Twenty-five-year-old filmmaker Allie Bombach and two friends set out with their 23-foot 1970 Airstream trailer to find a community they knew was out there: People living simply in the American West, giving up the comforts of what we think is “home” in order to be closer to their passions in the outdoors. “23 Feet” profiles four characters living simple lives in California, Utah and Oregon, and tells the story of the filmmakers’ journey to find those lives. Out of the four characters profiled, Yosemite legend Ron Kauk is a definite highlight — years of living in and around Yosemite have helped him shape his philosophy of living, and listening to him speak from his campsite in Tuolumne Meadows, you can’t help but wish you could sell all your stuff and move in next door to him. Maybe even more fun than the film itself was the four-month tour to premiere the film: Five women packed into the 23-foot Airstream to drive all over the West and screen the film, outdoors, in towns in Utah, Arizona, California and Oregon. In the outdoor film genre, we’ve got plenty of glamorous movies that treat our outdoor passions as an end in themselves — “23 Feet” is the first work of a refreshing new voice that looks deeper than the face value of our pastimes, and looks for a soul. Bad news is the tour is over — good news is the DVD is now for sale.
Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder Mobile App
On the last day of the summer Outdoor Retailer show, someone next to me handed me a business card with details on how to download the Oh, Ranger! ParkFinder mobile app. It was the best free thing I got the entire trade show. That night, I drove north from Salt Lake City, the start of a month of living out of my car, camping and climbing. The free app gives the user a guide to parks all over the United States, searchable by activity. Most of the time, I used it to find places to camp for the night after driving all day, and having a map of all the available campsites within a few minutes of my current location was invaluable. Less adventurous? Maybe. But how cool is the idea of taking off on a road trip with nothing but a smart phone in your pocket? The app finds parks based on things to do — camping, cycling, climbing, hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching, et cetera, and uses your phone’s maps application to show all parks in the area with those activities. The price — free — can’t be beat. Now, if they could just make an app that showed secluded places to sleep in my car, and best places to find $5 showers. ohranger.com
We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.
A Zen Duality Thing
Dear John, I recently barfed on my copy of MG #182. No, I’m not asking for a new copy, just wanted to say what I thought of the mag. Look forward to the next issue, really!
Tom Slagle, Moab, Colorado Plateau
More Scar Tissue
Dear Jeff [sic]: I read your commentary in MG #179 (“Scar Tissue,” Smoke Signals) that I picked up at our Ketchum library and I thought I’d give a try at serious scabbing.
Poor right clavicle, usually referred to as a collarbone, though it has never even approached the collar at the base of a size-sixteen neck, has experienced more than most of its contemporaries, even the twin attached to the opposite shoulder. At a relatively youthful four years of age, it suffered the indignity of fracturing when its host slipped down the sidewall of a bunk bed and caught on the bottom bed frame after having reached a state of blissful repose late one night. There had only been single cots in tar-papered internment camp barracks previously, so falling had never been much of a problem. A few weeks in a sling occasioned a great respite from everyday activities. For over a dozen years, the clavicle managed through innumerable scrapes on a trampoline, wrestling mat and in the odorous and humid confines of a football jersey. But life was too easy for a right-hander.
Following a great week of activities with the nubile female counselors in the rarefied air at Camp Bluff Lake, located up a dusty and windy road from Big Bear Lake in the Angeles National Forest and high above the hot San Bernardino and Riverside cities of southern California, clavicle began the long drive back to San Jose and more athletic endeavors on the judo mat at San Jose State College. With temperatures exceeding one hundred degrees in the moving oven of an excuse for a car, it did its job to help keep the car pointed down the arrow-straight highway and the wind rushing through the almost-solid heated air. Even the crickets were smart enough to lay low till the sun said good night. The unending monotony of traveling over the tire hum of concrete through the Central Valley on Highway 99 was close to being an afterthought when the sign for the turnoff to the Pacheco Pass Highway and Highway 101 finally appeared. The main torso was uplifting off the sticky vinyl seat too often for a tired body part to tolerate. A little bit of zigging and zagging on a winding mountainous road was looking pretty good.
