Vail Valley Voices: Vail Jam brings out our best local musicians
Vail, CO, Colorado
Peter Fontanese has been playing music in the Vail Valley for 28 years. If you’ve ever sipped on a martini with a cool jazz jam filling the room, rocked out on a dance floor deep in the belly of a slopeside bar, or enjoyed music anywhere, anytime in this valley, chances are you’ve benefited from Peter’s hard-won music mastery.
He’s one of an elite group of musicians who clock in, day after day, night after night, apres after apres, to keep the beat alive in all the places that matter: from the swishiest chalets to the dankest of dives.
We’re a ski town, a long way from major label headquarters, but we still get some pretty good acts coming through town, and in my opinion we’ve got a core of year-round musical talent that could stack up, pound-for-pound, with just about anywhere else in the states.
Yeah, we’re not Memphis, we’re not L.A. (thank God). But this is Vail. We don’t do anything unless we do it well, and if we help out a charity in the process, all’s the better.
That’s the idea behind the Vail Jam, which takes on its 12th incarnation Monday. Like a blue moon or a rogue wave, a perfect storm or the complex machinations behind the creation of the Kwisatz Haderach, the 12th Vail Jam is one of those special moments when a myriad of forces come together to create a jaw-droppingly awesome moment in time.
The awesomeness, in this case, is due to the synergy created when all the valley’s talent comes together in one place, toward the end of a long winter, to discharge a hellacious amount of hidden — and not-so-hidden — talent. Hearing Roy Bloomfield play a solo show is one thing, hearing him join up with Donny Z, Larry Dutmer, Don Poff, Brent Gordon and Fontanese is another thing entire … and that’s just the backing band. By the end of the evening, more than 20 talented acts take the stage.
It’s a gig that started in 1989, and the “old guard” carried the tradition on until 1999, when things fell off, much to the malaise of local aficionados — after all, it’s the one place you can see almost every show in Vail, every rock band, jazz pianist and guitar man in town, young and old, past and present.
The energy is incredible, and musicians enjoy it just as much as everyone else. That’s part of the reason why Fontanese figured it was time to fire up the rockets and relaunch the event, this time with some new names and faces on board.
Yes, he did it because the valley’s musicians need unity and creative parlance to grow the power of the local scene — and nothing does that better than one, big, massive, jam — but also because he knew the event could raise money in the meantime.
Fontanese and company put the bands back together in 2008 for the 11th Vail Jam, and Monday night the 12th Vail Jam gets under way.
This time funds raised from the event go to the Make a Wish Foundation of Colorado and the Roundup River Ranch, extremely worthy causes that all Coloradoans should be proud to support. The Make a Wish Foundation, if you’re not familiar with it, grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions and, in the process, brings them hope, love, and joy.
The Roundup River Ranch is part of Paul Newman’s “Hole in the Wall” camps, and I have a special bias toward our version, which sits at 6,300 feet alongside the Colorado River. The camp serves children who would otherwise not have the opportunity to have that memorable summer-camp experience, and Roundup needs our community support to keep its special services going.
Besides, the giving is part of the fun. The talented auctioneer Roger Sierens will be coming from Denver to host a live auction, and together with the silent auction more than 100 vacation packages, restaurant deals, and other items will be auctioned off. All of it, including the music, has been donated for the cause.
And what a cause it is … certainly inspiration enough all its own. But the music, too, inspires.
The musicians are set free, the audience already warm to the idea that music and the mountains pair together as nicely as fine wine and cheeses.
The night builds like a tempest, and there’s barely time to register the rockingness of Laughing Bones before the Harry Baxter Band takes the stage, and by the time Rod Powell’s done, Don Watson’s warming up, and next thing you know Frank “The Professor” Chase is on stage making a triumphant return while simultaneously raising a glass to the lovely Linda Chorney, and by the end everyone decides to rush the stage and perform one, last, glorious jam that is so unspeakably good that it would leave Janis Joplin, James Taylor, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington all weeping with ebullient gratification at the amazingness of the jam!
Or, at least, that’s the way it feels to all of us in the room. Tickets are $35 before the event and $40 at the door. For more on the event, or to buy tickets, visit http://www.roundupriverranch.org or call Peter Fontanese at (970) 949-0785.
Tom Boyd was raised in Vail and is co-founder of realvail.com. He also will perform at the 12th Vail Jam.