The following ten Colorado-based bands take their music beyond the expected boundaries of jamming and stretch the minds of their listeners — or, as Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead (the granddaddy of all jam bands) might say, these groups know how to take a song "for a walk in the woods" before returning to terra firma. Some of these artists stand unapologetically on the well-trodden path of classic-rock-inspired guitar noodling, while others just know how to explore and celebrate a groove while freaking freely in their chosen genres — and maybe even conveying a political or philosophical message. Yes, jam and bluegrass collide with funk, reggae, electronica, Latin and more, so let the lines be fluid.
The String Cheese Incident
Perhaps one of Colorado's best-known purveyors of feel-good festival rock (and the founders and owners of SCI Fidelity Records), the Cheese kicked off in the Crested Butte area around 1993 before relocating to the Front Range a few years later. Having played countless shows at venues and events including Red Rocks and Bonnaroo, the band compellingly blends elements of bluegrass with rock, electronica, psychedelia and assorted other influences to crowd-pleasing ends.
Led by talented funk-inspired drummer Dave Watts, the Motet launched in Boulder in 1998. The group has earned a devoted fan base through steady touring, energetic performances and occasional theme-based shows. The seven-piece ensemble, which now calls Denver home, marks its twentieth year in 2018. With Watts on drums, Joey Porter on keys, Garrett Sayers on bass, Ryan Jalbert on guitar, Lyle Divinsky on vocals, Drew Sayers on sax and Parris Fleming on trumpet, the talented funk-and-soul outfit continues to shine.
Flash Mountain Flood
Finding its footing in Boulder, Flash Mountain Flood honed its chops through weekly residencies at the late Owsley's Golden Road (on University Hill) and performed regularly at Quixote's in Denver before bumping up to venues including the Fox Theatre. The five-piece classic-rock-inspired outfit borrows its vibe from artists such as the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead and Traffic, just to name a few. With new but pleasantly familiar-sounding original material and a steady work ethic, the group moves to the bubbling flow of its influences.
The three-piece SunSquabi brings jam music into the present with a tight blend of electronica and funk-infused rhythms. The band’s shows have been described as "electronic hydro funk" experiences. The act boasts the skills of Kevin Donohue (guitars/keys/production), Josh Fairman (bassist/synth) and Chris Anderson (drums), who lay down groovy pockets for the sake of building well-developed lines and climaxes. “It’s kinda like breathing," says Donohue. "We can communicate directly with each other both verbally and non-verbally, on stage and off.”
The rising Denver band MLIMA refers to its mix of funk, jam and rock as "mountain groove." Taking its cues from influences as far apart as Sound Tribe Sector 9, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk and Led Zeppelin, MLIMA (pronounced-Mmm-Lee-Ma), which keeps a steady performance schedule around the Front Range, includes the soulful lead vocals of Jessica Jones along with a talented crew of jammers. MLIMA, the Swahili word for mountain, has played the ARISE Music Festival and has opened for acts such as Shpongle and the Disco Biscuits at Red Rocks among other impressive gigs. The group is poised to take it the next level at any moment.
Also out of the Mile High City, the Workshy leans on jazz, blues, funk and "everything under the sun" to provide energetic live performances. With members from L.A., Washington, New York, Iowa and South Korea, the Workshy is able to create a sound as diverse as its roots. The ensemble's always-evolving and eclectic mix has allowed it to open for acts including Jazz Is Dead, Euforquestra, Great American Taxi, Fruition, Radio Moscow, the Word and Juno What?! With any luck, the Workshy will be headlining big stages before long.
Denver's Chicano funk band Los Mocochetes, a name that combines "mocoso," meaning snotty brat, with "machete" (as in the tool/weapon), says its members use their music to inspire and encourage positive social change, and they have a lot of fun along the way. "Music is medicine, laughter is medicine, community is medicine. Come and get your love," says vocalist Jozer Guerrero. The song "El Mocochete," in which Spanish and English combine with a mashup of world-music styles, exemplifies what the group is about.
Likened to a blend of stoner rock, country funk and psychonaut blues, Dragondeer draws from all corners of the American soundscape, resulting in touches of Elmore James, the hypnotic repetition of Junior Kimbrough, the wailing harmonica of Sonny Boy Williamson, and the smooth psychedelia of Taj Mahal. With additional pieces of Sly Stone, Captain Beefheart, the Grateful Dead and soul music, the band generates a captivating sound that has remained largely unexplored.
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Phour Point O
Re-creating the sound of Phish, Phour Point O swims and grooves to the rhythms of its own current. "Our intent is for your delight!" reads a pithy description on its Facebook band page. The act comprises Mike Pedersen on guitar, Ben Rafferty on keys, Fleeb Keith Thomas on bass and Ryan Sapp on drums. The group faithfully and compellingly captures the music and vibe of Phish without being too slavish about detail.
Jaden Carlson Band
The Jaden Carlson Band is a power quartet from Boulder led by seventeen-year-old guitarist Jaden Carlson. Its unique chemistry creates a pleasing blend of jam, funk, hip-hop, electronic and jazz. Frontwoman Carlson’s impressive guitar and synthesizer playing are on dazzling display. She is one of the youngest musicians to have played on the Red Rocks stage — at age eleven, with Michael Franti and Spearhead — and she's sat in with Blues Traveler, Umphrey's McGee, the Revivalists, Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk, the Main Squeeze, the Nth Power, Twiddle, the Werks, TAUK, SOJA, Zoogma, the Motet, Dopapod, members of Snarky Puppy, Vulfpeck, Big Gigantic and the String Cheese Incident, among others.