Forward progress was interrupted by a car pulling a vacation trailer and moving well below the posted 35-mile-per-hour speed limit. A straight stretch of road beckoned the in-need-of-a-shower-rest-and-food body to pass the laggard road tortoise. Unfortunately, the beast’s shell obscured the double-S curve sign, and unable to slow down or follow the curve to the right, the chariot of fire was soon airborne amid the rapidly passing shadows and silhouettes of the trees that appear in cowboy movies filmed in California. It couldn’t have been more than a heartbeat, but clavicle felt the incline in lush green grass its host had back landed feet first on, as if on a good ski jump out run, amid clouds of dust suspended in the still air. A few arm reaches to the left was a rocky outcropping that resembled the incisors of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and on the right was one of those movie trees, only a few yards away. Eight feet above and behind was a three-strand barbed-wire cattle fence. Rock music emitted from the silent hulk of the car below, adding some levity to the scene. The ribs were complaining that they couldn’t expand for breathing, as if a huge boulder were positioned directly on them. People sounds became evident, as rescuers quickly scrambled down the steep hillside. Attempts were made to push the knees to chest down, but were rebuffed because the chest could inhale better with them up. A trucker said that the car had spun three times in the air and clavicle was ejected during one of the rolls. The road knight tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but his smoky breath only nauseated the body. The sound of an ambulance’s siren rent the air and real help soon arrived. The host matched insurance demographics of a young male driver within 25 miles of home.
At the hospital, it was determined that two ribs were broken and a lung punctured with some internal bleeding, but there were no visible external trauma marks. Clavicle had to wait until four days later when its host sat on an aluminum chaise lounge, which collapsed and it suddenly met a knee and fractured. X-rays had not been taken high enough to show the slight fracture, which became larger and deformed it for the rest of its useful life. Sling time again for a few weeks of leisure.
A few years ago, on the television program, “You Want To Be A Millionaire,” a contestant failed to answer a question correctly, and clavicle could have given the right answer, if it could talk. The question was asked, “A private individual sued a major American corporation over a product liability issue and a book was written about the case.”
What was the book? A woman had lost her fiancé in an auto accident on Pacheco Pass, within yards of the host’s accident site and only days before during the same week, and she sued General Motors. Ralph Nader wrote a book entitled: “UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED,” about the inherent dangers of the Chevrolet Corvair. Host had been driving his father’s 1960 Corvair. So much for phone lists.
Life was good and clavicle managed to stay in one piece during the years of physical duress in the U.S. Army in basic training and through the rigors of OCS at the Armor School in Fort Knox and the near misses while traveling over rough ground in a tank. Even when a 100-pound periscope sight in the commander’s cupola somehow loosened and fell into the host’s lap during the main-gun live-fire exercise at Grafenwoehr near the Czech boarder south of Nuremberg. And also when it took a Nantucket sleigh ride in the tank down a steep and winding snow-covered road with steep drop-offs while spinning 360s for almost a mile during another training exercise. The three- or four-inch-thick trees would not have stopped over 65 tons of heavy armor from plowing an alternate route down into the valley. Other than acceding to the demands of C rations heated over hot engine manifolds, clavicle felt relative comfort, knowing it wasn’t sweltering in some Far Eastern jungle and dodging I.E.D. mines or excrement-coated bamboo stakes hidden in foliage-covered pits.
Many years of helping with pole plants during rapid and continuous descents down Bald Mountain in Sun Valley and numerous other resorts, as well as backcountry climbs in the Sawtooths, strengthened clavicle and it felt invulnerable. There had been the occasional eggbeater falls down The Bowls and other venues during four decades of zestful endeavors, but luck held and clavicle scraped by with élan. Even after a fall following a drop into Corbet’s Couloir at Jackson Hole onto solid ice. The past two decades had been kind of a bummer because it was only needed to help right up the body from a sitting or kneeling position when snowboarding became the main means of transport. The less clavicle and its arm were used, the better. And it was always in the background while left twin got to lead the way in a regular stance. Oh, it was needed when releasing the back foot for lift entries, but only helping lift beginner boarders upright gave it a sense of purpose. Especially after the host was able to make many non-stopper runs from top to bottom without a rest.
The winter of 2009 began late with little snowfall to cushion the firm man-made snow. Few runs were open. One morning, the opening of Canyon Run was welcomed by avid locals, though the surface was more suited to the Sun Valley ice rink. After a couple of ski runs, host decided to forego searching for the Smith sunglasses that had been lost the day before while looking for a Christmas tree on the steep hillsides that encircled Adams Gulch. It had fallen off the ski hat when an icy patch occasioned a hard backside landing and it only became apparent when the huskies later pulled a found tree into bright sunlight and there were no glasses to shield the eyes. This was a case of not stopping in mid-stream, continuing whatever it was that you were doing. Returning to the locker room, host pulled out a snowboard and proceeded to ride the new gondola up to the Roundhouse top station, from which Canyon Run dropped precipitously down. Rated as a blue run, under these conditions it was more a black designation. Carefully tracing arcs down the pitches and using any upswing in the terrain, of which there were few, host carefully descended, much slower than he had on skis with their two edges for greater purchase. As the terrain leveled out for entry into 42nd Street, host sped up in a straighter line. Suddenly it felt like a patch of Velcro below a snowgun and a forward slam happened, with no time to take any evasive actions. A sudden deceleration with helmet and goggles hitting first and followed by the upper body. Like being kicked not only by two mules, but Sister Sara in spiked heels!
