Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival
August 31 – September 3, 2007
Words and photos by Fred Adams
Labor Day in the Aspen mountains, with some of world’s best bands performing over the course of the four days. The concept seemed enjoyable enough, yet, until one has personally experienced the beauty of the region surrounding the festival grounds, even the most wondrous of imaginations would still not conceive just how majestic the weekend would become.
Legends in the making
The festival kicked off Friday, a day that featured a strong performance from Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, and really shifted in to high gear Saturday when British sensation Joss Stone took the stage.
Stone told tales of love, happiness, loss and heartache, all sung with the soul of Aretha and the enthusiasm of a blushing new bride. Yet this 20-year-old hardly blushed, delivering her set with a presence well beyond her years. “Tell Me About It” was an early highlight, showcasing Stone’s entire band, particularly her three background vocalists. By the time she belted out her hit “Tell Me What We’re Gonna Do Now,” the entire crowd was jumping and screaming, many comparing the beautiful young Stone to the one and only Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
Between sets of the main stage, some of the festival’s very best music took place in the JAS Tent, where bands would perform 20 to 35-minute sets as gears were switched out on the main stage. Saturday, Atlanta’s Ryan Shaw brought his gospel-style, mish-mash funk – part Marvin Gaye, part James Brown – creating the feeling of an old fashioned revival as the crowd bounced and swayed to his ever so danceable tales of love and joy.
Having just grooved to the sounds of a legend in the making in Shaw, the headlining set from John Legend proved to be a disappointment. While Legend can make magic when he sits at his piano, he spent far too much time away from his instrument, walking the stage serving solely as vocalist.
The South rises in the Rockies
When the Brothers took the stage, the festival grounds swelled to capacity yet the volume was not nearly high enough, leaving a bit to be desired during the initial portion of the performance. However, by the time Ron Holloway joined the band for “The Same Thing,” the volume had been adjusted, and the show kicked in to high gear.
“Dreams” saw the show go to yet another level, with an extended solo from Derek Trucks that wowed everyone in attendance. Warren Haynes slowed things a bit as he eloquently sang “And It Stoned Me,” before the Brothers unleashed their full furry during “Black Hearted Woman.” Everyone in the band took their turn on lead, while Oteil Burbridge put down his bass and joined the procession on drums. When the two guitar players returned to the stage, with Trucks wailing on his slide, Haynes stepped to the microphone and sang the instrumental lead, sending the band in to a “Mountain Jam” that also includes glimpse of The Grateful Dead’s “The Other One,” bringing a well played set to a magnificent ending.
Revival, family style
The South would again be represented on the festival’s third and final day. Jackie Greene kicked the day off with enjoyable set to kick off the day before giving way to Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival. Vocalist Mike Mattison took the lead early in the show as the band opened with “Tell the Truth,” the first of two Derek & the Dominoes songs Trucks had performed during his recent tour with Eric Clapton.
Tedeschi was at her best when putting down her guitar and focusing solely on vocal duties, particularly during “I Wish I Knew” and “The Feeling That Music Brings. The band was at their very best when, however, as Tedeschi and Mattison shared vocals during “Soul Serenade.” With two singers standing by his side, and three world class percussionists (Yonrico Scott, Count M’Butu and Trucks’ younger brother Duane) keeping the groove, Trucks and his lone Gibson guitar remained center stage, leading his extraordinary band (which also included Kofi Burbirdge, Ron Holloway and Todd Smiley) through an awe inspiring set that vastly exceeded all expectations.
Gov’t Mule would bring the festival to a hard rocking end with a two plus hour set that was heavy on the band’s new songs, combined with health dose of Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. While the Mule is always at their best when performing their own material, the trilogy of “Since I’ve Been Lovin’ You,” “She Said, She Said,” and wicked instrumental “Tomorrow Never Knows” was as impressive as any performance the entire weekend.
“Unring the Bell” (during which Warren Haynes again teased a glimpse of the Dead, this time in the form of “Shakedown Street”) was perhaps the best of the new Mule songs, leading in to equally strong renditions of “Streamline Woman” and “Brand New Angel.” Having just completed their covers for the day after slowing the set down with “Love Me Do,” Mule closed the set in classic fashion with drummer Matt Abts leading the “Thorazine Shuffle.”
With Haynes booked to perform a solo set in Aspen at 8 PM, it was surprising to see Mule performing well past 6 PM, and then returning to the stage for an encore. But, people had traveled far and paid good money for the show, and Haynes wanted to leave them all with a smile. And what better way to end a magnificent weekend than with Mule’s true anthem, “Soulshine.”
The Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival was a smashing success. With attendance for the four days coming in at just over 33,000, those seeking new music saw some of our time’s best up-and-coming bands, and those looking for familiar favorites witnessed legendary artists that remain on top of their game. The end result was a great time for all, making this festival everyone should attend before their days are done.