Sunday, March 29, 2009

Swallow Hill Rootsfest

Friends, I do software by day, but I try to be well-rounded.

Last night I went to the Swallow Hill Rootsfest, which had 7
bands. This was the first time I'd seen the newly refurbished
Auditorium Theatre (frequently renamed over the years depending on who
paid for remodels). It's now the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Very
pretty and still has a good view from every seat.

The first band, the Boulder Acoustic Society, was one of my key
draws. Unfortunately, they got a late start and only got to play 3
songs. Great gyspy sound, wild violinist. Have to make do by buying
their record. I especially like their Gothic-sounding cover of Dylan's
"Maggie's Farm."

Second band, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams,
didn't live up to their extravagant name, but did have a few good
points. They have relatives in Denver and their music often referenced
British rock. Did enjoy the slide mandolin interval, which made me want
to try a few new licks on my mando. No particularly great songs, but
were voted "best hats" of the festival.

Third band was a guy named Joe Pug, who has also been invited to the
Mile High Music Festival this coming summer. Not a super guitar
player, but a talented and earnest singer/songwriter/carpenter (yep,
he had a day job and was wearing his Timberlands). One song in
particular, "Bury Me Far from My Uniform," was fantastic. The
protagonist says he didn't ask to be killed, and he tells his mother
not to save a place for him at the dinner table and asks not to be
buried in his uniform so that God can tell him apart from all the
other soldiers. Very cool anti-war sentiment. Made me think of
Wagner's Die Valkyrie, where it's Brunhilde's job to escort heroic
soldiers to Valhalla. This guy won't get to meet Brunhilde and doesn't
want to. He seems to only have an EP out, so will look for this song on

Fourth band was a Swedish singer-songer, calling himself "The Tallest
Man on Earth." Great guitar player (and great setup for Leo
Kottke). His emotive voice reminded me of Steve Forbert. Loved his
lace-up Chelsea boots and the way he ran all over the stage. At the
end, he hastily ditched his guitar so he could do a full bow for the
audience. He should go far.

At the intermission, while looking at the "merch" the talent was
providing (tees and CDs), I spotted a Denver-based (but really French)
singer I'd seen on You Tube, Nicolas Busquet. His cover of 16
Horsepower's "Coal Black Horses" on mandolin is fabulous. He and his
wife(?) seemed delighted that anyone had seen the video.

Band-change interludes were filled by the hosts, Mollie O'Brien, her
guitarist husband Rich Moore, and festival organizer Harry Tuft.
Standouts were a Utah Phillips song, "Starlight on the Rails," and
"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." Believe it or not, this was the first
time I have seen Mollie or Tim O'Brien. She sings as well as Alison
Krauss, but Mollie's more versatile.

Last came the big-time stars, Leo Kottke, Ricki Lee Jones (filling in
for Shawn Colvin), and Hot Rize. Kottke was up to his old trick of
telling hilarious stories while tuning his guitars. Get him to tell
you about the Ant Book. Ricki Lee was also in fine voice, and an
excellent guitar player. Her song about heartbreak is
heartbreaking. What can you say about Hot Rize? Well, I guess you can
say that a person can get hoarse from cheering too much. Tim O'Brien's
mandolin is unspeakably delicious.

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