Kind of blue

Otis Taylor gives Boulder the blues at the third annual Trance Blues Festival

Otis Taylor
Photo by Evan Simone

If you hear an entrancing rhythm coming from eTown Hall or the Boulder Outlook Hotel this weekend, don’t fight it. Instead, grab an instrument — or anything you have that can make a sound — and follow the sound. These sirens aren’t trying to wreck your ship; they just want to jam.

The sounds are courtesy of Boulder-based bluesman Otis Taylor, whose Trance Blues Festival is set for Friday, Nov. 1, and Saturday, Nov. 2. Taylor has garnered a heap of awards through his storied career in the blues. This year saw the release of his 13th album, My World Is Gone, a gutting exploration of modern and bygone Native American life and death.

Though he falls under the general umbrella of blues, Taylor practices what he calls “trance blues,” a variation of blues distinguished by its lack of variation.

“It’s something I sort of came up with, you know,” Taylor says. “I decided to call it trance music because it doesn’t have any melodic roots and it doesn’t have chord changes.” While his spin on it is new, trance music is not.

“Some of the most famous music in the world doesn’t have chord changes,” he says, citing vodou and hip-hop as two of the most famous examples.

Taylor is a veteran, a master of his craft, but part of the beauty of the trance music he makes is its simplicity. There are no complicated chord changes. Space is key, versus a flurry of notes. The music lends itself to beginners, even non-musicians, whom Taylor welcomes. For folks who have never played with others before, Taylor has organized a workshop (Nov. 1 at the Boulder Outlook Hotel at 8 p.m.) to teach the basics of jamming, blues mechanics and a little bit of jazz history.

“Everybody gets a chance,” Taylor reiterates. “It’s shared music.”

The all-inclusive nature of the music is exactly what Taylor hoped to capture with the Trance Blues Festival.

“It’s a feeling of community,” he says. “It’s a chance for people to … share music. [The music] is very simple, you know. You don’t have to be a musician. Like when you sit in a class choir, there’s bad singers, but the choir always sounded good.”

Taylor will have some professional help, too. Among the many talented musicians who’ll join him on stage and during the workshops are guitarist and vocalist Cathy Richardson and cornet player Ron Miles (“one of the best players players in the country, no ifs ands or buts, y’know?”) as well as fiddler Anne Harris, singer Erica Brown, Paul and Jessica Rogalski, singer G’ Jai, drummer Larry Thompson and more.

On Saturday, Nov. 2, the artists will host workshops in the morning at the Outlook. That night, the artists will take the stage at eTown Hall for a finale concert and jam.

Among the guest artists is one musician with whom Taylor shares a special connection.

“My daughter Cass is going to be there — she’s a bass player.”

Like her father, Cassie Taylor, 27, is already an accomplished musician, having started touring with her father when she was just 16 years old. Aside from getting to play music with his daughter, Otis cited another reason he’s glad Cass will be at the festival: to be a role model.

“There’s not a lot of women in the blues, you know, but there’ll be a lot of strong women role models there,” he says.

While there’ll be plenty of chances to sharpen your musical chops and rub elbows with inspirational figures, Taylor stresses that a big part of the festival is having fun.

“It’s just a crazy party,” he says. A blues party may sounds like something of an oxymoron, but there’s something cathartic about it, too, like the burning of The Grump in Crested Butte. Point is, whether you’ve ever sung a bar of blues in your life, odds are you’ve had the words in your heart before. The Trance Blues Festival doesn’t want to tell you what to sing about — it just wants to be your pitch pipe.

Trance Blues Festival Schedule

Friday, Nov. 1: Blues Jam — Everyone, regardless of skill level, is invited to bring their instruments. Tickets are $20. The music starts at 8 p.m. Boulder Outlook Hotel, 800 28th St., Boulder.

Saturday, Nov. 2: Workshops with visiting artists — morning and afternoon sessions. Tickets for the workshops, which include admission to the concert, are $65. Workshops take place at the Boulder Outlook Hotel.

Evening performance with Otis Taylor, the visiting artists and select participants — Tickets are $20 for just the concert. eTown Hall, 1535 Spruce St., Boulder. Visit for more information.