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SlackerCountry.com not your daddy's country music

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Swallow Hill Roots Fest

We did it. We finally went to a Swallow Hill Music Association event. I know, I know, it’s about time.

The place has been around 30 years and we just now get around to visiting. I can’t really explain how that happened except to say that sometimes it’s hard to get down to Denver from here. We won’t wait so long next time.

So anyway, the Swallow Hill Music Association held its 3rd Annual Roots Fest on March 28th at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, part of the very impressive Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA).

Walking in the venue was fun because there were lots of other events going on at the same time. We could spot the Roots Fest folks by their footwear, though, for the most part. Sensible shoes. Those guys in the tuxes were headed in a different direction.

The DCPA ushers who usually work the operatic events helped out at the Festival. Talk about a culture clash. Music festival-types like us like to get up and wander around in the middle of a show, shop a little at the merch tables, and make frequent trips to the bar (and associated bathrooms). Operatic ushers prefer that the audience take a seat and STAY PUT during the entire performance. And they are generally so polite about it that it’s hard to refuse them. It made for some interesting crowd dynamics – still, everyone was so pleasant and accommodating that I saw no real conflicts (I did have to reprimand one of our group for placing his foot squarely in a seat while crawling over the rows to get out for another beer. Crawling over the rows = good idea. Footprints on the opera seats = not so good idea).

For the Festival, they let us bring our drinks inside the venue. I’m guessing this isn’t usually the case because that place was way too clean and there were no cup holders. On the up side, the drinks had that cool kind of ice you get on airplanes, you know, with the holes in the middle.

The show featured seven acts, headlining with bluegrass favorites, Hot Rize,  and Shawn Colvin. Colvin, however, had a last minute emergency and could not make it but the resourceful folks at Swallow Hill managed to come up with another headliner at short notice – Rickie Lee Jones. I didn’t hear many complaints.

We were all very impressed with Joe Pug. Wow. Just Joe and his guitar and his harmonica. Excellent. Dylanesque. I know you hear that all the time but it’s true. It is. We bought his EP but it looks like you can maybe still get it for free from his website. I highly recommend it. Think we’ll be hearing more from this guy. Watch Joe Pug here.

Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams was way fun.  Six of them in the band – accordion, guitar, bass, drums, tambourine, and more. They covered “Pinball Wizard,” but with a Western beat and a deep deep voice, a la Johnny Cash.

I think their music is meant to be played louder but probably, at the Opera House, they don’t want to make your ears bleed with volume (the sopranos will do that for you even without amplification). And just when I was complaining that they should be louder, they promised a louder song. As if they had heard me. “The Great Unravel” which they claim they wrote just before everything unraveled. And they played a Love Song to Tinkerbell, accompanied by a slide mandolin and a harmonica.

In between sets, Mollie O’Brien came out and sang a very moving version of “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”   Very appropriate.

And then there was The Tallest Man in the World. I’m not going to comment on his height. Whatever. One guy, one guitar, and some moves. A nice big voice with some growl to it, tight jeans, and little tiny steps all over the stage. He was fun to watch and I’d like to see him again. He needs a new name though. Too gimmicky and very hard to google. Who’s going to take him seriously with a name like that? Found him on You Tube, though.

Had to leave during Leo Kottke so missed his set, Rickie Lee Jones, and Hot Rize. Right – we missed the headliners. Regardless, we were plenty happy with what we did see.I delegated the reporting of the rest of the show to our ace cub reporter.
Here is what she had to say about Rickie Lee . .

“Seemed kind of drugged up when she talked. But the singing was awesome. Sounds the same as she did on “Chuckie” back in the day. Amazing when she hits the high notes. New CD about to come out. Note to self: BUY her new CD – good music to make love to – or at the very least to slow dance to (so you know where my head is these days…)

Our cub reporter went on to note that Rickie caught her attention with “Remember Me,” a song about divorce, and “Scary Chinese Movie” – “must have liked it because I wrote it down.”. .

“H called the in-betweens the ‘Mighty Wind Interludes.'”

“So, I suck at reporting when I have been drinking! But suffice to say, I loved Rickie – then I was DONE and ready to go home…”

2 Thoughts on “Swallow Hill Roots Fest

  1. Fine reporting from the Slacker Country stringers. Leo Kottke was amazing as usual, particularly his fingerwork on Bob “Frizz” Fuller’s “From Pizza Towers to Defeat” (Last Train to Chico) and “Akro” from his Clone album with Mike Gordon. Perhaps Leo spent a little bit too much time waxing between songs about a coffee table book on ants (maybe it was just me, but I’d rather hear him play than talk about ant mandibles).

    The musical highlight of the show for me was Hot Rize. This definitive bluegrass quartet dates back 30 years and is anchored by the brilliant Tim O’Brien. The boys were tight and Brian Sutton was also brilliant (hate to over use the word but both of these guys are brilliant) picking in place of the late Charlie Sawtelle (Slade, you were remembered in a big way on this Saturday night).

    The overall highlight was spending time with good friends, listening to good music, and sippin’ some Jamesons from the hip flask, all in support of a fine musical institution, Swallow Hill. Can’t wait until Denver Rootsfest 2010 (oh geez, next year is 2010! Feels like a sci-fi movie!).

  2. My sincere thanks to this crack team of reporters for their coverage of our 30th birthday event. The staff at SHMA worked very hard to put on this event, and we appreciate the support and the review. In fact, I think you’ve come up with a new songline to incorporate into our next big hit, “sensible shoes”.

    Genuine Music, Sensible Shoes. That’s Swallow Hill, folk, acoustic and blues.

    Here’s to the power of music…Tom Scharf, E.D. Swallow Hill

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