Kelley Hunt

Concert review- Kelley Hunt at the Crystola Roadhouse, Woodland Park, CO 10/19/12

Kelley Hunt and band at Crystola Roadhouse, Woodland Park, CO 10/19/12

The irascible Mr. Phledge heads for the hills to catch some live blues!

When advance notices like these come in, you turn your head:

“Hunt’s latest CD (GRAVITY LOVES YOU) sounds like her best yet – which is high praise considering the quality of her 2009 release, “Mercy”. Hunt’s songwriting shines on powerful, moving compositions like “Deep Old Love,” “This Fall,” “In the End” and the title cut. And she proves she can shine on the keyboard as well – with dynamic inspired playing throughout.”
Terry Perkins ST. LOUIS BEACON

“…Hunt’s vocals and captivating piano playing work together to lift each composition to gravity-defying heights. With each new release – this is her fifth – Hunt’s velvet-smooth voice is further defined.” “This is a superb production with the subtle colors Hunt is famous for…”
BLUES REVUE (Jul/Aug ’11)

“This Kansan is a full-blown phenomenon: Powerhouse singer, hard boogieing pianist, polished songwriter” —-MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE

With local promoters Amy and George Whitesell bringing reliably good acts to the mountains, who could resist a ride up the Ute Pass to the Roadhouse? Way up past Pikes Peak, this joint is loved by a mix of bikers, cowboys, locals, hockey fans, and even Seniors if you happen to roll in there on Mondays, when they only serve bargain burgers and the bluehairs ( ” Smile when you say that, sonny..”) pack the place. But you can add blues fans to that mix, now that we’ve seen a steady stream the likes of Jim Adam, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Samantha Fish, and Chris Duarte roll through this classic Western roadhouse where you can see straight from the diner through the bar to the dance floor and stage. The walls are covered with cowboy photos, hockey memorabilia, Harley-Davidson gear, mounted heads of bison and bighorn, handbills from shows featuring Patsy Cline and Nashville artists, and a place of honor reserved for the poster of Merle Haggard standing next to six cases of George Dickel. They don’t suffer much pretense at the Roadhouse, and how could you, when the smoke from the fire pit on the back deck covers even the well-groomed with a layer of… ahhh, isn’t that Ponderosa Pine? The locals say that if you catch the house vegetable beef soup, yep, that’s the remaining prime rib from Friday in there. Take that, Mrs. McNabb! The barmaids all look capable of whupping any patron’s ass, so there’s rarely even a dust-up that doesn’t quickly end in a call for another round.

( Someone go down there and reel Phledge in, he’s veering way off course..-Ed.)

And don’t forget that huge poster of a very close-up Johnny Cash flipping the bird to the camera that proudly hangs right above the drum kit stand! This note’s for you!

Kelley and the band arrived on time and were ready to go at 8pm sharp, despite having played in Thorold, Ontario the night before. That’s a 6am Eastern wakeup in Buffalo, flights to Vegas and Denver, and a two-hour drive from DEN to Teller County. Despite the brutal travel, Kelley, her manager/hubby Al, and the band were genial and appeared well-rested, chatting up their fans new and old before the show.

The guys is relatively new. Bassist Kenny Ames of Nashville has been with Kelley for three years, but Nashville drummer Hamilton Hardin and Detroit guitarist John Rhoads only came on for the current tour in May. Kelley spoke of how the band reshaping was “all for the better”, and warned fans that these guys didn’t know all of her old material, only selected favorites, including one she later bowed to repeated requests,   ” Queen of the 88s”.

The real ” Queen of the 88s”

A rousing intro by George Whitesell welcomed the band onstage, and Kelley soon displayed the terrific voice and amazing hands that the rave reviews had promised as she moved through selections from her 2011 CD, ” Gravity Loves You”, including the title track, “Music Was the Thing”, “I’m Ready”, and “Land of Milk and Honey”. The set revealed a wide range of styles, including Gospel, Cajun, Jazz, and Blues reminiscent of not only the rockin’ boogie of Jerry Lee Lewis or Fats Domino, but the thoughtful pacing of Gregg Allman, particularly his cover of Jackson Browne’s ” These Days”. Kelley, you oughta work that one into your set! The band was excellent, particularly guitarist Rhoads, fresh off his self-described “Master’s Degree” playing the East Coast with blues veteran Motor City Josh. Notably, despite the vagaries of travel, equipment, and venues, the set ran like clockwork, with no delays for tuning, wiring, or babbling that can plague shows ( sorry Hamilton; drum solos are best suffered from the Men’s Room). A well-paced set is the mark of a veteran in control of her evening, and Kelley made the train run on time.

Late in the first set, Kelley switched over to a big red electric Ibanez and chose two covers: Dylan’s ” Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, and Nick Lowe’s ” ( What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”. The former was particularly moving, with Kelley sharing some remembrances of friends  passing too soon, including one who came dancing toward her in a dream, reassuring her that it was okay to sing “Knockin'” at his memorial. Kelley is a pro, and she might have delivered that intro enough times to do it in her sleep. But Friday night, it seemed to come from the heart, and the response from the crowd was palpable. Though not a ” dance number” by any stretch ( and to call some of that dancing would be a further stretch), the floor was jammed by the end of the song. Many were milling back to their seats when the band launched into the latter tune, perhaps best covered by Declan McManus ( that’s Elvis Costello to you ). Kelley and the band nailed a spirited version, and she proved to be no slouch on the guitar, laying a rhythm base for some soaring solos by Rhoads, he perhaps being spurred by Kelley’s mention of his beloved Tigers’ sweep of the Yankees the night before.

Rockin’ out on the Nick Lowe classic!

During the break, John assured our table that “Queen of the 88s” was one of the early tunes that he and the band had learned for the tour, and that Kelley would break the set list to play it if we asked. Thankfully, a knot of knowledgeable fans around the stage kept banging for ” Mary, Mary..”, the piano teacher who brought out the boogie-woogie in a young Kelley and inspired the song, and soon Kelley had the room jumpin’ with her  storytelling signature tune, backed by a left hand on the keys that Jerry Lee would love and a band reveling in the reason they had traveled all those miles.

” The only time that ever seems too short is the time that we get to play…” – Jackson Browne, “The Load-Out”

Having visited Kelley’s site, I knew the band was headed next for Tucson, some 800 miles away. But none of them seemed daunted by the four-day  Ontario-Colorado-Arizona itinerary. As John pointed out to the Tigers fan at our table, ” It’s Friday night; we don’t have to be there until Sunday”.

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