The Sheridan Arts Foundation is proud to present an intimate evening with rock, folk legends Hot Tuna, the acoustic trio, at the historic Sheridan Opera House on Sunday, July 22 at 8 p.m. The trio features Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, founders and continuing core members of the group.
Kaukonen and Casady began playing together while growing up in the Washington, D.C. area. The two, four years apart, played professional gigs throughout high school and college. Early on, Kaukonen became enamored of, then committed to, the finger-picking guitar style exemplified by the now-legendary Rev. Gary Davis. Casady meanwhile took an interest in the electric base, at the time a controversial instrument in blues, jazz and folk music circles.
In the mid-1960s, Kaukonen was asked to audition for a new band that was forming in San Francisco. Though an acoustic player at heart, he grew interested in the electronic gadgetry that was beginning to make an appearance on the pop music scene — particularly in a primitive processor brought to the audition by a fellow named Ken Kesey — and decided to join the group. He soon summoned his young friend from Washington, who now played the bass. The Jefferson Airplane was born.
While in The Jefferson Airplane, the friends remained loyal to the blues, jazz, bluegrass and folk influences of their earlier years. Often after having played a gig with the Airplane, Casady and Kaukonen would continue to play together and eventually worked up a set of songs they would often perform at clubs in the Bay Area and on the road.
Theses extracurricular activities led to a record contract. In fact, the pair had recorded the album before they decided to name their new band Hot Tuna. The odyssey that followed has continued for more than 35 years, always finding new and interesting turns on its continuous march forward.
The first thing early Hot Tuna fans discovered at their concerts of the early 1970s was that the band was growing louder and louder. In an era when volume often trumped musicianship, however, Hot Tuna provided both. The second thing a fan would discover was that Casady and Kaukonen really loved performing.
Album followed album — more than two dozen in all, not counting solo efforts, side projects, and appearances on recordings by other bands and performers — and the two continued to develop their interests and styles, both together and individually. Nowadays when old bands reunite for “one last tour,” Hot Tuna is not among them. Why? Because Hot Tuna never broke up.
After two decades of acoustic and electric concerts and albums, the 1990s brought a new focus on acoustic music to Hot Tuna, with increasingly frequent stops at more intimate venues where a more individual connection to the audience becomes possible. Soon, the loud electric sound (and the semi trailer load of equipment) disappeared entirely from Hot Tuna’s tours. Maturity also brought the desire to do things not instead of, but in addition to being a touring band. Both men had become interested in teaching, passing along what they had learned to a new generation of players.
For the last few years, Kaukonen and Casady have been joined in most of their Hot Tuna performances by the mandolin virtuoso Barry Mitterhoff. A veteran of bluegrass, Celtic, folk and rock-influenced bands including Tony Trischka and Skyline and Bottle Hill, Mitterhoff has found a new voice working with Hot Tuna, and the fit has been good. Watching them play together, it’s as if he had been there from the beginning. They are all clearly having the time of their lives.
Beginning in 2004, Hot Tuna returned to their roots, adding an electric set to their acoustic concerts. For the electric sets, they are joined by Erik Diaz, a sharp young second-generation drummer with the energy, talent and skill to match anything Casady and Kaukonen — once famous for working drummers nearly to death — throw at him. While the days of the six-hour uninterrupted sets are long over, Diaz does much to help rekindle the feeling that permeated the legendary Hot Tuna concerts of decades ago. In the electric sets, too, Mitterhoff brings out a wide array of electric mandolins and similar instruments most people have probably never seen or heard before. It’s all a real treat.
Casady and Kaukonen certainly could not have imagined where their playing would take them. It’s been a long and fascinating road to numerous exciting destinations, but two things remained constant: They still love to play as much as they did as kids in Washington D.C., and there are still many, many exciting miles yet to travel on their musical odyssey.
Reserved seats are $30. Tickets are on sale at SheridanOperaHouse.com.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m.
Tickets and additional event information are available at sheridanopearhouse.com or 970.728.6363 x5.
And for a preview of Acoustic Tuna, watch the following video: