Denver Bluegrass Generals feat. Pandolfi, Hall, Bush, Keel & Grisman 3.27 & 3.28.15

The 1up - Colfax
Denver, CO

Words By J. Picard
Photos By Jim Mimna (J. Mimna Photography)

Super Jams are what I enjoy most about my job. As the Talent Buyer for The 1up - Colfax, a new venue arcade, in our second year, in one of the most competitive markets in the country, we've had to get creative to make a name for ourselves. The concept of the Super Jam is something that we did a couple of times before completely embracing it. We've done a handful of funk Super Jams, but the Denver Bluegrass Generals would be our first from the genre. The project began with Chris Pandolfi and Andy Hall of The Infamous Stringdusters and quickly grew following the addition of Sam Bush, Sam Grisman and finally Larry Keel to round it out. The artists were announced in stages, resulting in waves of excitement and anticipation leading up to the two nights. The Thursday prior to the shows, I was paid a visit to my office by one of my absolute favorite guitarists from the bluegrass realm, Larry Keel. That evening I rested my head on my pillow and began to dream...

Friday March 27, 2015:

The 1up team was in full effect, nailing down day of show logistics and prepping the venue for what was shaping up to be one of our biggest weekends to date. That afternoon the Generals arrived at the venue with excitement in their step. As the stage was being prepared, the allstar band withdrew their instruments from their cases and began to rehearse. Carly and I sat on one of the couches in amazement of what we were witnessing. With very few stops or corrections needed, the group tore through a handful of songs to get warmed up before stepping on stage for soundcheck. The couple of hours that followed would make all of the difference in the world in regards to the tightness of the music. Following the rehearsal, spirits were high as the band hopped into a car bound for their hotel for some rest and dinner before the evening kicked off.

Around 9:00 PM as tickets for the evening sold out, Caribou Mountain took the stage to warm up the quickly filling room. Caribou is one of my favorite up-and-coming Colorado bluegrass bands. Their sound was tight with a great mix of traditional and progressive output that drew the crowd close to the stage as folks approached through the back of the room. Caribou performed a mix of captivating originals about life, love and moonshining, as well as familiar covers including Kenny Rogers' "Just Dropped In!" Through an hour and fifteen minutes the young band showed how tight they could be and how loose they could get. By the completion of their set, The 1up - Colfax was at capacity and buzzing! Caribou Mountain Collective was the perfect band to kick off what would be an epic weekend!

Out front on Colfax Ave., the line extended down the block towards The Fillmore Auditorium. Folks paced back and forth frantically with their fingers in the air, in search of a golden ticket/miracle. Backstage, the Denver Bluegrass generals warmed up as house photographer, Jim Mimna, prepared for the evening's shoot. Spirits were high, smiles were big and there was no shortage of sideways comments and jabs from the peanut gallery. Following a quick huddle and salute, the "A Team" took the stage to the delight of the excited room. Chris welcomed everyone before kicking off the weekend with Red Allen's "Out On The Ocean" and Sam Bush fielding the vocals. Andy Hall stepped up next on vocals for "If I Loose," a traditional bluegrass number.

"Denver, welcome! Thank you guys so much for coming out tonight. I can't tell you how psyched we are to be here doing this. This is awesome!" - Chris Pandolfi

"Generally speaking, we're feelin' pretty good tonight!" - Sam Bush

A banjo tune followed in the form of of a fiery instrumental. Sam Bush struck away at his mandolin, relieving Andy of any chopping duties. It was as if the band had a drummer. A handful of big solos were passed around with the band eventually peaking in newgrass fashion. Larry lead the charge on an original number that he has composed on the Oregon Trail. Larry's raspy voice resonated through The 1up with strength and prominence as folks danced along. The traditional "Deep Elem Blues" followed to the delight of the capacity crowd that sang along loudly with Andy as Sam Grisman thumped away on the upright! "Ginseng Sullivan," a song by Norman Blake that was recorded by Sam Bush with Newgrass Revival, came next with Sam Bush leading and Larry and Andy backing.

"Ok, alright, we feel like jammin' a bit so we may as well..." -Sam Bush

What followed was a song that sounded like the title was "What'd He Say," but as Sam spoke the words and had the crowd repeat them, they were purposely inaudible. The composition was slow and meandering to begin; at times it was spacey and loose, and at times it was lightning fast through to the song's conclusion. Bob Marley's "One Love" was next on the docket, switching it up a bit. At one point all that remained was Sam Bush's percussive strikes while the crowd sang along.

"Hey, hey, hey... Let's do a tune by Bill Monroe. That's right, Bill Monroe, known as the father of Bluegrass music... I guess I'm the mother. Well, when Monroe would see me playing he'd say 'well there goes the mother...'" -Sam Bush

The set closer came in the form of Bill Monroe's "On My Way Back To The Old Home," as lead by Andy, with Chris keeping time. The song would mark the end of the first half of the evening's lesson, triggering recess. The Generals retreated to the war room to freshen up, talk tactics and for Sam Bush, it was time for some Galaga.

