FEATURE: The Golden Rendezvous

By on March 15, 2016

Top-notch bands set the foundation for a bustling, historical weekend as JHMR celebrates 50 years.

Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown Band

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The lore of Rendezvous has been our lifeblood here in the Tetons for quite some time, right? This weekend, to celebrate Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s 50th anniversary, the 2016 Jackson Hole Rendezvous is predicted to be the largest of modern day concerts.

Steeped in tradition, the original mid-19th century era of Rocky Mountain Rendezvous was a historical necessity.  Western fur traders and Eastern company men met for the first Wyoming Rendezvous in 1825—65 years before statehood. Folks in the East were demanding top hats made from beaver pelts, and the most famous of fur trappers in the West rendezvoused to sell their wares and camp out for weeks—Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, William Sublette and David Jackson.

Those names bring spirit to the mountains, and so do the many characters and heroes over 50 years of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort—the iconic first director of skiing and Olympic medalist, Pepi Seigler; the late extreme skier, Doug Coombs; JH native and world-class snowboarder, Travis Rice; the three hundred some members of the Jackson Hole Air Force; JHMR co-founder and owner for over three decades, Paul McCollister. Compiling a list of passionate personalities that have influenced this area’s winter culture would stack deeper than the powder of February 1986.

Whether shutting the door on a golden anniversary ski season or capping the fur-trapping seasons of yesteryear, the congregation of like minds from all corners of the country has long been an important part of exploring Western culture here in the Hole.

Today, the JH Rendezvous has evolved into a four-day lifestyle and music festival that began, modestly, a decade ago as a single-day event, simply known as Mountain Fest. Thanks to fervent long-term planning and additional funding, this weekend’s festivities are the epitome of “go big” with an upper echelon of bands that will be staged in Teton Village and downtown Jackson.

The stars have aligned, so let’s Rendezvous.

It’s all about the music

With respect to all of the other acts that have played Rendezvous over the last 10 years—The Wreckers, Blues Traveler (twice), Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Ozomatli, Michael Franti & Spearhead (three times!), G. Love and Special Sauce, Katchafire, O.A.R, and Karl Denson among them—a giant leap into securing what JHMR has called “A-level” talent (Zac Brown Band) comes with a higher price tag, and a production that is larger in scope. A total of $225,000 was approved via the JH Travel and Tourism Board to fund the event’s core objective of driving destination visitation. So far, the leap seems to have paid off.

Big Sandy

Big Sandy

“Teton Village hotels are sold out and we’ve been hearing about record occupancies from hotel partners in town,” said Anna Cole, communications manager at JHMR. “We’re expecting around 15,000 people and all general admission and VIP tickets are sold out, so we are asking that if you don’t have a ticket to the Zac Brown Band/Chris Robinson Brotherhood concert on Saturday, not to show up and add to the congestion.”

For Saturday’s show, five thousand tickets were originally released to locals at no cost before thousands of additional tickets sold for $20 each. This is a change from previous years when all Rendezvous concerts were free. This the resort’s conscious effort to keep a handle on crowd control while growing in a sustainable manner.

As resort officials previously noted, Zac Brown Band is arguably the largest mainstream act that has ever played Jackson Hole, and that is considered a score for a town that’s deemed a small market. (Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers, Vince Gill, B.B. King, and Willie Nelson are a handful of previous top-tier, even legendary acts that have played Jackson Hole.) Brown’s fan base has grown large enough that the band typically plays amphitheaters and sports arenas such as Fenway Park in Boston. In 2013, the band ranked in Top 40 of the highest paid acts at $6.6 million while supporting their album “Uncaged,” and last summer, they had the fifteenth highest grossing tour at $2.2 million. The latter tour was in support of the band’s sixth full-length release, “Jeckyll + Hyde,” and marked their third consecutive No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200 chart.

Perhaps more important than securing any one act is the crafting of a multi-day event that appeals to a wide demographic, and a range of musical tastes. Of the other touring acts, Friday headliner is the soul/R&B eight-piece Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, which have had a meteoric rise due in part to rave live reviews since releasing their debut album just eight months ago. Chris Robinson Brotherhood, featuring frontman and co-founder of The Black Crowes, brings a psychedelic rock vibe, while Uncle Kracker will appeal to the Kid Rock lovers. Oh, and there’s more.

Zac Brown Band: Eclectic & savvy

An eight-piece, Zac Brown Band has been a mainstream success while also being unpredictable. The brainchild of a guy who paid for his stint in college education by playing bar gigs, the Zac Brown Band has won three Grammy Awards and has had multiple platinum-selling albums.

The 38-year-old Brown grew up in the small town of Dahlonega, located in the north Georgia mountains. He was singing soon after he could talk and started classical guitar lessons at age seven. Then came bluegrass, then country and pop, which he used as a foundation as a solo gigging high school student.

