Snowy Range Music Festival by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 9/14/2009 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Beautiful Wyoming

Horse "in jail" according to Reba Russell

(Memphis, Tennessee) Last weekend the Reba Russell Band took a Saturday flight from Memphis to Denver, where after unjamming our luggage from the bowels of baggage handling for 45 minutes or so, we caught a ride to Laramie, Wyoming via our friendly driver, Baldy. The affable and intelligent Baldy worked hard night and day delivering musicians to the Snowy Range Music Festival on Labor Day weekend.

Baldy and drummer Doug McMinn

After arriving at the Hilton Garden Inn we went for a sandwich and then a restful nap before the gig. Donna, from Valley Limo Service motored us up to the festival grounds where we prepared the stage to play in a big covered show arena.

Wayne Russell and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Doug McMinn and drums jettison the Lincoln, ready to play

Here's where we played, a stage that was no stranger to Best Rabbit in Show Contests

When we arrived there were just a few folks in the show arena and I wondered if there was going to be a crowd to see us. I then learned that there were many heavy hitters playing on the main stage and that the crowd would meander over before we started. Did they ever! We had loads of animated holiday festival-goers who greeted us warmly and seemed to dig our old Memphis blues and original tunes.

Wayne Russell identifies a microphone

A great partying crowd of blues fans

After our show, Baldy produced a huge bottle of Crown Royal for my thirsty band mates and we hung out to watch Gino Matteo and the Family Phunk. Several of these guys also appeared on the following day in the excellent Blindog Smokin' band. Everybody in this band sings! The Family Phunk is Gino on guitar, Morris Beeks(who once played a B-3 duet with my hero Jimmy Smith) on piano and organ, Gabriel "Gravy" Hartford on synth, clarinet, melodica, sax, and flute, Chris White on bass, and "Chicago" Chuck Gullens on drums. Their deep repertoire thrilled an appreciative crowd of music lovers, many of whom had been entertained earlier by Johnny Lang and Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers. Check out Gino at:

My friend, Morris Beeks, let me play his rig. Thanks, Mo!

Back to the Hilton after the show

We discovered a healthy stash of Dove chocolates on the limo and as we arrived back we found out that many beers and some splits of wine were available for sale at the front desk until about 2 am. Thanks, Hilton.

We meandered over to Jimmy John's for a Gargantuan sandwich and then returned to our comfortable rooms for a long slumber before the next day's gig.

Michael Hurwitz and the Aimless Drifters

After arriving at the Albany Fairgrounds in Laramie, I discovered Dan's homemade green chili stew and was quite enamored with it. Good job, Dan! As I hung out with Gino Matteo in the tent we cracked jokes and had some good laughs before the show. Gino is a genuinely nice guy and a fine musician.

My buddy, Gino Matteo, of the Family Funk and Blindog Smokin'

We hit the stage as the 15 mph Wyoming wind whistled through the main stage on what was a truly beautiful day. The crowd, even at 2pm, was ready to party and hear some blues. I've got to say I really love Wyoming and these kind, down to earth folks who made us all feel at home.

Reba Russell sings on the main stage

Josh Roberts on guitar, Wayne Russell on bass

Eric Sardinas tunes up in the VIP tent as Wayne Russell engages food radar

After our show we wished Gino, Carl and the Blind Dog Smokin' guys well and got to say hello to our old friend Eric Sardinas, who was tuning his electric and a sweet old National Res-o-phonic steel. Carl Gustafson and Blindog Smokin' put on a great show typical of a band that has been blowing for 17 years...seasoned and sweet like good barbecue sauce.

Carl and Gino cut up before the show. That's Carl's wicked purple Harp King.

Wampus Cats Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms and Mojo Schicke reunite

My longtime friend, Mojo Schicke and his dear mom, Jean, drove up to the show from sunny Colorado, where Joe goes to graduate school and allegedly runs a gila monster ranch in between sampling platters of barbecue ribs. He is coming to join me in Memphis the week before Thanksgiving for a trencherman's showdown at the Leonard's catfish and barbecue buffet and maybe a Wampus Cats gig thrown in for good measure. Joe is a superb guitarist.

Joe Schicke and his sweet mom, Jean

Guitarist Josh Roberts and drummer Doug McMinn

Veteran entertainer Carl Gustafson fronts Blindog Smokin'- great blues!

Jerry Pillow of Helena, AR., made it up for the festival

Before returning to the hotel, we walked over to the show arena to hear Jasco and a great band of jazzy-bluesy musicians who can hit everything from rock to soul to Django Reinhardt. As if their superb performance was not enough, they were joined by 14 year-old guitarist Michela Rae, who wowed the crowd and inspired some girls to break out hula hoops.

Check out Jasco at:


Michaela Rae sits in

Old friend, Andy Irvine on bass..he is awesome

Somebody tell me this sax player's name...he was great!



Donna and Reba Russell

Donna whisked us back across the prarie to the lobby of the Hilton where the indigenous Zonker Stout was discovered. It's dark and thick like 40 weight and most very tasty.

Zonker Stout in the lobby of the Hilton

After a light Zonkering, we retreated to the Hilton dining room where a resplendent feast was had by the band including ahi tuna, amaretto clam chowder and giant bison burgers. After dinner Reba organized a card game in the hallway after the lights went out during a thunderstorm. The author, too sated with a delicious repast was unable to keep his eyes open any longer and snoring was allegedly heard coming from his room.

Back to the Denver airport: Josh Roberts, Wayne Russell, Samuel James, Doug McMinn

The next morning we all piled back into the long Lincoln and Donna whisked us across the prairie again to the Denver airport. We had a great visit with blues guitar soloist and all around great guy, Sam James on the long drive.

Check out the purple mountains majesty and stuff in the next series of pictures. I really like Wyoming.

Big sky

Equally big mountains

Home, home on the range

A few oil wells, lots of wind farms

Reba awaits the jet in Denver

Check out her band at Reba

Josh Roberts wonders how one old man can be so irritating

I arrived back in the Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock and Roll, just in time to join the Eric Hughes band at our regular Monday gig at Alfred's on Beale Street.

James Cunningham makes the sign of the cross on Beale Street

25 year Wampus Cats veteran Memphis Mike Forrest strokes the 1968 Stratocaster

It's good to be home. Next week, the Greater Ozark Music Festival in Springfield, MO.

Text and photographs by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

© 2009, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms


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