Although while I type this memoir I’m staring out of a window that looks upon blue skies and palm trees, it’s always nice to escape from your daily environment and get to somewhere special. Telluride for us has become one of those special places. We had a long summer in the Jam Van. There were certainly downs, but lots of ups as well. So it was nice to escape to this phenomenal place to wind it all down.
Of all of the grounds that we’ve set the Jam Van down upon, Telluride might be the most beautiful. Last year we were witness to several majestic rainbows framing the serenity of the mountain town. Rainbows however mean that at one point there was rain. At last year’s festival all it did was rain, but we still loved it. This year the forecast was clear, and that held true, so we got ot experience Telluride in the sunshine, which was much more pleasant, and dry.
Another big positive was that we had zero engine problems on our drive out. If you’ve been with us through this journal then you might remember that last year we spent about six extra hours in a town called Cortez, located about three hours outside of Telluride hoping upon hopes that we weren’t going to have to get towed back home to LA. Then another three hours just a few miles away from the festival grounds, stopped on a decline, in the rain, with no brakes. It was not a pleasant trip. This year was just the opposite.
We set off in the middle of the night so that Spud could drive through the cooler part of the evening to take some pressure off of the Van’s engine. When we awoke we were somewhere in New Mexico. It was there that we began our traditional “Crappy Movie Marathon.” We got some real gems in on this run, including “The Lego Movie” and “Escape Plan.”
Half the fun of road trips is the pit stops you take and the junk food you consume. We took several solid ones, the first at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. It’s always great to see the reactions from folks in those po-dunk towns to the Jam Van. At this first stop there was a small heard of wild bulls crossing the middle of the road. When we asked a local what the deal with that was they told us that the cattle roam free range out there. So, if you can picture the reaction of people in a place where cattle roam free range to the Jam Van, then you have an idea of the humor we got out of that.
There was another pit-stop at a dillapidated fuel station with a massive convenient store attachment. Inside, the ratio of shelves to empty space was far too slighted in favor of empty space, and the ratio of stuff from the 21st century housed on those shelves was an even worse situation. I did get a kick out of the Navajo goods. The wooden bows and arrows and stuff like that is always fun. I was going to make a purchase but D-Bell pointed out that they didn’t really shoot well enough on account of a variety of design flaws, so I kept the money in the pocket to waste later in the trip.
There were some pretty cool and/or sketchy stray-ish dogs hanging around that gas station too. They kicked it very melow outside of the van and let us pet them. One had clearly just spat a litter of pups out of her dog body, because she had big doggie nips for them to feed from. Is that the scientific term, doggie nips? Anyways, I hand sanitized pretty thoroughly after petting those mutts.
Our final pit-stop was that same little town called Cortez. This time we didn’t stop to fix the engine. No, our business there was much more pleasant. Cortez is where Osprey Packs has their headquarters. So we went to say hi to our friends over there and they gave us the full tour. They’ve got a lot of back packs in those warehouses. Spud busted out a lawn chair and posted up in the parking lot beside the van. He had his Osprey Pack slung over his lap, Lagunitas logos adorning his person, and an AQUAHydrate in his hand. He’s morphing into a human billboard, like a Nascar driver.
We also tried to stop at one of Cortez’s Marijuana legal dispensaries, because it’s legal there in a different way than it’s legal in LA, an even wilder way… however, this particular dispensary was strictly for medical patients, same as LA, so we got super hyped about buying legal weed and then shut down harder than high school kids buying beer at a 7-11. Onward to Telluride!
We pulled into our Mountain Village retreat just after the sun had gone down. Our digs this year were nothing short of spectacular. Of particular note was that most everyone in the crew got a bed, which is pretty big time for us. Sorry Jack, next year you can upgrade from the couch, Spud promises.
We unpacked our gear and headed down the gondola for a bite to eat and a couple of beers. When that was done we retired to our condo. The internal battle between going out and exploring this wondrous town in the evening or laying low and comfortable in a condo with a sauna and three hot-tubs… Yes, I said internal battle, which did indeed ensue over the course of the weekend. That first evening the condo won.