Clavicle felt instant pain and gratefully accepted the body’s lack of motion for what seemed an eternity. The lungs had the wind knocked out of them and the whole body felt like the front defensive line of the Boise State Broncos football team had run over them. People stopped to ask if they could be of assistance or if they should call the ski patrol, but host declined. Finally managing to get upright without clavicle’s assistance, host began slowly heel-side sliding down to the Number One Lower River Run lift. Bending over and using the left arm to release the K2 Cinch back binding lever helped keep clavicle from screaming bloody murder, if it could have. The lift down ride seemed interminable and the feared bottom station landing was soon a nightmare become real. Left clavicle had to do the honors of helping carry the snowboard back to the car and the short drive to St. Luke’s hospital began after a slow Native American-style of tiptoeing traverse of the parking lot.
At the E.R., the charge nurse was a stranger to host and she was very curt in her actions with him; the regular ward nurses knew him because he often volunteered as a music therapist, playing his harmonica and mainly conversing with patients, who were in the only facility after the morgue that locals and visitors avoided at all costs. After X-rays, a figure-eight strap was applied and some of the pain subsided, allowing clavicle to somewhat relax. Too bad that host was too macho to use all of the pain pills that were prescribed. Easy for him when it was clavicle that had taken the major beating, aside from all of the skin tissue that was rapidly resembling members of a Motown funk soul band. Two days later, host engaged in a required snow sports school boarding rehire clinic, of all things. Clavicle would have much preferred a ski clinic and not had to do the up and down routine. But how could it complain when the right Achilles tendon, which had been damaged the previous year when stomped on by a trenching machine, accepted its lot and trudged on, though often in intense pain? Host believed that he could muscle through most injuries, and usually he was right. But not this time. Dr. Woz would have to surgically repair it the following year.
Clavicle managed to avoid the knife and eventually healed well. However, the carefree days of mountain biking on local single-track trails or wakeboarding at Redfish Lake took on a misty moments-in-the-past feeling. Clavicle somehow transcended the normal
channels of physiological connections
and managed to alter the host’s perceptions of hell-bent-for-leather
behavior. An occasional night of riotous dancing to good classic rock music at Whiskey Jacque’s was tolerated, but clavicle and the rest of the body would pay dearly the next morning …
Rod Tatsuno, Sun Valley, ID
John: In response to your call for stories about forgetting stuff (“Don’t Know What you Got ’Til It’s Gone,” by Mark Plantz, Mountain Notebook, MG #180): One time out at Elephant Rocks, in the San Luis Valley, after an eventful morning of hiking, lizard chasing and rock scrambling, we called the dogs back to the truck and loaded up the kid for town. The trip back to town was full of talk about what we would do with the rest of our day. So many options! The advantage of getting out early is you still have an entire day ahead, right?
Well, we get back to our place in town and unpack our stuff. I open the tailgate of the truck and out jumps one dog. I look in the back of the truck, dumbfounded. Did the other dog turn invisible on the way home? Panic sets in. Running not like a chicken with its head cut off, but maybe more like a two-headed chicken, with one head cut off about to get the other head cut off if caught. I grab the kid — back in the truck. I grab the not-left dog — back in the truck. I grab the wife, explain what is happening in three mumbled words out of the side of my mouth — back in the truck.
If ever there was hauling ass, this was it, meanwhile sweating, swearing, fretting. What if he chased us all the way back? What if he got to the highway and got hit? What if what if what if? A cloud trail of dust followed the truck as we fish-tailed into the winding roads of Elephant Rocks. Eyes bugged out looking for the telltale markings of our pet. To our relief, there he was, sitting patiently, waiting. He was dehydrated, so much he wouldn’t drink, or maybe he was just disappointed with his owners. Boy, we were glad to see him. We swore we would never tell the story to anyone. Don’t tell my wife.
We live in rad times. Proof of this can be found on the shelves of any decent liquor store, where the once homogeneous wall of light, and slightly less light beer, forced from the bowels of some cavernous monstrosity in St. Louis or Milwaukee, has been supplanted by a cornucopia of fresh, locally produced brews in an ever-widening selection of styles. Grab any two bottles of craft beer and you will find that, like snowflakes, each is unique. So too are the institutions that produce and sell these wonderful products.
Variety is the spice of life, and as with the beer they produce, craft brewers tend to create facilities that reflect personal style, creativity and marketing in equal parts. For the intrepid beer aficionado, intent on consuming new styles of beer in different places, the subtleties that differentiate one from the next can best be illustrated by breaking them into four categories, that of production brewery, the stalwart brewpub, the up-and-coming nanobrewery and the beer bar.
