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Saturday Highlights

See the full gallery for Saturday here

Theme: Monsters vs. Aliens

1. 7 Walkers :: 4:00-7:15 am :: Terrapin Big Top Stage

Bill Kreutzmann by Chad Smith
Bill Kreutzmann returned to Tortugas with his new labor of love, 7 Walkers. Hitting the stage in the middle of the night and playing till well after sunrise, Billy, Papa Mali, George Porter, Jr. and Matt Hubbard took us into the thickest, headiest swampland, brimming over with bayou shuffles, primal rock, psychedelic sparks and other rich, earthy textures. The only break any of them had during this three-hour-plus journey - and if you took the whole trip you really felt like you'd conquered a major peak - was when Papa and Matt paired off for some harmonica pierced deep blues and tender balladry followed by a bass-drums conversation between Bill and George. Each is a marvel in their own right but the chemistry in 7 Walkers just bowled folks over during this set, where they offered almost all of their fabulous self-titled debut, Dead & New Orleans chestnuts and fat-free jams that pounced and tore at one like a hungry gator. 7 Walkers feels vibrantly alert, alive in all the ways that count, and this only seems like the beginning of more and better music to come. [The band killed it again on Sunday night, only 13 hours after this set, where they leaned more heavily on Dead tunes like "I Know You Rider" and a great "Sugaree" with George on lead vocals. What's so cool about this band is how the familiar numbers feel freshly washed and ready to be pushed into service in the way they handle them. The final encore of "Iko Iko" lit up the tent with a light that comes from within, steering our ragged conga line into folklore and festivity with sure hands and hearts.].

2. Guitarmageddon:: 3:00-4:15 pm :: Terrapin Big Top Stage
Under the new leadership of PMW's Eli Jebidiah, this starts-over-the-top celebration of shred science topped themselves with this Prince themed set. Any serious fan of His Purple Mounted Majesty would have stumbled away grinning ear-to-ear after this display that launched with a sizzling reading of "Let's Go Crazy" but then weaved into killer recent tunes ("Chelsea Rogers," "Musicology," "Guitar"), the infamous Black Album ("Rockhard in a Funky Place") and the choicest medley ever ("Raspberry Beret > Kiss > Sexy MF > Little Red Corvette > 1999"). The core band consisted of Eli (guitar, vocals), absolutely stunning heavy hitter Daria Johnson (drums, vocals), bassist Mark Calderon (doing some primo tough-funk bass faces), Tracorum keyboardist Fletcher Nielsen (the "Doctor" suited up in scrubs!) and guitar marvel Sean Leahy, who also summoned up a host of voices to fill different Prince-ly holes. Guest six-stringers included former Guitarmageddon leader Josh Clark (TLG), NM's Jeff Miller, Newfangled Wasteland's Chris Haugen, Tracorum's Louis XIV-attired Derek Brooker and Big Light's Jeremy Korpas, with each cameo suiting the songs to a tee and showing off how much amp-rattling guitar talent resides in Northern California today. The material was well rehearsed but not so much so that flashes of inspiration didn't prevail. The whole gliding, intoxicating set ended in Gold Experience standout "Endorphinmachine." Let's hope that tapers were active during this one because the Minneapolis faithful just gotta hear this performance. One of the absolute best times all weekend.

3. Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers :: 4:15-5:15 pm :: Tuolumne Hall

Nicki Bluhm by Chad Smith
It's a blast to watch an audience be warmed by Nicki and her gifted Gramblers. It starts slow, the potency of their songwriting and their leader's obvious vocal pow scooping one up, pulling them in close, and whispering sweet, softly wise things in their ears. Once snuggled in, well, they've got you and good. Bluhm is a throwback to classics like Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and other strong women who carved their place in the largely male rock game. She's a far cry from the manufactured divas and half-talents that pass for "female artists" in the mainstream today, and it's her abiding quality, natural gifts and good instincts for collaborators that are making her an artist to watch VERY closely. The new songs from her forthcoming sophomore album were uniformly excellent, and as ever guitarist Deren Ney is a haunting knockout, especially when he works a slide. Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers are the full package, and they left Tortugas with a LOT of new fans this year.

4. Sean Leahy Trio :: 12:00-1:45 pm :: The Tavern
Leahy may be one of THE best guitar players you've never heard. His cult amongst Northern Cali musicians and serious music nuts is well established, but it probably wouldn't have taken more than a single tune at this blazing trio set to win over almost anyone with a six-string boner. Lean, fast and highly interactive, Leahy's trio consists of himself on electric guitar and lead vocals with Tortugas all-star Mark Calderon on bass (only ALO/Big Light bassist Steve Adams worked as many sets) and drummer Daria Johnson, equally fantabulous here as her Guitarmageddon stint earlier in the day. The gal is a real talent and a show unto herself – just watch her face if you want a whole movie to accompany the music. Blues, classic rock, fleet-fingered jazz and more were explored in this set, and all of it packed with thick, ropy muscle. When Leahy lets go and trusts in his abilities, as he did here, he's positively superhuman and a joy to watch. Johnson and Calderon are perfect foils, and they even made time for a brief M80 Mailbox cameo, a Leahy project with Dave Brogan and Josh Clark, that included a bruising cover of Rage Against The Machine's "Killing In The Name Of."

Ones To Watch

Five Eyed Hand
The Tavern seemed wonderfully afloat when this SF unit unleashed their energetic, free flowing music on Saturday night. For sure there's a foundation of rock 'n' roll but things sizzle and switch around with the technically possessed feel of Weather Report taken down to "Shakedown Street." Mix in the phased dynamics of Bill Frisell, the swerving violin of Mahavishnu and more than a dollop of quality space rock and you're getting closer to the ballpark. Five Eyed Hand showed being hard to place is a virtue, and jam kids looking to do some traveling between their ears should definitely investigate their self-titled album and fine live show.

Continue reading for Sunday highlights...

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