When a headliner has to cancel an appearance at a major festival, panic ensues. Legendary Grateful Dead bassist, Phil Lesh, had to back out of his Sunday headlining gig for next week’s Telluride Blues & Brews Festival due to back surgery and subsequent recovery time — doctor’s orders — which put festival director Steve Gumble and his SBG Productions crew in high gear to find a replacement.
With the clock ticking until the festival’s Sept. 13 opening — not to mention the festival program’s impending deadline — the effort paid off in a big way. Gumble convinced the Mothership to land. George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic are bringing funk, finery and over-the-top freaky fun for the festival’s final act of the weekend, festival officials recently announced. There was a little stress involved, Gumble admitted.
“No one ever said the music business would be easy —fun yes — but not easy,” he said. “We were thrown quite a large curve ball in the past week when Phil Lesh needed emergency back surgery thus having to cancel several dates including ours. Thankfully he will be fine but that left us with a large hole to fill on Sunday.”
When SBG staff got the news, they flew into action.
“My amazing staff didn’t let this news get them down, instead we hit the emails and phones hard,” Gumble said. “It wasn’t long before our ship came in!”
And, in what may very well be a truly historic occasion, the set could be Clinton’s last show of a career that he launched in the 1950s.
“About a year ago, rumors started swirling that this year would be his farewell tour,” Gumble said. “So what could be better than filling our Sunday headlining spot with what could be one of George Clinton’s final shows?”
George Clinton has had a long and fruitful career. Now the proud recipient of a 2019 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the singer-songwriter, bandleader and consummate showman who has steered a musical vision that has been described as a melding of “science-fiction, outlandish fashion, psychedelic culture and surreal humor,” began in doo-wop.
In the 1950s and ’60s, a barbershop in Plainfield, New Jersey, which Clinton co-owned, was a hangout for the city’s doo-wop and soul artists. His doo-wop group — called The Parliaments — by the 1970s had morphed into Parliament and Funkadelic (P-Funk). This forward-thinking collective dominated the charts with numerous R&B hit singles and three platinum-selling albums. Bringing the far-out sensibilities of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa into the musical mix, along with the happy clamor of Sly and The Family Stone and James Brown’s deep groove and onstage flair, P-Funk became notorious for incredible live performances.
For the uninitiated, expect sequins, sky-high platform boots, feather boas and unparalleled funk. Credited with being a progenitor of the disco movement and even the rap genre, Clinton, now 78, is quite possibly on his final lap around the musical universe, one he calls the One Nation Under a Groove Tour.
Gumble said the logistics of booking, housing and transporting the numerous travelers on the Mothership presented significant challenges.
“It was nothing less than a miracle that my team and George Clinton’s team could make this happen in such short notice,” he said. “Gathering 30 touring members, sorting out travel, as well as lodging them all in our very sold-out town was no simple task.”
In a February interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Clinton gave a hint as to what to expect.
“We have to go through the history, and we have to do the new stuff because we have such young kids that’s into the group now that know the history, by way of the Chili Peppers and hip-hop groups,” he told writer Kory Grow. “They know us through these different realms, so we have to represent all the different eras we’ve been through. So I usually call the songs when I get on the stage, according to what the crowd feels like to me. I can jump from 50 years ago to right up to now, and people will be familiar with the songs. And since we never do them the same way, it’s a new experience.”
This will be the second appearance on the Blues & Brews stage for Clinton and his merry band of funksters.
“Their show is big, energetic, colorful and dynamic — a perfect complement to Blues & Brews and our fans,” Gumble said. “We are going to cap off the festival off with a dance party so dress up and don’t you dare miss it.”
Blues & Brews this year is also featuring as headliners, bluesman Boz Scaggs on Saturday and John Fogerty, cofounder of Creedence Clearwater Revival, on Friday. The festival is now in its 26th year.
For tickets and more information, visit tellurideblues.com.