Production breweries, the workhorses of the craft industry, are primarily focused on producing volumes of beer for packaged distribution to the consumer. They hide themselves in light industrial areas across the West, in places where loading docks and forklifts are the norm. Despite this, the taprooms that operate in these facilities offer a chance to enjoy the freshest possible pints of product, while taking in the atmosphere of the place where it is made. Across Colorado, the number of these facilities that have evolved is staggering, with giants such as New Belgium, Lefthand, Avery and Odell’s in the Front Range being joined across the state by Ska, Oskar’s, Durango Brewing, Crazy Mountain and Telluride Brewing, to name just a few. I have many fond memories of visits to brewery taprooms, like riding to Lefthand for growlers on Saturday, the old roof-deck at Ska and not being able to find Avery on bike after sitting at Twisted Pine for a couple of hours (it’s just off of Arapaho).
While production breweries dominate annual production of craft brew by volume, by far the widest scope of small-batch beer comes from your favorite local brewpub, an American icon. These span the spectrum of style, but generally pair beer produced on premise (or elsewhere, in some cases) with a restaurant business. This is no easy task, as the two halves of the business, beer and food, operate on different frequencies. With the two in synch, the brewpub can function like the human brain, with each hemisphere specializing in the tasks that it is best suited to, and producing better results as a system than either half could alone. This delicate balance is rare, and finding really kick-ass beer paired with good food and service is not always a given. Style combinations vary widely, from great brew and steaks at Chama River Brewing in Albuquerque, NM, to fine pints and pizza at Amica’s in Salida, CO. Some brewpubs, like Tommyknocker in Idaho Springs, CO, have managed to pull off the triple crown of brewing feats, operating a brewpub and distributing beer on a wide scale. Increasing numbers of followers are coming to market every day, and finding offerings on the shelf from Wynkoop, Steamworks, Pug Ryan’s, Silverton and Eddyline are a real treat.
By far the newest entrant to craft brewing is the nanobrewery. While definitions vary, the “nano” generally produces modest amounts of beer in a few styles on a small-commercial or large home-built system. Run by brewers that may be operating part time, they distinguish themselves by having total freedom as to the styles of beer they produce, the volumes or changes they make from batch to batch. In essence, brewing at this scale represents the freest from of commercial brewing, meeting the requirements for legal sale, while flying under many of the constraints to variation that volume production introduces. A couple of my favorites are the Ourayle House in Ouray, CO, and Revolution Brewing out in Paonia, CO. The number of nanos out there is growing every day, and lacking large marketing budgets, sometimes these are hard for the intrepid beer writer to discover. Any tips as to where I can find these businesses flourishing and their beer flowing would be greatly appreciated.
And last, but certainly not least, for sheer quantity of beer styles on tap, one must give credit to the beer bar owner/operator. Wither an independent like Lady Falconburgh’s in Durango, CO, with 40 taps featuring selections both local and international, or a “captive” beer bar, like the (Breckenridge Brewery) Ale House in Grand Junction, serving both Breck beers and a strong selection of guest taps, nowhere else can whim and fancy for beer in varying style be met on such an uncompromising scale.
Enthusiastic homebrewer Erich Hennig lives and works in Durango, CO. Drop him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I mean, how many places can you go where both you and your dog get arrested in the same day?” — An anonymous blogger expresses contrasting modern times in Nederland
There is a sepia poster circulated like a freak flag since the early 1970s, depicting a proudly ragtag group of young hippies, a couple of local dogs basking in the dusty street and two horses tied out in front of the weathered Pioneer Inn in Nederland, Colorado. Nederland at the time had a population of fewer than 500 old miners and cowboys and was gaining popularity with the new breed of artistic city escapees who weren’t quite welcomed by the locals. The sign on the Pioneer Inn read, “No longhairs or unkempt beards allowed,” but that didn’t deter two of the Nederland poster children (and their dog) from simply purchasing the place and becoming town business owners in 1972. The first thing new owners Bunny Spangler and her husband of that time, Art Yeotis, did was to take down that damn sign. Music was the soul food of the era and Bunny started booking bands regularly to cater to the younger clan of those wilder Ned nights, created in part by the newfound sense of freedom living in survival mode in minimal housing in a town with few rules and even less law-keepers.
