Rockin’ at State Bridge | VailDaily.com
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Rockin’ at State Bridge

Laura A. Ball

Around 5 o’clock, as the afternoon sun begins to cast a warm glow, paddlers start drifting in from the river, campers return from their day hikes, cabin guests dangle their feet from the front porch hammocks and cars pull in the parking lot from nearby mountain towns to the Front Range.They’re all there to experience State Bridge Lodge in Bond, the music venue 30 miles west of Vail off Highway 131 where the Eagle and Colorado rivers meet and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad runs. Tonight, Willis featuring Pete Kartsounes from Possum Logic will be at the lodge to kick off the 2005 concert season at 7:30. Tickets are $5. On Sunday, The Drew Emmitt Band from Leftover Salmon featuring Billy Nershi from String Cheese Incident play. ZILLA featuring Michael Travis from String Cheese Incident will co-headline the show. The music starts at 5 p.m. Tickets are $15.”There’s nothing more fun than a weekend at State Bridge if you like music and you like the outdoors. It’s magical,” said Scott Stoughton, who books the talent. “It’s a really great mix – people from the Front Range, hippies, cowboys, city kids and freaks. It’s an absolute blast. It’s not just go to a show and leave. It’s a whole experience. I’m just excited because the last two years we’ve really upgraded the facilities and the venue, and it’s a good lineup this year.”Saturday, May 14, Liza returns with the full band for a night of rock ‘n’ roll. Little Hercules gets funky Sunday, May 15. Shakedown returns for two days, May 28-29, with the complete lineup to be announced.In past years, the venue has attracted many national acts such as Burning Spear, Leftover Salmon, The Dixie Chicks, Karl Denson, The Radiators and the best of local acts.The lodge also rents nine cabins, 10 yurts and camping. For tickets and to book lodging, visit http://www.statebridge.com or call 653-4444.Where is Willis?

Folks going to State Bridge Saturday night are in for a treat with the original, danceable grooves of Boulder band Willis. “We’ve been having a very easy time getting people up on their feet. Every time we’re playing, everybody’s moving. It’s soulful, jazzy funk,” said guitarist Pete Kartsounes, formerly of Possum Logic. “When we play State Bridge, it’s a party. We’re gonna get funky and have some fun. I hope everyone makes it. Don’t let the weather scare you. Come Saturday, get warmed up and enjoy a great day of music Sunday.” Willis was born when Possum Logic broke up and Kartsounes met up with Boulder trio Kyle Ussery, bass, Chris Rowland, keyboardist, and Jerome Salken, drummer. The quartet has been on a musical binge ever since. In the midst of recording their second album, Willis started writing so much new material they needed to take a break from recording to let it flow.”We’re constantly writing together. They’re giving me the freedom to write the lyrics. Everyone’s kind of more or less equally throwing in ideas,” Kartsounes said. “We all get along really well and that really helps. We enjoy being around each other and I’ve been in bands where that wasn’t the case. The other bands that I’ve been in I would write the song or another guy would write the song and we’d come back and play. I’ve always wanted to be in a band where we all wrote the songs as a community. We’re all really open to new ideas. We all take criticism. It’s like having a good relationship with a lover.” The guitarist said the band could not be nearly as successful without the help of its manager Jerome Walker of Elysian Artist. Walker allows the band to focus on the music.Willis finds the groove just as easily on stage. The band has been known to play sets lasting more than three hours.”I wouldn’t be surprised if we did that at State Bridge. We kept everyone on the dance floor all night. It’s a great release. It doesn’t just take over the musicians, it takes over everyone in the room. It’s always fresh. We’re always throwing new music at them. People always say we look like we’re having a good time up there, and we are. I imagine that it won’t end ever with this fun with it and we’re writing such good stuff.”This will be Kartsounes’ fourth year opening up State Bridge.

“I love playing there. I love the energy there. It’s always nice to walk into a place and take your keys out of the ignition and have nothing to worry about until you leave the next days or two days later. We’re all friends. We’re all family. You’re up in the mountains, and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s really organic. If the weather’s bad, we’ll take it inside.”Kartsounes said the band will be sticking around for Sunday’s show. “We hope to get a chance to have a good time with everybody outside of the music. It’s all about having a universal relationship because we’re hoping to be around for a long time,” he said.No Leftovers The Drew Emmitt Band featuring special guest Billy Nershi of String Cheese Incident goes on at 5 p.m. Sunday. “We’re really excited about it. We’re going to be doing a bunch of the tunes that we normally do,” Emmitt said. “State Bridge has always been a fun place to play. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, and I always love places like that off the beaten path. It’s just such a unique part of the state with the river there and the hills. Many magical times out there.”Emmitt, formerly of the popular jamband Leftover Salmon, recently played with String Cheese in the Northwest and worked out a few tunes with Nershi. The end of Leftover Salmon, who played its last show on New Year’s Eve, was bittersweet for Emmitt. It meant the end of an era for the band, as well as a chance to mourn former bandmember banjoist Mark Vann, who died of cancer in 2002.

