In my last post, Blues in Colorado – A Primer, I suggested that most of the blues bands that we see today are of the local garden variety – good enough to please the upper end of suburban GenZ and Boomers with their small kids and grandkids at parks and summer events, and local neighborhood bar and grills.
But that doesn’t really tell the whole story about the state of blues in the 21st century in Colorado and the award winners and future legends who have emerged, regardless of mainstream popularity.
The 21st century opens with Erica Brown emerging in the scene as the First Lady of Blues (Colorado Blues Society) and Denver’s Queen of the Blues (Altitude Network).
Between 1998 and 2008, the Erica Brown Band earned numerous awards, including; Best Blues Band (Westword Magazine) Best Underground Blues Band multiple times (Denver Post) and The Rocky Mountain News’ Best Of (Blues Category).
Among the many projects she appears on, Erica is featured on Big Head Blues Club “Way Down Inside: The Songs of Willie Dixon” (2016). She began appearing with Dan Treanor in 2008.
A Blues Foundation: Keeping the Blues Alive Award recipient, Dan Treanor is a Colorado original. Born and raised in Pueblo, Dan entered the blues world when he was sixteen, playing in the Steel City Blues Band.
In 2004, he got signed to the well respected independent blues label Northern Blues Music. Dan Treanor & Frankie Lee – African Wind (2004) was nominated Blues Album of the Year by the Independent Music Awards. Dan has received three Independent Music Award nominations.
In 2013, Dan Treanor’s Afrosippi Band featuring Erica Brown took home 3rd Place Honors in the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis. In 2015 they released Born to Love the Blues, which also features Erica’s daughter MJ.
Lionel Young first appears on the scene in the early to mid 90s and is featured on Otis Taylor‘s 1997 debut When Negroes Walked the Earth.
It wouldn’t be until the 21st century, however, that the classically trained violinist comes to the attention of the blues world by making history at the International Blues Challenge (IBC), as the only artist to ever win twice, in the 2008 solo-duo competition and the 2011 band competition.
Cary Morin first showed up on stages in Fort Collins in the 1980s with his band the Atoll.
Now recognized as one of the nation’s leading acoustic blues artists, Cary has performed at renowned venues and festivals around the globe including the Kennedy Center, the Paris Jazz Festival and the Copenhagen Blues Festival to name a few.
Cary’s career in Colorado ranks among the most awarded. He’s been honored with the Fort Collins Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2014) and is a Telluride Blues and Brews Blues Champion (2019).
Cary has also earned Indigenous Music Awards for Best Blues CD for Cradle to the Grave (2017) and for When I Rise (2019) and an Independent Music Award for Best Blues CD for When I Rise.
Colorado Springs artist John-Alex Mason passed away at the age of 35, in October 2011, but not without leaving a lasting legacy as one of the state’s most celebrated bluesmen. In 2001 he won the Telluride Acoustic Blues Competition. He released five albums between 2000 and 2011.
The Informants / Kerry Pastine & the Crime Scene – Fronted by Kerry Pastine, the Informants fans voted the band as the winner of the Westword Music Award for Best Blues (2008-2010). Their album Crime Scene Queen won the International Blues Competition for Best Self-Produced CD of 2010.
Kerry and her husband Paul (guitar) spun off from the Informants to create the Crime Scene. They earned the 2019 Colorado Blues Society Members Choice Award for Band of the Year, Best Recording for City of Love, Best Female Vocalist, Best Songwriter and Best Live Moment for the City of Love CD release party.
With six albums to their credit since 2004, the modern electric blues inspired Mojomama has been a semi-finalist at the International Blues Challenge Memphis (2018, 2019) and won several awards from the Colorado Blues Society, including Best Self Produced CD and Favorite Female Vocalist (2015, 2018) and the Members Choice Awards for Best Band in 2019.
The acts I mentioned above represent only a handful of the many blues acts that have crossed the stages of Colorado, from the smallest pubs to the biggest festivals. Upcoming festivals include the Trinidaddio Blues Fest (Aug 22), and the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival (Sept 16-18).
Touring artists like Cary Morin and Lionel Young act as ambassadors of Colorado blues around the United States, and in other countries.
Erica Brown continues to play a major role in our blues scene today, as does Lionel Young who Erica has teamed up with in a new project called Blues Circus – that also features Erica’s daughter MJ along with John Magnie and Steve Amadee from Del Shamen that Erica participated in.
Time will tell when, where and how far the next group of blues artists in Colorado music history will rise up to claim their place – in Colorado Blues PT3 – Rising Stars and Future Promise.
To learn more about the blues in Colorado visit the Colorado Blues Society and Mile High Blues Society.