7.27.18

Set One: Bellwether, Middle Road, Suitcases, Caywood, Slow Cookin' > Golden Ghost > Intro To A Cell > Shimmer and Out

Set Two: Bubonic Tonic > Sleep When We Are Dead, Destroyer, Flower Sermon, Faceblind, Sid > Soma, 128

Coleman's Friday Gallery

Saturday, July 28:

Cloudy eyes opened to a world in a beautiful state at Snug. The sun was shining, people were smiling, yoga and sitar were just taking shape and we weren't even at the halfway point of the weekend. It was clear that there wasn't going to be a huge turn out, which meant it would be an even more intimate and attentive experience for our guests. The team felt great about the product and dug in deeper to enjoy the event. Coffee was brewed, breakfast was served, folks were already in the lake and enjoying some sitar before bluegrass. The Unfaithful Servants created a wonderful sound under the midday sun and to an appreciative crowd. In the lake there were rafts, canoes, a sailboat and people in their element in a picturesque setting. Word that a government official had arrived and was touring the site on a golf kart with security came over the radio. By the time Rob and I had a chance to intercept them on an ATV, our head of security had already offered to let him borrow a pair of swim trunks for a dip in the lake. The gentleman, who was there to evaluate our security team specifically communicated that he expected to show up to find a bunch of wasted hippies, but instead was thrilled to stumble upon a mellow and magical family vibe.

Yak Attack arrived on site where they were greeted by myself on an ATV in a women's small crop top Yak Attack shirt. Not a pleasant sight, but the team and musicians got a good laugh out of it. A short time later and their Main Stage set was underway being enjoyed by a modest group in front of the stage and an even larger crowd in the lake and on the beach. Yak's two hour set dug deep into the jams and featured an enjoyable sit in by Jen and Natalie on "Swing Thiwi," with additional highlights coming in the form of "Marian's House" and "Radiant Kind." In my enjoyment of Yak I realized that I had yet to complete the "Surprise Set" line-up. A quick jump over to the Lake Stage and it was Naryan and Jeff Ervine navigating a plan for the set. I communicated that I would be right back with additional players, though I had no idea at the time who that would be. A short time later Jason was getting behind the kit, Phil Johnson joined on keys and Jen and Natalie showed up. It was clear that this was going to be something special as Naryan took the lead and Chuck Morris (Lotus) jumped up.

Much like the previous year, the improvised set took shape like a dream as music fans made their way to the Lake for the special occasion. The musicians were having fun, the output was tops and out of nowhere a hippie shows up with a weed cannon, pouring cannabis into the contraption rapidly as if it were the end of the world. It was a hilariously chaotic moment, where I steered him away from the stage with a joint in my mouth. The night prior we had offered the following day's "Surprise Set" to Jen and Natalie. Halfway through what became Naryan & Friends, Jen leaned down to me and said "can we just do this again tomorrow?" It was clear that all involved were having a great time!

Spafford pulled on site and as they were escorted down to the beach, the full scene of the property unfolded to their delight. By the time they got out of the van their excitement was palpable. They were introduced to Rob and before heading up for an early soundcheck I dropped a bullet in one of their hands and told them the story of the Hells Angels and Guns Lake. The story was received as if by kids around a campfire, with excitement and amazement. It was a fun initial moment with a band that we could see returning and growing with us.

Karl Denson took to the Main Stage and there were repeats which didn't thrill me, though the set was energetic and the crowd enjoyed it. GD/BC played us through dinner again, with an impressive crowd and as I dined on the balcony over looking the lake, my father strolled up in a pair of flower overalls that I had sewn in high school. It was a hilarious moment on an already great day in my happy place! An amazing day turned to an wondrous night. Back at Rob's we layered up and headed out to the patio to enjoy Lotus among friends. Our artists at large were kicking back, drinks were flowing and Lotus was playing at a high level. Amidst all of the euphoria it was a repeated "come to Jesus moment" filled with hilarity and the kind of laughs that not only hurt your stomach, but your back as well. It was almost emotional with the realization that I was right were I wanted to be, with the people I love, doing what we all love to do.

