2022 FREE SUMMER CONCERTS LINEUP
Friday, June 24th
“On this album you will hear elements of hip-hop, jazz, blues, Afrobeats and dancehall but reggae is the backbone that holds everything in place. We can’t run from the authentic energy and vibes bestowed upon us by the Most High because that is what makes us great; there are things that you learn along the way, but greatness is when you know yourself.” –Jesse Royal speaking about his sophomore album Royal.
Renowned for his numerous 21st century reggae anthems including “Modern Day Judas,” which rails against bad minded people and 2015’s “Finally,” which was written in recognition of the long overdue decriminalization of marijuana in Jamaica, Rastafarian singer/songwriter/musician Jesse Royal is one of the island’s most charismatic young talents.
The title of Jesse’s sophomore album Royal (due June 11, Easy Star Records) describes the quality of music he’s making but also offers a succinct definition of Jamaica’s signature beat. “Reggae is a different tone, a different feeling, a different mood. It speaks to you in different ways, it is definitely royal music,” says Jesse. Jesse adopted a new approach for creating the songs on Royal, collaborating with like-minded colleagues and just letting the creativity flow. “We connect with a lot of artists around the world and are influenced by many different genres so in putting this album together we basically just vibed, had writing sessions via Facetime and Zoom, saw what we came up with and let that be the inspiration for where we wanted to go.” The result is 11 tracks that incorporate live instrumentation and programmed riffs, experimental and traditional sounds, all of which contribute to Jesse’s most impressive body of work to date.
From “Natty Pablo,” a riveting true story about a Rasta man who spends his money to improve his community and send children to school (“He’s singlehandedly doing what the government should be doing” notes Jesse) set to an indelible reggae bassline, to the impassioned ballad “Differences,” which references Romeo and Juliet while recounting a relationship that just wasn’t meant to be, Jesse’s spectacular vocals vacillate between spoken and sung verses and patois-inflected deejayed and rapped phrases delivered in varying cadences that complement his lyrical versatility. “I was way tamer of an individual on my previous album,” says Jesse of his 2017 debut set, Lily of Da Valley (Easy Star Records). “This album is much freer. We tried interesting melodies that I probably didn’t trust before and I expressed things that I typically wouldn’t, so that’s also why we called this project Royal. Because reggae is truth music –we burn certain fire, but we don’t want to be labeled as people who only do one thing because music doesn’t really have a specific language, mood or a message, the artist imparts that.”
One of Royal’s standout tracks is “Home,” produced by Dretegs, which Jesse wrote about the difficulties of pursuing a career that often takes him away from his two young daughters, a sentiment summed up by the heart wrenching lyrics: ‘You are the very best part of me, it’s deeper than biology/I hope you accept my apology cause everything I do is for the family.’ “I don’t think there has been a reggae song that is honest about our roles as musicians. The world needs us to keep them fueled, energized, but we’re also daddies and that’s a conversation that is never really had; for my daughters, if daddy is in Paris performing for 5,000 people, it’s just daddy is not home. All of my brothers who have heard that song have gotten to the point of tears and I’ve gotten to the point of tears a couple of times, too,” offers Jesse. Although he has been grounded since the start of the pandemic, in the years leading up to 2020, Jesse headlined tours in the US, Europe, Japan, South America and performed on every major festival in Jamaica.
Jesse reaffirms African excellence with a spellbinding succession of rapid-fire rhymes on “Black,” produced by Yared Lee, featuring the fluttering trombone stylings of Nemanja “Hornsman Coyote” Kojic. Over a sturdy one drop reggae groove Jesse celebrates his woman who is ‘willing fi ride or die like I’ma Honda 50,’ on “Natty Dread,” produced by Sean Alaric, but questions what went wrong during a previous union on the trap influenced “Like Dat” featuring rising Jamaican sing-jay Runkus, who produced the song.
Runkus is one of six guest artists on Royal, each carefully chosen to highlight an aspect of Jesse’s multifaceted artistry. “The vibrations had to be right for us to write something that we feel could stand the test of time,” says Jesse of Royal’s guest artists. Jesse originally wrote “High Tide or Low,” featuring dynamic roots singer Samory I, and produced by Jamaica’s Natural High (Jordan Armond, Blaise Davis) as a self-reminder that each of us is carefully created. “The song’s direction changed as I worked on it with Natural High,” noted Jesse, prior to reciting the lyrics, ‘Love Christ bad but nuh palm to mi cheek/Cah mi come fi realize the earth inherit the meek,’ which he followed with a further explanation. “This means we are no longer the cowardly Rasta that you can step ‘pon or disrespect and we are more than prepared for the battle ahead.”
