Few places in this great state are as picturesque and stunning as Telluride. This quant mountain town is the cultural mecca of the southwestern region of Colorado and plays host to several music and film festivals throughout the year. Telluride Jazz Festival is perhaps the most reserved and underrepresented of all of their events, but this year featured an all-star lineup at the famed Town Park Stage. It is the 37th year for Telluride Jazz, and it has been the host to some of the most renowned musicians in the genre. Galactic, John Scofield, Stanley Clarke, and Dr. Lonnie Smith were all headlining; meaning this weekend in Telluride was sure to be one for the books.
My wife and I drove though the night to reach our destination. There was a massive storm percolating over the San Juan Range, which could be seen as far away as Glenwood Springs. Lighting flashed in the distance as we rode over seven hours to Telluride from the Front Range. The one downside is just how far Telluride is from Denver. It’s a trek, but one that is very much worth the trip. As we made our way past Montrose we hit the eye of the storm. Torrential downpour threatened to wash out the road as we finally hit the highway that would take us down valley and into town. We set our tent up in the rain and darkness and quickly went to bed. With three days of music and camping ahead of us, it was time for rest.
We awoke to a beautiful blue sky on Friday morning. For those that have never been, Town Park where the venue is located is actually a campground. This meant we were a mere three hundred yards from the entrance to the festival grounds. The weather all weekend alternated between absolutely perfect to downright drizzly. The music began around 1 PM on Friday with 2013 Band Contest Winners New Sound Underground. These young men had an explosively funky sound. The entire band biked from Minnesota to Telluride. It took around 30 days. With songs like “Natural High” and “Our Thing” it was obvious why these guys rose to the top to win their place at the festival. New Sound Underground put on a great set and it was a solid beginning to this one of a kind festival.
We watched the Telluride Allstars Leaders and Alumni Quintet next on the Town Park Stage. This band had an incredibly dynamic ability just play together. Made up of alumni of Telluride’s all-star program, and lead by Bob Montgomery on trumpet as well as Josh Quinlan on saxophone. Together they direct the program and spread the joy of music. Their set had a super laid back sensibility but with a solid intensity. They ranged from tightly performed jazzy jams to all out Latin detonations. They were impressive musicians.
Nigel Hall has long been known for his work with Royal Family Records. He is currently recording with Chapter 2 as well. His set took on an almost gospel feel as he blended jazz, funk, R&B, and more. They played for just under ninety minutes during which we got a little bit of rain. It was hardly enough to dampen anyone’s spirits. Front Range favorites The Motet lead by Dave Watts took the stage next. They have a sleeker lineup with Jans Ingber on percussion and vocals. With a performance of “Shake Your Booty” the crowd was in sync. They sun began to drift down the valley basking the canyon walls in a beautiful Alpenglow light. The Motet continues to be one of the most versatile bands playing in Colorado. They can pretty much play anything on cue and have spent the last two summers bouncing around the festival circuit. Their set at Telluride was truly spectacular. They invited Nigel Hall back up to the stage to sing on their closing tune.
The John Scofield Uberjam Band closed out Friday night in high musical fashion. This super group is comprised of Scofield on guitar, Adam Deitch on drums, Andy Hess on bass, and Avi Bortnick on guitar and samples. This is an insane collection of talent and their set at Telluride was flawless. Instead of sticking to their straight funk and groove sound they are known for from their first album, they pushed it up a notch utilizing samples and some far out sounds. They performed songs new and old including “Every Night is Ladies Night” and “I Brake 4 Monster Booty.” They recently release a second album, which was the impetus for an extended tour. This group defies genre by simply playing together and riffing off of each other. This was straight avant-garde jazz at it’s finest. At times they included some electronic sampling that was a little off putting, but overall they played an incredible set of music. As Uberjam finished up we walked the short distance back to our camp and called it an early night.
On Saturday Morning I opted out of the first couple bands and made my way via gondola up to the disc golf course. They have recently expanded the course to eighteen holes and it was a lot of fun. We made it to the Town Park Stage for the Doug Lawrence Organic Trio. The word “organic” defines this group nicely. They incorporated some soaring sax work from Lawrence, and focused on some swing-heavy jazz. Musically they were intrepid and impressive. They truly created full sound, which might not be expected from a three-piece group.
Latin Jazz extraordinaires Son Como Son were on the stage next. This eclectic group featured some of the most dance-centric music of the entire weekend. Hailing from New Mexico, this salsa band has the ability to play a wide range of Latin music. From bolero to the cha-cha, Son Como Con lead by Cesar Bauvallet is a nonstop musical powerhouse. This elevated energy Latin experience was yet another highlight from this amazing weekend in Telluride. During their set the festival featured a very popular wine tasting for all of the attendees.
Up next was fan favorite Meshell Ndegeocello. Her sultry voice played a little bit more down key for the audience, but she was definitely a sight to behold. She is a ten-time Grammy nominee; making her one of the most celebrated acts to perform all weekend. She defies categorization by playing off of a wide range of styles and sounds. Her set at Telluride was a gentle trip with an almost minimalist approach, accentuated by impeccable vocals from Meshell. Her set was delicately beautiful. It was another chance to witness some serious talent that many including myself have not had the pleasure of seeing live. She and her band played an awesome version of The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
The festival headliner Dr. Lonnie Smith had been getting rave reviews all day from his set the previous night at the Sheridan Opera House. He only played for about an hour but people were talking about it all day. As he took the stage on Saturday night it was obvious why. This man is a monster on the organ and he has enough tools and tricks to suck in even the most jaded of music fans. His set was a bit delayed due to some technical issues, however he was finally underway around 6:45 PM. The crowd seemed to squeeze in a bit as the Dr. got going. His music was hypnotic, sucking you into a trance like state. This was intense music ranging from straight up funk to all out acid jazz. His set was fire.