Unfortunately, even though I was early to bed, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling like I’d been on a week-long bender. That Colorado altitude is no joke. My migraine was real. Real enough that I couldn’t see straight while I stumbled down the three flights of steps to find Spudnik. I managed to mumble out “Spud, I need Advil,” and Spud, who sleeps very little and very lightly, came to my rescue with some Tylenol, which I shortly thereafter threw-up in my far-too-nice-toilet bowl. The festival hadn’t even started yet. Heck, we had a whole set-up day still.
We needed that set-up day to install our brand new Toshiba Entertainment equipment. Unfortunately only one of our new TV’s made it to Telluride in time. Which is still kind of impressive given that they were coming in from Japan. So we made due with what we had, got the rig all spiffed up and ready for guests, and then we had to deal with that internal dilemma, back to the condo or out on the town. This go around, out on the town won. Largely due to the fact that we were invited to a “chicken wings and whiskey tasting party.” Those are two things that are big favorites around these parts, so we were all in for that. It was a hell of a party too. Sometimes parties can be advertised and hyped as one thing, but when you get down to it, often the reality of the spread leaves guests wanting. This however was not the case here. They had a lot of chicken wings and sauces to try out and they certainly had an abundance of whiskey. The highlight of the party though was probably our conversation with a blacked-out drunk fellow on the porch. He had some dirty things to say about his girlfriend, and mine, whom he’d never met. Then his girlfriend came up to us and introduced herself. I told her she had a real gem. She agreed. Then I proceeded to gorge my face with wings and whiskey and watched football. It made for a fun but queezy gondola ride back up top.
The following day the gates to the festival sprung open to the public and with that began the opening of the second annual Jam in the Van at Telluride Blues and Brews Sessions.
Performance round one came from a performer who shares a name that was a large part of the inspiration for the Jam Van. Amy Helm, daughter of Levon. Unbeknownst to her, by way of circuitous connections and associations, the fact that all three original creators of the Jam Van are huge fans of The Band, kind of means that her family kind of helped inspire this whole shebang… We didn’t make mention of that, firstly, because the day was about Amy’s music, which was fantastic all on it’s own, and second, because she wowed us with some stories about her father and her life-long relationship to music. When you get a chance to hear stuff like that, you certainly don’t interrupt with fan boy moments. Amy didn’t seem so pleased with her performance, couldn’t have been further from an accurate self-assessment. She and her band were as mentioned earlier, fantastic, marvelous, splendid, all of that. We dug the experience so much that we took their group shot with the entire Jam Van crew, something we hardly ever do. By hardly ever I mean never. The only flaw in the morning was that I made the mistake of telling Amy that AQUAHydrate was P-Diddy’s water company. To that she responded “I thought we were all hippies here?” We are indeed, even P-Diddy…
Amy Helm was followed by a group by the name of Dragondeer (not sure if this is a mythical creature or not, but for purposes of preferring awesome things, let’s assume it is). These boys won their way into The Van by taking first place in a battle of the bands contest that was held months prior. This also garnered them the pleasure of performing on the Telluride Blues and Brews stages. Not a bad prize package for an up and coming band. Let’s hope that it signals what might be an arrival of sorts for them, as their session proved their chops are worthy of their awards.
We had a little breather break in between. Which we in fact used for a literal breather. Parked next to us in his conversion van was a man by the name of Brendan, who claims to have been in attendance at every Blues and Brews Festival ever in existence. Brendan’s role backstage was to provide an oxygen bar to artists and festival workers. I had never tried an oxygen bar before, but given my previous altitude sickness, I figured “what the heck, worth a shot.” He had a few flavors of air like lavender and lemongrass, yes air comes in flavors now. You could even mix them all together if you wanted, the result had a refreshing and calming effect. It was further enhanced by that legal cannabis that we were eventually able to locate in Telluride… sidebar, it’s pretty cool/crazy to walk into a shop and purchase an eighth of weed with no paperwork. Even coming from the perspective of guys who have lived in California for a decade, it’s still pretty wild. Kudos to you on that Colorado. Kudos also to our guy Brendan. I didn’t experience altitude sickness at all the rest of the weekend, and he managed to change outfits a minimum of five times a day at a music festival. Why? I do not know. I do know that we appreciated him for his constantly evolving look and his free air.