Likewise, since the 2019 release of “LionOrder” featuring GRAMMY nominated sing-jay Protoje, another Sean Alaric production, the song has become an empowering, unifying Rasta reggae anthem delivered with a melodic hip hop flow. “Some little division did try to creep in, and we had to nip it in the bud early; we are also dispelling the idea of change being something bad or reclaiming glory is selling out. We want to ensure that the message of reggae music connects with today’s youth, so we reminded dem that what we a deal with is unity, so ‘me and the lion dem good.’”
Jesse also teams up with Ghanian Afrobeat/dancehall star Stonebwoy for “Dirty Money,” where a lilting African-influenced rhythm track propels the lyrics’ unrelenting condemnation of political greed: ‘If education is key, why you can’t make it free for we? Or is it because you profit from poverty? When you look at me do you see a man or do you see another vote for your party? Not even holy water can clean your dirty money.”
Money has turned many friends into foes but “Strongest Link,” featuring Kumar (former lead singer of GRAMMY nominated band Raging Fyah), produced by Wayne “Unga” Thompson, honors ‘friends who want to see you make it/friends who sight the risk and take it.’
“That is one of dem songs where people know reggae is the root of the de ting and Kumar dances over it so eloquently; I love the song and the vibration we a push,” Jesse states.
Royal provides a brilliant soundtrack that reflects Jesse’s current views on life, a perspective that is most clearly expressed, he says, on “Rich Forever,” a trap, hip hop, reggae fusion featuring perhaps the album’s most surprising collaborator, incarcerated dancehall superstar Vybz Kartel. “The concept for that song came to me one Sunday when I was cruising down the highway in Miami. I thought, wow, my life has really grown; you see the manifestation of things that used to be dreams so now you have bigger dreams,” Jesse acknowledges. Produced by rising talent Iotosh Poyser, who helped flesh out the song’s concept, Jesse says “the song is a conversation about the restoration of our royalty, reclaiming dignity, and it gave me such a warm feeling to present a side of Di Teacha (Kartel) that many people out there don’t know. We must always be our brothers’ keeper and you don’t leave your brother in the mud you remind your brother of who he is, not who they tell him to be, not who he sometimes might want to be. But who he is! We are all carefully crafted creatures of the universe and there’s nothing that can hold us back. We’re rich forever.”
The messages delivered throughout Royal are militant yet divinely inspired, profoundly moving and politically provocative, while the album’s multitextured sonics are rooted in reggae but also incorporate a 21st century burnished palette of influences. “What a reggae fan is today is not particularly the same thing as it was yesterday, that’s why it’s important to mix the music because we are dealing with individuals who listen to everything,” notes Jesse. “Royal has musical elements that they love but also has new sounds that are happening. We understand that streaming platforms make it so easy to bounce between genres, but we also understand that there is something so special about reggae and we need to hold on to it.”
Friday, July 15th
Fusing elements of rock, pop, funk, and improvisation, Big Something takes listeners on a journey through a myriad of musical styles. It’s no secret why this group has quickly become one of the most exciting bands to emerge from the Southeast. Huge rhythms paired with soaring guitars, E.W.I (electronic wind instrument), synths, horns and alluring vocal hooks rise to the top of their infectious collection of songs and represent a sound that has landed the band marquee appearances at Bonnaroo, Peach Music Festival, Lock’n, Summer Camp and Electric Forest as well as critical acclaim from the likes of Billboard, Guitar World, Glide Magazine and Jambase.
With 6 full-length studio albums produced by Grammy-nominee John Custer, and even their own Summer music festival The Big What?, the band has carved out their own niche in the live music community and continues to grow nationally with sold out headlining performances throughout the United States.
Big Something is:
Ben Vinograd – Drums
Casey Cranford – Sax, EWI
Doug Marshall – Bass
Jesse Hensley – Lead Guitar, Vocals
Josh Kagel – Keys, Trumpet
Nick MacDaniels – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Friday, July 29th
There was only one prize-winning teenager carrying stones big enough to say thanks, but no thanks to Roy Acuff. Only one son of Kentucky finding a light of inspiration from Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys and catching a fire from Bob Marley and The Wailers. Only one progressive hippie allying with like-minded conspirators, rolling out the New Grass revolution, and then leaving the genre’s torch-bearing band behind as it reached its commercial peak.
There is only one consensus pick of peers and predecessors, of the traditionalists, the rebels, and the next gen devotees. Music’s ultimate inside outsider. Or is it outside insider? There is only one Sam Bush.
