Otis Taylor’s annual Trance Blues Festival — one of Colorado’s most diverse musical experiences — turns 10 this year. From humble beginnings as a modest workshop once held in the now-defunct Boulder Outlook Hotel on 28th Street, to a multi-day event drawing top-tiered talent from across the globe, this yearly gathering offers the chance for musicians and fans to connect, inspire and jam.
“I started it because I had a break from touring and there wasn’t much work in the winter,” said Otis Taylor, a blues innovator who has been a Boulder resident since 1967 and who will be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in December. “I couldn’t believe 125 people packed into that tiny hotel room.”
Throughout the decade, the growing fest has found locales at Boulder Theater, the Dairy Arts Center and in recent years has secured a spot at eTown Hall — a space equipped to hold its many attendees.
This year, in addition to the mind-numbing performances and jaw-dropping sets, a focus will be put on the African roots of the banjo — the first instrument Taylor picked up and played, yet stepped away from, given the implications of racism surrounding it within the deep South.
At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, a free lecture will be hosted by the University of Colorado American Music Research Center featuring Dwandalyn Reece, of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“When people think ‘banjo’ they associate it with bluegrass, but people still don’t know about the African-American history of it,” said Carol Taylor, Otis’s wife, Boulder historian and history columnist for the Daily Camera. “We see this as an opportunity to share the history and educate.”
The lecture, held at University of Colorado’s Chancellor’s Auditorium, will be followed up by a round-table discussion, “Black Banjo & Beyond” featuring Reece along with the Grammy-winning musician of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dom Flemons, and executive director of the American Banjo Museum Johnny Baier. Otis Taylor will perform after.
Otis Taylor connected with Keb’ Mo’, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Don Vappie, Guy Davis and Corey Harris for the groundbreaking 2008 album, “Recapturing the Banjo.” The album that honored the instrument’s past and simultaneously elevated it to a bold, fresh level, was named 2009’s “Blues CD of the Year” by Downbeat magazine.
“My favorite part of the festival is when it’s over and I know that people had a great experience,” said Otis Taylor. “I’ve heard the festival described as the best entertainment, dollar for dollar.”
This summer, Taylor debuted his latest project Otis Taylor’s Psychedelic Banjo Posse at Milwaukee’s Summerfest and the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. Both fans and critics have praised the unique musical offerings put forth by this group, which will make a cameo at the closing concert on Nov. 9.
“It’s hard rock ‘n’ roll with banjo,” Otis Taylor said. “Whenever you have two or more banjos playing at one time, that’s pretty unusual. We have three on a couple of songs and that’s where we really push the envelope.”
On Nov. 8, an acoustic kick-off at The Post’s Velvet Elk Lounge, 2027 13th St., Boulder, will give attendees an intimate glimpse of sets by Otis Taylor, Mato Nanji (frontman of blues-rock group Indigenous), Cuban guitarist Luis Barberia, Grammy Award-winning musician Hart and others.
“The Post is one of the best places in Boulder to hear music because of the subwoofers in the floor,” Otis Taylor said. “ You can rock out really loud and get that low bass.”
For the first time this year, as part of the Trance Blues Fest, on Thursday morning, a group of 15 will tour the Ome Banjos factory — where a variety of models are artistically handcrafted — located at 5680 Valmont Road.
“Many are unaware that we have this world-class banjo maker right here in Boulder,” Carol Taylor said.
From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 9, players of all ages, instruments and skill levels will receive guidance from Otis Taylor and visiting musicians that he’s hand-selected to offer wisdom and direction.
“From the workshops, we go directly into sound check,” Otis Taylor said. “This is really hard work. Music to me is like a sport. It’s what I do.”
Past Trance Fest guests have included ground-breaking violinist Anne Harris, funk master George Porter Jr., guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer and pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell.
This year’s festival artists include Nanji, Barberia, Hart, Davis, Rex Peoples, Otis and Carol Taylor’s daughter Cassie Taylor and many more.
“I like to be with the best — the people that superstars listen to,” Otis Taylor said. “I’ve shared the stage with a lot of people that I like, so I’m very lucky.”
If you go
What: 10th annual Trance Blues FestivalWhen: various events happening on multiple dates; workshop starts at 10 a.m. Nov. 9, followed by the closing concert at 7 p.m.Where: eTown Hall, 1535 Spruce St., BoulderCost: $35-$85, Tickets available hereMore info: trancebluesfestival.com