The lyrics of his song “Chicken Fried”—which evolved from the first recording in 2003 to the second version on 2005’s “Home Grown”—sums up the communal, downhome vibe that Brown has instilled in his music, and in his band. Musically, the anthemic tune is quintessential country-pop-rock with a reggae breakdown, an arrangement nuance that Brown’s fans—from country boot-scooters to jamband hippies and beach bums—can appreciate.

“Well, I’s raised up beneath the shade of a Georgia pine

And that’s home ya know
Sweet tea pecan pie and homemade wine
Where the peaches grow
In my house it`s not much to talk about
But it`s filled with love that`s grown in Southern ground
And a little bit of chicken fried…”

That was 11 years ago and prior to their first major-label release. Since then, Zac Brown has cemented his band as a crossover act that pushes beyond the lucrative country genre from which he rose to prominence. It’s a success story in entrepreneurship as much as his prowess as singer-songwriter and bandleader is. Add record producer, record label head, and philanthropist to his credits as well.

“Zac is the idea man, the straw that stirs the drink. He’s the face. The voice. None of this happens without him,” said band member and multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook, who also co-wrote several early songs for Grammy-award winner John Mayer. “He’s the best boss I’ve ever had. There is a family feeling in the band. We all feel like brothers. Also, everyone is a true peer … around the same age and interests.”

As many creative-driven artists are, Brown has taken his roots music into non-rootsy and vastly contrasting directions, even on the same album. Take for instance the 2015 LP “Jekyll + Hyde,” a far-reaching, chameleon-like set that takes on classic rock, jazz-swing, metal, folk, Celtic, reggae, and EDM-meets-country-dance-party. The album received mixed reviews from all corners of the critic spectrum. The band has little boundaries when it comes to covers as well, putting their stamp on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Ray Lamontagne’s “Jolene,” to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues,” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” The band’s recent foray into EDM-inspired music was solidified through collaboration with one of the genre’s biggest acts, Avicii.   

Considering the band’s wide scope of songs, would venue aesthetics, like the potential for a bitter cold outside stage, or crowd demographics like ski bums and families would make a difference when preparing the setlist?

“Usually it’s just the crowd that dictates the setlist decisions,” Cook explained. “We play different sets at headlining shows than when we play pop/rock festivals. We’re huge fans all around in this band of Chris [Robinson’s] work. We’ve only played with The Black Crowes, so this will be our first show with the Brotherhood.”

Chris Robinson Brotherhood: Non-commercial hippie rock

Listening intently to the patient grooving and boundary dissolving of Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s (CRB) 2015 release, Betty’s Blends Vol. 2: Best from the West, is hopping a train with a group of weathered musicians that are comfortable letting their music breath. CRB joined forces with Betty Cantor-Jackson, legendary archivist for the Grateful Dead, and allowed her to curate the new live album. The result is a double-guitar rock ‘n’ roll and keyboard attack courtesy of Crowes’ keyboardist Adam MacDougall. And it’s cool to hear Robinson playing more guitar in this project than he did with The Black Crowes.

Alongside Robinson is a super guitarist and songwriting partner that has made a name for himself. Predominantly a go-to sideman, Neal Casal is a former member of Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Hard Working Americans, and is a solid solo recording artist in his own right.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Chris Robinson Brotherhood

“CRB for me has been five years of pure expansion,” Casal told The Planet from Groningen, Holland. “The universe is expanding and it hasn’t cooled yet, see, because we’re still in those early stages of the universe, my own universe, expanding. Chris’ concept for the band alone is what helped me expand—I’d never been in a band that played for three hours, or in a band that played two sets, or been asked to play this much lead guitar and to make as big of a contribution that I’ve been able to in this band. I’m really thankful for it.”

Like The Grateful Dead or Phish, the band enjoys “an evening with” type concert that encompasses two complete sets and long-form songs, often times with no support act. Opening a show or playing a single set is not something they do very often. Speaking of The Dead, CRB employs some of the lazy soul grooves and intricate psychedelic improvisation that make for such a peaceful, floaty feeling matched with the unexpected. Sometimes those in-the-moment musical improvisations benefit from the lighter side of the brain.

“The expansive instrumental aspects of the Grateful Dead were a starting point for us and we wear the influence proudly,” Casal said. “It can be pretty scary up there sometimes, [the improvisational moments]. I’m not the kind of musician with a lightning fast brain. I’m pretty slow, actually. So it takes me a while to come up with parts and ideas. I think the best thing that saves me in those situations is a good sense of humor. Failing is ok. Failure is welcome in this band and it makes the successes so much better, adds contrast.”

