Peter Rowan learned from the best and then taught the rest.
Raised under the tutelage of the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, Rowan has remained a stabilizing force on the bluegrass scene. He has been willing to embrace the new jamgrass ethics while anchoring his music in the minimalist roots of the genre. He continues to enthrall audiences by blending the two factions as his most recent work on his album “The Old School” attests.
Never was this more in evidence than last night at evening two of the Vail Bluegrass Summer Series. During his classic rendition of “Land Of The Navajo,” the eccentrically dressed Rowan unleashed a mid-song proGrassive jam that would have made fellow Old And In The Way band mate Jerry Garcia proud. He then ended the lengthy number with a Native American chant rooted in the deepest voles of our country. The crowd (at least those that could hear it) was in rapture.
The Grammy winner brought an impressive line up of string players including the young Chris Henry on raging mandolin, Paul Knight on bass, Blaine Sprouse on pure country fiddle and Keith Little on banjo. Though it would be difficult for the septuagenarian to touch base on all his prodigious recordings in a set designed to last a little over an hour, Rowan did manage a broad sweep of his catalogue. The new material was accepted by the crowd as much as the old favorites that have recently been energized by numerous jam bands including covers by String Cheese Incident.
Rowan’s voice remains his strongest suit and in it you hear the aching of lovers and the down trodden. You also hear the roots of bands who have been trying to emulate Rowan’s sound like Widespread Panic and The Grateful Dead. Hearing the original last night was a rare treat.
But now might be a good time to mention the hearing part. The Vail Bluegrass Summer Series is a welcome addition to the grand musical lineups routinely presented here in the Valley and the free admission price is certainly a welcome treat; however, a minor fix to the sound system would have lifted last night’s performance to epic levels.
A simple addition of relay speakers in the middle of the tent would have provided ample amplitude to the folks in the back and perhaps would have gone a long way to keeping them quiet. The chatter was at times overwhelming to the staid musicians who even took time out of the set to ask for silence. The problem of course was they couldn’t hear the kind Rowan’s request due to sound system’s limitations. Town of Vail please take note for future shows.
The sound everyone could hear was thunder and rain but what they really needed to hear was Thunder And Rain. The evening’s opening act was a young Golden, Colorado band called Thunder and Rain and perhaps because their set started at 5 only a sparse crowd was present to hear a strong performance in particularly the vocal styling’s of Erinn Mae Peet- a voice you will be hearing more from in your bluegrass future. The other thunder and rain brought from above only lasted a few minutes at the onset of Rowan’s set and did little to dampen the spirits.