Bluegrass for Vann

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Sixth Annual Mark Vann Foundation Holiday Benefit
Boulder Theater
Boulder, Colorado
December. 6, 2008

With a large group of musicians joining in for the event, the sixth annual Mark Vann Foundation Holiday Benefit honored the late great genre-bridging banjoist in true family style. While Vann’s former outfit, Leftover Salmon, was not on the bill, Salmon-ites Vince Herman (sporting his new buzz cut) and Drew Emmitt (still a shaggy-haired country boy) were prominently in the house with their respective off-shoots, Great American Taxi and The Emmitt-Nershi Band.

Fat-Rabbit0489_1.jpgThe evening was about more than just great roots music. A host of local artisans donated a variety of wares that were (silently) auctioned, raffled and sold in the name of the MVF, which helps support the work of local non-profit arts and charity groups. From hand-painted wine bottles and beautifully designed posters to a custom-made Leftover Salmon wooden jigsaw puzzle by Liberty Puzzles of Boulder and an autographed acoustic guitar, the dedicated volunteer staff helped move all kinds of festive handiwork to raise money in memory of a beloved musician and worthy local causes.

The evening started out nice and relaxed, with Fat Rabbit (featuring members of Boulder’s Shanti Groove) playing a short-but-sweet sax-tinged set followed by the Pete Kartsounes Band, an acoustic-based act that stirred up some of the "festival" spirit with its jamgrassy tunes including "Journey’s End" and "Hoedown."

Oakhurst-Backstage_0785_1.jpgNext up was singer/songwriter and former GAT guitarist Jefferson Hamer and friends (including Greg Schocett on mando and tele and K.C. Groves, of Uncle Earl, on mandolin and fiddle). Hamer and co. worked through a pleasing set of tunes including uplifiting versions of the old-time classics "Lazy John" and "I’ve Endured."  

Other groups that joined in for the first part of the evening included the talented Greg Schochet Trio (Schochet saw quite a bit of stage time over the course of the night, as he sat in with a few different bands) and the Denver-based jamgrass outfit Oakhurst, which tore through a high-energy banjo-spiced set that had the steadily growing crowd up and dancing. These boys from Denver would likely have put a smile on Vann’s face. Their spirited performance served as a fitting warm-up for one of the most anticipated sets of the night by Great American Taxi, which included Tim Carbone on fiddle.

CarboneVince1.jpgTaxi dialed up the fun-ometer with hot versions of some of its more recent material, including keyboardist Chad Staehley’s "New Millenium Blues" and "Reckless Habits," both of which featured Staehly’s brilliantly evolving vocals and key work. The band’s new drummer, Chris Sheldon, staked a claim for himself as a talented musician on the jam scene. He appeared to be both relaxed and powerful in his playing as he laid down the beat for the latest iteration of the Taxi. And, naturally, Vince had the crowd hooting and singing along on versions of "One of These Days"  and "Good Night to Boogie," which featured his his 16-year-old son Silas playing his six-string hollow-body for a crowd pleasing solo. Warming up for it’s big second trip to the studio Taxi also nailed nice versions of "Tough Job" and "Sandy River." 

Vince&Drew_0855_1.jpgWith one foot planted firmly in bluegrass and another tapping lightly towards jam land, the Emmitt-Nershi Band kicked up pleasing clouds of roosty acoustic dust on tunes including nice takes on "Restless Wind," "Black Clouds" and "Love is Like a Train." With Andy Thorn (formerly of Larry Keel’s band Natural Bridge) on banjo, the uber skilled Tyler Grant on bass, former string cheeser Billy Nershi on vocals and guitar and Drew Emmitt in the mandolin and vocal slot, the band, which is currently in the studio and then heading south to play on Jam Cruise, is surely poised to be one of the next big acts on the festival circuit.

In honor of the banjo, the six-member "Banjorchestra" (featuring mother pluckers from the various bands in attendance) took the stage to tear off a multi-thumbed skin-stretched number before giving way to the grand  finale, which included a mother jam that took in a stage-bending 20 plus musicians, including soulful Boulder singer/songwriter Reed Foehl. The cluster jam was surprisingly cohesive and rocking.  The jam featured extended group power jams on a version of "Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms" and a huge version of Neil Young’s "Helpless" to close out a great evening of musical fun and civic duty, done Rocky Mountain style.

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