The band returned a short time later checking some insane effects before they started the second set with "Culpepper Woodchuck." Larry's voice was low and rumbling with intensity, as was his effect laden picking in the song's mid-section.

"Hey, I just want to say thank you for coming out and supporting bluegrass in Denver, CO. This is one of the best places to play bluegrass in the entire country and I've been everywhere. We all have..." -Andy Hall

An instrumental number followed with Sam Bush on the fiddle and everyone tossing licks into the mix. Next, was the Carter Family's "Blue Ridge Mountains" featuring Andy on vocals, followed by "No More Leave You Behind," that took off to soaring heights during the middle of the jam. A song named after the steel guitar featured Andy's skills with the rest of the band contributing here and there before launching into another instrumental number. The David Vai song, "Moonshine in The Moonlight," featured Larry's screaming vocals and ripping guitar work throughout a song that hit close to home for the Virginian. Sam Grisman kept the groove together as each man swung for the fence. A short version of Donovan's "There Is a Mountain" was lead by Andy on vocals before the band was introduced one final time.

The set closer came in the form of the Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon song, "Sitting On Top Of The World!" The song featured big solos from Larry and Sam Grisman from the back of the stage and Chris before the tempo increased and Sam Bush and Andy threw down their cards. A short moment in the greenroom lead to a quick return to the stage for "Uncle Pen" with Andy on vocals to close night one! It was a fantastic evening with some of the genre's greats in an intimate setting. As the music concluded, folks made their way to open arcade games for one last round of excitement for the evening. Backstage, the assembled group of musicians wound down from their sold out show. The excitement level was high for the following night and as the evening turned to morning, the musicians departed the venue.

Saturday March 28, 2015:

Once again, the band turned out mid-afternoon for rehearsal, but this time all of the gear was set up and the vibe was relaxed. Backstage sat a stack of posters for each band member to sign and as Sam Grisman did so, Sam Bush jumped into joke mode. I glanced up on stage and made eye contact with Sam Bush, who held his finger up to his mouth as to say "shhh." He reached down with a smile on his face and lowered the pin on Sam Grisman's bass, while the rest of the band looked on holding back laughter. Sam Grisman finished signing the posters and returned to the stage to pick up his bass. There was a moment of confusion as he glanced down at his bass suggesting that it had shrunk, to which the rest of the band burst into laughter.

Following a strong rehearsal the band broke for dinner and some rest before what would be their second sold out show in a row. Around 9:00 PM, Poor Man's Whiskey opened the evening. What started out sounding like a traditional vibe, quickly expanded into an effect-filled jam that had folks moving. Through an hour and fifteen minutes, PMW dug into a bunch of ripping material that took on a rock feel, with drums and electric guitar. The amount of space that they created was fascinating and much heavier than your normal bluegrass band. As their set passed the mid-point, the venue was packed and more folks were streaming in to party. Toward the end of PMW's set, the room was full and buzzing, as was the band who was clearly having a good time! Towards the end of their set, the band dove into a fantastic version of Paul Simon's "Boy In The Bubble," triggering a massive applause! Upon the conclusion of their set, they were greeted with compliments from the Denver Bluegrass Generals backstage.

The Denver Bluegrass Generals hit the stage around 10:30 PM and began with Jimmy Martin's "Sunny Side of The Mountain" with Sam Bush fielding the vocals. Up next was a song that the Del McCoury Band once recorded, Larry Keel's "Mountain Song," which was a definite crowd favorite. Andy Hall lead the charge on Tom Petty's "American Girl." The crowd went nuts and sang along loudly leading up to the solo section which was impressive and deep. "Funk 42" followed with similar depth and crazy instrumentation.

"Spank you! We've got just a whole variety of things you can do with these kinds of instruments. Here's one more on the bluegrass side that we'll do for you..." - Sam Bush

"Ole Slew Foot" triggered the room to move and bounce like crazy as the band tore through solos with precision. As Sam Bush sang the chorus "Some folks say he looks a lot like me," Larry Keel yelled "Sam" into the microphone. On the next round Sam playfully sang "some folks say he looked a lot like Keel!" It was a humorous moment that reflected the light vibe on stage and how much fun the band was having playing with one another. "Get It While You Can" was lead by Andy and included a heavy solo from Larry that had people shaking their heads with delight. A song that Doc Watson used to do, "Ground Hog," featured Larry's deep vocals and warm laugh as he picked along. "Old Joe Clark" followed with Chris leaning into the banjo and Sam Bush on fiddle. It was interesting to think of how many times in history this song must have been played and to think that it had probably never been picked in an arcade made me laugh. The mid-section was extremely loose and progressive. It was incredible to watch the younger musicians playing with the creator of the genre in which their music falls. There were so many smiles and there was so much respect for Sam Bush throughout the two nights. The bridging of the traditional "Old Joe Clark" with a such an incredible and progressive jam, made me realize how lucky we were to be witnessing such magic.