On a Bowling Green, Kentucky cattle farm in the post-war 1950s, Bush grew up an only son, and with four sisters. His love of music came immediately, encouraged by his parents’ record collection and, particularly, by his father Charlie, a fiddler, who organized local jams. Charlie envisioned his son someday a staff fiddler at the Grand Ole Opry, but a clear day’s signal from Nashville brought to Bush’s television screen a tow-headed boy named Ricky Skaggs playing mandolin with Flatt and Scruggs, and an epiphany for Bush. At 11, he purchased his first mandolin.
As a teen fiddler Bush was a three-time national champion in the junior division of the National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest. He recorded an instrumental album, Poor Richard’s Almanac as a high school senior and in the spring of 1970 attended the Fiddlers Convention in Union Grove, NC. There he heard the New Deal String Band, taking notice of their rock-inspired brand of progressive bluegrass.
Acuff offered him a spot in his band. Bush politely turned down the country titan. It was not the music he wanted to play. He admired the grace of Flatt & Scruggs, loved Bill Monroe- even saw him perform at the Ryman- but he’d discovered electrified alternatives to tradition in the Osborne Brothers and manifest destiny in The Dillards.
See the photo of a fresh-faced Sam Bush in his shiny blue high school graduation gown, circa 1970. Tufts of blonde hair breaking free of the borders of his squared cap, Bush is smiling, flanked by his proud parents. The next day he was gone, bound for Los Angeles. He got as far as his nerve would take him- Las Vegas- then doubled back to Bowling Green.
“I started working at the Holiday Inn as a busboy,” Bush recalls. “Ebo Walker and Lonnie Peerce came in one night asking if I wanted to come to Louisville and play five nights a week with the Bluegrass Alliance. That was a big, ol’ ‘Hell yes, let’s go.'”
Bush played guitar in the group, then began playing after recruiting guitarist Tony Rice to the fold. Following a fallout with Peerce in 1971, Bush and his Alliance mates- Walker, Courtney Johnson, and Curtis Burch- formed the New Grass Revival, issuing the band’s debut, New Grass Revival. Walker left soon after, replaced temporarily by Butch Robins, with the quartet solidifying around the arrival of bassist John Cowan.
“There were already people that had deviated from Bill Monroe’s style of bluegrass,” Bush explains. “If anything, we were reviving a newgrass style that had already been started. Our kind of music tended to come from the idea of long jams and rock-&-roll songs.”
Shunned by some traditionalists, New Grass Revival played bluegrass fests slotted in late-night sets for the “long-hairs and hippies.” Quickly becoming a favorite of rock audiences, they garnered the attention of Leon Russell, one of the era’s most popular artists. Russell hired New Grass as his supporting act on a massive tour in 1973 that put the band nightly in front of tens of thousands.
At tour’s end, it was back to headlining six nights a week at an Indiana pizza joint. But, they were resilient, grinding it out on the road. And in 1975 the Revival first played Telluride, Colorado, forming a connection with the region and its fans that has prospered for 45 years.
Bush was the newgrass commando, incorporating a variety of genres into the repertoire. He discovered a sibling similarity with the reggae rhythms of Marley and The Wailers, and, accordingly, developed an ear-turning original style of mandolin playing. The group issued five albums in their first seven years, and in 1979 became Russell’s backing band. By 1981, Johnson and Burch left the group, replaced by banjoist Bela Fleck and guitarist Pat Flynn.
A three-record contract with Capitol Records and a conscious turn to the country market took the Revival to new commercial heights. Bush survived a life-threatening bout with cancer, and returned to the group that’d become more popular than ever. They released chart-climbing singles, made videos, earned Grammy nominations, and, at their zenith, called it quits.
“We were on the verge of getting bigger,” recalls Bush. “Or maybe we’d gone as far as we could. I’d spent 18 years in a four-piece partnership. I needed a break. But, I appreciated the 18 years we had.”
Bush worked the next five years with Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers, then a stint with Lyle Lovett. He took home three-straight IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year awards, 1990-92, (and a fourth in 2007). In 1995 he reunited with Fleck, now a burgeoning superstar, and toured with the Flecktones, reigniting his penchant for improvisation. Then, finally, after a quarter-century of making music with New Grass Revival and collaborating with other bands, Sam Bush went solo.
