The Onus of Otis Taylor

A blues legend brings his message to Summerfest.

Otis Taylor and the Psychedelic Banjo Posse is an object of relative fascination in this year’s Summerfest lineup. The name alone will possibly draw some curious attendees, conjuring some erroneous connections to a more Caucasian kind of country music.

But as Taylor loves to remind people, the banjo came from Africa, and so did the blues. The Psychedelic Banjo Posse will be bringing both to the stage tonight.

Taylor’s music revolutionized a kind of rhythmic re-imagining dubbed as trance blues that maintains a staunch reliance on the syncopation of the banjo. Taylor, who has been playing the banjo since he was 15 years old, says his music takes old African blues rhythms and reshapes them into the modern product.

“I go farther back than Robert Johnson,” Taylor smiles. “I’m probably playing the music that Robert Johnson was listening to.”

Taylor says his most recent album, Fantasizing About Being Black, is a deconstruction of stereotypes and an attempt to combat ignorance and limitations. 

“There’s all kinds of different black people,” Taylor says. “Black people aren’t just one thing.”

His full catalogue is littered with powerful songs about struggle, violence and wades into a past many people would rather forget. 

Taylor has worn many hats during his life: an antique collector, a former coach to a highly successful Colorado bicycling team, a husband and father. When I had the opportunity to interview Taylor, he was with his wife, Carol Ellen Bjork, and daughter, Cassie Taylor, who tours with him as well and is featured on many of his albums via her strong and willful singing voice or her pliability at the banjo. 

Cassie is a songwriter herself, in addition to being a social media creator. In her own way, she finds the blues tradition in storytelling. 

“There’s a lot of pain and suffering, and if you can channel that into music, somebody who is also going through that pain and suffering can relate and that’s what makes music so powerful,” Cassie says. 

Taylor’s Banjo Posse features Cassie on banjo, Nick Amodeo on the bass, Beth Rosbach on the cello, Jon Paul Johnson on the electric guitar, Bryon “Kidd” Cage on the drums and the man himself on the 5-string and 6-string banjo. Special guest Mato Nanji, a Yankton Sioux front man and long-time collaborator with Taylor, will be rocking out with a banjo as well.

Taylor says finding a group of musicians this talented isn’t easy. 

“We don’t even rehearse,” Taylor assures me. He goes on to say that his music is actually very simple and that he doesn’t want to play with anyone who couldn’t keep up; the Psychedelic Banjo Posse know how to keep up.

Simple or not, Otis Taylor and the Psychedelic Banjo Posse will be bringing a deep, soulful ensemble to Summerfest that will tell a story worth hearing and music worth feeling. 

Otis Taylor and the Psychedelic Banjo Posse will be playing at 8:00 P.M. at the Johnson Controls World Stage tonight.