At the same time, the PI (as the locals called the Pioneer Inn) was making history as the scene of Wild West barroom culture, one of the most-beloved and sought-after recording studios in the history of music was being built close to the mining ghost town of Caribou just above Nederland as an escape from the madness of the rock-and-roll industry. James Guercio opened the now-legendary Caribou Ranch recording studio in 1973, luring well-known, top-notch musicians to the paradisiacal getaway of almost 5,000 acres and some of the best recording equipment and sound in the West. It became a destination studio, and the partial list of recording artists is extensive: The Beach Boys, Chicago, Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills, Earth, Wind and Fire, Joe Walsh, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, John Lennon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Michael Murphey, Tony Orlando, Michael Jackson, Amy Grant, David Cassidy, Eddie Rabbit, Billy Joe Shaver, Rod Stewart and U2, to drop but a few of the names.
The PI provided a venue for the Caribou Ranch superstars to unravel and relax without being hassled by relentless fans, since the Nedheads were a private, close-knit community who knew how to keep a secret and not ask questions. After working all day in the studio, jamming on the porch, playing pool or riding horses, the musicians would head for the PI to unwind, meld with the locals and jam with the homeboys, who were glad and humbled to have the diverse and amazing talent on stage with them, even though most of the Nederland crew could hold their own in music finesse. Some were so talented, they were asked to show up for recording sessions.
Teresa Taylor lived in Nederland and worked her way from maid to kitchen staff at Caribou Ranch in the mid-’70s through 1981 and remembers that the music that started up at Caribou would wind up at the Pioneer Inn. “They’d sit in with who ever was playing,” she says of the recording artists. “I remember one Halloween party when Joe Walsh came in with a football helmet covered with silver foil and antennae and sat in with a local band. He wanted to be incognito. Everything was peace, love, Rocky Mountain high and John Denver … it was a very innocent time. There was great music and great people in the mountains … people like Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg … no one thought anything of it. We were all connected. Caribou was connected to Nederland and the locals were quite proud of the PI and they were very loyal and protective of it,” Teresa recalls. “Everyone got to party and they did their jobs. Caribou got to put it on the map. It wasn’t a known fact in Boulder about all the famous people playing at the PI.”
One of the more popular groups of the Pioneer’s early times was the Rudy Toot Band, which became the unofficial house band. Thom Sontag, former drummer for the Rudy Toots, thinks he got to Nederland in ’76. “I went out there to get away from the rock-and-roll industry in N.J., so I moved to Colorado, landed in Boulder, and realized I couldn’t afford it. I was living in a fleabag hotel when I was told to drive up Boulder Canyon because there were musicians up there in Ned. I’ll never forget the smell of the air was so sweet and, in the morning I walked out on the deck and there was Nederland and I knew it’s what I came out here for.” As a talented new drummer in town, he found himself in a band immediately. “Two of the most amazing moments for me was when I was in the Ned supermarket checking out and the guy in front of me is staring at me. I looked at him and it was Fogelberg. I’m staring at his face. At the time, I looked like Randy Meisner, the Eagle’s bass player, and Dan says, ‘Do I know you?’ I said, ‘no, but I know you.’ He took his bag of groceries and walked out the door. Then, many months later, the Rudy Toots are playing a gig up at the Stage Stop in Rollinsville (above Nederland) and Dan walks in with his guitar slung over his shoulder, walks up to Mickey the bass player and asks to sit in. Mickey points at me and says, ‘Ask the boss.’ Dan says, ‘Hey, I know you!’ For me to jam with Fogelberg was an amazing experience. It happened over a dozen times throughout the years.”
The days of Nederland’s after-hours wildness and fistfights may be long gone, along with notorious locals who had hippie nicknames like Meadow Bill, Cowboy Sam, Orange Dog, Red Ted and Karl the snarky PI bartender of few words who tattooed “restroom” on his arm so he could just point the way. Caribou closed its doors after a 1985 fire consumed the studio’s control room. The Pioneer Inn’s long-time owner Bunny Spangler recently sold the celebrated bar after 40 years to get on with a new life and the last remnant of that era passed into a new generation of owners. Teresa Taylor attended the 40th reunion this past August, “The whole reason I wanted to go was just to hug Bunny and thank her. I don’t know how she did it all these years, but then she was the sober one. She kept it all together and she was the reason it stayed open that long. At the 25th reunion, we saw people we thought were dead. That was the one where everybody showed up. This 40th reunion had a lot of new locals.” Although the feral child of Boulder Canyon may have transformed and grown up somewhat, it is hoped that Nederland and the PI will always remain the redheaded wild stepchild in spirit.
Find Caribou Ranch and the Pioneer Inn on Facebook as well as:
In last month’s Mountain Music story, “Sing For Your Supper,” Hard Pressed’s website was regretfully listed incorrectly. Their correct url link is: www.reverbnation.com/hardpressed
Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living on an alley at the end of the road in Crested Butte’s paradise. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact email@example.com
Colorado string bands have never been shy about having their way with bluegrass. Whether it’s Hot Rize unleashing their honky-tonk alter egos Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, Leftover Salmon throwing ganja-fueled slamgrass hoedowns or the String Cheese Incident fusing glitchy electronica with fiddle runs, Rocky Mountain pickers have never been able to show much restraint when it comes to interpreting Bill Monroe’s high lonesome sound.
