Jazz Aspen | 08.29 & 08.30 | CO

Words by: Brian Heisler | Images by: Tobin Voggesser

Jazz Aspen Snowmass :: 08.29.08 & 08.30.08 :: Snowmass Village :: Snowmass, CO

Catching only Friday and Saturday of the monster five-day weekend festival, just two nights offered plenty to be blown away by.

Friday, August 29

Jimmy Herring - WSP :: Jazz Aspen 2008
With only one major stage and three artists per day at Jazz Aspen Snowmass, each set was highly anticipated and packed with energy. The British funk of The New Mastersounds opened Friday to a thin crowd in the hot Colorado sun while a much heavier crowd gathered for the unique sounds of Xavier Rudd. The often one-man band played with a drummer and commanded the slide guitar on "Messages," capturing the crowd with his emotionally-saturated music. "Come Let Go" segued into "Food in the Belly," which was followed by a drum solo. The crowd chimed in to follow along with Rudd on "Let Me Be," and while the sun beat down, dancing still ensued. Segueing into "Rockin' in the Free World," Rudd brought the feeling into a rock setting, which was in great contrast to the closing instrumental.

The second night of a two-night Widespread Panic run was short but strong. An almost unrecognizable, clean-shaven John Bell took the reins of the stage as the sun went down over the slopes of Snowmass. Beginning with "From the Cradle," the band and crowd were immediately in sync and off on a journey together. As has been the case for the past year and a half, Jimmy Herring led much of the jams, ripping a solo to end the opening song. The only band that played two sets ended its first set with "Visiting Day" and "Give."

By the second set, the sun had entirely retreated behind the mountains, which, in turn, dropped the temperature to make for a typical chilly Rocky Mountain night. Set II opened with "Walkin' (For Your Love)" but the first highlight was "Blue Indian," as the crowd cheered and warmed itself with dancing. "Chilly Water" was appropriately the overall highlight of the night. As JB hit the familiar lyrics, the crowd tossed what was actually very chilly water into the air. The cold was uncomfortable enough but the addition of damp clothing somehow just seemed like part of the deal and there was no mercy from those throwing water. Segueing into "Drums," then "Bust It Big" and back into "Chilly Water," it was the first true extended jam of the night. The encore closer of "Goin' Out West" also perfectly fit the ambience of the Rockies and what was once the new frontier of the country.

Saturday, August 30

Bob Dylan :: Jazz Aspen 2008
The soulful sounds of Nikka Costa began the day on Saturday. The rain picked up towards the end of her set and festivalgoers ran for cover in between change over on the main stage. Many sought refuge in the Outside Music Lounge, which featured the funky sounds of Underground Orchestra. The more it rained, the more the tent stage was rockin'. Ziggy Marley was welcomed by a dry crowd after the rain ceased. Donning his standard green jacket and a t-shirt with a peace sign, Marley opened with "True to Myself." The set included a few favorites from his dad's repertoire such as "Trenchtown Rock," "Lively Up Yourself" and "Jammin'." Between songs, Marley occasionally took the opportunity to offer a message, for example, "Freedom is good for you. If you're too lazy, one day you won't have your freedom. Watch out for your freedom." He continued with the political "Be Free." Closing with recent radio hit "Love is My Religion," the crowd sang with Marley. As the song neared its end, Marley waved goodbye and quietly left the stage, while the band finished the song.

The talk of the town on Saturday was Bob Dylan. He was the most anticipated artist of the weekend, and he delivered what was expected, which is hard to call impressive or even satisfying. Like a fictional character silently riding in on a white steed, with instant command, Dylan took the stage fifteen minutes late in his unique white suit and hat, while the band wore all black. In many ways, the years have been rough on Dylan, who did not play guitar all night, but rather stood and played the electric piano, which was impossible to hear. Lyrics were almost impossible to make out during the entire performance, and at no time did Dylan's singing ever match the same organization of the original form on the studio versions. It seemed as if he was content with a song's lyrics and structure as long as he mumbled something close to the correct wording somewhere between the beginning and end of the song.

All that aside, no one left because, after all, it was the legendary Bob Dylan, one of the greatest songwriters of all time, rocking in the mountains nearly 50 years after we first came to love him. The set opened with an odd version of "Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35." The night drew from all over the largest song catalogue in the history of rock & roll. The classic Dylan harmonica came out for a few blues tunes, which was one of the more impressive musical parts of the evening. Even with the strain of understanding the words, the encore was still somewhat magical. The quintessential Dylan song, "Like a Rolling Stone," captured the crowd and the whole vision of Dylan in general. The performance ended with "All Along the Watchtower," a tune often credited to Jimi Hendrix for truly building its fame, but Dylan and his band put a strong rock spin on the song, leaving on their most powerful note. Amidst the cheers, Dylan and the band stood together for one big bow, and without a word the legend rode off into the night still wrapped in the mystery.

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