He’s released seven albums and a live DVD over the past two decades. In 2009, the Americana Music Association awarded Bush the Lifetime Achievement Award for Instrumentalist. Punch Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Greensky Bluegrass are just a few present-day bluegrass vanguards among so many musicians he’s influenced. His performances are annual highlights of the festival circuit, with Bush’s joyous perennial appearances at the town’s famed bluegrass fest earning him the title, “King of Telluride.”
“With this band I have now I am free to try anything. Looking back at the last 50 years of playing newgrass, with the elements of jazz improvisation and rock-&-roll, jamming, playing with New Grass Revival, Leon, and Emmylou; it’s a culmination of all of that,” says Bush. “I can unapologetically stand onstage and feel I’m representing those songs well.”
Friday, August 5th
On his new album In Plain Sight, Neal Francis offers up a body of work both strangely enchanted and painfully self-aware, unfolding in songs sparked from Greek myths and frenzied dreams and late-night drives in the depths of summer delirium. True to its charmed complexity, the singer/songwriter/pianist’s second full-length came to life over the course of a tumultuous year spent living in a possibly haunted church in Chicago. The result: a portrait of profound upheaval and weary resilience, presented in a kaleidoscopic sound that’s endlessly absorbing.
The follow-up to Francis’s 2019 debut Changes—a New Orleans-R&B-leaning effort that landed on best-of-the-year lists from the likes of KCRW, KEXP, and The Current, and saw him hailed as “the reincarnation of Allen Toussaint” by BBC Radio 6—In Plain Sight was written and recorded almost entirely at the church, a now-defunct congregation called St. Peter’s UCC. Despite not identifying as religious, Francis took a music-ministry job at the church in 2017 at the suggestion of a friend. After breaking up with his longtime girlfriend while on tour in fall 2019, he returned to his hometown and found himself with no place to stay, then headed to St. Peter’s and asked to move into the parsonage. “I thought I’d only stay a few months but it turned into over a year, and I knew I had to do something to take advantage of this miraculous gift of a situation,” he says.
Mixed by Grammy Award-winner Dave Fridmann (HAIM, Spoon, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala), In Plain Sight finds Francis again joining forces with Changes producer and analog obsessive Sergio Rios (a guitarist/engineer known for his work with CeeLo Green and Alicia Keys). Like its predecessor, the album spotlights Francis’s refined yet free-spirited performance on piano, an instrument he took up at the age of four. “From a very early age, I was playing late into the night in a very stream-of-consciousness kind of way,” he says, naming everything from ragtime to gospel soul to The Who among his formative influences. With a prodigy-like gift for piano, Francis sat in with a dozen different blues acts in Chicago clubs as a teenager, and helmed a widely beloved instrumental funk band called The Heard before going solo. Along with earning lavish acclaim (including a glowing review from Bob Lefsetz, who declared: “THIS IS THE FUTURE OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS!”), Changes led to such triumphs as performing live on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” sharing the stage with members of The Meters at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and touring with such acts as Lee Fields & The Expressions and Black Pumas.
Recorded entirely on tape with his bandmates Kellen Boersma (guitar), Mike Starr (bass), and Collin O’Brien (drums), In Plain Sight bears a lush and dreamlike quality, thanks in large part to Francis’s restless experimentation with a stash of analog synths lent by his friends in his early days at the church. “My sleep schedule flipped and I’d stay up all night working on songs in this very feverish way,” he says. “I just needed so badly to get completely lost in something.” In a move partly inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, In Plain Sight takes its title from a track Francis ended up scrapping from the album. “It’s a song about my breakup and the circumstances that led to me living in the church, where I’m owning up to all my problems within my relationships and my sobriety,” says Francis, whose first full-length chronicles his struggles with addiction. “It felt like the right title for this record, since so much of it is about coming to the understanding that I continue to suffer because of those problems. It’s about acknowledging that and putting it out in the open in order to mitigate the suffering and try to work on it, instead of trying to hide everything.”
The opulent opening track to In Plain Sight, “Alameda Apartments” makes for a majestic introduction to the album’s unveiling of Francis’s inner demons. “I started writing that song maybe six years ago, before I got sober,” he says. “I was going through another breakup and getting kicked out of my place, and I had a nightmare about moving into an art-deco apartment that was haunted, where the walls were all shifting around.” A prime showcase for Francis’s piano work, “Alameda Apartments” simulates that dream state in its untethered melodies, luminous grooves, and lyrics that drift from despair to detached curiosity (e.g., “It remains to be seen if the ghosts are all right”). “The craziest thing is that I’d never encountered the name ‘Alameda’ in any time in my life prior to that dream,” says Francis. “It’s bizarre that I even remembered it, especially since you don’t dream very often when you’re getting fucked up.”