The full blood moon rose over the stage as Lotus put on a fantastic show with highlights that included "Jump Off," "Opo" with Jen and Natalie, "Livingston Storm," "Cosmosis," "Hammerstrike," "Nematode" and "Once In A Lifetime" with Jason Hann. Lotus was playing well and it was hard to fathome what they would play Sunday as they had already done so many classics. As more hilarity ensued at Rob's the music shifted gears towards The Barn for a latenight with Spafford. The show reflected a refined mastery rarely seen in a lot of younger bands, while extensive jams led the charge and Spafford played host Jason in between his hangs with attendees. Orlando Ekkert was awarded the Hoser Cup for his responsiveness and execution of any task that came up and through the night he could be seen drinking Kokanee from the cup in a celebratory fashion. As the night grew later, the party at the lodge became more entertaining and shifted gears to Wookie Lounge were the vibe was similar to that of a Burning Man structure. The hang that night got deep and once again, the rising sun put an inevitable end to the party, while welcoming a new day.

Lotus Live at Snug Lake Ampitheatre on 7.28.18

Set One: Jump Off, Opo*, Livingston Storm > Expired Slang, Marisol, Eats The Light, Gilded Age

Set Two: Inspector Norse > Cosmosis, Hammerstrike, Sift > Nematode > In The Bliss > Greet The Mind, Once In A Lifetime**

*Jen Hartswick & Natalie Cressman
**Once In A Lifetime with Jason Hann

Coleman's Saturday Gallery

Sunday, July 29:

The day began a bit hazy, but coffee and excitement solved that. The patio provided a great point for reflection while coming to on a weekend that we had dreamed about for so long. I was proud of our team who operated on a high level. I was proud of the risk we took and the resulting feedback we were getting up to that point. We still had one last day to ride the train into the station and we were going to make the most of it! One final sitar and Yoga session was followed by BC's own Baked Potato and the surprise set on the Main Stage with a repeat of Saturday's stellar line-up and less structure. The festival was wrapping up swimmingly without any issues, meaning the staff could enjoy their final day of the event. I said goodbye to my family who had a flight to catch later in the evening out of Seattle and escorted them to the end of the driveway on an ATV.

The Unfaithful Servants performed their second set of the weekend on the Lake Stage while members of Yak Attack and Spafford got into the kids' zone! The Main Stage came to life with Spafford. Their performance was strong and the set welcomed Jen and Natalie on their final song of the weekend. GD/BC's performance culminated on the Lake Stage also welcoming Jen and Natalie, which made for a wonderful surprise as the sun set. Lotus took to the Main Stage for one final two set show that was a continuation of their high level of execution up to that point in the weekend. Highlights included "Juggernaut," "Spiritualize," "Lucid Awakening," "Wax," "Age of Experience" and show closer "Umbilical Moonrise." We couldn't have asked for more from our headliner. Over the course of three nights/six sets, Lotus dug deep and pleased fans who traveled from near and far.

Riding the high from the Main Stage to The Barn, the energy up top began to peak as Yak Attack took the stage for what was supposed to be interlocking sets with Genetics. Yak created a dance party as lasers spread across the room and Genetics pre-gamed for their sets. The music came to a stop and Genetics took the stage. It was a bit confusing to the team as it was meant to be a non-stop flow. Genetics dove into heavy instrumentation as Yak re-pre-gamed for their final set. Another complete stop took place, Yak played their last set, a complete stop again and Genetics closed out the festival. Both bands performed the Stranger Things theme creating a cool crossover. The music concluded and slowly the early morning came to bring everyone back to reality. Back in the lodge, the recently awarded Hoser Cup winner, David Irish was made to drink from the cup by the kitchen staff in a moment of pure glory.

Lotus Live at Snug Lake Ampitheatre on 7.29.18

Set One: Grayrigg, Cold Facts, Move Too Fast > Juggernaut, Kalea, Blue Giant, Mikesnack > Spiritualize

Set Two: Bug Love, Lucid Awakening, Invincibility Of Youth > Wax > Plant Your Root >, Spaghetti, Age Of Inexperience, Umbilical Moonrise

Coleman's Sunday Gallery

Long days of sleep followed with clean up and the return of the site following the event. Immediately after the festival conversations began with members of our team to re-cap and get feedback while at the same time discussing the future of the project. It was an incredibly positive follow up to a near perfect weekend logistically. We just need people to take the leap and join us in the north. We need folks to trust that the border crossing process is simple and smooth. We want folks to know that once they arrive we will have everything they need for a great weekend including poutine!

