Greeley Blues Jam by Jim Stick

Posted on 7/08/2010 by Jim Stick

Colorado is known for its' 300 days of sunshine a year. That fact, along with normal low humidity and cool crisp nights, makes Colorado a usually ideal place for an outdoor blues festival. Sure it might get some afternoon thunderstorms in the summer months but a non-stop three day soaking rain? Naw--that's reserved for the midwest or a place like Seattle. But unfortunately for the Greeley Blues Jam in Greeley, CO, mother nature showed her unpredictability by unleashing just such a steady downpour at this year's event.
The weather could have had disastrous results for any festival. But with some quick thinking, a little bit of luck, and the steely determination of a dedicated group of volunteers---this year's Greeley Blues Jam was miraculously pulled off.

(Left) Tim "Too Slim" Langford of Too Slim & the Taildraggers

The weather could have had disastrous results for any festival. But with some quick thinking, a little bit of luck, and the steely determination of a dedicated group of volunteers---this year's Greeley Blues Jam was miraculously (and the word "miraculously" might be an understatement) pulled off.

The outdoor portions of Friday night's activities were hampered by the rain which came and went early but by halfway through the set of Too Slim & the Taildraggers from Seattle, WA--it started pouring rain, with a little hail mixed in, and the rain never stopped in Greeley until Tuesday. Amazingly the crowds were pretty good sized despite the weather. A lot could be contributed the energetic set laid down by Too Slim & the Taildraggers. This band gets it due in the northwest of the USA, where they have a huge following. But they are grossly underrated and under-appreciated in the national blues media. This was the first time in around five years they had made it to Colorado and the crowd was loving every minute of it. Tim "Too Slim" Langford's sizzling slide guitar work had many people dancing care free in the cold and penetrating Colorado rain. Later that night at eight bars all within a two block radius of the outdoor downtown events--the best of the Colorado blues bands played and it was hilarious watching people make mad dashes from bar to bar in the driving rain. The local newspaper (The Greeley Tribune) commented in an editorial after the festival that they had never seen the downtown area "hopping the way it did Friday night".

The festival was scheduled to start on Saturday morning at the Island Grove Arena which hosts the Greeley Stampede every year-- one of the biggest rodeo's in the country. Wisely they sod the floor of the arena for the day of the festival (and then sell it used the next day). But even with that, when the sound crew showed up at 9am, the sod on the arena floor was covered with ankle deep water and with no end in sight to the rain--they said they just couldn't do the sound outdoors on that day. That set the heads of the Greeley Blues Jam organizing committee (Al & Pam Bricker) into an "OMG what the heck are we going to do" train of thought. They met with Tom Welch, the manager of the Island Grove park complex and asked about the indoor event center on the property and very luckily there was nothing scheduled for it that day. After numerous details to be ironed out at 10am they made the decision to move the festival indoors. However it was scheduled to start in one hour so their work was cut out for them.

They mobilized their army of volunteers and got to work setting up the venue. Notably Fine Audio from Denver that was doing the sound had about the toughest job to do. They had two sound systems for the two stages set up outdoors and now they had to tear them both down in the pouring rain and quickly set them back up again inside. One major problems was averted when Matt Larson of Kenny's Steak House graciously allowed the event to use their liquor license for the indoor facility.

When I arrived shortly before 11am--less than one hour after they made the decision to move the festival--I could hardly believe my eyes. The indoor venue was set up and looked almost ready to go. The food vendors were setting up, the two stages were set up, and chairs had been set up for the VIP section. If I hadn't known better it looked like they had planned on being there all along and had spent a couple of days getting ready. Moving the two sound systems would prove to be the most time consuming but by 12:25---around two hours after they decided to move the festival indoors--the Colorado blues stage was rocking with the sounds of the Blues DoGs. The word "miracle" was on most people's lips. Colorado blues bands played throughout the day on the second stage while the mainstage acts were setting up. There is a LOT of talented blues bands in Colorado and I noticed a lot of the national acts paying attention and digging what was going down on the Colorado stage.

(Above) Kerry Pastine---lead singer of The Informants.

