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Spreadin' the jam
A conversation with jam-band mainstay Kofi Burbridge
Kofi Burbridge is a full-time member of the Derek Trucks Band

On a 100–acre farm in Norristown, just about an hour’s drive from Savannah, the tribes will gather this weekend.

It’s the 2010 Hoopee Jam, a three–day music festival, featuring a pretty cool lineup of some of the best jam–band performers in the Southeast.

Among the veterans are Jimmy Hall and Donna Hall (Wet Willie), Randall Bramblett (Sea Level) and Tommy Talton (Cowboy, the Gregg Allman Band); the relative “new kids” include Caroline Aiken, Savannah’s Bobby Lee Rodgers, Phantom Wingo and the phenomenal Florida–based gospel/R&B band the Lee Boys (you gotta hear “sacred steel” music to believe it).

It’s an all–day, all–night hippie camp–a–thon, and things get rolling with a big ol’ acoustic jam on the 13th. Next day brings the start of the scheduled performances.

The biggest name on the bill isn’t bringing a band at all – he’s Kofi Burbridge, who plays (mean) keyboards and jam–band flute. Burbridge, a full–time member of the Derek Trucks Band (and Trucks’ current project, a joint musical venture with wife Susan Tedeschi), is the Hoopee Jam’s Artist–at–Large. His job is to sit in with anyone he chooses – or pretty much anyone who asks. It’s the kind of thing this multi–talented musician is particularly good at.

Burbridge and his younger brother, Oteil, have been shining stars on Georgia’s jam scene since moving down from their native New York in the early 1990s (Oteil is the fulltime bass player for the Allman Brothers Band).

According to Kofi, the idea is to show up with his flute ready, and his mind open, and to simply “see what happens.”

What exactly does it mean to be an artist–at–large?

Kofi Burbridge: As I’ve seen it quite a few times before, there will always be some artists that are seemingly roaming around from stage to stage. A lot of the guys know each other from working together, passing ships in the sea, so to speak. I think the promoters and the public notice this, and they want more of it.

Will you be sitting in with the Lee Boys?

Kofi Burbridge: Absolutely! That’s actually been a dream of ours, including Oteil, and we actually sat in with them at the Wannee Festival, to bring us up to date, and that was a blast. We love that kind of stuff. We love all kinds of music, we really do.

Was moving to the South – and Georgia – a musical eye–opener for you?

Kofi Burbridge: I could have easily focused in way more on the flute, because that was my first instrument, and I had decided to become a bandleader and stuff like that. I had a band years ago, through school, out of school, and then I just wanted more. I wanted to play chords – the flute was a mono instrument. I wanted to learn more behind the scenes. I wanted more of the experience than just the performance aspect.

And so it threw me into all these other circles, and I think eventually that’s what happened. I ended up playing keyboards with these different situations. It threw me into Atlanta, it threw me into bands, it threw me into other than orchestral things.

Tommy Talton’s playing the Hoopee Jam. He’s been around for years. Is that someone you’d feel comfortable just jumping onstage with?

Kofi Burbridge: Possibly. You know, it’s not mandatory. If he feels like it, yeah, if he doesn’t, cool. It’s not like I’m supposed to sit in with every band. But they’ve opened it up for more than just the regular shows to go on. They’ve opened it up for other possibilities.

There are some groups that’ll say “Hey, we have a set show, and we want to do this a certain way.” Which is good! I’ll probably want to check it out and see what’s happening.

That’s the kind of vibe you’re looking for. You’re looking for all different kinds of things going on.

The Derek Trucks/Susan Tedeschi Band tour continues. How’s that going?

Kofi Burbridge: It’s a bunch of fun. One main reason is that my brother is playing in the band now, and we’re really happy about that part. And it’s progressing into further areas that Derek and Susan have been trying to get to.

Hoopee Jam

Where: Norristown, between U.S. 16     and Swainsboro

When: May 14–16

Performers: The Lee Boys, Randall Bramblett Band, Tommy Talton Band, Bobby Lee Rodgers, Jimmy Hall, Caroline Aiken w/Jeff Sipe and Charlie Wooten, Diane Durrett Band, Ralph Roddenbery, Moon Taxi, Donna Hall, Phantom Wingo, Incredible Sandwich, Tommy Crain & the Crosstown All–Stars and others

Weekend pass: $75 ($65 through midnight May 12)