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Review: Trinidaddio Blues Festival

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Trinidaddio Blues Festival
Central Park
Trinidad, CO
August 27, 2011

“It felt like boulders tumbling down the hillside towards my house,” said a waitress of the Family Seed II Café describing the 5.3 earthquake that occurred on August 23, 2011 west of the historic mining town of Trinidad, CO. While Trinidad largely escaped Mother Nature’s wrath with some structural damage here and there, a few days later, the town where Bat Masterson once ruled as sheriff was about to experience another seismic rumbling, albeit the sonic kind, better known as the Trinidaddio Blues Festival.

Now in its 13th year, The Trinidaddio Blues Festival is probably not unique, but it’s certainly unusual in that its proceeds go to benefit local charities, not line the pockets of some commercial promoter. A dedicated 14-member volunteer board of directors toils away throughout the year to present another one-day festival that has truly become a community event.

One of the things that makes it appealing is its locale, situated beneath verdant hills and the majestic Fisher’s Peak in Southern Colorado, just 14 miles north of the New Mexico State line. The Trinidaddio not only features bands from along Colorado’s Front Range from Trinidad to Boulder; it’s also close enough to attract New Mexican bands, thus giving each state’s listeners exposure to acts they normally wouldn’t experience.

Trinidad’s own Sunnyside Ups kicked off things with plenty of spunk and vigor; Albuquerque’s Soul Kitchen spotlighted the belting vocals of Hillary Smith. Former Chicago bluesman/now Colorado resident Ken Saydak drew the listeners in with his slow ballads sung by his husky, big bear voice. Though the Albuquerque Blues Connection‘s set was decent enough, it wasn’t enough to whip the crowd into mass hysteria as it had in years past. Still, ABC guitarist David Silva had plenty of fluid melody lines and tasty licks.

What did ignite the day was the incendiary set by Aussie wildman Harper. Indeed, Harper and his topflight Midwest Kind squadron hit it hard, practically attacking each song with a sledgehammer. Harper’s harmonica lines were wicked and on some songs, he played one of three growling didgeridoos that sounded like something from the hinterlands. One didgeridoo was made out of metal and had an adjustable shaft so its pitch could be altered. His songs were intelligent, rife with social messages like “Peace = Love = Freedom” and “Not My Brother” that’s really about narcissism and apathy.

It’s a safe bet that every Trinidaddio has a Chicago blues artist, and this year’s windy city representative was Dave Specter. Specter started out playing jazz-tinged bluesy instrumentals (“New Westside Stroll,” “Stick to the Hip,” “Alley Walk”) before bringing vocalist Sharon Lewis onstage. Lewis turned out to be quite the powerhouse belter in the long line of great Chicago blues singers. “She certainly knows how to deliver a song,” says Jim Primock of the Colorado Blues Society. If her awe-inspiring performance that included a Staple Sisters-inspired version “For What It’s Worth” and a few Chicago blues standards is any indication, Lewis’ upcoming Delmark Records debut should be a dandy.

Only Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys could match the intensity of Harper. A retinue of beautiful women quickly crowded the stage, magnetized by Ledet’s stage presence, cheek-to-cheek smile, and irresistible siren’s voice. Bassist Chuck Bush funked it up in epic proportions while guitarist Anthony Nizzari’s over-the-top, string shredding riffs made for a dandy, good show. A few provincially minded blues purists referred to “zydeco” as “zodiac music,” but for the most part Ledet sent everyone reeling into outer space.

Finally there was darkness on the edge of town and the florescent T-R-I-N-I-D-A-D sign could be seen high above its perch on Simpson’s Rest. That meant it was also time for the most significant blues icon to ever headline the Trinidaddio, the legendary Charlie Musselwhite, who helped write part of history with his role in the “white blues movement” of the mid- to late 1960s. Flanked by knockout guitarist Matthew Stubbs and supported by the unfaltering beats of June Core, the magnificent harmonica player was true to form, playing mostly in the Chicago blues idiom with occasional riffs lifted from jazz. On the sidelines was fellow harp wailer Mad Dog Friedman of Northern Colorado’s Papa Juke, who couldn’t help but admire Musselwhite’s tone and phrasing in a way that only a fellow harmonica player could relate to. “What this is,” he carefully explained, “is straight up Chicago whiskey with a twist of Charlie.” And with that, it couldn’t have been said any better.

—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)

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One comment on “Review: Trinidaddio Blues Festival

  1. Terrific lede and flavorful description of the unique town, seismic embellishments and roster of artists and bands at what sounds like a day to rival any single day music fest. This review and most welcome photos is the next best thing to having been there and added a print-out of this well-written and edited piece to a scrapbook of what poet Al Young called Musical Memoirs.

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