After our break we met up with a young man by the name of Kipori Woods. He brought himself along with his guitar, and if you do a quick Google you’ll see that this amounted to more than enough for a Jam Van session. This guy’s fingers worked overtime on that ax.
That was a wrap for our first day. It was on to our first official night, so we left under the cover of darkness with The Violent Femmes serenading our walk through the fair grounds and into town towards the gondola, which is a far better commute than the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles. That evening I allowed the fact that I’m still considered relatively young dictate my motivation. Also, our pals The Record Company were playing a late night show at The Elk’s Lodge so I would be a real jack-ass if I didn’t get off said ass and make my way out. I was rewarded with one of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed from The Record Company, I’ve seen a handful. I also got the bonus pleasure of watching some Jerry Springer shit unfold right in front of me as some Telluride Trash (if that is a thing) of a dude dumped his beer out over the head of some Telluride Trash chick and proceeded to call her a slew of unsavory names relating to her lack of chastity. As funny as it was, I did not yell “Jerry.” I think most people around the incident felt a bit of a sentiment for the lady, she was in tears and probably feeling quite low about things at that moment. The Perfect Hippie tried to be chivalrous and see where the dude was going, as if he, the PH, was going to put the guy in check, and I think PH told the chick not to go after the guy or something of that nature. What a guy that PH is (P.S. ladies, he’s single). Well, no good deed goes unpunished, because PH found himself dodging the beer covered lady’s advances for the next half hour. Amongst other things, she was not, shall we say, the type of beauty that would convince you to overlook that she was covered in beer and just called a spattering of foul words. Hey, but the show was killer.
I’m a sucker for bed, so that’s where I went next. Oh and what a bed it was. So nice, almost too nice, so much so that I struggled getting up and going to the festival grounds for our noon session with the legendary funk man, George Porter Jr.. Thankfully the shower in my room was very revitalizing, and it snapped me out of my comfort daze and prepared me for the day.
As mentioned the day began with a rendezvous with one of the original Meters, George Porter Jr. He did something nobody has ever done in The Van before, that was play a solo session with a bass guitar. It takes a certain level of funkiness to keep an audience captivated by a solo bass performance, so damn, this was funky as hell because we were very captivated. None more-so than Spudnik, who came up listening to this man’s funk “as a young man in the hood.” So we gave Spud the pleasure of sitting down with George in Cuz’s Corner and he got a chance to ask him how he started playing the funk. That’s a life moment right there.
Next up was The Record Company, a band who had already filmed Jam Van Sessions twice prior. So we told them that we wanted to do another session, but we needed to figure out how to mix it up. Just doing it in Telluride wasn’t going to be enough. We needed to go bigger than that. So we brought in a ringer, Roosevelt Collier. He showed up, introduced himself to The Record Company, sat down on a drum throne and laid his lap steel across his legs, and it was go time. There was no rehearsal, no practice, no acquaintance with one another whatsoever, yet these musicians managed to make something magical. It’s like good chefs getting into a kitchen together, they can just cook, they don’t need to know one another beforehand. Or really good ball-players. If you know where to put the ball, the others are going to know what to do with it if they’re good. The Record Company certainly knew where to put the ball and Roosevelt Collier knew exactly what to do with it.
