Golden God, Meat Puppets and E Street eulogy

by Chris Aaland

"You know, I’ve never really been a fan of the back row,” my friend Scott Spencer deadpanned Sunday night in Telluride. He and I stood in the muddy puddle that was once the poser pit, a mere 10 feet away from the Fred Shellman Stage where Robert Plant and his Band of Joy would launch into a tasty little jaunt through “Black Dog” in mere minutes. We anchored the front row, close enough to smell the incense that flanked the microphone stand soon to be twirled by rock’s greatest frontman. For those whose view was impaired by my 6-foot-5 frame, I apologize for nothing. Go find a step-stool or a stack of phonebooks. It’s not my fault your parents were short.

Fifteen hours earlier, I wasn’t sure if I’d make the scene at all. I’d rolled around bed all night long, debating whether or not I should head up to Telluride for the final day of Bluegrass. As I’ve already grumbled in these pages, the likelihood of extending my personal string to 15 straight years at Colorado’s biggest music festival was slim due to the new bambino. But Scott came through with a Sunday wristband, a VIP upgrade and a barricade pass.

Like I was really going to be anywhere else? C’mon, I’m an old headbanger. And this was Robert Effing Plant, the Feather in the Wind. I was born nine months before Led Zeppelin’s first-ever U.S. gig – at the old Denver Auditorium Arena on Dec. 26, 1968. I missed that one. But I did see Plant at Red Rocks on the Fourth of July 20 years later. Tenth row, stage left.

Now he was in my back yard, less than a half mile away from the grave of the great-great-great uncle Gus is named after. The Golden God didn’t disappoint, nor did the Norse deities he sang about in those old Zeppelin songs. The rains stopped and the clouds lifted just in time to expose a fresh frosting of snow flirting with the first ridgeline above town, shrouded in mist and the day’s last light. Fittingly, Telluride became Valhalla.

So like the little people of Stonehenge in “Spinal Tap,” we danced. For those of you who missed out, Zeppelin classics like “What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Ramble On,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Black Country Woman” and “Gallows Pole” were woven into a set that also pulled from Plant’s two recent rootsy releases, “Band of Joy” and “Raising Sand,” the latter a winner of five Grammies with Alison Krauss. He dusted off “In the Mood,” an overplayed MTV hit from his early solo career. He even happily sang backing vocals whenever his bandmates – longtime Telluride veterans Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott and Patty Griffin – stepped up for a lead vocal.

Who else could inspire Griffin, one of the most revered songwriters of our time, to squeeze into a black, leather miniskirt, fishnets and knee-high boots and bump and grind her way through the set like a caged dancer at a ZZ Top concert? “It’s not exactly Shakespeare,” Plant said of his sexually charged Zep material. “My formative years,” he chuckled.

I guess I’ve never really been a fan of the back row, either.

A band I’ve liked for nearly as long as Zeppelin is the Meat Puppets, who return to the Abbey Theatre on Sunday night. This time around, the Puppets are touring in support of their newly released 13th album, “Lollipop.” These guys have a long history with Durango, dating back to the late ‘80s when they played the old CUB Ballroom at Fort Lewis during their “Huevos” tour. In recent years, they sell out rather quickly.

Fridays at the Fort, a collaboration between Alpine Bank and the FLC Community Concert Hall launches at 5 p.m. Friday on 11th Street between Main and Narrow Gauge. It’s free and it happens the last Friday of each month. The blues are in order this time around, with the Kirk James Blues Band and The Plateros on the bill. The latter has been redefining Native American music by fusing blues, funk and rock. Guitarist Levi Platero has drawn comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Carlos Santana. Beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages will be sold in a roped-off area.

James, Durango’s best-known blues guitarist, also has three other gigs this week: solo at 6 p.m. Saturday at Serious Texas BBQ South; with his blues band from 2-6 p.m. Sunday at the Chimney Rock Restaurant & Tavern; and again solo at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Balcony.

The Summit’s big news this week: the return of Warsaw at 10 p.m. Wednesday. It’s been awhile since Aaron Poland and his outfit have graced Durango, but these ska-punk warriors never fail to entertain. Also at the Summit: White Water Ramble at 10 p.m. Thirsty Thursday, the Formless at 10 p.m. Friday and Justin James & Co. at 10 p.m. Saturday.

This week’s Starlight slate includes Salsa Night with DJ Caliente at 8 p.m. tonight (Thurs., June 23), FAC with The Assortment from 6-9 p.m. Friday, dancing with Peter Robot at 9 p.m. Saturday, Musica del Mundo at 9 p.m. Sunday, and the pooch-proud Dogs Gone Wild event Monday.

There’s thrice the music at Ska’s World Headquarters this week: The Assortment doing Americana, blues and folk from 5-7 p.m. tonight, Telekave strumming rock and alt-country from 5-7 p.m. tomorrow and Fish Out of Water doing ska from 5-7 p.m. Saturday.

Also of note: Jack Ellis performs solo folk-blues at 5 p.m. tonight at the Doubletree Hotel’s Animas River Café, while Pete Giuliani does acoustic stuff from 5-8 p.m. tonight at Rylee Mac’s and from 5-8 p.m. Friday at El Rancho.

While I was living the dream in Telluride watching one rock legend on Sunday, little did I know that another had passed on a day earlier. This week’s Top’s Shelf is dedicated to former E Street Band sax player Clarence Clemons, who died after complications from a stroke Sunday. He was 69. Here are five of the Big Man’s memorable solos:

“Jungleland” (still my favorite Boss cut after all these years)

“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”

“Born to Run”


“Freeway of Love,” Aretha Franklin’s 1985 hit

The change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band? Email me at



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