“Red Rocks is something we look forward to every year,” says singer-songwriter/guitarist Susan Tedeschi from her home in Jacksonville, Florida, where the Massachusetts native has lived for twenty years. “To me, Red Rocks is very Colorado, and you’re loving nature and just soaking it all up. If you’re that kind of person, it’s just incredible. We know it’s an honor, and we don’t take it lightly. It kind of blows my mind every time we go there. It seems like a sacred place.”
Tedeschi and her husband, all-star slide guitarist and Allman Brothers royal Derek Trucks, have been touring and recording together with the blues-rock Tedeschi Trucks Band since 2010; the act has performed at Red Rocks countless times. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was the first time in what seems like an eternity that it didn’t make the trek to Morrison. In fact, for the first time since both longtime performers were in elementary school, they didn’t step on any stages for a solid year.
“The first few months, we were actually planning on taking off," Tedeschi recalls, "but after about four months, we were like, ‘What the heck is happening?’ It was really weird and surreal, but we stayed busy."
They stayed busy mixing the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s new album, a 2019 live performance of the classic Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, with Phish’s Trey Anastasio sharing lead-guitar and vocal duties, and also surprised their record label with another album that’s currently in the works.
After the Layla album was finished, Tedeschi remembers, “We were like, ‘We have to do something. We need to be creative. We need to get going here.’ We kind of put our heads together with Mike Mattison, one of our bandmates, who is a Harvard grad, English major. He had an idea: ‘Why don’t we all draw from the same subject?’ He gave us a twelfth-century poem as inspiration, and we all wrote music that would go in and out of that theme. We have written 24 new songs and have recorded them, so we've been working on trying to finish that, which is an incredible amount of music, and we’re excited about it."
More so than on previous Tedeschi Trucks records, the songs came from numerous bandmates rather than just the husband-and-wife stars of the group.
“It’s been really exciting to be able to put ourselves out there and all work together,” Tedeschi says, “but it also made us say, ‘We need to do something for our fans.’ That was also what triggered the Fireside Sessions during the pandemic.”
The act’s popular Fireside Sessions, which highlighted various smaller incarnations of the twelve-member Tedeschi Trucks Band, were aimed at cheering up fans during the most isolating periods of the coronavirus outbreak. Now, Tedeschi is excited about taking a bare-bones version of the band on the road for what’s been dubbed the Fireside Live Tour.
The livestreamed Fireside Sessions were “really fun and a great opportunity to show how diverse the band is, that we’re able to play as a two-piece or a four-piece, or five or seven or eight or whatever," Tedeschi explains. "It made us realize, ‘Once things open up, we can go out. We can do a more scaled-down thing.’ So that’s what we’re doing this summer. We’re gonna do that until things open up and we can go back to work as a full band.”
Supporting all of the musicians in that full band and their families during a pandemic was not easy, admits Tedeschi, who has two teenagers of her own, but making personal sacrifices in order to ensure that her bandmates didn’t suffer was "a no-brainer,” she says. “Since we’re kind of conservative about having such a big band and spending money, we’d saved a lot of money in case of an emergency. So we were already planning on taking three months off and had saved a lot of money to pay the band. Then all the emergency money…we just put that in and paid the band.”
But the money that Tedeschi and Trucks had saved eventually ran out. "We were really lucky with some of the PPP loans to help out with the band. That really helped," she says. "At the end of the day, it just seemed like the right thing to do. You gotta keep people afloat. I was really shocked how many other bands didn’t do that. You look at the whole picture, and we’re a family; it’s not the Derek and Susan show. Our band and our crew, we’re all in this together."
Some more than others. “Derek and our manager and I did not get paid,” Tedeschi admits. “We haven't been paid since last March. We’ve been living on savings and literally selling baseball cards and things we had bought in the past for a rainy day. But it’s been fine; I feel really blessed to have had that extra time at home with our daughter and our son before he went off to college. He really got the raw end of the deal. He was an honors student and a baseball player. He only got to pitch a few games. It was really heartbreaking, but really more for the kids — seeing the opportunities that they were missing out on....
“The two things I wanted to do when I grew up were to have kids and play music,” Tedeschi confides. “I get to do both, so I feel incredibly grateful.”
Tedeschi has been an entertainer since she was five, when her mother got her involved in theatrical performance. “For a long time, I really didn’t know what my calling was, but when I discovered blues in my early twenties, that seemed to be more of my calling," she remembers. "Just because you’re from up north, it’s not like the blues are a regional thing. It’s just all about what moves you.”
She discovered her husband’s uncle’s band, a little Jacksonville outfit called the Allman Brothers, as a kid, when she and her brother went to a yard sale. “I bought a Clash record, and he found Brothers and Sisters. To this day, I still love both of those records,” she says. Like the über-talented Trucks, Tedeschi spent time playing in nostalgia bands with some legendary American musicians, such as the surviving members of the Grateful Dead — but as Trucks told me when Tedeschi Trucks Band last visited Colorado to play Red Rocks, in 2019, the couple is thrilled to be in a band whose fans come out to celebrate new, original music.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about creating your own sound and making your own music and allowing your own self-expression to come through, and getting to do that with Derek since 2010 has been amazing," Tedeschi says. "We feel really lucky and thankful for that, for sure. And he’s absolutely right: There’s something very different about when you’re doing your own music than when you’re singing somebody else’s music.”
Looking back on her career, which started with the 1995 solo album Better Days, Tedeschi recalls her 2000 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, which found her alongside Kid Rock, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. “Here I am, a blues artist,” she remembers. “There’s no way in hell I thought I would ever be in a category with any of them."
“People always say, ‘Aren’t you sad you didn’t win?’ And I’m, like, ‘No, I didn’t really want to be famous!’ I’m so happy I can go to the supermarket and do normal things, like go to my son’s baseball game," Tedeschi says. "We have a regular life, and how beautiful is that? I never wanted fame; it’s not about money and fame, and never was for Derek and me, because we really have a true passion for music and making people happy, as well as ourselves. And I got to tour with B.B. King and play with John Lee Hooker. John Lee Hooker took his guitar off and gave it to me! I feel like Forrest Gump, for real."
Tedeschi says that her heroes — people like King, Hooker and David Hidalgo — gave her not just a love of music, but a sense of graciousness, humility and sincerity. All three were reflected in the way that she and her husband supported their bandmates during the pandemic, and the way they support other musicians now.
Might there be a 2000 Best New Artist reunion on stage? Tedeschi is amused by the prospect of Britney Spears sitting in with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at Red Rocks.
“Let’s go," she says. "Bring it on. I think we should free Britney, anyway.”
Tedeschi Trucks Band brings its Fireside Live Tour to Red Rocks Amphitheatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 30, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 31; tickets, $49.95 to $130, are available at axs.com.