Though CRB is listed as the opening act on JHMR’s website, I’d wager this Saturday performance in the Teton Village lot will feel like a co-headlining bill, especially knowing Robinson’s popularity and history of playing Jackson with the Crowes.

Also consider the heady after-party concert on Saturday featuring sacred pedal steel guru Roosevelt Collier with Jelly Bread at the Mangy Moose in Teton Village (9:30 p.m., $10). Collier brings a Robert Randolph-vibed “get down” attitude to his shows, and this one is setup to be a barnburner. Check Music Box on page 18.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats: Powerful soul, songwriter R&B

Nathaniel Rateliff comes to us as an artist that is trending, blowing it up, and yes, killing it as a howling tenor fronting a seven-piece band of fellow Denver buddies. It’s easy to fall in love with his newfound Stax era of musical growth, which seems to simultaneously channel Van Morrison, Sam & Dave, and Sam Cooke, yet with an alluring Midwestern drawl and an indie flair. Even a hint of the first Stax house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, can be discerned.

“The Night Sweats started to tour a lot last June and I’ve only been home for less than two weeks since,” Rateliff said. “It’s been an intense kind of thing for us just to learn how to work as much as we’ve been working. We’ve all been having a blast playing for each other and I’m lucky enough to be with a great group of guys.”

Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats

Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats

Rateliff grew up phoneless and church-going in rural Missouri. At 18, after some hardships that led to him quitting school and working odd jobs, Rateliff moved to Denver. During the in-between years, he formed garage rock band Born in the Flood while also working for a trucking company and beginning to write quieter, introspective songs. The mellower songs fit best with his second Denver band, The Wheel, though he soon grew confident as a solo artist and signed to Rounder Records.

He moved to Chicago to make his debut for the label, 2010’s “In Memory of Loss,” with Iron & Wine producer Brian Deck. During this time, I was driving in northern Colorado and heard Rateliff’s unforgettable voice singing “Happy Just to Be” overtop a simplistic piano and violin on public radio. Hushed folk a la Bon Iver was all the rage and the interview with Rateliff came off super genuine, like he was really living in these songs. Later, The New York Times would dub him one of Denver’s local folk-pop heroes while Spin praised his “massive, alluring voice.”

Frustrated when the label passed on his next batch of songs, he moved back to Denver to self-record and quietly release his next album, Falling Faster Than You Can Run, on a small label. A tour followed, and so did the magic.

“I wasn’t sure if that album would see the light of day,” Rateliff said. “Out of discouragement, I guess, I had a friend ask me to come record some different stuff and I was like, ‘I just finished a record and I just dumped my heart into this other thing.’ He said, ‘you don’t have to do the singer-songwriter stuff, you can fuckin’ play whatever you want.’

Rateliff says that made him wonder: “Am I going to keep playing music and treading water? What about the people that have committed their lives to playing with me? I feel responsible to them and for the vision,” he said. So Rateliff went home and jammed on his guitar. “I thought it would be cool if I did something that sort of sounded like The Band and kind of sounded like Sam & Dave.” Within a week, he had eight to nine songs.” But The Night Sweats, Rateliff remembered, “was still something that I was doing at home, something I did for fun, and it was kind of bizarre that it became my full-time job.”

The 11-track retro-sounding debut, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats is a few borders beyond the solo songwriter gigs, though Rateliff’s talent is still the driving force. The heightened energy is taking him to bigger stages and earning fans quicker than ever, and new dreams are coming true.

“When we first moved to Denver, we were like, ‘some day we’re going to play here at Red Rocks,” Rateliff said of the holy grail of venues. “We’ve played there a bunch of times now—with Spoon, Flaming Lips, and some multi-band fests like Film on the Rocks and Monolith—but we’ve never had our own show until now. Shovels and Rope are opening for us. And it’s sold out. It’s happening.”

Opening for The Night Sweats this Friday night on Jackson’s Town Square is California hillbilly swing/rockabilly/country trio Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys. Over 25 years and over 3,000 shows, the band has made 14 records and appeared three times on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Their sound is a slap back to the early Capitol Records days with modern twists.

Uncle Kracker: Rowdier than your other uncle

Good friend and collaborator with Kid Rock since the beginning of his career, rap-rocker Matthew Shafer, a.k.a. Uncle Kracker, had his first top 10 his with 2001 soft-rock single “Follow Me.” Both fortunate and unfortunate, that single was unlike any of the other songs on the Kid Rock-produced album though it defined the early part of his career. Like Mr. Rock, Kracker favors the combo of funky post-grunge rock with a hip-hop beat and surly lyrical subjects.

