Sheridan Opera House: April 20, 1903 — Jan. 1, 2017
“The Sheridan Opera House was one of the great Victorian theaters in America. Acoustically perfect, the theater hosted some of the biggest acts in his world over its illustrious 114-year life. The theater met its demise in the early morning of Jan. 1, 2018, when Robert Randolph and the Family Band blew the roof off of it and burned it to the ground.”
So might the obituary of the Sheridan Opera House read on Jan. 2 — save for the fact that Telluride’s fire department will be on red alert when Robert Randolph & The Family Band take the stage at the venerable venue Sunday night for New Year’s Eve.
Robert Randolph plays an explosive mix of rock, funk, blues and soul that has to be experienced to fully comprehend. The group’s sound is inspired by 1970s funk bands such as Earth, Wind and Fire, and Sly and the Family Stone.
The current year of 2017 has been a stellar one for rock ’n’ roll shows at the opera house. Highlights include Leftover Salmon’s St. Patrick’s Day show; Big Something’s two smoking shows in March; Marcus King, The Temperance Movement and Jackie Greene during July’s Ride Festival; and The Record Company and Samantha Fish during September’s Telluride Blues & Blues Festival.
But the best show of the year may very well be the last as Robert Randolph & The Family Band are one of the great musical acts you’ll ever see. And to see them in the friendly confines of the Sheridan Opera House will be mind-blowing.
Randolph fronts the band on electric pedal steel guitar. He is joined by family members Marcus Randolph on drums, back-up vocalist Lenesha Randolph and guitarist Ray Ray Randolph. All the members of his band are multi-instrumentalists and are known to switch configurations during a show.
Randolph is not afraid to let the rest of the band play while he dances. During “Shake Your Hips,” women join Randolph on stage and get down — so ladies, get ready to go all KC and the Sunshine Band and get out on your boogie shoes. If you can shred an axe, get to the front as Randolph is not afraid to pass a guitar into the audience for a sit-in on Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”
Randolph was trained as a pedal steel guitarist in the House of God Church in Orange, New Jersey. The instrument is referred to in many African-American Pentecostal churches as “sacred steel.” As a child, pedal steel masters Henry Nelson, Ted Beard and Willie Eason influenced Randolph. He was almost completely unaware of non-secular music.
“My biggest influences musically for me were coming out of the church,” Randolph said in an interview with New Orleans’ Gambit Weekly. “I grew up and saw a lot of older guys playing lap steels and pedal-steel guitars in my church. I had never heard of the Allman Brothers, or even Buddy Guy or Muddy Waters.”
As a teenager, Randolph got turned on to Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix. “I wanted to incorporate their styles and take the pedal steel to places it had never been,” Randolph said.
Randolph was discovered while playing at a sacred steel convention in Florida in 2001 and burst onto the scene as a member of The Word with keyboard player John Medeski of Medeski, and Luther and Cody Dickerson of the North Mississippi Allstars.
Randolph followed with his first record by Robert Randolph & The Family Band, “Live at the Wetlands” (2002). Soon after, Randolph opened for the North Mississippi Allstars on tour and then rejoined the musicians after their set —with Medeski — as The Word.
To say that Randolph set the jam world on fire with incendiary live performances would be an understatement. He and the band could turn wet bread into musical toast. Their music is dance music with a decidedly upbeat vibe.
“It’s always important for me to be positive because I grew up in church,” Randolph has said. “Growing up in church and having this outlook on life, we’re taught how to be positive, stay positive. When you get down about something, you have to be faithful and prayerful. It helps you gain a certain mental thing. For me to be able to share that message and be positive with people and give the kind of things they didn’t have growing up in their lives is a great thing for me to share with them.”
Robert Randolph & The Family Band released their studio debut, “Unclassified,” in 2003. The record attracted the attention of Eric Clapton, who invited Randolph to open for him on tour. Robert Randolph & The Family Band have performed at several of Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar festivals and figure prominently in the DVD “Crossroads Guitar Festival,” recorded in 2004. Clapton appeared on the band’s 2006 album “Colorblind,” playing on a cover of the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus Is Just Alright.” That same year, Randolph (and band) gave a legendary performance on Austin City Limits.
Rolling Stone named Randolph one of the Top 100 guitarists of all time. Despite that impressive nod, Randolph doesn’t let the kudos get to his head.
“You gotta remain humble in order to grow in every aspect of yourself as a musician and as a person,” Randolph has said. “Without being humble, you can’t grow, you can’t take any advice, you don’t want to listen to anybody. That’s just the way it rolls.
“I am nowhere near where I really want to be. I am learning new stuff everyday. That is the key, you want to get better, you want to make good music and work with other artists and always make sure the core of the fans are happy. Those are the ones that we all make music for out there. That’s what its all about.”
Happy New Year, folks. Hopefully you’re kicking off the year with Robert Randolph & The Family Band. I’m predicting this is a show people will be talking about for years.