July 21, 2009
It’s coming and will be here before you know it! One of those very special one-time performances in the musical arts where stars align and compelling storylines reveal a whole greater than the sum of its parts is about to descend upon our cultural landscape.
And, although some might see it as a benevolent act from the gods that oversee such things, this quite improbable co-booking of instrumental and compositional genius appears to be somewhat the product of chance.
In the sense that Alejandro Escovedo and the Arc Angels are not touring together, the fact that they are performing back-to-back on stage at the Snowbird Renaissance Center this upcoming Friday night as part of the opening salvo of this years Rock and Blues Festival is actually pretty astounding.
Alejandro, with only a couple of stops in Utah under his belt, has become much beloved within the local music scene over the past few years. Just ask any of those lucky enough to have been among the packed house on that now-storied evening at Pat’s BBQ or caught him at his equally-acclaimed opening for Son Volt at Red Butte Garden.
He was a legend long before he actually washed up on local shores, of course. A California surf bum who spent part of his youth in the back alley of the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach trying to schmooze his way into sold-out shows by the likes of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Janis Joplin, Alejandro would later become a much-heralded icon of the Austin, Texas, genre-busting music scene.
But what has Utah’s live-music community so excited this time around has a lot to do with the cancellation last year of his national-tour co-headlining slot with Greg Brown, including their August stop at Red Butte. With Escovedo having barely survived a 2003 attack of the demonic hepatitis C, a chill ran through his fan base worldwide.
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How deeply Alejandro is revered and how ecstatic Utah fans would be over his impending return was not lost on local concert promoter Darin Piccoli and Snowbird Renaissance Center general manager Teri Mumm. They seized the opportunity and booked him to headline opening night of this weekend’s festival up Little Cottonwood Canyon.
The second act of this dream pairing "came out of nowhere," according to Piccoli. "We had no idea they were touring." The Arc Angels hadn’t toured in years and, as a band, existed more in mythology than as an ongoing performing unit.
Initially formed by musical friends who hung around the Austin Rehearsal Center (ARC) and would jam together when they happened to have some off time from their regular gigs, the Arc Angels would soon have their carefully laid plans transformed.
Back then, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon usually found themselves on the road as the rhythm section for Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble while young guitar prodigies Charlie Sexton and Doyle Bramhall II worked on their solo projects and label development deals.
But on August 27, 1990, while Stevie Ray was on a tour with Eric Clapton, fate would intervene when a helicopter pilot, in the fog and unfamiliar with the terrain, flew a ship carrying Vaughan and members of Clapton’s entourage into a Wisconsin hillside. There were no survivors. The tragedy robbed the music world of its most innovative blues guitarist and left Double Trouble without a helmsman.
The Arc Angels then began to write songs and rehearse in earnest and, by 1992, following the release of their self-titled album, were being dubbed a "Texas supergroup" by critics. However, creative differences and the demon of drug addiction would soon end their dream.
But their crashing back to earth as a band didn’t prevent the Arc Angels from leaving individual footprints in Utah over the years. Bramhall would open for and later join Clapton’s band, which plays often in Salt Lake. Sexton performed with Bob Dylan when he toured with Paul Simon back in 1999 and again when he stopped by Deer Valley a couple of years later. He also showed up at the Star Bar on Main Street as part of a Sundance Film Festival Music Café in support of Edie Brickell and as lead guitarist for The Flatlanders at Red Butte.
And who could forget that night back in the late ’80s when Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble flat-out set Deer Valley on its ear with an evening of rockin’ blues? In many ways that night sowed the seeds for this Friday when the current edition of the Arc Angels joins Alejandro Escovedo to wrap up a full day of music at Snowbird. It looks as though, this time anyway, the angels have defeated the demons.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.