1996 Articles

by Tim Van Schmidt

Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley is upset.

This founding father of rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t like the “dirt” he hears in contemporary music, particularly in rap, and he’s not afraid to put the responsibility where it belongs.

“It’s the responsibility of the artist not to lead our children down this road of iniquity,” Diddley said recently by phone from his home in Florida. “I feel that a lot of artists should think about what they’re doing. They could make as much money singing a good, clean song and structuring the words in a more nice way and be just as good an artist.”

For Diddley, songs about kissing are way more palatable than songs about killing.

“The good song might have some good lyrics like ‘oh, baby, won’t you hug me tight, can I get a kiss goodnight?’ That’s not going to get you killed, you know. The young guy has a girlfriend and he’s begging for a little smootchie smootchie on the lips. But this other thing- go out and shoot the police. Kids will go get some bullets, go and steal their daddy’s gun, then go out on the streets and do this dumb stuff,” Diddley said.

It isn’t just the music that is affecting youth, but the media as well. Radio, in particular, has a strong effect on anyone who listens.

“Radio is a programming device. If you hear a song enough-I don’t care if it’s ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ or “I Got Spurs that Jingle Jangle Jingle’- if you hear it enough, before you know anything, you get up in the morning and you’re humming that sucker,” Diddley said.

Bad songs and media exposure add up to irresponsible music making for an artist like Diddley who is celebrating his 40th anniversary in rock ‘n’ roll. He was there at the beginning with Chuck Berry, when rhythm and blues turned into rock ‘n’ roll and became the dominant popular music that would provide the soundtrack for the youth movements that would follow. Diddley has seen it all, including what happens when a talented artist gets mixed up with drugs- whether they mean to or not.

“He could be an educated man, play guitar, or play drums, or play a typewriter,” Diddley said. “I don’t care what it is. He could be real talented, be a good artist at something and end up a rock star. You know what a rock star is? A cat smoking rock. That’s a rock star and what does it mean? It means that the only lights he’ll ever see are the one slit up right in front of his nose.”

What does it take to not only help create a new and powerful music but to also survive the ravages of time? For Diddley, it was a thing called discipline that started at home.

“My Mama kicked my booty and I’m glad she did it because if she hadn’t, I don’t think I’d be in rock ‘n’ roll for 40years,” Diddley said. “It taught me about respect. All of this goes together-respect and trying to be somebody instead of a hoodlum. There’s two roles you can take when you’re growing up. Either you want to be somebody or you want to be nothing. You can easily be nobody, but it’s kind of hard to be somebody.”

For this somebody, working hard to make a clean, fun music has all been worthwhile.

“I think I’ve given the people a lot of happiness and I’m going to give them some more,” Diddley said.

Diddley is currently at work on a 40th anniversary album project that will feature “heavy people in the business.” He won’t say much more about that, but he will be making a rare concert appearance in Fort Collins on Thursday, January 18 at Linden’s for two shows. Diddley’s current band features Mark Bell on harmonica, Paul Mandrake on keyboards, Billy Rich on bass, Tony Black on drums, and Rich Reno on guitar.

Hot Dates: Folk master Tom Rush will be at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver on Saturday. Sacramento quintet Tesla will be at the Mammoth Events Center in Denver on Wednesday. The Starry Night Cafe Company is also bringing back live music, featuring acoustic music on Wednesdays and jazz on Thursdays. Artists are announced weekly.

Bo Diddley

Whatever you do, don’t ask Bo Diddley a stupid question. Or call him Ellas, as in Ellas Bates McDaniel. He’s Bo Diddley, thank you, and he doesn’t want to mess with any fool questions like “Why do you play your music?”

“I’m making a living, man,” Diddley said recently by phone from his home in Florida. Diddley is plain about one thing- he doesn’t like “idiots” or “stupid questions.”

Instead, this legend of rock ‘n’ roll would rather talk about the ‘dirt” that’s invaded popular music, particularly in rap.

“I don’t like that. It puts a thorn in my side as a clean artist that paved the way for all this stuff that’s happening today,” Diddley said. “If a cat wants to make that kind of a record, I feel that it should be kind of personal, like you don’t put it on the shelf for sale, you have to write in for it. But you don’t play it on the radio. You don’t play it in public where your kids can hear it. It takes a certain amount of what you would call dictatorship, but I think we need it. We need a little bit of dictatorship in some areas. You know, because kids-when Mama leaves the candy bowl on the table- they’ll eat until their stomachs hurt if nobody tells them ‘get out of that bowl, kid.'”

Discipline. That’s what Diddley is talking about and it goes much deeper than just the responsibility musicians should take on when presenting either “good songs” or “bad songs.” It also has to do with family, society and authority.

“I don’t like that the discipline has been taken away from parents where they can’t train Junior and Ellie Mae and try to stop them from doing wrong things. In other words, grooming them in a nice, decent way so that they can go out and mix into society and be good citizens- get ready to enter the workforce and take care of yourself and have something, be somebody. But somehow or another, we got screwed up with something called ‘child abuse’ as parents,” Diddley said. “If you’ve got a puppy dog, you can train him with a piece of paper rolled up and you bump him on the little booty a few times about doing his duty in the house. If you don’t do that, you will be knee deep in what? You will be knee deep and it ain’t rock ‘n’ roll. So if you can train a puppy, how come you can’t train your kid?”

Discipline starts at home, according to Diddley, who isn’t afraid to admit that a little butt-kicking in his youth helped make him the man he is today.

“My Mama kicked my booty and I’m glad she did it because if she hadn’t, I don’t think I’d be 40 years in rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “It taught me about respect. All of this goes together-respect and trying to be somebody instead of a hoodlum. There’s two roles you can take when you’re growing up. Either you want to be somebody or you want to be nothing. And you can easily be nothing but it’s kind of hard to be somebody.”

Since first playing the 708 Club in Chicago in 1951, Diddley has been a somebody who was one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, a sound that changed the course of popular music forever. At first, however, the music was called something else, until it crossed over the racial barriers radio maintained at the time.

“I was at the beginning- me and Chuck Berry- but they called it rhythm and blues,” Diddley remembered. “Then when the white boys started playing it, they called it rock ‘n’ roll because white radio stations didn’t want to play black music. But they didn’t have sense enough to know when a white artist covered a black artist’s song, it was the same dang old song. That’s the reason they decided to call it something else and they called it rock ‘n’ roll.”

