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Utah supergroup honors Woodstock’s legacy at rooftop tribute show


Joshua James
  • Joshua James
Untitled Document

In the summer of 1969, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair brought half a million people to a dairy farm outside the small town of Bethel, N.Y. Centered around a message of peace, love and music, the free weekend-long event featured a legendary lineup that included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Woodstock went down in history as a defining moment in ’60s counterculture and one of the most significant music festivals of all time.

Now, more than 40 summers later, Woodstock will be the theme of this year’s Rooftop Concert Series tribute show, called Summertime Blues: The Songs of Woodstock. Organized by Salt Lake City musician Paul Jacobsen—of Paul Jacobsen & the Madison Arm and The Lower Lights—tribute shows in past years have honored the repertoire of The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, as well as the Beatles’ pivotal Abbey Road, with the music lovingly covered by a superband made up of influential local musicians.

That’s why this year’s theme is so unique: Instead of focusing on the music of a specific artist or album, the show will be re-creating the music of a huge festival that included performances by 32 bands. As a result, the Woodstock theme—the idea of singer-songwriter Sarah Sample, who’s also in the lineup—will make for a refreshingly eclectic tribute show, with the work of a wide variety of artists being represented.

Coming up with the set list that would capture Woodstock’s diversity was a tricky task for Jacobsen. “To me the challenge of this is to say, ‘Wow, three days, 30-something bands played, how do you pick 16 songs but also give the breadth of it?’ ” he says. But through a careful matchmaking process of pairing singers like Joshua James, Ryan Innes, Desert Noises’ Kyle Henderson and The Blue Aces’ Cristal Ramirez to a song that will allow them to shine, Jacobsen came up with a list of songs that should be a worthy snapshot of Woodstock and show off the high-caliber talent in the tribute show’s lineup.

“I think you’re going to see a variety of moments that will wow you,” Jacobsen says. “Everything from The Hollering Pines girls doing their beautiful Americana harmony singing on an old Gram Parsons song, to face-melting shredding by [Fictionist’s] Robbie Connolly, and funk and some of the psychedelic stuff in the middle. I like it because it’s a little more varied.”

For the musicians—which include Dylan Schorer (The Hollering Pines, The Lower Lights) and Aaron Anderson (Fictionist, Mideau)—and singers alike, the process of covering such classic material is a meticulous but rewarding one, involving rehearsing the songs part by part for weeks before the tribute show with Jacobsen’s supervision. Jacobsen does take some artistic liberties with the music, but the difference, he says, “between what we do and what a bar band does is those details. I think a lot goes on for the musicians and I think a lot goes on for the audience when they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, they play that guitar part just like I remember it.’ There’s a special energy to that when you hear it the way you’ve always heard it.”

And the ensemble must not only do each song justice, but also convey the spirit of it. The energy they bring to the material is infectious, as they cheer one another on and play the songs with passion. The tribute show brings together artists that typically don’t work together, “and to be able to bring these people around and have it be almost 100 percent egoless is not normal. It’s not an everyday occurrence,” Jacobsen says. “You can’t undervalue the spirit that these people bring to it, because that’s what makes it great.”

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