“The fans are really open minded to the looseness,” says Mike Chappell, who grew up checking out Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band in high school and now plays mandolin in the up-and-coming Fort Collins-based band, Head for the Hills. “It’s become the Colorado tradition to always take bluegrass somewhere else.”
With a license to explore the outer sphere of a genre many purists back in Appalachia regard as church, it’s no wonder a new crop of High Country renegades is once again reshaping the bluegrass mold.
From the experimental bluegrass breeding ground of Nederland, which birthed Salmon and Yonder Mountain, Elephant Revival has recently emerged with a unique brand of transcendental folk that covers a broad spectrum of the vast acoustic landscape. The band’s live show always delivers a full-fledged gypsy string band carnival with a refreshing mix of male and female vocals. The versatile group switches between dance-friendly fiddle tunes to high-minded newgrass improvisations to new age High Country folk songs to create an eclectic sound that’s all tied together with soaring harmonies that delicately float above the strings.
Through long nights at the Appaloosa Grill in downtown Denver, Oakhurst built a devoted Front Range following that stomps along to the rowdy string band’s rough-around-the-edges brand of Americana that mixes old-school Appalachian-flavored mountain songs with hints of rockabilly and alt-country.
“We don’t necessarily jam out long extended songs, like a lot of the Colorado scene,” says the band’s mandolin player, Max Paley. “We stay true to the bluegrass form, but we like to add elements of rock and outlaw country.”
When they’re not playing at home or satiating their many fans on the ski-town circuit, the group has begun to embark on some successful national tours. The band recently even let a little Nashville infiltrate their sound, when they visited Music City this past summer to record an upcoming album with producer Joe Pisapia (Guster, K.D. Lang).
“Some of the new material is in the vein of Mumford and Sons,” Paley adds. “We’re not afraid to mix bluegrass with some pop sensibilities.”
Rare bird alert. Spring Creek is a Colorado bluegrass band that largely plays it straight. The young crew taps into the soul of the traditional sounds of genre legends like Monroe and Del McCoury with polished picking and tight, ascending harmonies that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The group gained quick statewide cred in 2007 after winning the band competitions at both the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Rockygrass. The band’s hard-driving, front-porch sound has helped foster a continually growing bluegrass scene in their Lyons hometown, especially at the Oskar Blues Brewery — where they play regularly.
If you catch a Whitewater Ramble show, don’t be surprised if the self-dubbed “high-octane Rocky Mountain dance grass band” makes you forget they’re playing acoustic instruments. With the pulsing backbeat of Luke Emig’s drums, the band takes a limitless approach to their acoustic strings, often exploding from a bluegrass base into psychedelic rock jams that touch on disco, funk, reggae and even house grooves.
On the band’s latest album, “All Night Drive,” they recruited keyboardist Steve Molitz of trance fusion outfit Particle and saxophonist Pete Wall to add even more layers to the multi-dimensional fiddle sawing of Adam Galblum and the effects-laden mando picking of Patrick Sites.
As a side note, if venue structure permits, watch out for upright bassist Howard Montgomery to play hanging upside down from the ceiling rafters.
Head for the Hills
With a simple formula of guitar, fiddle, mandolin and stand-up bass, Head for the Hills covers a lot of sonic ground. The young string crew formed back in 2004 as students at Colorado State University and has since grown from playing local dive bars to headlining the Poudre Canyon’s legendary Mishawaka Amphitheatre. A jamgrass outfit in line with successful predecessors like Yonder Mountain, the group is equally adept at picking a straight traditional like “Uncle Pen” or stretching the limits of an off-the-wall cover like Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.”
“We’re open to doing as much as possible on acoustic instruments,” says Chappell. “We tend to call it progressive bluegrass. We love the greats like Tony Rice and Sam Bush, but we also do an Iron Maiden song. It makes it a little hard to define.”
The group has received support and mentorship from Colorado bluegrass predecessors, as their recent self-titled album was produced by Salmon’s Drew Emmitt at the home studio of String Cheese’s Bill Nershi.
Jedd Ferris is the senior editor of Mountain Gazette’s sister publication, Blue Ridge Outdoors, for which he often pens music stories. He lives in Charlottesville VA.
The American soldiers couldn’t have so guessed then, but their thirst triggered a sequence of events that led to an iconic beer-drinking song that went round the world. Of an evening in late 1943 in Australia, their convoy had stopped at the small town of Ingham on the coast of Queensland, on its way from Townsville to Cairns and Darwin, bases for battles in the southwest Pacific. The town’s pub, the Day Dawn Hotel, was small, and the soldiers soon drank it dry.