I often hear folks criticize the new festival model of packing a line-up with an insane amount of acts, overlapping sets and so many genres that the festival is almost without an identity. The same folks harken back to the golden day of jam festivals while suggesting that those days and those events have passed, to which I say "incorrect. Those golden days are now, the event you're looking for is Element Music Festival and we promise you won't look back." Head to the great white north and have a peak experience at British Columbia, Canada's premier boutique jam festival, August 1 - 4, 2019!


Monday, September 17, 2018

STS9, Cut Chemist & Tauk 9.8.18 (Photos)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Conversation with Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) About Blue Ridge Jam

Pisgah Brewing Company
Black Mountain, NC

Words by Jason Mebane
Photos by J. Scott Shrader Photography

On Saturday, September 22 Colorado legends Leftover Salmon will invade the Southern Appalachian town of Black Mountain, North Carolina. Along with a handful of their musical peers Leftover will be taking over both the Outdoor and the Taproom stages at Pisgah Brewing Company for their Third Annual Blue Ridge Jam.

MusicMarauders was lucky enough to catch up with banjo player Andy Thorn for a few minutes while he was home in Boulder, Colorado to talk about the upcoming event. Since 2010 Andy has been holding down the banjo spot that was first held by the beloved Mark Vann. When I asked Andy if he had any trouble following in the footsteps of amazing players like Mark, Noam Pikelny & Matt Flinner he replied "I think it would've been hard being the first banjo player following Mark Vann. Noam had a tough spot, even though he did an amazing job, to go straight from what had happened and the tragedy, into trying to replace him would be really challenging. You know years had gone by when I came in but it is still a daunting task." He went on to add "I constantly listen back to stuff he (Mark Vann) did and check out old shows and try to incorporate little bits of his ideas in there."

During our conversation he spoke about how special it was to have the opportunity to be a part of a band that he was a fan of in his younger years. "I first saw them at MerleFest. My mom took me up there early in high school. She loved bluegrass, and I was a young banjo player. I saw those guys just having so much fun onstage and killing it and I was like wow I think I might be into this. It's been cool to get to know the guys, Drew first and then Vince, and now they're like my big brothers."

When I asked Andy why Pisgah Brewing Company was chosen as the location for this event, he responded "Everybody just loves Asheville and the other really important thing is just loving the venue. Being at Pisgah is so nice. It's such a beautiful venue. Everybody that works there is great and it's just easy. It's such a great place to play" he said. Adding "It's just a nice big stage with all the wood. Everybody gets to hang out in the field outside. It's about perfect."

When I asked him how the Leftover team went about choosing the bands to invite to the Blue Ridge Jam he commented on how hard it is to get an event like this to come together. "We mention things to our management about people that we want to be there or play with. It's all so complicated and they just see if they can make it happen. Everybody's schedule is crazy to line up, but I feel like we got such a good lineup of friends this year."

So who else IS playing the Blue Ridge Jam?

Black Mountain locals Bayou Diesel will kick off the festivities in the taproom at 4:30 pm. The most interesting tidbit about Bayou Diesel is that their accordion/fiddle player Steve Burnside was in a band with Vince Herman called the Salmon Heads back in the late eighties. For those of you that aren't familiar with Leftover Salmon's origins, their very first gig under the "Leftover Salmon" moniker took place on new year's eve in 1989. On that night a few members of the Salmon Heads couldn't make the gig so Vince called on a few pickers from Drew Emmitt's Left Hand String Band to fill in. So in a strange way it's quite possible that The Blue Ridge Jam wouldn't even be happening if Steve Burnside hadn't bailed on a gig way back when.

From there the party will move out to the field for Asheville's own Jon Stickley Trio. Jon and Andy grew up together in North Carolina and Andy seemed elated that Jon Stickley Trio was on the bill. "He's one of my best buddies from High School... we've been playing together for twenty years... It all started in Durham, North Carolina. We went to Jordan High School and had a little bluegrass band on the side, so that made for a pretty good time."

Following the Jon Stickley Trio, Grass Is Dead will be playing the first of their two sets in the taproom. Based out of the state of Florida, Grass Is Dead has been putting their own bluegrass spin on Grateful Dead songs for the last twenty years. I asked Andy what it is about bluegrass and Grateful Dead tunes that make them such a natural fit. "The songs work perfectly for bluegrass. Jerry Garcia, who wrote most of the music, was originally a banjo player, so he's going to have so much of that influence there. The songs just work in the bluegrass style."