On “Problems,” In Plain Sight eases into a brighter and breezier mood, with Francis mining inspiration from early-’70s Sly & the Family Stone and the glistening soft rock of Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac. But in a stark contrast to the track’s radiant synth and rapturous harmonies, “Problems” centers on Francis’s exacting introspection. “It’s about being half-in and half-out of a relationship, and how untenable that is,” he says. “I wrote it at a time when I really couldn’t maintain a relationship, because I had too many issues with myself that needed to be addressed.”
Graced with a smoldering slide-guitar solo from the legendary Derek Trucks, “Can’t Stop the Rain” arrives as the first unabashedly hopeful moment on In Plain Sight. “I wrote that with my buddy David Shaw, who came up with the refrain and this idea that even though life’s going to throw all this shit at you, there’s still so many things to be grateful for,” says Francis. Propelled by the track’s cascading piano lines and wildly soaring vocals, that refrain takes on an unlikely anthemic power as Francis shares a bit of gently expressed encouragement: “You can’t stop the rain/It’s always coming down/It’s always gonna fall/But you’re not gonna drown.”
On the guitar-heavy and glorious “Prometheus,” Francis nods to the Greek myth of the Titan god who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to the humans. As punishment, Prometheus spent eternity chained to a rock as an eagle visited each day to peck out his liver—which then grew back overnight, only to be eaten again the following day in a neverending cycle of torment. “That song came from the lowest ebb of quarantine, when Chicago was literally on fire,” Francis says. “It came to me while I was driving around all these abandoned streets in the middle of the night, and turned into a song about facing my problems with addiction and feeling like I’m chained to this set of compulsions.” Threaded with plainspoken confession (“It’s not in my nature to try to do better”), the track features a sprawling synth arrangement informed by the many hours Francis spent playing the St. Peter’s pipe organ. “I call that section of the song ‘The Pope,’” he says. “It’s this grand, powerful entry that’s sort of sinister, and then it just drops away.”
By the end of his surreal and sometimes eerie experience of living at the church—“I’m convinced that the stairway leading to the choir loft where I used to practice is haunted,” he notes—Francis had found his musicality undeniably elevated. “Because I was forced into this almost monastic existence and was alone so much of the time, I could play as often and as long as I wanted,” he says. “I ended up becoming such a better pianist, a better writer, a better reader of music.” Dedicated to a woman named Lil (the de facto leader of the St. Peter’s congregation), In Plain Sight ultimately reveals the possibility of redemption and transformation even as your world falls apart.
“When I started the process of writing these songs, I was so emotionally out-of-sorts and really kind of hopeless that I’d be able to come up with anything,” says Francis. “But then I sat down and started working, and embraced whatever inspiration came my way. Sometimes it felt like beating my head against a wall, but I tried to trust that it would lead somewhere. The whole thing was like a weird dream—this very strange time of terrible, wonderful isolation.”
Sunday, September 4th
Devon Allman Project with Special Guests
Devon Allman Project
The Devon Allman Project is a six piece world-class band that has previously toured almost 20 countries. Playing the Peach Festival, Rock Legends Cruise and festivals in Europe and coast to coast in the USA. It is led by Blues Music Award winning Devon Allman and features the two Allman Betts Band drummers, bass, Hammond B3 organ and piano and another guitarist. They will be playing songs of The Allman Brothers and Gregg Allman in their set as well as Devon’s fan favorite originals and surprise covers. It’s an exceptionally entertaining show. The show also feature the liquid light show and video visuals behind the band courtesy of “Brotherhood of Light” the touring visual company that toured with the Allman Brothers for 20 years and also for 3 years with Allman Betts.
Former leader of Honeytribe and Royal Southern Brotherhood, son of Gregg Allman – “He’s an elegant, soulful singer.” – Relix “… well-crafted, more reflective than fiery, and soulful.” – USA Today
The last two years have been difficult for all of us. We were forced to miss out on many of the things that make us feel alive and help us come together as the unique community we are. From the cancelation of the 2020 Free Concerts to the scaled down Winter Carnival, our most beloved social events were set aside to help keep us safe. But thanks to an amazing effort to look out for each other we are easing back to a sense of normalcy in the Yampa Valley.
The Pandemic was especially hard in the world on non-profits and live music where we rely heavily on drink sales, sponsorships and donations to put on events that everyone can enjoy. With increased safety measures in place and a pent-up demand for live music, the free shows will be more difficult than ever to pull off. So, after a year with rising costs, we need your help us keep up the tradition of free, world class music in Steamboat Springs.