The next day, local farmer Dan Sheahan, who had emigrated from Newmarket, Ireland, rode from a small area called Long Pocket to Ingham to have a beer at the Day Dawn Hotel. Saddened when the publican told him that “we’ve run out of beer,” he consoled himself with a glass of wine and as a prolific poet — known as the “bush balladist” — penned a poem entitled “Pub Without Beer.” It was published in the January 1, 1944, edition of the North Queensland Register newspaper and then apparently was copied by hand — there were no photocopiers then — and circulated among pub-crawlers.
More than a decade later, Gordon Parsons, a.k.a. the Yodeling Bushman, came across a copy of the poem at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Taylors Arm in the state of New South Wales, to the south of Queensland. He rewrote it as a song, which he gave to his traveling country singer friend Slim Dusty, who recorded it in 1957. It became the country’s biggest selling single ever. The rest is history. The song caught on internationally and was recorded by many European singers. Flemish singer Bobbejan Schoepen’s German version was a hit that remained on the German charts for 30 weeks. In 1960, Benny Barnes Americanized the lyrics to “A Bar with No Beer,” which was recorded by Johnny Cash and by other singers.
Slim went on to international fame. In 1969, he was named a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for his contributions to country music, and in 1979, he published his autobiography, “Walk a Country Mile,” which became a bestseller. In 2000, he was honored with a postage stamp bearing his image, and he led the final act of the closing of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. In his lifetime, he recorded 105 albums and was working for EMI on the 106th when he died at age 76 in 2003.
Though Slim is gone, controversy about his greatest song goes on. Which of the two pubs associated with “The Pub With No Beer” should be regarded as the original? The Day Dawn in Queensland, where the poem was written, or the Cosmopolitan in New South Wales, where the song was written? Historically, the first poetic record was of the Day Dawn being dry, while the subsequent lyrical record at the Cosmopolitan was justified, as it, too, had once gone dry, when a beer delivery truck couldn’t get through due to flooding of the nearby Kempsey River. So, thereafter, there might have been two “pubs with no beer.” But now there’s only one. The Day Dawn was torn down and rebuilt as Lee’s Hotel, but there is a plaque at the site attesting to the poetic first. The Cosmopolitan, now renamed “The Pub With No Beer,” is a lively eatery and watering hole with its own craft brewery and website at www.pubwithnobeer.com.au. Physical reality aside, the controversy goes on, over beer, of course. Experts on the matter, the researchers at G’Day Pubs (see below), reckon that, were you to ask those who knew Slim well about the place of the song in history, they would say that it showed that a guy with a traveling fairground tent show out of the back of an old Ford created a ruckus that became part of folklore.
A coda on Aussie lingo: The word “pub” is a contraction of “public house,” the British term for an establishment that serves alcoholic drink for consumption on the premises, usually at its bar. Many Australian pubs have the word “hotel” in their names, a hangover from bygone days when some local licensing laws permitted alcohol to be served only to travelers. Today, most pubs with “hotel” in their names no longer offer accommodation.
“Walk a Country Mile,” by Slim Dusty & John Lapsley, Adelaide, Australia, Rigby, revised edition 1981, 210-page paperback, ISBN 0-7270-2047-1; out of print but available from used booksellers in this and previous editions.
“Dan Sheahan: Bush Balladist,” by Irene Maskell, Hinchinbrook Bicentennial Community Committee, 1988, 132-page hardcover, Australian book number B0007C4714, available on interlibrary loan.
Antipodean Pub Crawling
Australia ranks fifth among countries in per-capita beer consumption. So, from urban centers to rural towns, the Australian pub is a prominent place, not just for quaffing but also for absorbing local culture. The country is huge, about the same area as the contiguous USA (48 states), and the population sparse, less than a twelfth that of the USA. So pub-crawling isn’t easily done unless you know where to go. Fortunately there’s a comprehensive free guide to that, the G’day Pubs website at www.gdaypubs.com. On the site, you can navigate by state and then by town to find the details on more than 6,800 pubs in the country.
M. Michael Brady is a professional translator who lives in a suburb of Oslo. A natural scientist by education, he takes his vacations mainly in France. Dateline: Europe appears monthly in MG.
Take a look at Southwest Asia on Google Earth, and you’ll notice that nearly all of the roads end at Afghanistan. One would expect that our finest West Point graduates would have noticed Afghanistan’s dearth of roads and harkened back to the pre-car era of military history to see what they could learn about conquering a roadless land with resistance fighters roaming around on it. Students of American history will recall that the Army has already done this once.
