Night 1 – An Evening with Jorma in Fort Collins
I’ve often wondered what the music would be like from guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, or Duane Altman had they survived into their elder years. Would Jimi be sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar blasting away on some psychedelic blues? Would Kurt Cobain have taken up trap music? This world will never know, but we do get that gift from Jorma Kaukonen. From his early days with Jefferson Airplane Jorma never let go of his individual style. Known for his finger picking, today at 82 years young he still performs with Hot Tuna and solo across the country. His swing through Colorado included a stop in Grand Junction before hitting both Fort Collins and Boulder.
When a legend is coming to town you don’t ask questions you just make it a point to be at the show. There were two distinct vibes at each concert let’s start with the Armory. Originally built in 1907 this building was National Guard outpost but throughout the years it has always been a place to gather. It is now a Bohemian Foundation venue created specifically as a listening room for Fort Collins. This 200 person space has a massive ceiling and a standing room balcony that overlooks the beautiful but tight stage. Most found seats on the floor and during the show you could hear a pin drop. Tickets were sold out almost immediately months before doors. The show was billed as “An Evening with” meaning at 7 PM Jorma promptly made his way to single chair on the stage.
He played two full sets which also meant we got a little bonus music not performed the following evening. The bulk of the setlists were similar with a few gems sprinkled into to each evening’s performance. Jorma opened with Jim Egan’s country blues number “Ain’t In No Hurry.” His song selections would span the entirety of his prolific career starting with the Hot Tuna classic “Broken Highway.” His fingers danced during the traditional “Hesitation Blues” before performing “Barbecue King.” That record is definitely the odd man out when it comes to his catalog. He dug deep with the Jefferson Airplane classic “Trial By Fire” which has been a staple of his acoustic show since his earliest Hot Tuna days. The Jimmie Cox original “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” was a crowd favorite, but the rendition of Leroy Carr’s “How Long, How Long Blues” brought the house down. He closed the first set with “Let Us Get Together Right Down Here.”
The break was pretty quick and soon we were right back in the thick of it. Jorma had a lot songs that ask existential questions and ponder time. His song selection was a blend of traditional blues covers and significant originals from his 50+ years on the road. The man can weave a mesmerizing musical tapestry on any night of the week. He opened his second set with the Hot Tuna classic “Serpent of Dreams” which talks about the brevity of life and how time passes. He continued the thought with his newest song “Where Have All My Good Friends Gone?,” an almost playful look at mortality. The apparent theme continued with the Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” Hearing Jorma perform this powerful song solo was an absolute highlight of both nights. The psych acoustic instrumental “Been So Long” was captivating. As he finished he finally tuned his guitar and uttered, “Live music is fraught with peril.” He told a few stories but mostly he let his songs do the talking. The dark and brooding “Ice Age” was the perfect segue into the stark and bluesy “Another Man Done Gone.”
He wrapped up his set with a bubbly “Blue Railroad Train” before returning to the Rev. Gary Davis staple “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed & Burning.” Jorma encored with his iconic “Genesis” off of his album Quah. The entire performance was jawdroppingly good. Kaukonen is a sage and his life and musical output is legendary. He is one Rolling Stones’ 100 Greatest Guitarists and his contribution to American music cannot be overstated. His two sets at the Armory gave fans a wide sampling of his work all though an acoustic filter. One guy, one guitar, and whole lot of life experience made for a stellar evening in the Choice City. Now on to Boulder!
Night 2 – Jorma with Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley in Boulder
I’ll be a bit more brief here given the overlap, but both shows were simply fantastic. If you have the chance to see this living legend make it happen for yourself.
The Boulder Theater had an aged audience looking for a good time. The room was seated so this event was capped around 850. Although at show time a few seats sprinkled around the theater were still available. The art deco designed room has been hosting audiences since 1906. While a bit rowdier, the Boulder crowd was utterly respectful and definitely paying attention. In Boulder we were treated to an opening set from Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes who could easily headline their own show.
Rob Ickes is spent 21 years as the dobro player for the influential bluegrass group Blue Highway. He teamed up with Trey Hensley but not before winning his fifteenth Dobro Player of The Year titles from the International Bluegrass Association in 2013. Now the stripped down pair tours from their home base in Nashville supporting acts like Taj Mahal and David Grisman. Trey Hensley started his picking career young performing at The Grand Ole Opry at the tender age of 11 years old. He was awarded IMBA’s Guitar Player of the Year in 2020. These two definitely had chops. Their set lasted around 45 minutes opening with the Grateful Dead favorite “Brown Eyed Women.” They have 3 albums out and are currently hard at work on a fourth. Hensley is a storyteller which became evident with songs “Backstreets Off Broadway” about trying to make it in Music City, USA. They wove originals like “Deeper Than a Dirt Road” with staples like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride and Joy.” Their style is stark but powerful with a wide range not usually heard from two guys with two guitars. They showed their respect with a ripping rendition of Merl Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” I was on the fence about buying a record, but their version of the Bill Monroe traditional “Working On a Building” pushed me into the purchase. Keep an eye out for these two, while they may not be household names yet their talent is more than worthy of your attention.
I don’t want to get too far into the weeds with Jorma for fear of repeating myself so I’ll keep it succinct. Jorma started the show with a warm thank you to Rob and Trey before launching into notable Hot Tuna standard “True Religion.” He told a story about “Take Your Time” basically demanding to be written in his mind and the result was a sort of cautionary tale to his child. “Sleep Song” is another tune about purpose or a lack there of. “Second Chances” is gentle and features Jorma as the raconteur. “San Francisco Bay Blues” was a nice addition as well. Jorma closed the show in the same way as he did for much of the run with “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed & Burning” into a “Genesis” encore.
Needless to say both shows were absolutely sublime. Jorma is the consummate performer who has lived though the history that we celebrate today. West Coast Psych rock was practically invented in Jefferson Airplane’s home venue The Matrix. Jorma was knee deep in the stew that brought us The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and Country Joe. Now decades later Jorma is a man who has come through it all and fallen back on the guitar as a true and beautiful instrument. His picking and style are unmatched and he has answered my question. In their golden years where does the rockstar go? They goes back to what made them want to play in the first place. Thank you Jorma for a real good time.
Jorma Kaukonen at The Armory – Saturday August 5, 2023
Set 1: Ain’t In No Hurry, Broken Highway, Hesitation Blues, Barbecue King, Living In The Moment, Sea Child, Trial By Fire, Letter To The North Star, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out, How Long Blues, Hamar Promenade, In My Dreams, Come Back Baby, Let Us Get Together Right Down Here
Set 2: Serpent Of Dreams, Where Have My Good Friends Gone?, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Great Divide Revisited, Whining Boy Blues, Been So Long, Sleep Song, Good Shepard, Too Many Years, Ice Age, Another Man Done Gone, River Of Time, Day To Day Out The Window Blues, Blue Railroad Train, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed & Burning
Jorma Kaukonen at The Boulder Theater – Sunday August 6th, 2023
Set 1: True Religion, Been So Long, Hesitation Blues, Take Your Time, Barbecue King, Blue Railroad Train, Sleep Song, Trial By Fire, Second Chances, Ice Age, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out, Come Back Baby, Where Have All My Good Friends Gone?, Sea Child, San Francisco Bay Blues, Trouble In Mind, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed & Burning