Next up will be Spafford. While most of the bands at the Blue Ridge Jam lean towards the bluegrass/jamgrass style, Prescott, Arizona's Spafford is the lone exception. In any given Spafford performance you'll hear hints of rock, funk, jazz, and pretty much every other style of music EXCEPT bluegrass. I asked Andy if having a non-string band type act at the event was a conscious decision. He responded "Yeah you always want to have a nice mix of music so it's good to have some bluegrass and then have a jamband for the people that are more into that, to kind of make everybody happy." He says he has personally seen them play a few times, and claims they "Blew him away at Summercamp. They're a really great jamband."

Following another quick Grass is Dead set Leftover Salmon will hit the stage for their headlining portion of the show. Since last year's Blue Ridge Jam Leftover Salmon has released their eleventh album Something Higher. Andy spoke a little bit about how these new songs came to be. "Most of the songs off the new album we did not play live before recording them. We just sort of wrote them together in the studio. People had a general picture of the songs, but we arranged them together and figured them out. Now we are expanding them as we play live and figuring out what jams to stretch out and what segues into what. The songs just really work well together, so that's happening very naturally." While he says the crowd at Pisgah should expect to hear a lot of these new tunes this weekend he made a point to add that the audience can look forward to "a lot of the old favorites too, for the older fans, that want to hear the old classics."

As is the trend with most music festivals there will also be a "late night" set. On Saturday that honor will go to Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Hailing from the bluegrass hotbed of Stevens Point, Wisconsin Horseshoes & Hand Grenades have been turning heads every time they play. In Andy's words "They're a great band, they really stick out from other bands, its not the same old jamgrass that is starting to be so popular, it's really refreshing to hear those guys." he describes them as one of "the most unique bands on the scene right now."

Of course one of the things that live music lovers get most excited for at events like these is the myriad of possible collaborations that could take place. According to Andy, "I think there will be plenty of that, with all the people that are going to be there, it's going to be a big ol' jam." When I asked him to expand on how collaborations come to fruition he explained, "Certain friends that we really love playing with it's probably almost just assumed that they're going to sit in, ya know? Like Jon (Stickley) he's like 'oh they booked me for this festival, they probably want me to sit in', which is so fun, and it's part of why we book the bands we do, so that we can have special guests come play." However, he says in the Leftover Salmon world it's not always so predictable, he claims "a lot of the time we have no idea who is going to get up and sit in. Vince will just see somebody on the side of the stage and we always have some extra mic lines down and even extra instruments and will just hand it to somebody and see what happens."

I for one, look forward to seeing what happens Saturday out at Pisgah. If there is one thing we have learned over their 29 year career it's that you never know what could happen at a Leftover Salmon show, much less a Leftover Salmon (in my best Vince Herman impersonation) "FESTIVAAAAAAL." For those of you that want to join the party there are still tickets available at www.pisgahbrewing.com. For those of you that can't make it to the Blue Ridge Mountains keep your eyes here at musicmarauders.com and the official Leftover Salmon Instagram account for updates both during and after the Blue Ridge Jam.



Friday, September 14, 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Jen Hartswick's Nexus

Words by Kevin Hahn (Split Open & Shoot)

Being considered as “special” or “extraordinary” is somewhat lost these days. Whether one is referring to the latest superstar athlete, well-spoken politician, or ultra-popular restaurant chef/owner there still are not many moments where I sit back and reflect on how truly “special” someone is. Even tougher, is standing out from the crowd musically, especially when you have such a crowded industry. Bands are formed to create harmonious sounds together, as one unified “unit”; a brother/sisterhood that can be felt in a variety of ways: taped recording, LP, and of course the live show setting. But there are those “special” people, who are not contained by the norms of what it means to play in a band.

I am personally drawn to these incredibly rare personalities; those who provide experiences like none other and seem to transcend the musical boundaries we have all become accustomed to loving. Chick Corea. Trey Anastasio. John Medeski. And ever since I saw her for the first time with the Trey Anastasio Band back in 2011, Jennifer Hartswick.

Hartswick is not your ordinary musician. She is a vocal powerhouse, with the ability to hit high or low notes that just don’t seem to make any sense. Her stage presence is electrifying, whether she is headlining her own show (Jennifer Hartswick + Friends was incredible at The 1up Colfax in Denver back in the day) or showing up at Red Rocks to help her friends in Umphrey’s McGee crush “Electric Avenue to Hell”. And did I mention she is a badass trumpet player as well? Jennifer is a true triple-threat, with the ability to enhance any band with her unique and downright “special-ness”. Her latest project, a duo tour with the Nth Power’s Nick Cassarino sees Hartswick playing smaller, more listening-room type of venues where her vocal prowess can really be appreciated. With the tour, comes her latest album/release Nexus which is a great way to introduce yourself to this amazing woman if you have not done so already.