Our scheduling again allowed us a nice long break in the middle of the day, and so the Perfect Hippie, Spudnik and myself used it to handle some unfinished business. You see, last year Spud’s eye was caught by the sight of a one of a kind top hat in the window of a shop in Telluride. He laid claim then and there that he was going to one day have that hat. Then he proceeded to talk about that hat for the 365 days that followed, making it virtually impossible for me to not figure out how to get that hat on his head, or of course suffer the consequence of hearing about that damn hat for another 365 days. So we took Spud to the haberdashery to shop. Turns out there were like four different top hats that he had his eye on, and so it took almost all of our break to get the fashionista to decide which one he wanted. He settled on a reserved number with a glowing eyeball inlaid at the base of the hat. I left with a Panama hat and The Perfect Hippie got some sort of metrosexual cowboy number. Spud walked with a bit of a skip to his step on the way back to the festival, as he should have.
Upon our return we made sure that our vessel was ready for the next incoming arrival. The mothership was about to land right beside The Jam Van and George Clinton was about to commandeer The Van and Spud was not about to have his lady looking dusty for that. This all meant that there was going to be an intergalactic edition of Cuz’s Corner, but we had to warm Spudnik up first. So we invited Steve Gumble, founder of Telluride Blues and Brews to come and have a seat in The Corner. Sit he did, and he was treated to one of Spud’s signature light on the questions interviews. These are generally amicable to the participants for two reasons. First, they don’t have to answer too many questions. Second, they don’t have to answer too many questions because Spud has spent the majority of the interview complementing them and their endeavors gratuitously, overly so in some cases. This was not the case here, as Mr. Gumble, or Gumby as Spud asked to call him, should be complemented and proud of the wondrous event he created. It was a nice interview, everyone got some smiles in, but there was for sure a main event to follow.
Gone is the George Clinton of yore. The one with the moo-moos and wild dread locks. In their place a suit, albeit with a polka dot tie, and a close cropped hair-do. What remains however are the dark shades, the bellowing growl and bark, and the oh so funky disposition and diction that made this man one of music’s crowning achievements. He created his own universe and took the world on a flight with him for many years, and here he was in Telluride, Colorado of all places, sitting down in our van and chatting it up with Spud like they’d known one another for decades, and in some ways they had. Well, at least Spud has known him. Regardless, George was a warm cat, he made you feel like he gave a damn about what you had to say. He also imparted some wisdom on us that you can only hear straight from the horse’s mouth. Most poignant was the speech he gave on his struggle to retain the copyright in his catalog of music. He’s been fighting for that for quite some time now, and we wish him the best of luck in reclaiming his creations. The interview was one of Spud’s finest journalistic pieces to date, but unfortunately he failed to ask the one question I was hoping he would, if George ever watches PCU when it comes on cable. I guess I’ll never know.
George appeased our fanaticism and let us take a bunch of pictures with him after the interview. None for me was cooler than when he called me back and told me we had to re-do our pic because it looked cooler when we tilted out heads down as we were both wearing Panama hats and dark shades. Yes, I did feel pretty damn cool after that, as I should have.
Now, we’re over-achievers, which is definitely not how things were in college, so somewhere along the last decade or so things took a turn, because college us would have said “damn, George Clinton in the Van! That’s a wrap, let’s go to that weed store!” Ten year’s post college us said “let’s film something even better.” Not that this was better per-se, or that anything in the van is ever better, per-se, but… we’re always trying to get better, so, Shakey Graves came by to do a re-do on the session that we filmed with him at High Sierra Music Festival. That one had some technical and creative issues, so we went on a second date. This time we made it around all of the bases without any fouls.
This guy, and now this is the third time I believe officially that I have typed this, but this guy, he is something special. You listen when he plays music. It doesn’t fade into the background and you want to capture every verse and remember them as you were in that moment when you heard them. He’s a pretty chill cat himself, his name isn’t actually Shakey, although you gotta love the wiggle dance move that he does. It’s pretty cool that he came by later to get some Jam in the Van shirts so they could wear them on the road. We’re going to start giving all the musicians our shirts, if you see someone playing music in one, take a picture and tag us it on the Instagrams would ya?
