“We’re living in these anxiety-filled times, in an era of ‘no truth’ but what our music represents is this truly honest way of communicating with people, and that’s a really freeing thing.” —Chris Robinson
When the Chris Robinson Brotherhood pulls into town this weekend, dozens of fans from out of town will also arrive in the slipstream of CRB’s road-salted Prevost bus hauling the band, its iconic stage owl and trailer full of gear.
The plugged-in psychedelic blues-folk rock band based in California is playing two shows at the historic Sheridan Opera House, Sunday and Monday. Not only is there a local contingent eager to shed their everyday lives in the mystical imagery and superb musicianship that define the band’s best work, but loyal CRBeings from miles away will make the journey to Telluride. I know of Californians making their way to the valley and of a cabal just over the pass from Cortez readying for the trip. Freak Nation is legion.
Here’s where they’re coming from, according to Sheridan Opera House PR and marketing director Maggie Stevens. At press time Thursday afternoon, locals represent 26. 5 percent of ticket sales, while out of towners have scooped up 73.5 percent. Those CRBeings hail from Arizona, Georgia, Austin, Florida, Missouri, California and Denver. It’s worth the miles.
I should know. I just did the same, putting in more than 400 highway miles from here to Grand Junction to Durango and back home again, just to see a band whose music releases me from Earthly constraints
But 400 miles is nothing compared to the distance Mike and Christina Gannon of Stewartsville, New Jersey, will log by the time they arrive in Telluride. The Gannons are dedicated fans who take vacations that hinge on the band’s tour schedule. For them, it’s an opportunity to see new places, experience different cultures and visit new venues. The journey to Telluride begins when they arrive in Denver today (Friday) and attend the CRB show at the Ogden Theatre. Saturday, they’ll make their way to Aspen for a show at the Belly Up. On Sunday, they start their three-day stay in Telluride centered around the two opera house shows.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Telluride and this is the perfect excuse,” Mike said. “It’s been a long-time fantasy.”
Like many CRB fans, Mike first heard the soulful, kinetic Robinson when he was front man for The Black Crowes. “I’ve been listening to Chris for a long time,” he said.
But life intervened (moving, family, work, the usual) and he lost touch until about seven years ago, when he decided to check out Robinson’s new band. “I saw him in New York and I’ve been on the ride ever since.”
It was seven years ago this summer that the Chris Robinson Brotherhood first performed in Telluride at Telluride Blues & Brews. They’ve returned to Telluride numerous times since then, playing mostly intimate shows at the opera house (and once at the Telluride Conference Center in Mountain Village), and most recently, when they appeared at The Ride last summer.
The CRB are road warriors, playing as many as 100 dates a year in between writing, recording and family time in California. They are in town this weekend as part of their 22-date Winter Tour, which includes 10 dates in Colorado. According to the band’s social media, Colorado is their adopted state.
Gannon, like so many others who love taking in live music, grew up listening to the Grateful Dead. “I’ve been following music since I was a kid,” he said.
But he and Christina have traveled much farther from their home in New Jersey to see CRB than the 4,000 miles they’ll journey to Telluride and back.
The Gannons flew to Amsterdam for the first of three shows on last winter’s Europe run, and caught performances in Madrid and Barcelona, too.
What is it that inspires people to save money and journey long distances to see bands they love?
“It’s the music, of course,” Mike said. “There were a couple times in my life when I had some down times, some dark times, when Chris’ voice pulled me out. Music is a life-saver.”
Gannon’s belief that the musicians who comprise CRB are the best in the business is shared by the faithful. Besides Robinson’s distinctive, bluesy vocals and serious chops on the harmonica, he’s grown to become a propulsive and locked-in rhythm guitarist.
Lead guitarist Neal Casal has an extensive resume that includes a prolific output of solo albums, and stints with Blackfoot, Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, and other projects, including Hard Working Americans and Hazy Malaze, where he first worked with CRB bassist, Jeff Hill.
Casal and CRB keyboardist Adam MacDougall also worked together on Circles Around the Sun, music originally composed as the set break music for the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well tour.
MacDougall — fans and even his bandmates refer to him as The Wizard — reigns on stage right surrounded by numerous electric keyboards and associated effects, and a piano, if the venue can provide one. He has played with The Black Crowes, The Ben Taylor Band, Furslide and appears on records by Mia Doi Todd, Jonathan Wilson and many others.
Hill is not only a phenomenal bassist, but also an acclaimed engineer and producer. He’s played with artists on both records and on stage who range from Kate and Anna McGarrigle to Trey Anastasio, from Amy Helm to Shivaree. Hill took over from original CRB bassist, Mark Dutton in 2016.
Tony Leone sits on the CRB throne. Before drumming with CRB, he formed roots music band Ollabelle with like-minded souls, and has played with Levon Helm and Phil Lesh. His influences are deep and wide — jazz, roots and rock all inform his playing. Leone picked up the sticks from CRB’s original drummer, George Sluppick in 2015.
For Mike Gannon and others who rally under the Freak Nation flag, the music, the vibe and, yes, the brotherhood that has flourished around CRB, pulls like true north.
“The music, the lyrics, the community,” he said. “It feels like home. It’s comfortable. It draws us in and keeps us coming back.”
Tickets for Chris Robinson Brotherhood Sunday and Monday are available at sheridanoperahouse.com