Backed by an incredibly impressive group of musicians (Christian McBride on bass, Natalie Cressman on trombone, Russ Lawton on drums, and Cassarino on guitar) Nexus is a firsthand look into the evolution of Hartswick as a musician. Known more as an integral piece to Trey’s band, or a special guest to groups such as Phish or UM, Hartswick lets loose on this album with an insane showing of her vocal abilities. Songs such as “Numb”, “Silent Waves”, and “Drowning” have Jennifer bouncing all over her vocal range going from high to low with beautiful/smooth transitions. “Do I Move You” shows her in a more rock-like song, with Cassarino giving us some nice bluesy guitar licks to play off of Hartswick’s low growling voice. “I Who Have Nothing” puts Jennifer in a jazzy format, with her playing along with Christian McBride’s legendary bass line, another example of just how diverse Hartswick’s musical ability is.

For me personally though, what is most impressive on Nexus is Hartswick’s ever-improving trumpet playing. Starting on my favorite tune of the album, “You Can’t Take It Back” the trumpet is featured front and center going toe-to-toe with Cassarino’s beautiful guitar work. “Blue Rose” is a slower more instrumentally focused song, with various trumpet playing technique’s being used on top of the light rhythm. And lastly, “Do I Move You” has Hartswick soloing for a good portion of the song with fast and fierce trumpet licks overlaid on top of Cassarino’s bluesy guitar chords. She will always be known as one of the top female vocalists on the jam-band scene, but having the trumpet along with her powerful vocals sets her apart from the rest. It truly makes Hartswick extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, and no doubt “special”.

Do yourself a favor and go catch Hartswick whenever and wherever you can. She has extended plans to tour with Cassarino for the rest of 2018, and you know TAB will be playing the larger venues across the country in 2019. (In TAB, Hartswick goes back and forth with Trey on a variety of songs, most notably Led Zeppelin favorites “Black Dog” and “Dazed and Confused”) And you never know when she will show up at a random Umphrey’s McGee show to usually crush a 1980s cover! But most importantly, buy Nexus and support this absolutely amazing woman on her solo musical journey. She is a special one.


Monday, September 10, 2018

STS9 9.7.18 (Photos)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Jam In The Trees 8.25.18 (Photos)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Dave Matthews Band 8.24.18 (Photos)

Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre
Greenwood Village, CO

Photos by Nancy Isaac Photography

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Friday, August 24, 2018

Ry Cooder 8.14.18

Paramount Theatre
Denver, CO

Words by Elliot Siff (Elliot Siff Photography)
Photo by Don Titelman

Ry Cooder is a major bucket list artist for me and many others. His tours are rare and often tend to feature him in various collaborations with other artists. That is what made this tour so special- Ry cooler doing his thing, a retrospective of his stylings from over 4 decades, in top form, showcasing his mastery of the bottleneck slide guitar and unique showmanship with his personal approach to Americana music and obscure folk tunes.

Immediately following the performance, the man in front of me turned around and we looked at each other in awe and happiness and he said “I’ve been waiting 40 years to see that show!”- which kind of sums it up for any Cooder fan. His new Album Prodigal Son, marks 48 years of solo releases and fits right in as another classic album of his. The show featured a mix of material from the new album and plenty of material all the way back to the 70’s. The band was on point, with Cooder’s son, Joachim, on percussion along with a keyboard/multi instrumentalist, bass, horns and The Hamiltones, a three piece gospel outfit. This type of setup is quite similar to how Ry would rock his solo shows from the 70’s, featuring a tight band and powerful arrangements which led the audience to give standing ovations throughout the performance.

I knew about Ry Cooder from college, discovering his world music explorations and collaborations with folks like The Buena Vista Social Club in Cuba and Ali Farka Toure of North Africa. It wasn't until I started collecting and enjoying vinyl records that I dug into his catalogue and discovered his funky and free approach to Americana music, weather writing his own tunes or creating new compositions and takes on songs from the roots and hidden roots of the American music catalog, while taking influence from his deep knowledge of music worldwide. Cooder does this in his own way and always has, with his quirky and playful voice, unique guitar chordings and slide skill, baritone voice and call and response gospel background vocalists. Its for these reasons and more (like his time in the sixties working with folks like Taj Mahal, Captain Beefheart and The Rolling Stones among others) that Rolling Stone editor David Fricke named Ry Cooder his #8 top guitarist pick in 2010.