Rock ‘n’ roll- or whatever it really is- will never die, thanks to the hard work of artists like Diddley. Diddley will be celebrating his 40th anniversary in music by recording an album of all new material with “heavy people in the business.” That’s all he’ll say about the project for now, but promises “good, old clean rock ‘n’ roll.” For Diddley, that’s the essential ingredient for what it is he feels he’s given the world.”I think I’ve given the people a lot of happiness and I’m going to give them more, he said. Diddley is scheduled for a rare appearance in Fort Collins at Linden’s on January 18 for two shows.

Parlor Sessions

It has now become a solid tradition.

Every year about this time, when the Subdudes take their annual break for the holidays, keyboardist and accordion player John Magnie comes back to Fort Collins and stirs up the local music scene. That is, he doesn’t waste any time stoking up gigs or getting some recording sessions together.

This year, Magnie threw in with singer/songwriter Rob Solomon for a series of Tuesday night original music blowouts at the Mountain Tap called “Pitch and Polecat’s Music Workshops.” These events have been featuring some of the area’s best songwriters and performers, all in a friendly, jamming atmosphere.

The live gigs not only serve as a good night out for everyone from the musicians to the audience, but they are also an excellent testing ground for the main event of the season, a block of three or four days of intensive recording that has come to be known as “Parlor Sessions.” The “Parlor Sessions” began right where the name implies, in Magnie’s living room, or “parlor,” if you will. For two years, Magnie would join with “Subdudes” band mate and percussionist Steve Amedee and gather together a stunning array of local musicians around a funky old upright piano and work up versions of new original tunes. The Magnie house would become a really warm and comfortable place for musicians such as Steve Strickland, Kevin Jones, Liz Barnez, Walt Jenkins, Scott Allen and many more, to come and play and sing, Colorado style.

This year, however, the “Parlor Sessions” needed more breathing room (and the Magnie family probably needed the living room) so the annual recording event moved out to a secluded bed and breakfast facility called the Raindrop, located right at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon. There was plenty of space in the main house of the Raindrop to set up a separate room for percussion, and one for the recording gear, leaving a huge open area for a piano, vocal mikes and plenty of room for guitars and more. This is where the music action was, all surrounded by the natural beauty of the foothills.

Now, it may be hard to imagine just what goes on at these recording sessions, so here is a slice of life from the “Parlor Sessions”1995: It’s the last day of recording, the last song. The tune is “If It’s Not Asking Too Much,” a country blues written by Tim Cook, Steve Strickland and Fred Graves. The song had appeared on the first “Parlor Sessions” release, recorded with Andre and Stevo Mouton. This time, it’s Rob Solomon singing the lead. At the controls is the always cool and calm Russ Hopkins, assisted by Charlie Gannon, and it’s time to roll the tape. Solomon stands at his mike and sings the soulful, mournful melody with plenty of heart and soul. Meanwhile, Magnie and Amedee are making their guitar playing debut, mixing straight strumming with a slightly Spanish rhythm. It takes the pair a few takes to get the rhythms straight, but soon this first track is in the can.

Then Amedee tries his hand at some lead guitar fills. He bends the notes on the acoustic guitar with a deft quickness, bridging the middle of the song and then winding the ending down to a final, tentative note. His comrades cheer when he’s done because he supplied exactly what was needed, and then some.

The next two tracks for the song are perhaps the strangest, but also indicative of the inventive creativeness of the “Parlor Sessions.” Magnie and Tim Cook grab some empty Odell’s beer jugs and fill them partially with water. They then go over to the piano and play the notes they are looking for. They make tones by blowing into the jugs and then add water or pour some out until they have essentially tuned the jugs to the notes. Then the pair step up to the microphone and take turns adding their jug tones to the already existing tracks. After they’ve laid down a track with the two jugs, they back up and tune the jugs again to two different tones and do it again. The results are some cool, low-key sounds that underscore the movement of the song without getting in the way. As a result, Amedee comes up with some new nicknames, calling Cook “Jugs” and Magnie “the Bottler.”

Then it’s time to lay down some percussion. For this, Solomon has gone out on the Raindrop’s property to find a length of chain. He’s successful and he gives the chain to percussionist Doug Shald. Shald is supposed to play the chain like the movement of a chain gang- after all, it’s a prison song. Amedee is playing a bass drum and a high hat while Magnie and percussionist Lee DeHart work on some hand-held percussion pieces. Together, the group adds a track of plodding rhythm, sad, tired and perfect for the piece they’re working on.

Finally, comes the coup de grace. After taking a break, Magnie, Amedee and Cook take up positions around a single microphone. Time is of the essence. Some of the equipment is due at another gig, so the trio needs to make this final track quick work. They’re adding three-part vocal harmonies to Solomon’s original vocal track, to flesh out the song and complete the recording. As they near the end of the song, their voices swell and rise, almost like opera singers, to bring the tune to a final rousing crescendo. They grab just a few more minutes time and listen back to their work and sure enough, they nailed it. Everyone is happy and the project of getting the tracks down is complete.

This one song, however, is only one in twelve that Magnie and his cohorts have recorded in only a few days. Of course, there is plenty of what you would expect from the “Parlor Sessions,” some light rock and country music, with fine vocal harmonies mixing with intoxicating rhythms. But this year, there’s something brand new. Added into the music is some grungy, passionate rock thanks to Seth Strickland, a young man who has brought a new attitude and a new direction to the “Parlor Sessions.” From rough mixes, his music goes deep into emotion and musical abandon and draws brand new performances out of the others that perhaps even surprised them.

The new “Parlor Sessions” are still being mixed as this article is being written, so there’s plenty to look forward to. The new album is slated for release on the first of March, so be on the lookout for this local music tradition. It’s like nothing you can hear anywhere else.

Merl Saunders

The year is 1981 and the scruffy crowd has been lining up outside the famous Keystone nightclub in Berkeley, CA since early afternoon. The occasion is a show by the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and Bay Area keyboardist Merl Saunders. Since the pair released a “Live at the Keystone” double album back in 1973, these shows have become legendary and Grateful Dead fans flock to the nightclub anytime Garcia takes a break from the Dead to jam with Saunders.

Later that night, Saunders and Garcia give the crowd what they came for- a couple of mellow, yet funky bar sets that mix full-bodied keyboard flourishes with wire-thin guitar leads. For the musicians, this may be just another night on the bandstand, but for the crowd, this is the stuff that modern myths are made of. Of course, Saunders’ collaborations with Garcia, that stretch from early solo albums on Fantasy Records to his 1990 release, “Blues From the Rainforest,” are only part of a long career that has included composing, directing, producing, recording and touring.

