Telluride Brews and Blues report (long)

Hello, harp-l -

I just returned from a great long weekend in Telluride, Colorado.  Since it
involved lots of blues and lots of harps, I thought I'd tell you about it.

There were actually two events going on concurrently, for a lucky few of us
at least.  The biggest was the 10th annual Telluride Brews and Blues
Festival (TBBF).  The smaller but more eventful for me personally was the
associated Acoustic Blues Camp, a 4-day intensive workshop on blues guitar
and more importantly, blues harp.

The TBBF is quite an experience.  First of all you must consider the
setting, as Telluride is a beautiful mining town preserved as a National
Historic District in the style of the late 1800's.  More importantly, it's
nestled on three sides by the majestic San Juan Mountains of southwestern
Colorado.  All in all a great setting for a festival.  Of course, the most
germane for us was the harmonica player line-up, which was definitely up to
snuff, including Lynwood Slim, Charlie Musslewhite, and Phil Wiggins.
Though there were many other great performances, I'll limit my comments to
the harp-based groups.  Unlike some recent festivals reported here, there
was a healthy harmonica representation, if not in actual numbers, certainly
in terms of the appreciation of the fans.

Lynwood Slim played with Kid Ramos and special guest Hubert Sumlin.  Lynwood
did a fine job of fronting the band, doing the singing and the harp playing.
His harp playing was certainly good, though not as stellar as some of the
players to come.  The most pleasant surprize for me about this band was Kid
Ramos.  The cat can play some blues guitar!  Very exciting, indeed.
Unfortunately, I felt badly for poor Hubert Sumlin.  He is in his seventies,
I'm sure and just had a lung removed last October.  I saw him earlier this
year at an indoors venue several thousand feet lower in elevation where
Hubert looked and sounded great.  This time, he was unable to stand and was
hooked up to an oxygen bottle.  He looded horrible.  He kept having the bass
player warm his fingers between songs so he could pick out anything at all.
What did come out was sub-par by the standards of one of the world's great
blues guitarists.  If you wanna see Hubie, better do it soon, I'm afraid.
BTW, Slim was playing Marine Bands with a JT-30 and one of those impossible
to find Amphenol in-line volume controls.  He used a stage-supplied Twin

Next in order of appearance was Cephas and Wiggins.  Now, I'm prejudiced
here, because Phil Wiggins was the harp instructor at the Acoustic Blues
Camp, which I'll report more on later.  Cephas and Wiggins are some of my
favorite blues players anyway, and Phil was definitely up to fine form for
the Festival and the Camp.  The man blew the top off the Brews and Blues
Festival!  The crowd clearly and vocally appreciated John Cephas' singing
and guitar playing, and he is a very good showman and entertainer as well,
but it was Wiggins who got the standing ovations, over and over and over.
Listening to their CD's I didn't realize what ~hot~ musicians these guys
are.  Of course I always loved Phil's incendiary runs and complicated riffs
and John's exquisite picking but in my opinion, the both of them hold back
on their recordings, I suppose because they want to stick true to the
historical aspects of the Piedmont and Delta blues forms.  But, can they cut
loose!  They lit up the stage and Phil had the crowd of thousands literally
jumping up and down several times.  Don't make the mistake of thinking
Wiggins is limited to the polite, if fancy and articulate Piedmont style.
The cat can clean blow a fiery harp in any blues style you care to mention.
I had the extreme pleasure of attending a Acoustic Blues Camp private party
which featured an instructor jam.  I assure you that both Phil and John can
~really~ get it on in a jam setting.  They both played far harder and louder
and with far more energy than when I've seen them in a more "official"
venue.  It was spell-binding!  That night will never be forgotten, as
Wiggins amazed and enthralled the party time and time again with different
configurations of players and styles, demonstrating an unbelievable
harmonica vocabulary and incredible tone, playing style, and stage presence.
Incidentally, Phil played stock Marine Bands acoustically though the stage's
Shure vocal mic' and PA with no DI box or pre-amp both on stage and at the

Charlie Musslewhite and his fine band played right after Cephas and Wiggins,
making it quite a one-two blues harp punch for the Festival that day.
Charlie seemed more relaxed and laid back than when I've seen him before.
It almost seemed like it took him a few songs to get fired up, with his easy
rapport with the audience and his initially casual approach to his playing.
But he did get ~really~ fired up about half way through his show.  I can see
how these 1-hour Festival slots could be a tough thing for a performer who
needs to get "warmed up" (quite literally, at 9,000 feet elevation with snow
covering the surrounding bald peaks).  But when Charlie got going, look out!
The guy reminded me in spades what a great player he is.  He had the crowd
boiling with enthusiasm by the time he had to quit.  A consummate performer
and stellar harp player, see him anytime you can.  BTW, I was front and
center and could see that he was playing through what looked like a
Sennheiser stick mic', and was using a combination of Meisterclass and SP-20
diatonics and several Hering Chromatics, evidently in different keys.  He
played through a Twin Reverb amp supplied by the stage, and took a good 15
seconds to set it up.  Still, his tone was out of this world!  Also, I found
his technique of using the chrom's to play rhythm harp and horn-style
backups while his other band members soloed very effective and interesting.
Gotta try that sometime.  The band, incidentally, was not surprisingly
comprised of superb musicians.

The rest of the musical acts were of like high caliber, but since they
didn't feature harps, I won't mention them in specific terms.  I'll just say
that the Allman Brothers still kick *ss!

Realizing how long this tome is getting, I think I'll cut it off there and
write about the Acoustic Blues Camp in my next post.  You should try the
Telluride Brews and Blues sometime.  It's an unbelievably beautiful venue
and mining town preserved in the days of the Colorado gold and silver boom.
Superb blues, too!  I had a gas, even though my feet are still killing me...


This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.