Co-headlining the night was Mr. Stanley Clarke and his bass. He is widely renowned for his work, which again seems to defy genre. He is perhaps best known for his project with Chick Corea, but he is truly established in his own right. He has done it all from film and television work to actually inventing two instruments. His set in Telluride was one of the best we saw all weekend. His show went a bit late pushing back all of the Jazz After Dark festivities along with it.
I trekked up the gentle slope to the Sheridan Opera House to see the New Orleans Suspects. They are playing a long set of music in this historic room. This group is like taking all of the greatness of the music of New Orleans and juicing it down into a single serving. The band is made up of members of The Neville Brothers, The Radiators, and Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Does it get any more NOLA than that? They got the crowd moving by playing a massive “Food For Thought.” I hung out for a while, but headed over to Fly Me To the Moon Saloon for a little bit of The Stooges Brass Band. These guys are like a younger Dirty Dozen or Rebirth Brass Band. They are high energy and almost playful at times in their delivery. They had some humorous exchanges especially on “Got A Big Fat Woman.” They were hard hitting funky brass jam. It was enjoyable. They also busted out their own take on “It’s All Over Now” made famous by the Rolling Stones. I headed back to my tent in the moonlight and got ready for day three.
Sunday came far too quickly and it was arguably the best day on the lineup. It began with a parade through the streets of Telluride lead by The Stooges. They all met up at the entrance to Town Park for a jam in the street before Boulder’s own Springdale Quartet started the show. Fresh off of the release of their new album Heist, which was produced by Alan Evans, Springdale has been performing all over Colorado. They won the band contest three years prior and were invited back to play in 2013 at Telluride Jazz. For this special set they decided to play all of Heist for the crowd. It was an excellent chance to see all of the new tracks live. Their performance was absolutely stellar with “IBM 22” and their instrumental version of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” really demonstrated how this band has evolved. Tight bass lines from Jordon Roos accented by Chase Terzain’s keys made for a stunning set. They closed with “Noise Factory” off their first album.
Although I’m highly familiar with Mike Dillon’s work with Garage A Tois and various projects over the years, this was my first chance seeing his new solo group. It’s a percussive collision of the best kind. The band consists of Dillon on vibraphone, Carly Meyers on trombone and percussion, Adam Gertner on drums, Patrick McDevitt on bass, and they also added Johnny Durkin on percussion as well. Their set in Telluride ran from playful to downright sinister. The focal point was an energetic Meyers who bounced around the stage between solos. There were several all out drum and percussion jams that punctuated an incredible performance of music. One jam featured a sit in from Stanton Moore.
“We’re gonna end with 10 minutes of punk rock.” – Mike Dillon
The Stooges Brass Band continued the New Orleans vibe, which would be the theme for the remainder of the evening. They are a bold new addition to the NOLA brass tradition. The Stooges engaged the crowd with their song “Wind It Up” and subsequent dance of the same name. Their energetic stage presence and strong musical ability are truly worth seeing live. They closed with a funked out version of “Hey Baby.” The New Orleans Suspects followed and just as the night before they shredded through a long set that was utterly reminiscent of all things Louisiana. This band seems to distill that Mardi Gras sound down to it’s root elements and just play with them in every tune. Everything about the band is fun. They have a familiar sound without being nostalgic. The New Orleans Suspects are another fresh approach to a music with a very long history.
Appropriately, Galactic headlined the last night with their set starting right around 7 PM. This band has toured relentlessly since they formed 18 years ago as a Mardi Gras band. They invited Mike Dillon out who sat in on percussion for the entire show. Corey Glover who has been touring with the band for the last couple years was there to add his prodigious vocals to the mix. Their performance sparked an all out dance party as the stars became visible in the sky. Galactic invited members the Mike Dillon Band, The New Orleans Suspects, and The Stooges Brass Band to close out their set. It became a massive clusterfunk as the musicians passed around solos and simply jammed it out for the very attentive audience. This was the true highlight of the weekend; witnessing stellar collaboration happening on the fly in Telluride. Galactic finished around 9 PM and the field slowly emptied.
As the eclectic audience headed back to their tents I was struck with a feeling of gratitude to be in Telluride. It’s good to know that festivals like this have a special place. Telluride Jazz Festival is truly a unique experience. It’s a slightly older crowd. There seemed to be more locals in attendance. It is by far one of the most family friendly environments I’ve ever seen at an event. Children ran around in the backfield and played throughout all three days. There were no overlapping sets, so everything felt relaxed. There was plenty of time to head back to the tents, which were only a few steps away from the gate. Security was lax and friendly. As I drove back the next day I was hard-pressed to think of one bad thing about the weekend. If a chill festival experience with some top rate musicians is what you are looking for, get to Telluride Jazz.