Uncle Kracker

Uncle Kracker

“You walk in with a crooked smile/Yeah your hair’s a little out of style/But ooh, you got that thang/You’re in and out of relationships/Your nail polish is always chipped/But ooh, you got that thang/The way you drink, the way you trip/The way you bite your bottom lip/Oh baby.” – from Uncle Kracker’s “You Got That Thang”

Shafer played turntables for Rock’s early bands, eventually co-writing and performing on Rock’s multi-platinum album Devil Without a Cause. He had a second top 10 solo hit in 2002 with a cover of Mentor Williams’ “Drift Away” and also co-wrote Kid Rock’s popular single “All Summer Long.” While I’ve heard unenthusiastic chatter about Mr. Kracker being the wrong fit when compared to other acts billed for the weekend, I’d bet there are some regional fans that will come out of the wood work for this free Sunday show under the tram.

Opening the show as a part of the Coombs Classic Ski Event, eight-piece Chanman Roots Band is simply good reggae vibes and tight musicianship from some of the valley’s veteran players. Get there early at 2 p.m. for their set and see the dance party ignite.

Sneaky Pete & The Secret Weapons: The funk-nasty groove train

Sneaky Pete and The Secret Weapons

Sneaky Pete and The Secret Weapons

There are good reasons why Sneaky Pete & The Secret Weapons, known to local fans as “The Weapons,” are one of the hottest acts in town right now. They’re writing original music with classic elements of jazz-funk and making every show a full-on dance party with an unending groove. Their debut album Breakfast reached No. 5 on Relix Magazine/Jambands.com Radio Chart while touring regularly through the Northwest & Rocky Mountain regions. The quintet will officially kick-off Rendezvous at 3 p.m. Thursday, under the tram. You’ll have a second chance to catch The Weapons after the The Night Sweats, 10 p.m. Friday at Town Square Tavern ($10).

Transportation for Rendezvous: Plan ahead

Saturday’s venue in Teton Village will be larger than ever to accommodate concertgoers, and there will be additional public transportation to transport folks to and from the concert. Free concert parking will be available at the Teton County Fairgrounds in the Town of Jackson, and also at the intersection of Highway 22 and 390 in the Stilson Parking Lot. These lots will be serviced by buses to and from the concert. The START Bus to Teton Village is free for JHMR season passholders and $3 for all other concertgoers. All bus service after the concert from Teton Village to Stilson and Teton Village to town is free of charge. Service will conclude at 12:30 a.m.

Parking in Teton Village will be very limited, and carpooling is encouraged. Parking in all lots will increase to $30 after 1 p.m. Saturday, and will be available on a first come first serve basis. If you do not have a ticket to Saturday’s concert, it is advised not to come, as it is sold out. For more information on bus times, parking, concert venue and Village traffic information, visit jacksonhole.com/rendezvous-transportation.html PJH

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of music happenings in JH, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

2016 Jackson Hole Rendezvous Schedule & more

Wednesday, March 16

Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen
Venue: Center Theater, Jackson
Time: 7 p.m.

GTMF Chamber Music: Brahms’ Horn Trio

Venue: St. John’s Episcopal
Time: 7 p.m.

Thursday, March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day and Rendezvous kick-off!

Sneaky Pete & the Secret Weapons
Venue: Under the tram, Teton Village
Time: 3 p.m.

Slip ‘N the Jigs

Venue: Silver Dollar Showroom
Time: 7:30 to 11 p.m.

GTMF A Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD Broadcast Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

Venue: Center for the Arts
Time: 7 p.m.


Venue: Town Square Tavern
Time: 10 p.m.

Friday, March 18

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats with Big Sandy and the Fly Rite Boys
Venue: Town Square Stage, downtown Jackson
Time: 5 p.m.
FREE, VIP tickets ($125) still available at JacksonHole.com

Sneaky Pete & the Secret Weapons

Venue: Town Square Tavern
Time: 10 p.m.

GTMF Elgar to Radiohead with Sybarite5

Venue: Center for the Arts
Time: 7 p.m.

Saturday, March 19

Zac Brown Band with Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Venue: Teton Village parking lot
Time: 5 p.m.

Roosevelt Collier with Jelly Bread
Venue: Mangy Moose
Time: 9:30 p.m.
$10/advance, $15/day-of-show at Mangy Moose or etix.com

Sunday, March 20

Uncle Kracker with Chanman Roots Band

Venue: Under the tram, Teton Village
Time: 2 p.m.

Marmot Coombs Classic

Legendary ski-mountaineer and Jackson Hole local Doug Coombs (1957-2006), was loved and admired on a local and global scale. This is a celebratory spring skiing event to commemorate his remarkable mountain ambitions.

Venue: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Event: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday
Registration: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Marmot tent at the base of JHMR between the tram and gondola.

About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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