“There was some sadness involved but at the same time we all really needed a break from it. I think all the sadness was mourning for Mark Vann. We never really stopped playing. We had commitments, so we didn’t really have a choice at the time. It was certainly very difficult, but it was one of Mark’s last wishes was to keep the band going.mandolin players and the beginning of an exciting new musical chapter. I feel like we played some really good music in those two years and we went out with a bang when it did end, so it felt good to end.”The end of Salmon marked a new musical chapter for Emmitt, who just finished recording his second solo album, “Across the Bridge,” a follow up to “Freedom Ride.” Matt Flinner, mandolin and banjo, Ross Martin, guitar, and Greg Garrison, bass, join him.”It’s a bunch of new tunes that I wrote this fall and winter. It’s all acoustic, no drums. It’s not necessarily bluegrass, it’s original acoustic music with bluegrass,” Emmitt said. “When I recorded the last record, Salmon was still going. This album’s a real sign of change, which inspired a lot of the tunes. I have a new musical freedom I guess. We were touring for 15 years. When you’ve been in a band for so long it feels good to branch out.”He wrote all the tunes specifically for this record in a few-month period, something, he said, he had never done before. Emmitt’s inspirations range from early Allman Brothers and blues to Led Zeppelin to classical music to jazz. “I definitely get a lot of inspiration from a lot of corners of the musical world so I try to incorporate as many musical styles as I can,” he said. “Across the Bridge” features Emmitt with special guests Sam Bush, Del McCurry, Ronnie McCurry, Stuart Duncan, Paul Bararre and Jim Lauderdale “I feel like I’m learning and really trying to expand a lot and really trying to play new things. I’m really excited about writing and collaborating with people,” Emmitt said. “I just want to open up the different possibilities. It’s really fun to explore different avenues. I don’t feel like I’m in competition with anybody. There’s a lot of that in the jam band world, and I don’t really care anymore. I’m just having fun.”I feel much more healthy and clear mind as a human being. Since January, I’ve had two months off and that’s a beautiful thing.

What’s the frequency ZILLA?Listening to ZILLA perform is like watching the clouds roll by. You know you’re going to like what you see and whatever shape they take they’re still clouds, but the freedom to interpret is yours and the possibilities are limitless. The band gets their groove on Sunday night following The Drew Emmitt Band.”State Bridge is gonna be really fun because it’s gonna be outdoors, and it’s going to be a really unique show. It’s going to be full-on bluegrass followed by full-on electronica. If you happen to like String Cheese because of the very fact that you can hear bluegrass and trance funk in the same night, then this is the show for you.”With more than 100 shows under their belts, ZILLA has no songs or set list. Their spontaneous electronica that fuses funky guitar stylings, hammered dulcimer wizardry and intricate rhythms relies on telepathy and listening ability.”We play 100 percent improvisation. We’ve never worked out anything at all. There’s definitely licks and we’ll say that kind of jam. And as far as I know we’re the only band doing it,” said Jamie Janover, hammered dulcimer. “We’re trying to let go of our egos and play music that serves everyone in the room. You can send someone into a dancing hypnotic frenzy, Janover said. “We’re trying to set up a whole mood and vibe for people who can come and dance for three hours and then stop and say where am I? The trio, Janover on hammered dulcimer and various percussive inventions like the mini drum kit or the electric sitar , Michael Travis on drums and keyboards, and Aarron Holstein on guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, vocals, plays their multiple instruments at the same time, just in case the improv isn’t tricky enough. Their improvisational technique requires the players to be as aware as humanly possible, Janover said. Whoever plays their instrument first sets the mood and tempo of the song. The other musicians must react instantly and play something that compliments it.

The band has spent a lot of time listening to music carefully put together in the studio or by some guy sitting in front of his computer cutting and pasting.”If you listen to it, it’s got a lot of composition in it. We’re trying to emulate that sound but playing it live,” Janover said.Unlike some genres of electronica, the members of ZILLA produce every beat, every strum on stage.”We’re playing everything live. We don’t hit any samples that repeat. We would never trigger a drum machine that would repeat. We use samples. We’ll hit something that goes bop but never everything that goes bop, bop, bop.” “The deejay is a very vague terrible term that doesn’t differentiate from DJ logic who is a musician who’s scratching and a deejay at a barmitzvah. I don’t judge whether one is better than the other but as an artist you have to draw the line.”The band sometimes stumbles into awkward moments where the sound groove temporarily disbands, but they don’t force anything. They let it go and then are able to release the mind-blowing groove their fans have come to expect. The band knows, but to the audience, the electronical musical tapestry sounds seamless.Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or laball@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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