Saunders studied organ under the guidance of jazz great Jimmy Smith and gave Johnny Mathis his start in show business as the vocalist in his band. He worked with Oscar Brown Jr. as the music director for the Broadway hit “Big Time Buck White” starring Muhammad Ali and not only recorded with Garcia, but also played and toured with other key players in the Bay Area music scene including the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart, the Steve Miller Band’s Norton Buffalo, the Jefferson Airplane’s Spencer Dryden and the Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cippolina. Saunders’ other achievements also include innovations in TV soundtrack recording.

In 1985, he collaborated with the Grateful Dead to compose the theme for the new “Twilight Zone” series on CBS-TV. Saunders went on to compose and produce the music for 27 segments of the show as well as wrote the score for a 1992 episode of “Tales From the Crypt” on HBO. The 1990 release of Saunders’ “Blues From the Rainforest” was his first foray into New Age music and he was amply rewarded- the album was on Billboard’s New Age chart for 27weeks.

In 1992, music mixed with environmental activism when Saunders was invited to the Peruvian rainforest by Moondragon Pictures to compose the music for an episode of their series “Rediscovering the Amazon.” During this trek, Saunders witnessed first-hand the destruction of the forests and encouraged him to become an active supporter of the Rainforest Action Network. In appreciation of his efforts, Unity College, an environmental school in Unity, Maine, presented Saunders with an honorary doctorate. In 1995, the Rainforest Action Network awarded him the World Rainforest Award. All that may add up to a comfortable retirement for some, but Saunders keeps active today by touring and recording with his Rainforest Band. That includes a date at the Sunset Night Club on Saturday. Steamboat Springs singer-songwriter Keller Williams opens.

Harpoon: Balancing raw energy with pure songwriting, rock band Harpoon has emerged from the music scene in the sea-side town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire with one of the fastest growing followings on the east coast. On their first independent release, “Crawl,” the band easily demonstrates what the attraction is- roots rock that combines full-bodied electric guitar and earthy vocals with songs clearly written to inspire both reflection and passion.

“Crawl” moves easily from low, introspective moments to solid rock reverie, changing musical flavors with an impressive breadth. Admittedly dedicated to hitting the road to expand their touring base, Harpoon will be in Fort Collins tonight at Tony’s.

Hot Dates: Tim O’Brien and the O’Boys will be at the Swallow Hill Music Hall in Denver and Faith Hill is at the Grizzly Rose tonight. You Call That Art? will be at the Docks on Saturday. Acoustic Junction is at Linden’s and the Better Half is at the Starry Night Coffee Company on Wednesday. Saxman Max Wagner hosts regular jazz nights at Starry Night on Thursdays.

Lloyd Drust

Simplicity doesn’t mean backing off of the truth.

Keep that in mind when listening to “Junkman,” the brand new local CD release by singer-songwriter Lloyd Drust. On the Kiva Records label, “Junkman” serves up a low, simmering acoustic music that is simple on the outside, but way deeper on the inside.

“It’s hard to make a simple song,” Drust said recently.”The simpler you go, the more fine-tuned you have to be.”

Drust’s music starts with a catchy guitar groove. Add the vocals, a little piano and maybe a sparingly few production effects, and you’ve got the body of “Junkman”- straight and to the point.

But then dig into the lyrics and you’ll find a world of emotion and passion balancing a deep human empathy with biting realism: the title song paints a sardonic portrait of power while the song “Virginia” is sweetly comforting toward a sad woman. Opening track “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” warns about the evil that waits behind the things that you can see while “Last American Hero” opens its heart to an unsung hero.

Perhaps it’s this balance of smoldering passion that has turned Drust into a local music favorite in a real short time. His first live gig, a slot in an acoustic music showcase at the Mountain Tap, resulted in a string of paid dates. His performance during the Northern Colorado Musicfest ’95 earned him the titles of Best Solo Performer and Best Singer-songwriter. Now, he’s got a first-rate album release.

“I’ve been very lucky,” Drust said. “I started playing out just to see if I can do it and the response has just been so great. It’s been instant reinforcement.”

Born in Aurora, Drust moved with his family to Fort Collins in 1969. Since then, he has been trading off time as an electrician with songwriting, building up an hefty stack of originals. Then the time came to hit the stage which put him in the thick of the local music scene.

“The music itself in Fort Collins is incredible. There’s a wide variety and there’s always something going on. It’s also pretty accessible to anyone who wants to participate,” Drust said.

“Junkman” was produced by Drust and Kiva owner-operator Russ Hopkins. The pair will be joined by vocalists Kevin Jones and Michelle Roderick for an album release celebration set for Avogadro’s Number tonight. The stage setting will also be a part of the show, including not only a display of Drust’s Raku-fired pottery, but also a good chunk of his living room. Despite the fact that Drust’s first album is just hitting the streets, he is already at work writing songs for his next project- such is the alluring power of making such direct and simple music.

“I’m real excited about working on the next album. In fact, I’d like to start today,” Drust said.

Hot Dates: The Planina Balkan Women’s Choir will be at the Swallow Hill Music Hall in Denver, Kris Kristofferson will beat the Grizzly Rose in Denver and Kelley Hunt will be starting a two night stand at Linden’s tonight. Tom Russell will be at Swallow Hill and Johnny Long will be at the Bas Bleu Theatre for two shows, one at 7:30 and one at 9:30, on Saturday. Lenny Kravitz is at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on Tuesday. Tab Benoit is at Linden’s and Alan Anderson will be at Starry Night on Wednesday.

Spencer Bohren

So maybe you think you know about Spencer Bohren.

That’s right, the Wyoming guitarist who takes the blues to Europe and plays to packed concert halls. The guy who records with French pop superstars and Swedish blues bands. The master of a whole van full of vintage guitars- slide, acoustic, the works. Yes, that’s Bohren, alright.

But there’s more- like Bohren’s first domestic release in two years, “Present Tense.” The album is on his newly formed Zephyr Records label and successfully brings listeners up to date with what this singer-songwriter has been up to.

All you need to do is listen to the song “Sand to Sand,” a deep and electric mood piece that shows just how far Bohren has stretched out. The atmosphere is dark and mysterious with Bohren’s slide moving like a storm front across some strange and simmering landscape. But that’s only part of the story because “Present Tense” balances the power of “Sand to Sand” with the straight-on rock ‘n’ roll of the song “Darkness.” It matches the naked acoustic folk blues of “The Party’s Over” with the R & B flavor of “Long As I Have You.” “Jake the Snake” is a jazzy blues story while “Another Day” is a reflective country ballad. For a big payoff number, all you have to do is turn to Bohren’s deep swinging reading of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” Put it all together and you have a wide spectrum of music that makes what you used to know about Bohren obsolete.

