The blues, the whole blues, and nothing but the blues
(Or, one man's golden god)

The blues, the whole blues, and nothing but the blues

Rock 'n' roll god Robert Plant lets his hair down on the Town Park stage this Saturday. If you're lucky enough to have scored tickets, best to pace yourself during the Grand Tasting lest you miss this brush with holiness.

Chris Aaland - 09/13/2018

And so it ends. The last major blowout of festival season is upon us. When the Bones of J.R. Jones strikes their first note at Sunset Plaza in Mountain Village at 5 p.m. tonight (Thur., Sept. 13), the 25th annual Telluride Blues & Brews will officially be under way. Denver’s Dragondeer follows. Thursday’s Mountain Village shenanigans are free. And, if you don’t already have a ticket and aren’t willing to pay scalper’s prices, it could be all the blues you’ll get this weekend.

Blues & Brews, the accidental genius of Steve “Gumby” Gumble, has grown from one liquor store owner’s dream of a small barbecue and beerfest at 8,750 feet into an annual highlight on Colorado’s festival calendar, rivaling it’s older and bigger sibling, Telluride Bluegrass, as the premier musical event on the Western Slope. Needless to say, it’s sold out.

For the 25th, Gumby pulled out all the stops ... most notably, enlisting the esteemed Robert Plant as headliner. Plant takes the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday night, five hours after the last of the free grand tasting beers will have entered 8,000 bellies. Plant is the high priest of blues rock, more mystical than McCartney, Jagger and Daltrey combined. In the early days with Led Zeppelin, he was rock’s Golden God, the epitome of unadulterated excesses. From the opening notes of “Good Times, Bad Times” on Zeppelin’s autonomous debut through the final wail on “I’m Gonna Crawl” on “In Through the Out Door,” Plants vocals, Page’s screaming guitar licks, Bonham’s pummeling of the drums and Jones’ mastery of melody set the stage for music’s future.

Then, like the mighty Hindenburg 43 years earlier, Zeppelin plummeted to earth in a mighty ball of flames on Sept. 25, 1980. Bonham consumed 40 shots of vodka that day, passed out, then asphyxiated on his own vomit. The band agreed it couldn’t carry on without him.

Plant reinvented himself in the ’80s with a string of pop-rock hits like “Big Log,” “Little by Little” and “In the Mood.” He was always fascinated in music beyond the pale, gravitating toward Middle Eastern sounds midway through Zep’s career with “Kashmir.” He fully embraced this by 1988’s “Now and Zen” and, two years later, “Manic Nirvana.” He had fully morphed into a Gandalfian wizard by this point.

In nearly 30 years since, Plant has forged on in new directions, in recent years with his band, The Sensational Space Shifters. But he’s also ventured into folksier, mostly acoustic routes with longtime musical accomplice Jimmy Page, bluegrass chanteuse Alison Krauss, and Band of Joy, a resurrection of his pre-Zeppelin solo outfit, albeit one enhanced by contemporary American acoustic aces like Darrell Scott, Buddy Miller, Byron House and Patty Griffin. The Space Shifters have the musical dexterity to handle everything from pre-metal Zep to Plant’s fascinations with Middle Eastern and Scottish Highlands music.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Plant live twice in my life. The first came at Red Rocks in 1988 when he cruised through his ’80s hits, “Now and Zen” deep cuts and a handful of Zeppelin tunes. In 2011, I was standing front and center in the poser pit at Telluride Bluegrass when Band of Joy raised the roof. The incense burning in front of Plant’s mic burned my nostrils all night long.

Here’s your tip from Uncle Chris if you’re heading up to Telluride: DO NOT GET WASTED AT THE GRAND TASTING THIS YEAR. Imagine Power Hour magnified 12 times, only this ain’t dorm room PBR. You wait in line, fill 4-ounce tasters of high-octane microbrews (often double-fisting), then move on to the next line. At Blues & Brews, you can consume four ounces of some 9.5 ABV whiskey-aged, double IPA every four to five minutes. This lasts for three hours. The crash is inevitable. Then, add a few chocolates back at the tarp after the tasting, and you’ll be napping by 6 p.m. At best, you’ll be fighting a hangover at 8,750 feet when Plant takes the stage. You’ll regret not hearing “Black Dog” or “Gallows Pole,” two of the five or six Zeppelin tunes he still dusts off in his live set.

But Blues & Brews is more than a $200, two-hour jog through Plant’s musical career. Other headliners include Gov’t Mule, Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Booker T’s Stax Revue, JJ Grey & Mofro and Anders Osborne. The undercard, too, is solid with Valerie June, Samantha Fish, Son Little, the California Honeydrops, the Marcus King Band and a dozen more acts filling the bill.

Then there’s the brews. Fifty-six craft breweries will serve up 176 different ales during the grand tasting, including local and regional favorites like Ska, Steamworks, Carver’s, Telluride and others. Five breweries (including Ska and Telluride) will be sold all weekend long at the House of Brews.

Those interested in blues-related music might consider a donation to KSUT today in order to guarantee your entry into the 6 p.m. grand prize drawing for a trip for two aboard Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise XXV this January. It’s the grand prize in the station’s Fall Membership Drive, which ends at 6 p.m. today. The Four Corners public radio station will foot the bill for airfare for two from Durango, two nights’ lodging in Fort Lauderdale and eight days on the high seas aboard the Holland America Oosterdam. The cruise’s 77-year-old namesake is one of dozens of acts who will perform live. Others include The Mavericks, Marcia Ball, Shinyribs, Eric Lindell, Band of Heathens, Mingo Fishtrap, Marc Broussard and Anson Funderburgh. I spoke with Delbert by phone this Tuesday. He said the all-night guitar pulls usually last from 1-6 a.m. once the main stage shuts down. Travel dates are Jan. 4-13, 2019. Call 970-563-0255 or visit KSUT.org to pledge.

The best thing I heard this week is the second solo album from ZZ Top guitar slinger Billy F. Gibbons, “The Big Bad Blues.” Quite simply, it’s Billy’s best effort since the Top’s 1979 classic, “Deguello.” All the hooks and riffs are there, along with a pair of covers each of Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters tunes.

In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man? Email me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net.

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