Boulder blues legend Otis Taylor’s inaugural festival welcomes all to participate

For Otis Taylor, music is a communal experience — the more people joining in, the better. It’s not unusual for the Boulder blues musician to feature a dozen musicians on stage, with the guitars, bass and drums augmented by trumpet, mandolin, fiddle, keyboards and African percussion.

Taylor’s Trance Blues Jam Festival, happening Friday through Sunday, expands that vision to invite musicians of all levels and age groups to create music together in a spirit of creativity and celebration.

The festival is a three-day version of the informal workshops and jams Taylor introduced at the Boulder Outlook Hotel last year over the Thanksgiving weekend. With a rare month off from touring, Taylor wanted to create an event that could create a sense of community.

“Sometimes when you watch a band, you’re not a participant,” Taylor said recently from an airport while en route for performances and press appearances in Paris. “It’s like a family-friendly ‘Rocky Horror (Picture) Show’ with instruments, where people have fun.”

Despite little time to plan last year, Taylor attracted more than 50 musicians to gather with him in a hotel meeting room to engage in a musical experience where sharing creative expression counted as much as musical prowess. Imagine a roomful of musicians jamming to a simple one-chord riff, players and singers taking turns improvising solos.

“I bet there are a few players out there who don’t have the opportunity to play with other musicians,” Taylor’s friend Mark Bliessner of told the group gathered last year. “When you play by yourself it’s OK, but when you start playing with other people, something really happens.”

Taylor says he gives the musicians a starting point and lets it build from there.

“Bring your tambourine. Bring your guitar, bring your French horn, bring your recorder,” he said. “You don’t have to be musician to jam. You just have to have an instrument or you can sing in our choir. Kids are welcome. Everybody is part of the band.”

This weekend’s event features workshops, lunches with the musicians and jam sessions at various locales, primarily at the Boulder Outlook and the Boulder Theater. Taylor has recruited some of his friends to help out, including guitarists Bob Margolin and Mato Nanji; banjo players Tony Trischka and Don Vappie; and bass players George Porter Jr. and Cassie Taylor.

Check out for the complete schedule lineup. Newly added events include an acoustic jam at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Sink and an after-party at the Shack at Shugs on Saturday. Taylor said he hopes to add more venues next year.

Beyond spreading a greater bond between professional and amateur musicians — anyone who likes to make music — Taylor wants to create a greater awareness of trance blues, which he defines as “music that you can’t tell the beginning or the end. It’s hypnotic. Trance blues is hypnotic music.”

And though the name may be of fairly recent vintage, it’s about as old as music itself.

“West-African music is trance music. Mississippi Hill Country is trance. Ravi Shankar — it doesn’t have any chord changes,” Taylor says. “People listen to more trance music than they think they do. All that techno stuff is trance, too.”

Taylor’s latest recording, Otis Taylor’s Contraband, is scheduled for release in February. It features all the familiar elements of the work he has been creating since returning to music in the mid-1990s: Sparse, evocative lyrics that tell just a part of a tale rather than the whole story; single-chord tribal rhythms and eclectic instrumentation.

As always, Taylor adds new elements to the mix, such as the soulful background singers who hammer home the chorus of the leadoff track, “The Devil’s Gonna Lie,” a hard-driving African-flavored song punctuated by Denver musician Ron Miles’ cornet and Chuck Campbell’s pedal steel slide guitar.

“Yell Your Name” might be described as a simple, straightforward love song, a rarity for Taylor. Much of the time he’s exploring historical and social themes as he does on “Romans Had Their Way,” “Blind Piano Teacher” and “Never Been to Africa.”

“I’m not really a protest singer or even a very political person,” Taylor said in a statement issued to promote the album. “I just try to tell an interesting story and let people interpret it as they wish.”

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