One look at the setlist of songs played tonight shows a consistent theme featuring songs of the American Dream and the American Struggle, which Ry delivered in his own gospel/folk/rock/blues hybrid style. Almost every song was written well before Ry’s career was even developing and digs deep in American music history. The show began with two by gospel-blues Blind Willie Johnson ("Nobody’s Fault but My Own" and "Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right"), and featured others like “Vigilante Man” by Woody Guthrie, “Jesus on the Mainline” by Mississippi Fred McDowell, “The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)" by Sidney Bailey, Alfred Reed’s songs “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” and “You Must Unload” among others like the teller track of his new release “Straight Street,” written by Alexander and Whitaker and popularized in the 40’s. It's possible the only true original was “Jesus and Woody,” a new song of his written like an old cowboy story song written as a conversation from Jesus to Woody Guthrie when they meet at the nightclub in heaven, about the state of things, love and hate and being dreamers.

Ry took moments in some of these songs to update verses and share some current thoughts while singing these old politicized numbers. A comedic speech about Jeff Bezos and shocking receipts at the Whole Foods checkout line filled the intro verse to “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” and the song ended with a verse or two ripping into the Trump presidency and their rigging of the election. Woody Guthrie’s song “Vigilante Man” turned to gun protest and cries of Treyvon Martin’s story as Ry took to his own towards the finish of that tune.

At the end of the set, Cooder launched into his classic take on Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister” to get the entire seated crowd up on their feet dancing and staying fired up enough to get the band up for some encores. Before exiting, Ry took a moment to share one more piece of advice…turn off the tv, throw away the tv! Instead, turn on YouTube and look up all these songs you've enjoyed, find the old versions, the original versions, enjoy and learn from that. Head down a Ry Cooder wormhole on YouTube and enjoy songs done by Ry from his catalog, but also find the old and original versions that inspired his takes. The tour is on to Europe at this point, do your best to catch one of the upcoming performances if at all possible.


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Joe Russo's Almost Dead 8.16.18 (Photos)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Words by Erica Garvey (Funk Fiend)

Dots is a fresh take on the electro-rock concept and a natural step for Spyn Reset. The music itself is just one sensible rung up the ladder from their previous work, and the tip-top sound engineering allows the songs to reach their full potential. Spyn Reset’s music veers slightly outside of my usual genres, but the high level of creativity and musicianship shown here speaks across generations and cultures. Progressive, complicated electronic sounds make up 80% of the music, flourished with breaks of beautiful raw piano phrases, thumps of actual snare and kick drums, and simple guitar melodies. The proportions of electronic, electric, and acoustic tones seem perfectly suited to this trio and are consistently displayed through the tidy 49 minutes of album tracks.

Recorded at London Bridge Studio near the band’s homebase of Seattle, Dots is the fourth album from Spyn Reset, which, in the band’s present form, consists of Yasu on keys and vocals, Pierson Martin on drums, and Evan McPherson on guitar. It took three years to write and develop the songs, and it took just these three band members to record on four synthesizers, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. Collectively the band draws on its members’ individual influences, ranging from heavy metal to Japanese pop. I can only imagine they have an excellent working relationship or this concept would never even make it into the recording studio, much less develop into such a cohesive album.

This album is emotional but not dramatic. Most of the songs express varying degrees of angst and hope; the overarching theme expressed through Yasu’s vocals implores the listener to connect to other humans. Generally the lyrics are accretive to the music and right in the sweet spot: not too complicated or obscure, but timeless clear phrases woven directly into the fabric of each song.

While there are plenty of moments of inspiration to move your feet (“Whirlwind” and “Conundrum” get my vote for excellent danceability), the creative time signatures make it slightly difficult for the listener to dance through the entire album, as many of Spyn Reset’s fans may expect to do at their live shows. Instead, these songs invite the listener to actually pay attention: electronic beats reminding you to put down your electronics.

Defined by its crisp composition, musicianship, and production, Dots makes it easy for us electro-prog-rock newbies to wade in.

For readers in the Seattle area, you can hear songs from Dots (and the band’s previous albums) played live at Spyn Reset’s album release show on August 23 at Nectar Lounge!


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Record Company & The Wood Brothers 8.18.18 (Photos)