Of course a lot of credit for the polished new sound of “Present Tense” is due to drummer Frank Bua and bassist Reggie Scanlan, the excellent rhythm section from the Radiators. What Bua and Scanlan add to the music is precision rhythms and a full bottom sound. Add in the electric guitar work of Bengt Blomgren, from Sweden, and you’ve got a sweet and solid background on which to play.

Bohren sits on top of it all, his world-wise vocals and a generous amount of both acoustic guitar and lap steel coming on with cool, collected style. To be sure, the spare arrangements on “Present Tense” still leave plenty of room for Bohren’s familiar blues-based attitude, but the album shows new growth. That’s something to celebrate and that’s exactly what Bohren is going to do when he pulls in to Fort Collins for a special CD release concert at the Docks on Saturday.

Andrew Holbrook: Playing what he calls “progressive folk,” Fort Collins singer-songwriter Andrew Holbrook is ready to release his second album. Recorded at the Seldon Fed recording studio and featuring several Front Range guest musicians, Holbrook’s new collection, “What’s In This Heart of Mine?”,expands a wealth of material from simple acoustic numbers to full blown, high energy band arrangements. Flowing strains of guitar melodies and elements of classical and rock music intertwine with lyrics that explore all forms of relationships, from intimate to social. The album is meant to be thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. Holbrook will be celebrating his CD release concert at the Rocky Mountain Coffee Connection on Saturday. There will be a$1 cover at the door. The show starts at 8 pm.

Hot Dates: The Reverend Doctor Marjorie Williams-Cooperwill be at the Cameron Church in Denver, William Clarke is at Linden’s, Edwin McCain and Jewel are at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver and the Nixons are at the Ogden Theatre in Denver tonight. Arlo and Abe Guthrie will be at the Boulder Theater and Firefall is at the Buffalo Rose in Golden on Saturday. Jeffrey Siegel is at the Arvada Center for the Arts, the Gin Blossoms are at the Glenn Miller Ballroom in Boulder and Steve Murray is at the Starry Night Coffee Company on Wednesday. Junior Wells will be at Linden’s on Thursday.

Spencer Bohren

So I’m with Spencer Bohren in his van on our way to get a shot of coffee en route to a recording session. In between telling me about a great new Wyoming singer-songwriter he just produced, extolling the musical accomplishments of one son and flipping me a copy of another son’s wild new ‘zine, he’s playing me some cuts off his brand new Zephyr Records release, “Present Tense.”

The tune that makes the dashboard rumble is “Sand to Sand,” a deep and electric mood piece that shows just how far Bohren has stretched out. The song is dark and mysterious with Bohren’s slide moving like a storm front across some strange and simmering landscape.”Sand to Sand” however is only part of the story.

After grabbing a cup of crank, we’re flying to the recording studio and Bohren is talking about working on the album with the excellent rhythm section from the Radiators.

“You don’t want to get your hand caught underneath those drum sticks- they’re huge,” Bohren says about drummer Frank Bua’s percussion tools.

What Bua and bassist Reggie Scanlan add to the music on “Present Tense” is precision rhythms and a full bottom sound. Add in the electric guitar work of Bengt Blomgren, from Sweden, and you’ve got a sweet and solid background on which to play.

Bohren sits on top of it all, his world-wise vocals and a generous amount of both acoustic guitar and lapsteel coming on with cool, collected style. “Present Tense” balances the power of “Sand to Sand” with the straight-on rock ‘n’ roll of “Darkness.” It matches the naked acoustic folk blues of “The Party’s Over” with the R & B flavor of “Long As I Have You.” It all comes together in the deep swinging reading of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.”

Bohren’s taking some chances and it’s coming out just fine. The van pulls up in front of the studio and it’s time for the guitar man to go to work. Later he’s off to Denver to shop for clothes and then to add some tracks to Denver blues artist Mary Flower’s new project. From there, you probably couldn’t catch up to him. That is, until he makes a special appearance at the Docks on Saturday, February 17. That’s the very next time Bohren will be in Fort Collins- in the present tense.

Bluegrass: Direct from the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville, the Osborne Brothers will be making their first Colorado appearances on February 17 and 18 at the Mid-Winter Bluegrass festival at the Holiday Inn and the Plaza Inn in Fort Collins. The Osborne’s were among the first of the bluegrass legends to become members of the IBMA’s exclusive “Hall of Honor” and they are the only group in musical history to have won the Country Vocal Group of the Year and Bluegrass Band of the Year awards simultaneously. Their song, “Rocky Top” has become the most popular bluegrass song ever recorded and one of the most performed songs in country music. Four additional award-winning bluegrass stars comprise the Osborne Brothers Band. But the Osborne Brothers are not the only news here.

The Mid-Winter Bluegrass Festival is being hosted for the 11thyear by Fort Collins’ own Bluegrass patriots. The Patriots have just recovered from a busy 1995 touring schedule that took them across the United States and overseas to Ireland and England. The group is currently bust working on a new recording and putting together another coast-to-coast tour. Also appearing at the festival will be the Lost & Found, Blue Highway, Southern Rail, Charles Sawtelle & the Whippets, Pete and Joan Wernick, Wind River and many more. Add events like the Great Rocky Mountain Band Scramble, the Junior and Open Fiddle Contests, Pizza Hut’s International Bluegrass Showdown and Instrumental and vocal workshops and you have full measures of both fun and music.

Swallow Hill Music School

Teaching for the Swallow Hill Music School in Denver is more than just another job- way more.

“It’s an honor to be a part of the school. Virtually every one of the teachers are world class musicians. This is definitely the real thing,” innovative guitarist and Swallow Hill teacher Neil Haverstick said by phone.

The Swallow Hill Music School is the educational arm of the Swallow Hill Music Association. The Association calls itself “Denver’s home for folk and acoustic music” and thanks to its school, regional residents who want to learn more about playing a wide variety of music have an excellent resource. No matter what it is- Delta blues, swing, R & B, country, bluegrass and more- Swallow Hill has it covered.

“Anything you might be interested in- if you want to play Celtic fiddle, for instance- there’s somebody here that will show you the real deal,” Haverstick said.

With so much talent concentrated in one organization, it naturally follows that the teachers at the Swallow Hill Music School could pull together and put on a pretty impressive show. In fact, the teachers have been pooling their resources to strut their stuff for years and 1996 marks the tenth anniversary of Swallow Hill’s Annual Teachers’ Concert. Haverstick is acting as the artistic director for a one-of-a-kind concert this year that brings a veritable who’s who of the Denver-area acoustic music scene- including Mary Flower, Willie Jaeger, Eileen Niehouse, Carla Sciaky, Vicki Taylor and Howard Tuft- together in a unique setting.