Earlier that evening I had the pleasure of seeing Fareed Haque, Tony Monaco and Greg Fundis at Dazzle. I was blown away by their incredible output and it was nice to break up my weekend a bit with a little Jazz. I glanced at my phone and noticed that I had received a text from Fareed saying that he was on his way. I met Fareed and Greg out front and took them to the greenroom where we were later joined by Tony. I looked forward to the possibility of my favorite guitarist sitting in on a bluegrass show. Jeff Black's "Same Old River" featured Sam Bush on the mic and included beautiful solos all around to close the first Generals set of the evening. They returned to the greenroom with excitement from the output of the first half of their second night. One set remained and the band began to relax and get loose for what was sure to be the climax of the weekend! Before they took the stage for the final set, the band huddled up as Chris shared his gratitude for everyone's presence that weekend.

The Generals returned with a hop in their step and began with "Doin' My Time!" Larry sang and picked with fury as the crowd hooted and hollered with appreciation. Andy lead the way on "Head Over Heels In love With You" before Chris upped the tempo and fast paced solos ensued. Andy then welcomed a couple of the evening's special guests to the stage; Fareed Haque and Emily Clark! The crowd went wild with excitement!

"We like to do stuff that hasn't been done before and that's why we love playing here in Denver, because you guys are so appreciative. We can get musicians together, we can make a band and you guys appreciate it and we love that..." - Andy Hall

Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman" came next to the delight of the capacity crowd. People screamed the words loudly along with Emily's beautiful vocals. Fareed leaned in with descending licks following Emily's line before Larry took over walking towards Fareed with a huge smile on his face. Then my hopes and dreams came true when two of my favorite guitarists on the planet battled it out. The hair stood up on my arms and a solitary tear fell from my cheek as the room erupted. As Fareed waved and went to step off the stage, Andy insisted that he remain for another, to which he obliged.

"Hey, how many people have been at the festival all four days?" -Sam Bush

The Steeldrivers' "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey" featured Emily and Andy on vocals. Fareed added some honkeytonk sounding guitar to the mix adding a dynamic sound. The crowd was pleased and so was I.

"Denver, how are you guys doing tonight? It's Saturday night and we've got Sam Bush and Larry Keel and Sam Grisman in the house! Look it, see what's going on up here? You guys gotta step it up, come on. Keel's slammin' beers right here in front of you!" Andy exclaimed with a laugh.

"Hey, I ain't fuckin' scared of you, Hoss... at all," Larry spoke with a rumble, to which Andy laughed.

"The backstage story will come out later," Larry said with a threatening tone before laughs insued.

"Shit, now I am scared. Keel's got that voice, man..." Andy said.

An instrumental tune came next with Chris climbing on the banjo before breaking it down. A short, but sweet "White House Blues" came next with Sam Bush up front and the band picking through some hot licks with speed to the end. A slower number began with some beautiful lines from Keel and Andy before Larry started singing. The song built and built before taking off with Chris ripping on the banjo and flying through notes. Sam Bush picked up the fiddle once again and jumped into Newgrass Revival's "Vamp In The Middle," only slowing for a second to go into an incredible explorative instrumental. The music took a turn towards a different direction with Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" featuring Andy and Emily once again.

"All you can say to this bunch is 'shred!' Shred on boys!" - Benny "Burle" Galloway

Special guest and song-writing legend, Benny "Burle" Galloway jumped up for "Poor House," which featured Burle singing in his characteristic raspy voices. It was a pleasure to have such an influential character join in on the pickin' party! Another instrumental followed with incredible picking and beautiful melodies. Following the final band introductions of the weekend, the Denver Bluegrass Generals jumped into "Sitting On Top of the World," and right from the get go, Larry jumped into a solo at double speed before Sam Bush and Andy stepped up on vocals. Chris then jumped in at double time, eventually passing to Andy before everyone jumped back in and threw down collectively to the end. The crowd cheered and then cheered some more, demanding the return of the battalion. A few minutes in the greenroom yielded a band refueled for one last battle.

The final song of the weekend, Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," started low, meandering along, slowly building. Larry handled the vocals as well as an effect-laden solo before handing it off to Chris who was all over the neck of the banjo. The jam got quiet as all members of the band sunk lower and lower until they were physically kneeling on the stage. They then jumped up and chaotically made what can only be described as "noise" on their instruments until the final note.

"Well that's the weirdest thing I've ever done on stage by far!" -Chris Pandolfi

Chris then thanked the crowd as the Generals returned to the greenroom victorious! The greenroom took on a celebratory vibe and friends came to say hello and party. There were a ton of hugs, handshakes and photos, as well as no shortage of hi-fives. The weekend was a huge success and to my knowledge was the first two nights in a row that have sold out at The 1up - Colfax. As the morning grew later, the party dissapated until all that was left were the staff who were cleaning up the venue, myself and the audio team. It was clear that a massive party had taken place in that room. It was clear that Denver, CO loved bluegrass. And it was clear that the war was not over. The Denver Bluegrass Generals would fight another day...

Jim's Friday Photo Gallery

Jim's Saturday Gallery


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