The main stage started out with Colorado's own The Informants. This band tied for the Best Self Produced CD at this years' IBC in Memphis, has had Dan Ackroyd play their music on his national blues radio show for over a year, and has been getting serious national airplay on the Sirius satellite XM blues station. This high energy blues-based R&B band had the crowd jumping from the start and showed why they are knocking on the door of being a national touring act. Go download the song "Salvation" from their last CD "Crime Scene Queen" and you will immediately understand the buzz about them. This band loves to have fun and they convey this vibe very easily to a live crowd.

(Above) Polly O'Keary bass player of Too Slim & the Taildraggers.

Next up on the main stage was Too Slim & the Taildraggers--all rested up and dried out from their rainy outdoor adventure of the night before. Heck they are from Seattle--they probably felt right at home. They were simply on fire on Saturday afternoon. It was one of the better sets I have heard in a while. Mention must be made of the superb rocking rhythm section of Polly O'Keary on bass and Tommy Cook on drums. Ultra tight--they have a great chemistry between the two and give Too Slim a solid rocking foundation for his formidable guitar playing. I'm not sure at all how O'Keary can move and play so hard on stage, especially at the altitude of Colorado, but she pulled it off (with a few deep breaths in between songs) and a big smile never left her face the whole weekend. A high point was O'Keary's emotional singing of "The Light" from Too Slim's last CD--"Free Your Mind". Many people came up and told me it was the highlight of the festival to them. Hopefully Tim Langford and his bandmates will get their just due when their next CD comes out (hopefully this winter). They played some of their new songs over the weekend and they were very, very good.

(Above) Shemekia Copeland

Shemekia Copeland hit the stage next and she is hard to top when it comes to female traditional blues singers. She told the audience she was very moved by the number of people from Colorado who came up to her before her set and told her stories of her late father--Johnny Clyde Copeland--playing around Denver many years ago. Copeland in turn moved many Colorado blues fans with her set which drifted in between soulful blues and gospel. Her touring band were solid seasoned blues professionals and it was easy to hear why she has won so many blues awards in Memphis over the years.

(Above) The sensational Sonny Landreth

Sonny Landreth was next up and he is just in a class by himself and in his own world as a guitar player. He has developed his own unique style and has perfected it with years of touring and playing. A special treat for his set was longtime friend Steve Conn sitting in on keyboards and accordion. Landreth and Conn have recorded together and used to play together in Colorado around 1980 before Landreth returned home to Louisiana to embark on the musical path he is on now. Conn is now based in Nashville putting out some solid Americana style recordings. The result was a top notch set that technically was off the charts. Landreth coaxes the most tasty and beautiful sounds out of his guitar with his slide playing. If angels in heaven play music--it would sound like Sonny Landreth.

Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds finished off the night on the main stage and they did not disappoint. Wilson is the only original member left from over 30 years ago when the T-Birds started and he is still at the top of his game as a frontman, singer and harmonica player. Wilson always has great guitar players with him and his current line-up features two killer players in Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller. Moeller in particular was outstanding and quickly made people forget about the many famous name guitar players who have played with the T-Birds in the past.

Overall it was a great festival with a marvelous diversity to the main stage line-up. Many different shades of the blues were heard during the day. It was the second year for the Greeley Blues Jam and the fifth if you count the three previous years when it had a different name. This is not the typical resort town or major metropolitan city that you think of when you think of a place for a blues festival in this state. But from the all volunteer group that organizes the festival, to the many businesses that financially sponsor it, to the Chamber of Commerce and the city government---it is truly a shining example of how a mid size town can get behind an event and put on a successful blues festival.

I asked Tim "Too Slim" Langford what he thought of the festival (that you should look at attending next year on the second weekend in June)--he said:
"What a wonderful group of people who put on the Greeley Blues Jam. My hat is off to Al & Pam Bricker, the sound and lighting people and all of the volunteers who had to overcome such overwhelming obstacles due to the bad weather and get the festival moved indoors. It went off without a hitch. It was our first time in Greeley and the crowd was fantastic. We had such a great time performing for everyone. The people in Greeley were so friendly and accommodating. We hope they will invite us back someday."

©Jim Stick, 2010

Stay with American Blues News all summer as our coast to coast blues writers travel to and report on the many wonderful blues festivals held in this country.

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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