“Every one of the teachers gets to perform a song and they get to choose anybody from the other teachers to play with them. This creates some really cool little impromptu groups,” Haverstick said.

Though Haverstick characterizes the teachers’ concert as “laid back and informal,” the music that is expected to fill the Cameron Church in Denver on Saturday for this unique event is a challenging mix of genres, including, of course, folk, but also jazz, Irish, African and other international forms.

“You won’t find a wider range of folk talents anywhere else,” Haverstick said.

La Musgana: The mission of unique acoustic music quartet La Musgana has been to learn the tunes and songs of the Castillian countryside, as well as the native instruments. As a result, the group now travels the world playing the traditional music of Spain- dance tunes, love songs, music for weddings and village celebrations. They perform on traditional instruments such as the pipe and tabor, the hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes and a plethora of percussion, mixing in bass guitar and clarinet to give it a contemporary flavor. La Musgana has two releases out on Green Linnet, “Lubican” and “Las Seis Tentaciones,” featuring a rare blend of ritualistic and carnaval-esque music and they will be performing at the Cameron Church in Denver tonight.

Hot Dates: Bluesman Tab Benoit is at the Fox Theatre in Boulder tonight. David Wilcox will be at the Lincoln Center on Sunday. Wilcox is set to release a brand new live album, “East Asheville Hardware,” on February 20, featuring concert favorites that have not appeared on other projects. Opening the show will be 1995 winner of the “troubadour competition” at the Telluride Music Festival, L J Booth. The Boulder Brass Quintet will be at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Jorma Kaukonen will be at the Fox Theatre on Thursday.

Celeste Krenz

There’s more than one thing keeping the “slow burning flame” going for Denver-based singer-songwriter Celeste Krenz.

Krenz has become a staple on the national airwaves and an emerging concert attraction across the country thanks to great songs, an easy acoustic approach to her music and a voice that trades on the emotional quality of the material with a soothing mix of strength and tenderness.

It’s all on her most recent release on Emergency Records, “Slow Burning Flame,” an independent album that shows that the heart of new country and folk music is in the doing and not in selling out to the hype of the big record labels.

At the very core of “Slow Burning Flame” is a batch of songs that explore the never-ending personal questions that rise from love and relationships. Besides offering five originals, Krenz also handpicks tunes by other writers such as Kevin Welch, Bob Cheevers, Stephen Allen Davis, co-producer Tim O’Brien and Dolly Parton.

From the wise understanding of Krenz’s title song, through the sad memories of Cheever’s “Old Habits Die Hard,” to the reflective quality of O’Brien’s “Romance is a Slow Dance,” Krenz turns over the matters of the heart in all their different hues. Supporting the emotional depth of the songs is the delicate rendering of the acoustic-based arrangements. Perhaps this is due to the careful production work of Denver singer-songwriter Bob Tyler and O’Brien, but more likely is the result of Krenz remaining true to the nature of the songs.

Even though some of the songs rock, such as Welch’s “This Love I Have For You” and Parton’s “Jolene,” the main flow of the album is low and simmering. Stand-out work by dobro player Sally Van Meter, mandolin by O’Brien, and some harmonica by Clay Kirkland is woven carefully into the production, providing excellent accenting without taking away from what it is that finally makes “Slow Burning Flame” an exceptional find- Krenz’s sensual and alluring vocals. Whether applied to country ballads, light rock or even a little bit of blues, Krenz’s voice remains velvety and smooth. Her vocals are full-bodied and strong without overpowering the lyrics or the movement of the song.

Here, the effect is one of making an excellent mix of sounds rather than presenting a personality and that’s what turns “Slow Burning Flame” into a great record. This is music, not a marketing ploy. Add all these elements together and it’s easy to see why Krenz has enjoyed extensive airplay throughout the country, particularly on radio stations working the new country-flavored Americana formats. “Slow Burning Flame” has enjoyed 12 weeks in Top Forty positions on the Gavin Americana charts and has been played in medium to high rotation on nearly 170 stations nationwide.

Of course, this has also opened the doors for Krenz to play prestigious showcases and festivals throughout the country including the Kerrville Folk Festival, Strawberry Days in California, and the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas. Add to this Krenz’s recent contract with music publishing company Bug Music and you have a very busy career.

Fortunately, Krenz is not too busy to play shows in her home region. That includes a show at the Bluebird Theater in Denver on Saturday. Opening will be the Tyler Brothers.

Hot Dates: The “Venezuelan Songbird” Irene Farrera will beat the Swallow Hill Music Hall in Denver and Diana Castro and the Big Time will be at Linden’s tonight. Linden’s celebrates its 14th anniversary on Saturday with a full day jammed with music, including performances by Diana Castro, Sponge Kingdom, the Mudheads, Windfall, Brethren Fast, Bob Hollister, JD Kelly with Rich Reno and Lazy Bones. John Mayall will be at the Boulder Theatre on Saturday. Chucklehead will be at Tony’s and Barbara Rose will be at the Starry Bight Coffee Company on Wednesday.

Steve Forbert

In the beginning, there was busking on the streets.

That’s how singer-songwriter Steve Forbert’s career started when, at the age of 21 years old, he left his home in Meridian, Mississippi for New York City.

Forbert took a room at the YMCA on 23rd Street, worked odd day jobs and played at night for spare change.

“The whole experience was pretty extreme,” Forbert said recently by phone from Nashville, TN. “But as far as singing in the streets, I checked things out and you can gather pretty quickly what might be the best areas to do it in. I primarily stuck to Greenwich Village in the summer which was loaded with tourists in a pretty open atmosphere. And pretty safe, I might add.”

Playing on the streets taught Forbert several lessons, including the difference between a paid performer and one just asking for tips.

“One thing you learn- and in a number of ways this is true for whatever you do really- is that people don’t owe you anything. You can’t take it for granted. You’ve got to convince them. Just because you’re standing there holding a guitar and may be sincere, that and $1.35 will get you a ride on the subway. You have the very opposite of a captive audience,” Forbert said.

From the streets, Forbert worked his way up through open mike sessions to playing clubs like Folk City, the Other End and CBGB’s. He was signed to the Nemperor label and his debut album, “Alive On Arrival” carved out a spot on the Top 100 albums in 1978. His second album, “Jackrabbit Slim” yielded the hit single “Romeo’s Tune” in 1979.

Not only has Forbert recorded and released 5 other albums, including his most recent, “Mission of the Crossroad Palms” on the Paladin/Giant imprint, he has also traveled the country building up a loyal audience that has stuck with him over the years.