It must have been the Oxygen bar because I not only made it to George Clinton’s interstellar spectacular, but I made it out on the town a second night in a row. In this case, it was very out of character, because I was already in my pajamas when I decided to head back down the hill. I even put on real clothes before heading down.
The town was alive that night. I don’t think I’d ever seen Telluride that happening. We ran into Marty Sammon on the street. We’d filmed him in New Orleans, he plays keys for Buddy Guy who was closing out Blues and Brews the following evening. Marty was smashed and all smiles. I guess nobody told him about the altitude.
We took in Zach Deputy’s show at a spot called Fly Me to the Moon Saloon. It was in a basement, and Zach tends to get crowds dancing, so after an hour or so in a crowded room with dancing crunchy people, things start getting a bit stinky. We emerged for fresh air and headed to The Opera House to catch the tail end of Black Joe Lewis’ show. I don’t care that he didn’t Jam in the Van, Joe Lewis is a bad man, and I mean that in the good way.
I pushed it past my limits when I went for the late night Gyro. It was just that I’d remembered it from the year before, and it was so good, I’d have been bummed if I left town without having one. I had it, and I regretted it the entire ride up the Gondola. When we left for that ride two of our associates were standing on the street chatting up some drunk lasses. I chuckled to the Perfect Hippie that I hoped they didn’t miss the gondola, because it shut down at two AM. More on that later…
Our final day in Telluride was bittersweet. Most festivals you’re ready to leave by the time they conclude. You want a shower and to sleep in your own bed. However, most festivals don’t have beds like Telluride Blues and Brews does. The bed here was much nicer than my bed at home, so was the sauna and hot tub, neither of which I currently own. We had a light day of recording on Sunday, we wanted to take it all in before we headed back to the urban smog.
The Lee Boys were our first Sunday session, fitting that they played us a song called “Testify.” These fellows were guitar tacticians. They coaxed sounds out of their strings that only a rare breed can conjure. Spud confronted them when they hopped out of The Van and showed them that he too had quick hands. He displayed this by shadow boxing with the air. Then he and the Lee Boys shadow boxed together. It was some kind of male bonding ritual that I have never been tuned into.
We took a little hike with Spud afterwards. Walked the grounds with the camera, talked to folks at the festival, which receives us in such a wonderful way, and then stuck our necks into the woods for a few minutes to check out the nearest waterfall. It was a nice serene moment interrupted only by immature me yelling “BEAR.”
Back at The Van we closed it all down with the guy who Spud claims to have played a Jam Van session the first time Spud ever worked for us, Zach Deputy. As I mentioned before, Zach Deputy gets people moving. So after a hacky-sack circle and oxygen bar sesh while we waited for his tech to set up his rig, Zach started a party in the middle of production road. Everyone within a shout’s distance congregated in front of The Van and started moving and shaking. I looked on with a warm feeling. That I guess is what you get when you see something you created bringing happiness to total strangers.
That along with Zach’s time in Cuz’s Corner concluded our second annual Telluride Blues and Brews sessions, it was a grand stopping point. All that was left was to see that Buddy Guy still certainly has it, and to head back up to the condo to bask in the last moments that we would spend there. I did so in my newly acquired tie-dye long johns. Bought them off a lady named Sharon in her tie-dye shop at the festival. It was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Until I bought glow in the dark bubbles on the way home. I had one of the most relaxing nights I’d had in a long time that evening. Sauna, hot tub, long-johns, television, hot cocoa, all good things per myself and Martha Stewart. Unfortunately for our DP Dave and our sound engineer Ethan, that evening they actually did miss the gondola because it shut down two hours earlier than usual and they ended up spending the evening in what we were told was a freezing cold van. Bummer dudes.
I woke up the next morning with the realization that it was time to leave that place. We smoked the last of our legal cannabis and packed into our ride. We loaded up the crappy movies and headed back down the hills. Telluride, once again you made us thankful to be breathing air. This time you did it with flavored air, and it tasted oh so sweet. See you next year, no doubt.