In this day and age it’s not very often that you get to ride on a coal fired, steam powered train through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It’s even less often that the train carries some of the best Blues and Zydeco acts in the country, each performing in their own vintage coach car. If this sounds like a dream to you that’s because it is, but one that has been realized through The Durango Blues Train and the folks who bring you The Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. Think Festival Express meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The train, which rides on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, was actually used for the Paul Newman & Robert Redford classic. While there won’t be any gun slinging, there will be plenty of guitar slinging, Squeeze Box smashing, Banjo pickin’, Violin vexing, Harp howling, Bass drum bumping, hand clapping and foot stomping from these six acts:
Peter Karp and Sue Foley have both had successful solo careers. Hailing from Canada, Foley is an award-winning guitarist. Karp, who is a driven songwriter, had fronted the band Blind Pig and has worked and toured with such luminaries as guitarist Mick Taylor of Rolling Stones fame. But put these two together and you’ve got something special. In an interview on Canada’s CBC radio program Saturday Night Blues, Foley echoed that sentiment, “I think together we are more than the sum of our parts.” This is evident in the duo’s call and response verses that offer up both a male and female perspective on the same issue, unsurprisingly with very different emotions and points of view. When they come together to harmonize on their choruses it is an affirmation that although men and women are two very different species, we can still live together in relative harmony. The group deals in dichotomies, male/female or good/bad. This exploration of both sides of the coin can be seen in songs like “We’re Gonna Make It,” and “At The Same Time,” the latter of which Karp had this to say, “You go through life and sometimes the bad things that you do lead to good things and sometimes the good things that you do lead to bad things. That’s one of the themes of our conversations.” Everybody gets the Blues, but it is not often when you get the male as well as the female take on things contained in one group, not to mention that both Foley and Karp are accomplished guitar players, with Karp adding a sultry slide to Foley’s smooth, effortless style.
If you like you’re Zydeco with a side of Funk and a splash of Hip-Hop then Lil’ Brian and the Zydeco Travelers are well worth the trip. It’s Zydeco. Of course there is an accordion. Of course there is a washboard. But it is the energy and passion that this band puts into their playing that make them great. Hailing from both Baton Rouge and Houston, this Zydeco act straddles the border bayous of Texas and Louisiana; and it shows. Their music is guaranteed to get you hot and sweaty. Lil Brian’s virtuosity on the big piano note accordion was honed under the tutelage of Zydeco legend Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural of Buckwheat Zydeco. The group’s latest release, Worldwide, seeks to bring the bayou to a larger audience and Lil Brian sees his music as an innovation that everyone can enjoy, “I love the roots of Zydeco. My greatest joy is to take these roots and combine them with today’s beat to make it my music.” The band has self-styled their music as Z-Funk and with songs like “Funky Zydeco,” “Bounce,” and “Get Up On That Zydeco” the Lil Brian train car is sure to be bumping!
Todd & the Fox are a folky, bluegrassy, electro, Americana duo in the vein of The Black Keys and The White Stripes in that they keep it simple, with only drums and Banjo. Created as a side project by Todd Eric Lovato and Erik Sawyer in 2011, the duo quickly found themselves at the top of the New Mexico music scene. Lovato plays Banjo, electric and acoustic, as well as bass on foot pedals (no easy feat!), while Sawyer provides an unflinching beat. Their songs are thoughtful and delightfully nerdy. Lovato showcases a strong lyrical sense in songs like “Sorry Zozobra” and “Amanda.” The band is very full live, with Sawyer holding down the beat providing a backdrop for Lovato to weave his catchy Banjo rolls and bass lines. Lovato also varies his banjo playing from a picking right hand style to a more strumming, claw-hammer style giving his Banjo a wide variety of sounds and textures. It is easy and a little lazy to make the comparison between Todd & The Fox and The Black Keys or The White Stripes considering that they are an indie duo with drums and a melodic instrument, but Todd and the Fox have taken the model further by developing a wide ranging, genre bending sonic palate that defies superficial comparisons. They will fit easily into a vintage train car too!
Lionel Young, this ain’t no old world Violin even though Young is classically trained, but this ain’t your grand-pappy’s Fiddle either. It’s electrified Blues Violin; and its scorching. Sometimes Young doesn’t even use his bow, picking the violin like a guitar, but when he does bust out the bow for a solo, the howling sound that springs from the wood and strings is pure Blues, heated and haunting. From pure Blues to Jazz to Boogie Woogie, Lionel Young and his band know how to get the crowd jumping, with the horn players dancing and Young hoping off the stage to interact with his ever growing number of fans. Still feeling the energy from their win at the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Young and his band, who are all top notch musicians in their own right, have been building up momentum by touring constantly both here in America and Europe. Durango Blues Train will see them with their chops sharpened like a surgeon’s scalpel. Young’s violin is so unique in the Blues genre that there isn’t much of a chance you’ve heard anything like it. His vocals are pretty damn smooth as well. With Lionel Young’s music set to the backdrop of the breathtaking San Juan National Forest, you might feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven.
What would a Blues Train be without the great state of Texas being represented? While Kirk James may make his home in Durango, his Blues are more laid back than an Austin dive bar in summer. It’s the familiarity with the Texas heat that gives James’ bottleneck slide it’s viscosity, but don’t let his easy-going demeanor and seemingly effortless style fool you; James is a ripper. He is just as quick to bust out some funky ragtime or a Texas shuffle as he is to play straight Blues. In 1998 James won the Telluride Blues contest and he hasn’t looked back, constantly playing and spreading that good ol’ Texas Blues beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. While growing up James listened to the likes of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters but music is in his blood, literally. “I grew up in a musical family, it has always been a part of me. I can’t imagine living without music.” A motorcycle enthusiast, James will trade his in for a slightly larger engine as he makes his second appearance on The Durango Blues Train.
Tim Lowman, the man behind the one-man act that is Low Volts, may hail from Southern California but his guttural voice and heavy Slide Guitar sound like they crawled out of the Mississippi Delta. Lowman rounds out his simple but effective sound with a bass drum and Tambourine. The subject matter of songs like “I Cried My Guts Out,” and “Safe To Say” are textbook Blues but with a modern, edgy twist. For example, from “Safe To Say,” “Don’t mind the mess that’s just my heart beating on the floor.” Lowman screams lyrics like these into an old timey microphone straight out of the fifties while wearing a leather jacket and wayfarer sunglasses. He is a bit eccentric, often referring to himself as “us” or “we,” but this is probably because his sound is so rich and full he fools even himself. A little eccentricity and weirdness is just what the music world needs in these times of conformity. Lowman’s 2011 debut album Twist Shake Grind Break won “Best Blues Album” at the San Diego Music Awards and songs from the album were used on the television show Weeds as well as by Stone Brewing Co. Low Volts is certainly a band that can deliver a desperately needed jolt of electricity to Rock & Roll and Lowman is an excellent addition to round out the Blues Train lineup.
The Blues Train experience begins at the historic train depot where the steam engine fires up and it’s all aboard for an experience of a lifetime. Passengers aboard will experience spectacular and breathtaking canyon views of Colorado’s San Juan National Forest as the train winds onto the “Highline,” a world famous section of railroad crawling along cliffs high above the Animas River, for an unforgettable musical journey.
Guests can enjoy live Blues and Zydeco with a beer and wine cash bar, and light snacks while riding the rails. Tickets are $95 per person, plus a 6% Historic Train Preservation fee. Tickets are extremely limited and purchasers must be 21 years old to participate.
For more information or to purchase tickets visit durangobluestrain.com or call toll free at (877) 872-4607. Also check out some of these amazing photos from last year’s Durango Blues Train.