“It’s a good following that keeps coming to the shows,” Forbert said. “I mean, I’ve been at it- it’ll be 20 years in 1998- and that’s the most rewarding thing about it, that the people keep coming back.”

The listeners keep coming back because Forbert doesn’t mind writing songs that reflect what life is like for people of his generation.

For instance, on “Mission of the Crossroad Palms,” the songs take a mature look at some important elements of adult life. Forbert writes about work in “It Sure Was Better Back Then” while “Oh, To Be Back With You” takes a longing look back at a past courtship. “The Trouble With Angels” wrestles with the confining attitudes of a small town upbringing while “So Good To Feel Good Again” expresses the selfish joy of freedom.

“I write songs for my own age group and hopefully I’m reasonably in touch with things that people generally around my age can relate to. Fortunately, I don’t have to write songs for a younger crowd who may be obsessed with or concerned with an MTV priority. So, not to be corny about, it really is sort of a shared experience,” Forbert said.

There are more reasons why Forbert’s fans remain true, including the fact that despite the serious nature of his lyrics, the music he matches with them is generally energetic and upbeat. The music on “Mission of the Crossroad Palms,” for example, does not drag along with the words, but rather makes them buoyant and even cheerful. This is a good trick and serves to add to the depth of the material rather than detract from it, all the while making for a satisfying listening experience.

But longtime fans of Forbert’s will probably attest to one other element of his success, and that is his friendly, pliable showmanship that may date back to the time he spent playing for people on the streets of New York City.

“I like the shows to be really open. I take requests and each show is different every night as a matter of who’s there and just the general feeling that’s in the air,” Forbert said.

Local fans will get their opportunity to take Forbert at his word tonight at the Sunset Night Club.

The Northern Colorado Musicfest – Year by Year


-The Northern Colorado Musicfest is created by music journalist Tim Van Schmidt and Beat News and Music to benefit public radio station KCSU-FM.

-Focusing on live Fort Collins music, the festival presents 49 performers in 15 shows at 14 city venues over 4 days. Tim Van Schmidt serves as Festival Director.

-Musicfest ’93 attracts publicity from local publications as well as a half hour special television program produced by CTV. The Collegian calls the festival “one of the largest music events in the history of Fort Collins” and Colorado Music Magazine says “Good job, Fort Collins.”

-Beat News and Music produces the Official Program Guide which includes write-ups on all of the performers participating in the festival.

-Special products available during Musicfest ’93 include “The Continuing Story,” Tim Van Schmidt’s book focusing on the history of Fort Collins music, as well as a limited edition cassette featuring 22 Fort Collins artists, also named “The Continuing Story,” and compiled and produced by Tim Van Schmidt and Russ Hopkins.

-Live highlights of Musicfest ’93 include the debut of Creighton Holley’s album “Survivor,” as well as the debut of Bob Hollister’s album “Grey Rain.” Musicfest ’93 also features a unique performance by Fourth Estate, including an on stage appearance by Neil Skinn, inventor of the DTS-1, a Fort Collins guitar invention. Avogadro’s Number uses Musicfest ’93 to celebrate the grand opening of its new performance space.


-The Northern Colorado Musicfest becomes an annual event in its second year. The festival again is set up to benefit KCSU as the radio station celebrates its 30th anniversary on the air.

-Musicfest ’94 presents 57 performers in 21 shows at 15 venues over 4 days. Tim Van Schmidt again serves as Festival Director.

-Musicfest again attracts extensive local publicity as well as listings and coverage in regional publications such as On Stage, Westword, The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. -The Official Program Guide not only includes information on performers, but also focuses on Fort Collins record companies, recording studios and sound companies.

-Products available exclusively at Musicfest ’94 include limited edition t-shirts as well as a CD on the Linden Street Records label titled “New Music From the West.” The CD features 22 Fort Collins artists and is compiled and produced by Tim Van Schmidt and Russ Hopkins. A companion cassette titled “New Music From the West Volume II” is also compiled and produced by Schmidt and Hopkins and features 15 more artists.

-The first Music Business Seminar is offered during Musicfest and features comments by regional booking agents plus radio and recording professionals.

-Live highlights of Musicfest ’94 include the Opening Reception speech by Fort Collins Mayor Ann Azari, who declares that “music is the soul of the community.” High Street Recording Artists the Subdudes headline the festival that also includes the debut of Jerry Palmer’s album “Blues Guitar” and a special “Christian music showcase.”


-In its third year, the Northern Colorado Musicfest applies for and receives a $2000 grant from the City of Fort Collins’ Fort Fund. New Belgium Brewery becomes the festival’s first major business sponsor with a matching $2000 grant. This provides the first working budget in the history of the festival. Musicfest once again is a benefit for KCSU.

-Musicfest ’95 features 80 performers in 27 shows at 13 venues over 4 days. Promoter Steve Schmutzer serves as Festival Director.

-Publicity is again regional and the Coloradoan declares that “Musicfest has become an institution for hearing the best the region has to offer.

-The Official Program Guide adds a feature on area venues to information about festival performers.

-Tim Van Schmidt and Russ Hopkins produce a DAT compilation of 20 Fort Collins artists which is used for extensive airplay on KCSU. Schmidt and Hopkins also produce a one hour radio special focusing on the performers in Musicfest ’95. The show is titled “At the Crossroads,” includes music by 17 Fort Collins musicians and is aired twice on KCSU.

-The 1st Annual Northern Colorado Music Awards are instituted during Musicfest ’94 with ballots being distributed during festival events. Winners included Widfall as best band and Lloyd Drust as best solo performer and are announced at Linden’s during Musicfest’s final show. Inside Fort Collins and the Beat publish the list of winners in follow-up issues.

-The Music Business Seminar offers more practical information for musicians at the Bas Bleu Theatre including presentations by music journalists and recording and radio professionals. -Musicfest ’94 establishes an application form and fee in order to efficiently process the growing number of requests to play the Northern Colorado Musicfest.

-Live highlights of the festival include headliners Liz Barnez and Pamela Robinson’s appearance with the Bob Hollister Band and the Monnlight Rhythm Band at the Lincoln Center Mini Theatre. The Mini Theatre also hosts a special “Guitar Gods” concert, the Mountain Tap hosts an all-jazz show, and the Docks hosts a family-oriented show. The festival finishes with a bang at Linden’s when Creighton Holley hosts the “All Star Blues Extravaganza.

-Due to upcoming changes in the community public radio status of KCSU, Musicfest ’94 introduces information about the Public Radio for the Front Range group at all shows. This is in support of the group’s effort to create a public radio station in Fort Collins off of the CSU campus.

