Words by Kathy Foster-Patton :: Images by Tobin Voggesser

Shanti Groove :: 10.22.05 :: The Fox Theatre :: Boulder, CO

Shanti Groove :: 10.22 :: The Fox, CO
Boulder's favorite progressive jamgrass band, Shanti Groove, set quite the stage for their third annual Fall Barnburner at the Fox Theatre on Saturday, October 22nd. A huge barn backdrop dominated the performance area, with flames licking out of its windows. Corn stalks covered the floor, and dust churned in the air while tapers set up their equipment in the back of the theater. There was so much pumpkin, squash, and Indian corn that the place looked like one of the corn mazes that charge admission at this time of the year. Fans trickling in prior to the show lingered next to the stage, eying the chicken cutouts and a pig with a pumpkin head.

Shanti Groove, whose music is categorized as progressive bluegrass, jamgrass, or sometimes just "groove," has developed a following among those desiring an eclectic mix of music with an underpinning of acoustic lines. They've spent a lot of time on the road over the past year, but for this show, they were performing in front of their hometown crowd in Boulder, Colorado, on one of their favorite stages. On top of that, to coincide with the performance, they were releasing their CD/DVD of the 2004 show: Home at the Fox. If the stage was any indication, they were planning to go all out.

Jason Flournoy :: Shanti Groove
10.22 :: The Fox, CO
The opening jamgrass act, Head For The Hills, warmed up the audience, getting the toes to tapping and enticing many to the dance floor. The crowd cheered when Shanti Groove's Jason Scroggins jammed with Head For The Hills during their last song. Shortly thereafter, Shanti Groove in its entirety entered the stage unceremoniously, announced by a loud "Yee-haw!" from the audience. They kicked things off with the crowd-favorite Scroggins original "River's Mould," which filled up the dance floor in no time. And so the evening got rolling, with musical forays into the edges of bluegrass, jazz, blues, rock, and even a few phrases of Irish thrown in every now and then for good measure.

Along with guitarist Scroggins, John Heiland worked the mandolin, Jason Flournoy was on banjo, Chris Carland wailed on the drums, and Juri Freeman held down the upright and bass guitar, sometimes with a bow. Four of the five band members took at least one turn at lead vocal, and half of the song selections were instrumentals, showcasing their musical prowess. They are all excellent musicians, even though at first glance they seem to be unlikely partners. Freeman doesn't look old enough to drink the beer he was having at the set break, and the burly Carland could be mistaken for a Denver Bronco defensive lineman — especially when he snarls while pounding on his drums.

Shanti Groove :: 10.22 :: The Fox, CO
The members of Shanti Groove like to keep their shows fresh by focusing on their own original work, mostly written by Flournoy, Scroggins, and Heiland. Interspersed with their tunes, they mix music from across the spectrum. During the first set, Fluornoy sang the traditional bluegrass standard "Nine Pound Hammer" in his unique, old-time voice taking the audience back to the hills. They followed up with Heiland's "What's The Matter With Me" and some other band originals such as, "Blackjack" and "Barstool," both of which allowed them to concentrate on their favorite things: extended musical breaks, high speed picking, and a revved-up audience that continued to heat up as the night progressed.

Juri Freeman :: Shanti Groove
10.22 :: The Fox, CO
Before the show, as they worked on their set list, Heiland spoke for the group and their expectations for the evening. "We like the audience to be part of the show. We'd really love to have them on stage with us." He pointed out the bones of a devoured chicken on a table and hinted that chickens would play a major role in the show. True to his prediction, as the band cruised through their own "Chicken Fried Steakdown," a conspirator in a feathered suit strutted onto the stage and began handing out chicken masks to the audience. As the song ended, someone who was obviously familiar with the set list screamed out, "Burn It Down!" It was time for the drummer, Carland, to sing, and did he ever. Finishing out the set, he belted out the Talking Heads song "Burning Down the House," while the crowd went nuts. He has a great voice and should sing more often, especially considering the reaction he received.

Both Flournoy and Freeman are exceptionally talented musicians and performed some mind-blowing licks. Playing with their eyes closed, fingers flying over the strings, they alternated between oblivion and then reconnecting with the audience. The other three musicians brought high-energy attitude to the stage. Scroggins bounced tirelessly throughout the evening, interacting with the fans in the front rows. Heiland started out the second set doing jumping jacks. Carland put on his own show with trademark grimaces during his drumming; he looked as though he was ready to take a bite out of someone.

Shanti Groove :: 10.22 :: The Fox, CO
The second set abounded with farmyard references. After the break, the majority of those in the audience were outfitted in chicken masks on the fronts or the backs of their heads. The chicken man appeared on stage again along with a woman in a cow costume. Heiland started out the set wearing a pig nose. The crowd was into the scene and poured back onto the dance floor as soon as the set started. The second song was "Cluck, Old Hen," another bluegrass standard, which Flournoy tore up. They continued to mix their own work with traditional numbers like "Pike County Breakdown," an instrumental by Bill Monroe and Rupert Jones.

Shanti Groove has become more polished and seasoned over the years and knows exactly the sounds they are looking for in their music. In perhaps a sign of their evolution as musicians, there was no sign of Freeman's battered old standup bass, which he used for the first few years of their existence. It has been replaced with a gleaming portable upright. He switched off between that and his electric bass guitar, sometimes using a bow on the upright instrument. The finish of Flournoy's banjo head was worn through all the way to the plastic. He likely dares not replace it; he might jinx that magical sound that he commands from it. Heiland frequently made his acoustic mandolin sound like an electric guitar; not satisfied with that, he would periodically trade it off for a real electric version.

Shanti Groove put on a great show. The audience left tired but elated from a full evening of dancing and groovin'. Before the show, one band member commented, "We really would like to have the audience on stage with us. In the future we'd like to do the set break with a Karaoke machine." I wouldn't be surprised to see that happen one day. Meanwhile, they say they'll be back at the Fox again next year for the 4th annual Barnburner. In the next few weeks, they're hitting the road for Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and then back to Colorado, sharing their style of groovin' music.

11.04 | Quixote's True Blue | Denver, CO
11.06 | Copper Mountain Ski Resort | Copper, CO (w/ Great American Taxi)
11.10 | The Bottleneck | Lawrence, KS
11.11 | Mojo's | Columbia, MO
11.12 | George's Majestic | Fayetteville, AR
11.18 | Pioneer Inn | Nederland, CO
11.19 | Mishawaka Amphitheatre | Fort Collins, CO
12.17 | Yeti's | Breckenridge, CO
12.30 | Cervantes' Masterpiece | Denver, CO (w/ Moonshine Still)
12.31 | Cervantes' Masterpiece | Denver, CO (w/ Moonshine Still)

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[Published on: 11/2/05]

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