Hangtown Music Festival delivers costumes and musical collaborations

Angelo Moore with Karl Denson // Paul Piazza

By Paul Piazza

The day after Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe performed an epic tribute to Prince’s Dirty Mind at the sixth annual Hangtown Music Festival in Placerville, saxophonist and bandleader Karl Denson had his suit packed and was onto his other gig. Early the next day, he’d be flying out to Las Vegas to play with the Rolling Stones.

Such is the life of the hard-working 58-year-old, who is also a longtime member of the Greyboy Allstars and has now been a member of the Rolling Stones for a little over two years. Denson was enlisted by the legendary Brits after longtime saxophonist Bobby Keys passed away. It’s made a life already filled with great musical variety even more interesting.

For the Hangtown set, the band brought in legendary Fishbone vocalist Angelo Moore. According to Denson, the 50-year-old Moore was initially apprehensive about how to sing the piece.

“I told him, I’m not expecting you to do it in falsetto,” Denson said. “I’m expecting you to do Angelo Moore.”

With that musical freedom, Moore creatively infused some of his own sound into the Prince opus, adding a bit of ska at the end of “When You Were Mine.” The crowd ate up this funky collaboration, dancing relentlessly throughout the set.

It was just one part of a tremendous festival, where accomplished musicians joined each other during set after set of great music. Tim Carbone, the fiddle player for festival host band Railroad Earth, could be found in a variety different jams, grey locks flying over his violin. Nicki Bluhm not only played with her band the Gramblers multiple times but joined the Brothers Comatose and the Infamous Stringdusters.

The weekend also featured a number of costume themes. On Friday night, it was Hydrofunky (water), and singer Nahko Bear of Nahko and Medicine for the People talked about saving the salmon run. Zoobadooba (animals) was the theme for Saturday night, which featured a group called Incidental Animals, a collaboration featuring members of ALO, String Cheese Incident and Jennifer Hartswick. And on Sunday, the theme was HellaStella (sky), and true to form, some beautiful cloud arrangements appeared in the wild blue yonder over Placerville.

The Brothers Comatose with Nicki Bluhm // Paul Piazza

There was a new, small stage this year in the music meadow called the Baller Stage that served as a space for sets between the acts. Local funk band Ideateam, which releases an album called Moving Still tomorrow, played three sets on the stage as well as stepping up to the next level with its first set on the bigger Gallows Stage.

It was a lot to take in over four days, but because of El Dorado County Fairgrounds’ easy-to-navigate layout, you could catch a little bit of everything. And if things got overwhelming, you could meditate with Railroad Earth’s Carbone on Sunday morning.

Of course, there are those like Denson who prefer to be in constant motion. Since getting the gig with the Stones, it isn’t uncommon for him to catch three planes in a day. After playing a big Halloween festival in Florida with KDTU, he has couple of dates with the Greyboy Allstars coming up in San Francisco. Then, he and KDTU plan to hit the deep south with Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring. After that, he’s talking about bringing back a Rick James tribute.

Denson and his bandmates, who have a reputation for dressing sharp onstage, plan to release a KDTU album in 2017 as well. It will be called Camping in Suits.

“That’s really my life,” Denson said as he prepared to pack another bag.

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