While the generals have considered putting le cheval back in the cavalry, all indications point to an inability to limit their reliance on the car. Of course, we aren’t talking about the Griswold’s Family Truckster headed to Wally World, but in general, the Army’s cars have four wheels and an internal-combustion engine and, just like the Truckster, they require roads for best results. The car has become the enemy’s favorite target and the Army’s biggest pain.
Accidents involving cars and attacks on cars appear to be the main causes of death and destruction to the Army. We don’t train on martyring jihadists, identifying suicide bombers or befriending the natives. We train on surviving car wrecks.
In Texas, we went through rollover exercises as part of our standard training regimen. Once our deployment orders were official, the Army again trained us how to extract ourselves from rollovers. Once we arrived in Afghanistan, we practiced escaping from a rolled vehicle one more time. They strap us inside an un-fun amusement park ride meant to approximate a military automobile and spin us around until we hang, inverted, from our five-point harnesses. Sometimes the instructors introduce fake smoke to further compound the misery and mayhem inside. We must release our harnesses, fall the few inches to the ceiling (the helmet breaks the fall) and then figure a way out.
We get trained on identifying the explosive obstacles the enemy lays out for us along the few roads that exist. We walk along scale models of roads rehearsing our search for the danger signs. Freshly covered holes, “ant trails” hiding a wire, culverts and roadkill all point to the presence of an improvised explosive device.
The defense of cars looms large in our commanders’ minds. They have large trucks called MRAPs, which are heavily armored and armed with a remote-controlled .30-caliber machine gun. To the front end of these, the Army attaches a large wheeled apparatus like a plow. It rolls rather than scrapes along the road, and, instead of pushing obstacles out of the way, it detonates them, making the roads safe for the Army’s cars.
Not only does the Army protect the cars, it has to protect its soldiers against its cars, and it does so with the reflective safety belt.
Here on the base, our reflective safety belts get more wear than our body armor and our Kevlar helmets. A trusted friend witnessed no less than two dozen first sergeants down at the base’s boardwalk the other night inspecting for reflective safety belts, which seems an odd expenditure of senior enlisted energy that could go towards, say, winning the war, but it just proves how critical the reflective safety belt is to the Army’s effort. Rifle, ammo and reflective safety belt are the primary tools of the military trade in Afghanistan.
The Army brays about fighting an unconventional war on a non-linear battlefield, but all it can do is follow lines on a map in its conventional, motorized way. Every attack makes the Army more defensive. It pulls its head further into its armored shell and hopes that another layer of steel on its cars will make the roads more passable. Rather than becoming light and unpredictable in its movements, the Army has spent the last decade adding weight to its heavy, dense methods.
Instead of more engines and mechanics, we need more horses and stockmen. Rather than poking their heads from a turret, our cavalry soldiers ought to be sitting tall in the saddle. Our convoy commanders should be replaced with muleskinners. This is the wild, wild Southwest Asia out here.
With the right marketing strategy and the typically generous military contracts, the Army should have little trouble recruiting anyone with warm, nostalgic feelings for the 1800s. The Army’s cavalry units could have a booth at the National Western Stock Show in Denver this January. What cowboy could resist the chance to go back in time, put a six-shooter on his hip and get out here on the roadless frontier and show the world how the Afghanistan was won?
This war needs a little less armored obstinacy and a little more ranch hand ingenuity and horse sense. The information age’s mechanized, industrialized warfare just ain’t gettin’ ‘er done.
Once an ink-stained nuisance, Sgt. Mike now does more before 0700 than most people do all day.
I cut some of my best performance teeth in bars, reading poetry above the clink of glasses and the din of boisterous patrons. It sharpens one’s work. If you can grab the intoxicated so they stop and really listen, you’ve done something remarkable.
But this month I want to celebrate a poet who didn’t read in bars much, but who stood in a trench with his fellow soldiers far too close to an early atom bomb blast. The experience led him, by various routes, to become a poet/professor and a peacenik. Leonard “Red” Bird was a marvelous educator, who taught his students at Fort Lewis College in Durango to love literature — from Shakespeare to Bukowski.
I had the good fortune to read in his class, watch him teach and become his friend. The last time I saw him was at the San Miguel de Allende Poetry Festival in Mexico last winter (when he shared with me the poem below), and he was as vibrant and full of life as ever, in spite of the sickness that would eventually take him from us. The whole idea of poet laureates is so Brit and high-tone that it seems antithetical to the subversive art of poetry. But Red Bird was my poetry hero when I came to Southwestern Colorado. He may not have been a laureate, but he was an honest, authentic, Western voice with a message of peace and love — a quintessential Way of the Mountain Poet. — Art Goodtimes Cloud Acre