The Scene: Copper Mountain ski resort was home to the Copper Country Music Festival this Labor Day weekend. The annual event attracted “a couple thousand people,” according to one of the polo shirt-wearing security guards. This kid-friendly festival is deemed country, but there was a very diverse lineup this year. Legendary blues man Taj Mahal closed out the first day of the two-day event and while there is nothing about Taj that I would consider country, there wasn’t much country in the crowd either! I saw but a few cowboy hats and some boots, but the crowd was mostly of the flip-flop persuasion. It was a beautiful, brisk, and sunny Summit County Saturday, and we were ready for some blues!
Taj Mahal: When Taj Mahal took the stage, the crowd couldn’t contain their excitement. Standing well over six feet, and well fed, he strutted in one of his signature Hawaiian shirts and panama hats. His fifty-year career as a professional musician has not seemed to wear him out a bit, as he immediately broke out into an amazing instrumental piece on his hollow body electric. Smacking the tail-end of his guitar and shaking his hips he had some attentive women in the front row obviously pleased. The fact of the matter is, we were all pleased. Taj is a showman. He interacts with his audience, moves around the stage, and captures you with his bassy, gritty voice. Taj Mahal has been traveling as a trio recently, with Denver local Bill Rich on the bass and Kester Smith on drums. When Taj broke into “Done Changed My Way of Livin,” we all started to move; we didn’t have a choice, we were simply following instructions, as Taj told us to “shake your hips now!” Then he asked the all-important question, “Am I hittin’ the spot? Is that the spot?” As awkward as it felt, my response was an emphatic “yes!”
Since 1961, Taj Mahal has recorded and performed not just traditional blues, but also has developed a unique style that incorporates an island vibe. This island influence came out as Taj switched to an acoustic and played “Fishin’ Blues” and his legendary ballad “Corrina.” The “Maestro” informed us the altitude was straining his voice a bit, so he played the exotic, African influenced instrumental “Zanzibar.” As he worked the stage from side to side, gyrating his hips and shooting one of the most genuine smiles I have ever seen, I couldn’t help feeling lucky.
After ten songs of passion-filled and sultry blues guitar, Taj strapped on a banjo. He picked the first few bars of “Dueling Banjos,” turned the front of his straw hat up, and poked fun at the fact he was playing at a “Country” music festival. He played that banjo as aggressively and precisely as he does his guitars. After a couple songs on the banjo, Taj picked up his electric guitar and exploded into a call-and-response “Hey, Hey, the blues is alright!” After a long round of applause, Taj Mahal gave us an encore of the wedding favorite “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes,” which was written with Leftover Salmon’s Vince Herman during The Nashville Sessions.
Taj Mahal is a living legend. While his eclectic musical style stays firmly planted in the blues, the entire set had an air of sexuality and grit, with a hint of island style. If Taj Mahal is not on your list of must-see artists, I strongly recommend you drop everything the next time he is in town!
Set List: Instrumental, TV Mama, Done Changed My Way Of Livin’, Checkin’ Up On My Baby, Annie May, Fishin’ Blues, Corrina, Zanzibar, Good Morning Miss Brown, Queen Bee, Roscoe’s Barn, Slow Drag, The Blues Is Alright
Encore: Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes
Stage Presence: A
Set/Light Show: N/A