‘Swampy, thick Southern blues’ in Vail | VailDaily.com

‘Swampy, thick Southern blues’ in Vail

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyJ.J. Grey is coming to Vail Tuesday night

VAIL, Colorado –J.J. Grey –who plays in Vail Tuesday night – learned as a young child how to put on a good show. At every family get-together, everyone would try and “out-entertain” on another.

“We all think we’re comedians,” Grey said during a phone interview from outside the House of Blues in Dallas, Texas. “If you wanted to hold the floor, you better be entertaining. If you wanted to tell a story, you better really tell it.”

Ever since Grey and his band MOFRO released their first album, “Blackwater,” in 2001, it’s clear he can hold the floor and even more apparent that he’s got plenty of stories to tell. Raised in the swamplands of northern Florida, his front porch, soul-ridden songs focus on Southern culture, his family, the degradation of the environment and of course, love.

The Southern rockers kick off the Hot Summer Nights concert series with a free show tonight at Ford Amphitheater in Vail.

Scott Stoughton of Samana Lounge met Grey and his band a few years back when they performed at State Bridge Lodge.

“They were always cool to be around. (Grey) is definitely a very unique artist in that he’s in that jam band scene, but he’s much more of a classic songwriter. He’s got great songwriting skills and his shows are that really, really swampy, thick Southern blues – I really dig it.”

Although Grey, 41, is unequivocal about the fact that his family and his roots are what he considers most important in life now, it wasn’t always that way.

“I was ready to walk away from it, run from it, like it was a curse,” he said in his thick Southern accent. “Like it was a bad thing to be who I was, to talk the way I talk, think the way I think,” Grey said.

Eventually he learned that the most important things in life likely won’t jibe with current fads.

“Most country people are looked at like they’re dumb since they don’t say much,” Grey said. “But they don’t have to talk very much. They don’t need to be entertained, they can just sit there and chill out. It’s like watchiing Tibetan monks, there’s something to learn from that. I was ready to forget purposefully things that are worth remembering.”

Grey said he was like a cell that wasn’t connected to anything in the world.

“We spend the first half of life running away from home and the last half running back,” he continued. “Maybe that’s it. I looked and suddenly saw they had a real connection to the dirt, to the whole land.”

Songs like “Florida,” from Grey’s first album, “Blackwater,” poignantly show how connected he is to his homeland, as well as his prowess as a musical storyteller:

“Now skyscrapers and superhighways ⁄

are carved through the heart of Florida ⁄

Building sub-divisions while the swamps are drained ⁄

makin’ room for people and amusement parks ⁄

It’s like watchin’ someone you love die slow ⁄

Yeah they’re killin’ her one piece at a time ⁄

I know some fools who think I should let go ⁄

but they never seen Florida through my eyes.”

With lyrics like that, it’s not surprising that Grey is often quizzed about being an “environmental rocker.”

But while the band has played benefits to raise money for conservation groups, Grey doesn’t consider himself a tree hugger, he really just loves his home.

“Those are battles that I choose to fight at home,” Grey said. “At the same time, I don’t want to tell another grown man what to do. I just feel there’s a smart way to do something and a stupid way and I’ve been as stupid as anyone. I write songs that preach to me. I don’t feel I’m teaching anybody, but I preach best what I most need to learn. I’m both the choir, congregation and the preacher.”

What: J.J. Grey and MOFRO at Hot Summer Nights

Where: Ford Amphitheater, Vail

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

More information: Call 970-949-1999 or visit http://www.vvf.org

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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