Musicfest ’96 is on the way!!

That’s right, the Northern Colorado Musicfest ’96 is just around the corner and it’s time to make plans to cover this unique and special event. Over 100 Colorado music acts are scheduled to play in this mammoth Fort Collins festival set for February 29-March 3 at venues all over the city. Here are just a few of the news angles you can use:

-Started in 1993, the Northern Colorado Musicfest is a grassroots celebration of homegrown music as well as a benefit for community public radio. In its first three years, Musicfest has benefited KCSU-FM, the public radio station on the CSU campus. Since Musicfest ’95, KCSU has been converted into a student-run station, so this year, Musicfest is set to benefit Public Radio for the Front Range, a non-profit organization working to bring public radio back to the Fort Collins community.

-Musicfest ’96 was not only awarded the largest single grant from the City of Fort Collins’ Fort Fund, but has also attracted unprecedented business sponsorship. New Belgium Brewery has doubled its support of Musicfest since becoming the first major business sponsor to come forward last year. But also count in major sponsorships from Transfort, Hapi Skratch Records, The Rio Grande, Mellow Yellow and Mountain Music.-New Belgium Brewery will be honoring the Northern Colorado Musicfest this year with a special edition beer all its own! The brew will be available for sale at venues throughout the festival on tap and in special collector’s bottles.

-This year’s Musicfest is being directed by not just one, but two veterans of the Fort Collins music scene- Jo Ann Hedleston and Ken O’Hearn. Hedleston is one of driving forces behind the Public Radio for the Front Range group and will be familiar to music lovers as a featured DJ for KCSU before the switch to student management. O’Hearn represents Beat News and Music, the newspaper that started the whole festival in motion, and has been an essential organizer for Musicfest since the beginning.

Complete media packets, including full schedule, band and sponsor information, will be available on February 13.

Make sure you don’t pass up this opportunity to cover the coolest thing happening in Northern Colorado!

CB and the King Bees

What’s R & B without some horns punching up the rhythm?

It’s like a chest without a heart beating in it. It’s like lightning without the thunder. It’s like doing the boogie without the woogie.

New Denver-based blues unit CB and the King Bees seem to know all about that and wisely use real horns to make their R& B the way it was meant to be- full, strong and up front. With John Raabe on trumpet and flugelhorn and John Uchida on sax deftly punctuating all the right places, this band cooks.

But the horns are just a part of the story, because upfront is singer Charla Bevan. Bevan has been a mainstay of the Denver-area jazz scene and now joins with the King Bees in playing an exciting, electric big band blues. Fort Collins keyboardist Rod Seeley rounds out the band along with Dan Menchey on drums, Jeff Munz on bass, and Paul Zilis on guitar.

CB the King Bees, however, are only part of the line-up for a benefit scheduled for Sunday at Linden’s for local music promoter Henk Ahrens. A long and impressive list of Fort Collins musicians are also coming together to raise funds for Ahrens’ legal defense in a recently resolved court case.

“I’m doing it for Henk just because I like the guy,” guitarist Jesse Solomon said recently. “Henk is one of the most straight-shooting people as far as hiring bands for his shows. He’s done a lot just for the local atmosphere and he’s proud of what he does.”

Evidently, many others agree with Solomon, including the multi-talented instrumentalist and songwriter Don Cordes.

“I’m playing because of Henk’s support for original music in the area,” he said. “Whenever things were slow, he was always there with some work.”

Besides Solomon, Cordes and CB and the King Bees, the list of performers for Sunday’s benefit also includes Walter Jenkins, Steve Amedee, Steve Strickland, Kevin Jones and John Magnie. Also appearing will be Russ Hopkins, the Mudheads, Rob Solomon, Tim Cook, Jesse Solomon, Jerry Palmer and Marty Rein-appearing, like the poster says, “in no particular order.”

Nields: With their brand new album, “Gotta Get Over Greta,” on Razor & Tie Music, an active mailing list with over 11,000fans, a jammed tour schedule, a web site and four previous self-released recordings with sales of over 20,000 for the last two alone, the Nields are in a very unusual position for a band that has never had a nationally distributed album. They are hip, hot and successful- all on their own terms.

Hailed as the strongest folk-alternative group to come out of the Northeast in recent years, the Nields have gone from playing open mikes in dingy coffee joints to headlining major folk clubs and festivals all over the country in just five short years. Singers Katryna and Nerissa Nield front this energetic outfit that plays a music best described as goofy, poignant and passionate all at the same time. The Nields put in a spectacular performance at last summer’s Folks Festival in Lyons and are coming back for more tonight at the Swallow Hill Music Hall in Denver.

Hot Dates: Live music mixes with a silent auction in a benefit for children at the Sunset Night Club on Sunday. A full roster of local music talent featuring Andrew Holbrook, Jack Gabriel, Brian Beck, Mark Sloniker, Our Mothers’ Daughters, the Max Wagner Jazz Quartet, and Liz Barnez and Pamela Robinson are slated for the event scheduled from 2:00-8:00 pm. Proceeds from ticket sales and a silent auction of items donated by area businesses will go toward improving conditions for babies and children in Chinese orphanages.

The Funky Meters are at the Fox Theatre in Boulder tonight. The Meters will be at the Ogden Theatre in Denver, the Itals are at the Fox and Who bassist John Entwhistle is at the Buffalo Rose in Golden on Saturday. Skankin’ Pickle is at the Fox on Sunday and the Radiators are at the Fox on Wednesday.

Jeff Stephenson – Bio

Germany and Italy…Phoenix, Seattle, Denver…Nebraska? Singer-songwriter and bluesman Jeff Stephenson has been “living on stage” since he first began to play guitar and sing as a youngster.

Though his music career has taken him all over Europe and America, it all began for this energetic and soulful performer in America’s heartland- Nebraska. Stephenson was born in 1957 in Omaha, Nebraska and after a spate of guitar lessons as early as 4th grade, he took his love of music with him when his family moved to the smaller town of Kearney. There, the “city boy in the country” took early influences of musicians such as the Beatles and formed his own band.

While playing tunes such as “Yellow Submarine,” Stephenson and his band mates would perform at private receptions, nursing homes and school dances- wherever anyone needed a band- all through grade school and junior high school. That is, until an essential amp blew up in the middle of a set, forcing the band to break up and Stephenson to trade in his electric guitar for a 12-string. The switch, however, would influence his guitar playing style forever and the added excitement of learning the harmonica would introduce Stephenson to a whole new world of music, thanks to the influences of performers such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Out of high school, Stephenson played in another band that performed in the “animal clubs”- the Eagles, Moose, Elks-while working a succession of jobs at lumber mills and factories. The rigid structure of a cover band, however, paved the way for the start of his solo singing career. The “fiercely independent” artist began playing off-nights anywhere he could in central Nebraska in a career track that “took more guts than brains.”

