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Published: 2008/12/22
by Nick Hutchinson

Sixth Annual Mark Vann Foundation Holiday Benefit, Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO- 12/6

The sixth annual Mark Vann Foundation Holiday Benefit honored the late great Mark Vann in true family style. A host of local artisans and businesses donated a variety of wares (such as batik t-shirts, posters, hand-painted bottles of wine, custom-made wooden puzzles and an autographed guitar) in support of the foundation, which assists non-profits in Colorado. With the help of a very dedicated volunteer staff these items were all successfully auctioned and raffled off.

Fat Rabbit (featuring members of Boulder-based Shanti Groove) started the evening with a short-but-sweet sax-tinged set followed by the Pete Kartsounes Band, a Colorado acoustic-based newgrass act that stirred up some festival spirit with tunes including "Journey’s End" and the dance-inducing "Hoedown." Next up was singer/songwriter and former GAT guitarist Jefferson Hamer and friends (which took in local Boulder musician Greg Schocett on mandolin and K.C. Groves, of Uncle Earl, on fiddle). Hamer and co. worked through a pleasing set of ditties including uplifting versions of the old-time classics "Lazy John" and "I’ve Endured."

Other groups that joined in for brief sets included the honkytonk inspired Greg Schochet Trio (Schochet saw quite a bit of stage time over the course of the night, as he sat in with a few different bands on his mando and also his Telecaster) and the Denver-based jamgrass outfit Oakhurst, which tore through a high-energy jamgrass set that had the steadily growing crowd up and dancing. The boys from Denver would likely have put a smile on Vann’s face. Their spirited performance served as a perfect warm-up for one of the most anticipated sets of the night by Great American Taxi, which included Tim Carbone tearing it up on fiddle.

Taxi turned up the heat with scorching versions of some of its more recent material, including keyboardist Chad Staehley’s "New Millennium Blues" and "Reckless Habits," both of which featured his nicely evolving vocal and key work. The band’s new drummer, Chris Sheldon (formerly of the Phix), demonstrated his genre-weaving talent. He appeared to be both relaxed and powerful in his playing as he kept the beat for the latest iteration of the Taxi. And, naturally, Vince had the crowd hooting and singing along heartily on versions of "One of These Days" and "Good Night to Boogie," which featured his 16-year-old son Silas Herman putting down a crowd pleasing guitar solo.

The Emmitt-Nershi band kicked up pleasing clouds of rootsy acoustic dust on tunes including a nice " Black Clouds" and "Love is Like a Train."With Andy Thorn (formerly of Larry Keel’s band Natural Bridge) on banjo, the multi-instrumental and talented Tyler Grant on bass, Billy Nershi on vocals and guitar and Drew Emmitt on mandolin and vocals, the band, which is currently in the studio and then heading south to play on Jam Cruise, is poised to be one of the next big acts on the festival circuit.

In honor of the Vann and the banjo, the six-member "Banjorchestra" (featuring banjo pickers from the various bands in attendance) took the stage to tear off a multi-thumbed jam before giving way to the grand finale, which included a group ensemble that took in a stage-groaning 20-plus musicians, including Boulder singer/songwriter Reed Foehl. The cluster jam was surprisingly cohesive (and downright hot at points) and featured extended group jams on tunes including a version of "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and an epic version of Neil Young's "Helpless" to close out an inspiring evening of music and good karma. In the words of an old Leftover Salmon song, "everything is round."

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