Mother Nature gave us all something to smile about when another winter storm provided some welcome snow on Sunday. While that white gold was blowing in from the west, something even more exciting was arriving from the East. After consecutive nights in first Aspen and then Denver, music legends Toots and the Maytals, slipped in an extra show at Beaver Creek's Vilar Performing Arts Center.
Toots and the Maytals are a pioneering Jamaican group that formed in the early 1960s with roots in the musical styles of ska and rock steady. They were a major part of the birth of reggae music and with their 1968 song, "Do the Reggay," became the first groups to use the term - now spelled "reggae" - in a song. Later in 1972, Toots and the Maytals contributed a pair of songs to the motion picture soundtrack to "The Harder They Come." One of the most highly regarded movie soundtracks of all time, it has come to be known as reggae music's big introduction to the world.
Sunday's performance was a late addition to Toots' 50th anniversary tour. The Grammy-winning band is playing all its shows unplugged this time around, which made the acoustically intimate Vilar Center a nice choice of venue. The evening began with signs that the concert might be a dud. First, front man Frederick "Toots" Hibbert was a no-show at a scheduled public appearance before the 7:30 p.m. show time. The venue was criminally undersold with around half of the seats empty. Supporting solo act, New Orleans' singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Anders Osborne, repeatedly stated he was feeling a bit of the effects of our altitude. When The Bangles tune "Eternal Flame" came on as a selection of the house music between the two acts, I really let my pessimism get control of me. There was barely a pulse of excitement in the room.
Toots, donning all brown leather with sunglasses, took the stage after an awkward introduction. He warmed up his gospel-trained vocals with "Reggae Got Soul." This current arrangement of the Maytals included Toots playing the acoustic guitar. He was backed by a bass, a small percussion kit, and two female vocalists. The band started heating up during a jam in "Bam Bam," which allowed Osborne to sneak back on stage and join in on guitar. He would finish the show with the Maytals, adding his unique guitar licks with short solos whenever Toots gave him the nod. He sounded great alongside them and the crowd was grooving through all the classic numbers that followed.
Toots lost his breath between songs, so it allowed for some time for hilarious banter with the crowd. He was in high spirits, smiling and professing his love for the audience, and gave us the stories behind writing his biggest hits including "Pressure Drop," "Time Tough" and "Monkey Man." He spoke about his friendship with Colorado's John Denver and how he insisted that Toots cover his song "Country Roads" in his own style.
Toots really let loose on two songs in the encore. He closed "Funky Kingston" with a few dance moves and got the crowd involved with his call and response during the final number, "54-46 (Was My Number)." At the age of nearly 67, Toots still brings a strong performance and reaches fans in every age group. His reggae style, while arguably a bit vanilla, is a formula that works well. He writes songs about themes to which any person can relate, and that is why his songs will still be relevant to future generations.
Bob Bloczynski is a DJ for 107.9 Radio Free Minturn. His funk and soul radio show, "Get Up and Get Down with Bobby B" airs Tuesday mornings from 7 to 9 a.m. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.