Cheap thrills

Free summer concert series returns to Steamboat Springs

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When Who Where 6 p.m. June 22 Bela Fleck Howelsen Hill 5:30 July 10 Sonia Dada Headwall 5:30 July 30 South Austin Jug Band Howelsen Hill 5:30 Aug. 12 Galactic Howelsen Hill 5:30 Sept. 4 Little Feat Headwall 5:30 Sept. 5 Delbert McClinton Headwall

Roll out the lawn chairs, the picnic blankets and your dancing shoes. It's free concert season in the Yampa Valley once again.

Music lovers can look forward to a luminous lineup this summer that features Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Sonia Dada, South Austin Jug Band, Galactic, Little Feat and Delbert McClinton. Shows will take place at Howelsen Hill or on Headwall at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.

And every show is free.

The series kicks off June 22 at Howelsen Hill with the eclectic, Grammy Award-winning sounds of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones. The four-member band returns to Steamboat en route to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Its members cite influences that include hip-hop, jazz, Gaelic airs, bluegrass, classical and world music among their diverse musical sessions. The band's most recent album, "Little Worlds," incorporates guest appearances from Bobby McFerrin, Sam Bush, Derek Trucks, Nickel Creek, the Chieftans, Jerry Douglas and Bernie Williams.

Chicago-based band Sonia Dada moves the free concert festivities up to the ski area for a July 10 show on Headwall. The eight-member band was called a "neo-hippie, noodley, jam-type band with a-bit-more-than-average world-beat and funk influences and a bit better than average rhythm section" in Chicago's Centerstage online publication. Its show follows the June 22 release of a new album, "Test Pattern."

The South Austin Jug Band keeps the free music spirit flowing downtown July 30 at Howelsen Hill with its self-described "bluegrass or newgrass, neo-Jug, acoustic country-folk, Texas roots unplugged, swinging Lone Star beatnik country or anything else that strikes you" music. The group's stated mission is "fun."

Since winning the "best new band" contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2002, the group's debut studio album has been produced by The Dixie Chicks' producer, Lloyd Maines. Local favorites The Brewglass Boys are the scheduled opening act for the South Austin Jug Band show.

New Orleans jam band Galactic will grace the Howelsen Hill stage Aug. 12, with its smooth sounds that have been described as a mesh of funk, jazz, blues, electronica, Latin and hip-hop.

One review of Galactic's newest album, "Ruckus" on Underground.com described the band like this: "Normally known as a band comprised of good beats and catchy grooves with a funky soul, a band who is known to play music without saying or singing a word for hours on end whilst still keeping the audience completely mesmerized, a band that knows how to mix soul, blues and funk and build a completely improvised structure around a single sound, Galactic is a band that is trying to expand the scope of its already undefined musical boundaries."

Both Labor Day weekend concerts will be based at Headwall.

Little Feat will play its self-described "organic mix of American blues, jazz, rock and world music" Sept. 4. Christopher Orman called Little Feat's 1978 album, "Waiting for Columbus," "the quintessential live album, mixing the Allman Brothers' blues-based jams with New Orleans rhythms" in an online review on popmatters.com.

Now, he wrote, "the band, more than ever, arguably can jam. They can play for hours, as the average track time of six minutes attests. But the lyrics and the song, of conveying meaning in the context of these extemporaneous whimsies, make the difference."

Grammy-winning performer Delbert McClinton takes the stage Sept. 5. McClinton's harmonica and vocals incorporate blues, rock, soul and country music.

"The people twirl and snap their fingers. They throw back their heads, arch their shoulders to the beat. They stomp their feet and move their hips and close their eyes, lost in the music. There is that honky-tonk aroma of beer and sweat and a hundred different perfumes combined into one overpowering good-time scent. Kind of like The Cotton Club 50-some years ago, when McClinton's parents just wanted to have fun," wrote Silas House in No Depression, an "alternative country music" magazine.

The free concert series is traditionally one of the highlights of Steamboat's social summer season. In addition to great music, the concert venues will once again incorporate kids activities, a petting zoo, vendors selling food and drinks and a bike corral to store concertgoers' nonmotorized transport.

Major event sponsors include the city of Steamboat Springs, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, B&K Distributing, KFMU, Downtown Business Association, Mountain Business Association, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., Great Knight Productions, SmartWool, True Value, Northwest Data Services, Sheraton Steamboat Resort, Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel and Conference Center, Hampton Inn and Suites, Triple Crown and Sore Saddle Cyclery.

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