MUSIC BOX: Fiery Headliners, Fitz, and a Fete

By on August 31, 2016

Fireman’s Ball brings Gov’t Mule and Blackberry Smoke, Fitz & The Tantrums make a Wyoming debut, and the Wort turns 75.

You know the score—go to their ball and they’ll come to your fire. Well, not Gov’t Mule (pictured), but the firefighters hosting the band for the Fireman’s Ball Sunday.

You know the score—go to their ball and they’ll come to your fire. Well, not Gov’t Mule (pictured), but the firefighters hosting the band for the Fireman’s Ball Sunday.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – With 76 years of community service under its belt, the Jackson Firefighters Association has been resetting the bar over the last three years of what local folks expect from the annual Fireman’s Ball.

One of the oldest and worthy traditions in the valley, the ball generates important revenue for Jackson firefighters, who do not receive county funding. Last year the ball raised enough funds for the purchase of a new cardiac monitor that allows the transmission of EKG rhythms to the hospital, as well as a new fire engine, and emergency funds for the families of local fallen or injured firefighters.

Garnering more than 2,000 supporters, the ball has long been a successful music-filled, beer drinkin, silent and live auctioning dance party. But the shift to booking national touring bands that are on a different level compared to past local acts has increased buzz around the fundraiser. They hosted Marshall Tucker Band in 2014 followed by one of the most talked about concerts in the last five years—2015’s monster bill featuring North Mississippi Allstars with Anders Osborne and Sam Bush Band. This year will feature Warren Haynes’ Gov’t Mule, Blackberry Smoke, and The Record Company.

“The last four years have been a cool journey for me,” said James Powell, director of the Fireman’s Ball. “We’ve been able to transform the event into a ticket-based sales model, whereas in the past we had relied heavily on individual donations and auctions. It’s been a learning process, but this model works well for us. This is a firefighter-booked event with firefighters serving the beer and cleaning up afterwards, so we don’t subcontract out.”

While it first reads cliché, Haynes has described Gov’t Mule as “an entity that refuses to be stereotyped.” Sure, this description is used by many an indie band these days. But the band’s new archival release, The Tel-Star Sessions, is evidence that it wouldn’t be wise to pigeonhole them as simply Southern rock. Haynes, a member of The Allman Brothers and countless side projects, is a taskmaster that only few individuals could handle at such a level.

At the core of the band’s sound is improvisational blues, jazz and gritty rock, but it’s deeper than that. The Tel-Star Sessions is a collection recorded during the band’s formation in 1994 when friends Haynes and bassist Allen Woody recruited drummer Matt Abts from Dickey Betts Band to retreat to Brandon, Florida. What followed was trio magic.

“We take all our many and varied influences and combine them together and try to create fresh, new music,” Haynes recently told Pittsburgh’s Trib. “Having said that, we take a very old school approach to the music. We are not just … influenced by old genres of music … we are convinced that a lot of the open-minded process and mindsets went into making a lot of older music much more gratifying.”

Haynes also noted the band takes a jazz approach to the myriad types of music they play. “[There’s] a lot of call and response and interplay based on listening very intently to each other. There is a lot of great music that is very unrehearsed and very spontaneous. It is very gratifying to walk on stage with a group of musicians you have that kind of confidence in. You know you can do it. We are doing what’s in our heart and trying to keep the voice of integrity alive. We tend to get a lot of respect for that.”
While Blackberry Smoke takes a few cues from Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top—including their longhair and bearded look—the lean towards country rock and a blue-collar work ethic has the quintet hitting their stride. Currently on the Smokin’ Mule Tour with Gov’t Mule, the band’s new album, Like an Arrow, drops October 14.  Opening the show is blues trio The Record Company, which headlined a Jackson Hole Live concert just a few weeks ago.

“We have been trying to book Gov’t Mule for a few years, and Southern rock works well for the event as it gets [everyone from] ski bums to cowboys excited,” Powell noted. Switching the ball to Labor Day weekend had a lot to do with the band’s schedule, but Powell says he’s still hopeful for the same kind of robust turnout the ball attracts when its held in November. “It’s still a fundraiser, but also a thank you to the community.”

76th Annual Fireman’s Ball featuring Gov’t Mule, Blackberry Smoke, and The Record Company, 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4 at Heritage Arena. $40. JHFireAssociation.com.

