John Magnie Trio,
Rocky Mountain Folks Fest
, Lyons, CO (21 August 1999)

The skies were grey over Lyons, Colorado, until 2:45 p.m. What was so magical about that time? It's when the John Magnie Trio (sometimes known as Magpie), composed of former Subdudes John Magnie (lead vocals, keyboards, accordion), Steve Amedee (drums) and Tim Cook, a.k.a. Mr. Rutherford (bass) started their set at the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest (RMFF). As with the Subdudes, the John Magnie Trio features New Orleans-style blues with an occasional gospel feel, and as RMFF announcer, Andy Schneidkraut, laughingly commented, "the most creative facial hair on this stage."

Facial hair and all, the band's foot-tapping songs initiated the opening of the dance section, located between the bank of the St. Vrain River and the stage left section of the audience. Studio recordings cannot capture this group's energetic essence; you miss Amedee's jumps and spins between drum beats and Magnie's easy-going patter with the audience. "We've all got angels in our lives," he said while introducing "I've Got a Date With an Angel." "I see that my chief angel just showed up. Of course, she's not listening to me," he laughed.

Magnie, as his comments indicate, is a down-to-earth man who also is a highly skilled, confident musician and vocalist. Perhaps he himself can be called a magpie of talent, with his long silver hair and distinctive beard, finding the best pieces of music to showcase his band. While most of the songs performed that day were their own material, they paid tribute to older bands such as the Farmer Boys, a band that Magnie acknowledged as one that "most people haven't heard of."

And even subjects that most people have heard of are intriguing when given the John Magnie Trio treatment. The band resides in Fort Collins, Colorado, barely an hour drive south of Wyoming. The rather mundane drive to the border via US 287 ("the prairie to the East; the mountains to the West") is anything but on "Wyoming Bound," what with its rollicking, rocking blues piano opening. I could see the Kurzweil keyboard shaking from Magnie's heartfelt pounding.

The bluesy fell of "This Time the Heartache is Mine" was reminiscent of a much earlier era, particularly with the three men's harmonies. They even briefly created a barbershop quartet (sans the fourth man, of course) on a later song.

The band invited various local artists (some nationally known) to assist on vocals (Mollie O'Brien, Liz Barnez) and guitar (Bob Tyler). "I'm Trying Not to Lead You So Much" started with O'Brien joining the three men on vocals, then segued into a bluesy/gospel duet between O'Brien and Magnie, who had abandoned his keyboards for an accordion. Barnez sang and played tambourine on "The Holy Instant," another gospel song that described a time "when your mind is open to give and and open to receive." The group stopped the song suddenly as it seemed to be heading towards a close. "We forgot to let Bob play," Magnie said, and Tyler, who had played guitar on the entire song, quickly launched into a guitar solo.

So what's the John Magnie Trio? It's gospel without preaching, blues without sadness, and local artists and children contributing (Amedee's children occasionally joined in on singing and drumming) to the mix. It's a group that refers to Chuck Berry (in their encore after a standing ovation) as "one of America's premiere poets." It's a trio of soulful musicians who know how to perform music that makes the sun and your heart shine. It's good fun -- that's what it is.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]