Hiss Golden Messenger

Watch columnist Patrick Shehan writes about the brilliance of Hiss Golden Messenger, which performed at this year’s Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. (Watch file photo)

Howdy! Patrick Shehan here, kicking off a sorta-somewhat-music, sometimes other stuff, for our local paper here in beautiful Telluride. This whole thing came about pretty quickly, so, for my first column I feel an introduction is in order.

I’ve never been much of a writer, in fact, I loathed writing up until a few years ago, so it’s funny I agreed to do this. I don’t consider myself an art critic or anything astute like that either. I am simply a music fanatic, and fan of Telluride and mountain culture, like many of you who will be reading this new column.

To me, Telluride is the epitome of music mountain culture, and I feel incredibly lucky to live in this community. I grew up in Boulder, lived in Durango and Jackson Hole, and nothing going on at those prospective places comes close to the scene we have here in the box canyon. Dig in and take a look at the bands, the festivals and wicked performances the community has had here, along with the stories that go with them, and it is fascinating, dynamic and borderline farfetched for a small “ski town.”

Legendary stories like the time the Grateful Dead stretched the town’s infrastructure to the limits with 16,000 attendees flocking to their shows in 1987, or when James Brown flew in on a private jet to play Blues & Brews days after the tragedies of 9/11, or the fact the Greg Allman and Taj Mahal both opened and closed the old Fred Shellman Memorial Stage decades apart, proves the lore of “Telluride music magic” is real and spans generations.

The lore of the Telluride music magic is also widespread. Just last fall I found myself in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a free festival set up by Warren Hellman and his trust as an annual gift to the people of San Fran. Wearing a KOTO shirt, I was stopped by an older gentleman that went by the name “The Weatherman.” As his name implies, he used to do the weather at KOTO long ago. We discussed the origins of KOTO, old Telluride performances and that magic while Bob Weir played to a crowd of 100,000. Wrapping up that conversation he told me to “carry the torch.”

It’s an honor to be involved with the Telluride music magic and experience a slice of the best music mountain culture in the world. The 2009 Telluride Blues & Brews Festival was my first festival in Telluride. I was hooked. In 2011, Steve Gumble and Courtney McClary gave me the chance to be their intern. In 2016, I started working for SGB Productions full-time in helping produce Blues & Brews and Jazz festivals. In 2017, I started a KOTO show Pow Surf Radio, and just a few weeks ago Geoff Hanson, who has wrote the One Step Ahead of the Blues column for years, contacted me about carrying the torch in this paper. I feel damn lucky.

Not far off from 26th Blues & Brews Festival, I find myself a bit tired, but inspired from a few great days of music in Town Park. The weekend was filled with incredible performances from John Fogerty, Ryan Bigham, Samantha Fish, Durand Jones & the Indications, Low Cut Connie, and Alabama Slim, amongst others, but one collective of artists stood out to me, Hiss Golden Messenger.


MC Taylor, Phil Cook and the rest of the folks in Hiss Golden Messenger brought tight and energetic Southern groves to the main stage. I had high expectations for this band rolling into the festival and they absolutely delivered. Playing a catalog-spanning set the group flashed jam-bandy improvisation, incredible songwriting, while letting it rock out. It’s safe to say when MC Taylor and Phil Cook get together there’s incredible showmanship that, hopefully, will grace stages for decades to come. Phil Cook, who is a member of Hiss Golden Messenger, also played two of his own sets over the weekend. His talent and enthusiasm for music shined, showcasing, what I think, is some of the best guitar playing in the business.     


Hiss Golden Messenger released a new full album “Terms of Surrender” this Friday. “Terms of Surrender” is said to be one of their most exciting in years coving topics of modern day society and what we sacrifice to live the lives we want. Talyor writes, “It was very cold and very beautiful. There was not another soul around. I had gone there looking for something, trying to find the thread, trying to remember why it was that I started making music, trying to understand why I felt so confused and conflicted and guilty and lonely. These were human questions: Who was I? Why was I here? How much time did I have left? Where was my joy? ‘Terms of Surrender’ is, at its most elemental, a collection of songs about what we are prepared to sacrifice in order to live the lives that we think we want. It’s a wandering record, one that realizes that joy is so fleeting and so delicate that when you see it, you better grab it and try to understand what it’s made of.” If you dig the Grateful Dead, The Band, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, I’d highly recommend giving the record a spin.

Editor’s note: Patrick Shehan will write a bi-weekly column, Lookin’ Back, Lookin’ Forward, in replacing longtime columnist Geoff Hanson’s One Step Ahead of the Blues.