Neo soul and indie electro pop percolates through the Pink Garter Wednesday care of Fitz and The Tantrums.

Neo soul and indie electro pop percolates through the Pink Garter Wednesday care of Fitz and The Tantrums.

Fitz and The Tantrums titillate the Tetons

From early career Motown revival to an 80s electropop sound with its latest album, L.A.’s Fitz and The Tantrums will make their Wyoming debut Wednesday, August 31 at the Pink Garter Theatre. Ahead of the band’s performance, keyboardist Jeremy Ruzumna weighed in on road life and progressing the group’s sound.

Planet Jackson Hole: FATT’s new album has a bumping, polished sound and when I dug into your earlier albums I was surprised by the more vintage soul vibe. What are a few of the influences (musical or otherwise) that have helped shape the evolution of your sound, particularly in the new album?

Jeremy Ruzumna: We are all about growing and expanding as a band. With each album comes experimenting and trying out new sounds. As we are exposed to more and more new music, it’s great to be able to find elements from pop, jazz, soul, hip-hop, electronic, and make our own thing along the way.

PJH: It is tough to maintain a high-energy live show while touring, or does the stage have its own sort of adrenaline that helps fuel this?

JR: The stage for sure provides adrenaline. We all are exhausted a majority of the tour, traveling really takes it out of you. But as soon as we get on that stage in front of all these fans that have paid to come out and see us at our best, the energy just comes out of nowhere.

PJH: I’m sure you’ve played all types of stages with varying audiences over the years as you’ve grown–is there a close-to-ideal setting that you’ve found where you guys can harvest your best mojo these days?
JR: It’s always awesome playing hometown shows. I mean, playing The Greek Theatre in October is going to be so great. Personally, I love packed shows in theatres. Usually old theatres are beautiful and fun to spend time in and the sound is always so loud and gives the audience life. Outdoor stages lose a little of that closeness and audience engagement that fuels us onstage.

PJH: Is there a story behind the name of the tour, “Get Right Back”?

JR: It’s one of our favorite songs off the new record and since we haven’t been on the road in over a year—previously to starting this tour—it had a nice ring to it. You know, kinda like, “we’re back!”

Fitz and The Tantrums with Phases, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 31 at the Pink Garter Theatre. $63. PinkGarterTheatre.com; 733-1500.

Street party for Wort’s 75th

It was September 1, 1941. Roosevelt was president, World War II was in swing, and the attack on Pearl Harbor was just a couple of months away. In Jackson, it was the grand opening of The Wort Hotel, built by brothers John and Jess Wort. The brothers had inherited the dream of their father, Charles J. Wort, who arrived to Jackson on horseback in 1893 and dreamed of building a first class hotel before passing in 1933.

It’s time to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the iconic watering hole, former gambling house, award-winning hotel, and a venue that hosts music and dancing five days a week. The community celebration and street party will kick-off with complimentary beer and wine at the hotel’s Glenwood Street entrance. Jackson Mayor Sarah Flitner will read the town’s official proclamation followed by guest speakers and the cutting of the 75th birthday cake before the party moves inside to the Silver Dollar Showroom at 7 p.m., when outlaw country band Major Zephyr takes the stage. Local author Charlie Craighead will be in the lobby signing the 75th anniversary limited edition of his book, Meet Me at The Wort.

The Wort Hotel’s 75th anniversary street party, 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday, Sept 1. 733-2190; WortHotel.com. PJH

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

160831Music_PlanetPicks

160831Music_PlanetPicks-2WEDnesday

Fitz and The Tantrums with Phases (Pink Garter), Open Mic/Songwriter’s Alley featuring Freda Feltcher (Silver Dollar)

THURsday

75th Anniversary Party with Major Zephyr (Wort Hotel/Silver Dollar)

FRIday

Quenby & West of Waylon Band (Silver Dollar)

SATurday

Uncle Stack & The Attack (Mangy Moose)

SUNday

76th Annual Fireman’s Ball featuring Gov’t Mule, Blackberry Smoke and The Record Company (Heritage Arena), Miller Sisters (Roadhouse Brewing)

Monday

JH Hootenanny (Dornan’s)

TUESday

One Ton Pig (Silver Dollar)

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About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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