Steel strings, ‘Twisted Fairytales’ & Faceplant Bash

Tinsley Ellis

by Chris Aaland

hile the spotlight rightfully shines on the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic this weekend – bringing thousands of riders to town and signaling the start of tourist season – I’m selfishly more interested in steel strings.

Legendary Southern blues-rocker Tinsley Ellis renders up can’t-miss boogie at the Purple Haze at 8 p.m. Saturday. A veteran of 11 studio albums (most released on Alligator Records, one of the greatest independent labels in the world), he’s been called “the most significant blues artist to emerge from Atlanta since Blind Willie McTell” — high praise, indeed. Think Duane Allman, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes and you get the picture. I first became aware of Ellis when he covered Freddie King’s “Double Eyed Whammy” on his breakthrough 1988 album, “Georgia Blue.” Ellis became hooked on the blues at age 14 when he sat in the front row for a B.B. King show. The legendary bluesman broke a string on his famed “Lucille,” changed it mid-song, and then handed Ellis the broken string. That one broken string led to a 35-year career as a professional musician. Rolling Stone once wrote, “He achieves pyrotechnics that rival early Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton.”

The Salt Fire Circus is back, bringing its “Twisted Fairytales” to the Durango Arts Center at 6:30 p.m. tonight (May 27), Friday and Saturday, plus 9:30 p.m. curtains Friday and Saturday. The schedule from June 3-5 mirrors this weekend. As with past shows, these performances include live music, dance, juggling, alternative circus routines and burlesque. There are also twists on traditional fairytales. The Salt Fire Circus is a grassroots, community-wide art project that draws on the talents of dancers, singers, musicians and artists from the Durango area.

Singer-songwriter Chris Pureka returns to Southwest Colorado when she plays the Millwood Junction Restaurant in Mancos at 8 p.m. tonight. Her third studio album, “How I Learned to See in the Dark,” adds such elements as nontraditional percussion, lyrical abstraction and a new, unrestrained vocal quality to her repertoire.

The Rowdy Shadehouse funks up Memorial Weekend with a 10 p.m. gig at the Summit on Friday. Summit owner Scottie Sindelar promises these guys are quite the treat to watch. The Shadehouse’s MySpace page touts that they’re not your grandma’s funk band, yet they’re schooled in the classics: James Brown, Otis Redding, Sly and the Family Stone, and Aretha Franklin, plus influences by contemporary rock/funk fusion acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jamiroquai and Rage Against the Machine.

In what’s become an Iron Horse tradition, Steamworks and Ska again join forces for the release of the jointly-brewed Faceplant Ale. A preliminary tasting happens at Ska at 4:20 p.m. Friday, followed by an unsanctioned bike ride to Steamworks for a proper tapping in the courtyard. Buy a pint glass (filled with your first beer) for $7, and enjoy refills for $3 all weekend long. Kentucky Deluxe will play the tapping party from 6-8 p.m. Friday, and prizes for riders include a bike giveaway and a chance to win your weight in beer. As if one

day is not enough, there’s the Sunday Faceplant Bash in the parking lot of the Bank of the San Juans from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m., featuring lots of Ska and Steamworks beer, plus free live music from S.O.B., Cosmic Accident and Kentucky Deluxe.

You’ve probably already noticed that the Durango Farmers Market is back in gear from 8 a.m. ‘til noon each Saturday in the First National Bank parking lot. Nestled among the locally grown produce, free-range beef, arts & crafts, and starter tomato plants is a music stage. This week it houses Gigi Love. Tunes, as always, are free.

The Starlight’s patio was packed to the gills for its grand opening last Saturday. Owner Rick Carney fired up the grill for free dogs, burgers and DBC beer while a beefy version of Kentucky Deluxe played dirty country and bluegrass. This will become a weekly occurrence through the summer: cheap BBQ and beer and free live music at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Elsewhere this week: James Bunten’s open mic at the Abbey at 7 p.m. tonight; Salsa Night with Twelfth Night DJ at the Starlight from 9-to-close tonight; jazz with Prattle at the Starlight from 6-9 p.m. Friday; Cosmic Blues from 8 ‘til midnight Friday at the Purple Haze; Nina Sasaki & Larry Carver at the Diamond Belle at 5:30 p.m. Friday and at Sweeney’s Restaurant at 5:30 p.m.; StillTime with Gigi Love at the Summit on Tuesday; and Waiting on Trial at the Summit on Wednesday.

I must admit, I was into the blues long before bluegrass, and alt-country wasn’t even a genre yet. My favorite record label was Alligator, the one that first brought us Tinsley Ellis. In his honor, this week’s Top Shelf list acknowledges my favorite Alligator blues releases:

1. “Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers,” 1971. Two guitars, one drum set and a great Chicago blues label was born.

2. “Crawfish Fiesta,” Professor Longhair, 1980. Sadly, Fess died a few weeks before its release. As America re-embraced New Orleans culture, the great Roy Byrd’s last album was an instant Crescent City classic.

3. “In My Time,” Charlie Musselwhite, 1993. The harmonica master played guitar on acoustic gems like “Stingaree.”

4. “Guitar Slinger,” Johnny Winter, 1984. The guitar hero delivers the definitive version of “Boot Hill.”

5. “Midnight Drive,” the Kinsey Report, 1989. Big Daddy’s boys get funky, which is no surprise given Donald’s former role as Bob Marley’s lead axeman.

6. “Queen of the Blues,” Koko Taylor, 1985. The Windy City’s queen gets raunchy on “Beer Bottle Boogie” and others.

7. “Chicken, Gravy and Biscuits,” Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, 1989. Sounds like lunch.

8. “Showdown!,” Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland & Robert Cray, 1985. Three legends cuttin’ heads.

9. “Swinging from the Rafters,” Long John Hunter, 1997. The old Durango Blues Society once brought the “Border Town Legend” to town.

10. “Satisfaction Guaranteed,” Lonnie Brooks, 1991. A little rock ‘n’ roll and some country blues.

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