Festival Takes- Blues Under the Bridge, Colorado Springs, CO July 30, 2016
” Let’s go to Memphis in the meantime, baby…” – John Hiatt
” Long distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee…” – Chuck Berry
” Bye, bye, so long. Goin’ back to Memphis with a picture and a song..”- Ben Nichols
For one day a year, the asphalt canopy of the Colorado Avenue Bridge shields patrons of Colorado Springs’ finest annual event from the July sun and mountain thunderstorms to attend Blues Under the Bridge. Powered by perhaps its strongest lineup ever, the 2016 BUB delivered a kick in the pants to the city’s torpid music scene and transported fans down the Mississippi River to Soul City, USA, via an iconic blues giant and a white-hot newcomer.
Gone from years past was the flatbed trailer parked next to the tracks, with the drum kit seemingly within high-five range of the day’s Casey Jones. The new stage was a pre-fab with an overhang and back wall that somewhat insulated the band from the nearby rails, but musicians throughout the day could be heard saying, ” we’ll wait till the train goes by to start this one..”, although they usually just cranked up shortly thereafter even if the coal cars were still clanging by on their way to Pueblo.
Opening this year’s fest were local faves Grant Sabin and Jesse Cotton Stone. Their roots blues set ranged widely from Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf to fuzz-laced wails evoking Hendrix. Be sure to catch these guys together and in solo sets at Southside Johnny’s, Alchemy, and Whistle Pig Brewing Co. Check local listings!
With a shift toward a blend of Delta Blues, swing, and boogie-woogie, Eric Boa and the Constrictors then tore into a fine set, showcasing the long-time Boulder sideman’s thorough knowledge of crowd-pleasing blues classics, including Muddy Waters’ ” I Can’t Be Satisfied “, and newer material like Gary Clark Jr.’s ” Don’t Owe You A Thing ”
The surprise addition to the lineup this year was the completely unknown Southern Avenue, reputed to be the current must-see local band in Memphis. Behind only a six-song EP and a single, ” What Did I Do ? “, featuring slide by North Mississippi Allstars ‘ Luther Dickinson, the band has built a huge following on regional blues circuits in their first year playing together. Built around the torrid licks of Israeli guitarist Ori Naftaly and the irrepressible onstage presence of singer/dancer/cheerleader Tierinii Jackson, the high energy soul-roots- blues rockers captured the crowd’s attention and was quickly drawing from the fans’ enthusiasm.
Befitting their home base in the Memphis sound melting pot, the band played a wide range of material, including ( who knew? ) Willie Nelson’s ” Nightlife “, Al Green’s ” So Tired of Being Lonely “, and Prince’s ” Kiss ” , as well as originals. The encore ” Don’t Let Go ” showcased Naftali in a series of solos, at times sounding like John Fogerty on early Creedence.
Legacy blueswoman Shamekia Copeland, daughter of Texas legend Johnny Copeland ( check out his ” Showdown ” CD with Robert Cray and Albert King if you see it in the cutout bin ) has made her own way from New York with a soulful, gospel-based brand of blues. Her set featured tracks from her latest release, “Living On the Outskirts of Love “, as well as a sizzling cover of her father Johnny’s ” Devil’s Hand “. She closed with ” Ain’t Gonna Be Your Tatoo ” and a wild encore of ” It’s 2 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Baby Is? ”
A showing of respect is appropriate in the presence of royalty, and the fans rose in tribute to Memphis icon Booker T. Jones as he strode onstage to join his son Tad and their killer band.
Booker’s set drew broadly from songwriters he has admired over the years– Muddy Waters, Hendrix, Albert King — and was spiced with short anecdotes about his observations of great musicians plying their craft. His own history is astounding – writing and recording ” Green Onions ” while still in high school in Memphis, playing in the house band behind legendary Stax artists like Otis Redding and Rufus Thomas, taking a scholarship to attend the prestigious music program at Indiana University ( and recently receiving an honorary Doctorate ), writing ” Time Is Tight ” while walking along the Seine in Paris, moving to L.A. and producing great artists like Willie Nelson, recording ” Potato Hole ” backed by the Drive-By Truckers and Neil Young on guitar…and living to see even your earliest work hold up over decades and generations of listeners. To have him grace the Bridge stage and close out a gorgeous day at the festival was an extraordinary treat. And a tough act to follow for next year’s fest! As Booker’s huge fan Patterson Hood says, ” see you at the rock show! ”
– Your humble mountain correspondent, Nanker Phledge.