Stephenson tried college, but then his first marriage would take him from Nebraska to the hustle and bustle of Frankfurt, Germany in 1981. There Stephenson played for a wide range of listeners, from smashed GI’s to polite and attentive German audiences in pubs, guest houses and NCO clubs. To displaced Americans, Stephenson provided a taste of home and for the Germans, he was a genuine part of the “great American pop mythos.”

During his three years in Europe, Stephenson played cover songs so much, that he was making them his own, while his homesickness had him leaning towards an original blues.

Then it was back to the United States. In Phoenix, Stephenson was playing bars where patrons were encouraged to check their knives and guns at the door. In Denver, he performed at yuppie bars and opened up for bands such as Firefall. Stephenson had a son, then moved back to Nebraska in 1988 to form another group, but he found the rigidity of club owners with ethnic concerns about the blues too confining.

He moved back to Colorado, where the music scene was better and his music would be more readily accepted. A divorce came and Stephenson went out to Nashville in 1991to play places such as the Opryland Holiday Inn and to rub elbows with other struggling songwriters. But an environment where it is necessary to “eat, breathe and sleep music” in order to succeed was no place for a person homesick for his son and for Colorado- so he moved back West. Stephenson then spent the next few years commuting back and forth between Colorado and Nebraska, playing everywhere he could.

He met his second wife and the pair moved to Seattle in 1993, where he parlayed a house renovation job into recording gear. A year later, Stephenson moved back to Colorado, and with the exception of a trip to travel and perform in Italy, this is where he stays.

Since returning to Colorado, Stephenson has gone full force into developing his solo performing career as well as using his own recording equipment to take the next step- his first full-length album release of all-original material. The 1996 album is “One Step Ahead of the Blues” and features plenty of the energetic performance appeal that has entertained audiences all across two continents. Now, the vagabond bluesman has not only found a home from the road, but has given his music a home too.

Jeff Stephenson

“One Step Ahead of the Blues” Real Life, Real Music

Singer-songwriter Jeff Stephenson has paid his dues. He has played “a million little one-nighters” everywhere from his native state of Nebraska all the way to Germany and Italy. Now, this energetic and road-wise performer is ready to take the next step with the release of his first, full-length album of original music. The album is “One Step Ahead of the Blues” and the music ranges from playful humor and positive love to steaming passion and gritty reality.

Recorded in his home studio and at KIVA, Fort Collins’ premiere recording studio run by veteran engineer Russ Hopkins, “One Step Ahead of the Blues” is an honest, no frills view of an acoustic music that has taken Stephenson years to develop. But this is certainly not simple music since it shifts and changes throughout the release. One song will humorously catalog the ups and downs of bachelor life while another establishes the rising emotions of heartfelt love. One tune looks for the darkness of the final “curtain call” while another declares the joys of “one good woman.” All the while, Stephenson wails on his guitar and his earthy vocals give a stamp of authenticity to the production.

Add some harmonica here and some funky grooves there and you’ve got a solid collection of music brimming over with up-front attitude.”One Step Ahead of the Blues” is now available at local record stores and you can catch Stephenson performing live at…..

Radim Zenkl

At first, you might mistake Radim Zenkl’s most recent album on Acoustic Disc for a joke. After all, the title is “Czech It Out” and the master mandolin player who defected from communist Czechoslovakia is shown grinning next to a rack of his instruments. Only the small phrase “Solo Mandolin Portraits of Eastern Europe” indicates what is really inside the album, which is no joke at all.

The music in “Czech It Out” is a full helping of what it is that has propelled Zenkl into the spotlight of contemporary acoustic music- exacting technical prowess enhanced by a truly innovative approach to his instrument. “Czech It Out” is a mixture of original music and Czech and Slovak folk tunes covering a wide range of sounds.

Zenkl plays a rhythmic hammered mandolin on the opening track, “Eastern Feast Yearn.”Then he applies straight mandolin playing to the melancholy melody of Czech folk song “When I Ride Through That Forest.”Original tune “Mountain Ghost” then echoes the brooding soul of the folk material with a lighter, quicker touch. Slovak folk tune “Annie Little Soul” shines with the classical precision of Zenkl’s exacting picking and strumming and then he breaks loose with an upbeat American bluegrass-style original, “Happygrass.” This is followed by perhaps the most innovative track on the album, “Rock Slide Area,” a slippery, avant-garde piece played on slide mandolin. You get the picture.

Every tune has something different to offer as Zenkl stretches the boundaries of the mandolin far and beyond the known territory of the instrument. By the time Zenkl gets to “Beauty, Power and Pain,” the thoughtful and intense final track “inspired by a biography of Michelangelo,” the mandolin has practically disappeared in favor of the music itself.”Czech It Out” then becomes more than just a primer of great playing, but the work of a passionate and talented artist.

That’s why you can’t judge this album by the joke on the cover. That’s also good reason to take the time to “Czech” out Zenkl’s rare local appearance at the Docks on Sunday. Headlining will be Colorado acoustic music favorite Tim O’Brien in this special St. Patrick’s Day concert.

The Atoll: There are several good reasons why Fort Collins band the Atoll has been a regular Monday night attraction at Linden’s for years. Add songs written with heart and soul to funky dance rhythms and rolling guitar licks and you’ve got the basics that keep crowds coming back for more. All of this is clearly in evidence on the group’s recent CD, “Unity.” Released on guitarist Cary Morin’s own Crow Records label, “Unity” has plenty of the infectious beats, driving percussion and world-wise vocals that keep nightclub patrons on the dance floor all night. But outside of the party atmosphere, the music takes on a much deeper power. That is, the message of the lyrics comes on strong and true. For instance, the title song of “Unity” celebrates traditions and encourages pride among family and friends while stating that “we are all children of the world.”

“Geneology” promotes a sense of community while proposing that listeners “have respect for all you see.” The song “Nation’s Eye” pleads for education for the children and warns “what we are we’ve got to hold on to- before it’s gone.”The reggae flavor of the music and Morin’s distinctive vocals invite comparison to the work of Jamaican reggae master Bob Marley. But more than just the Atoll’s sound, the songwriting also brings the two together. Like Marley, the Atoll combines lyrical integrity with funky movement all in one package. That’s worth checking out. Of course, the Atoll will be doing their regular gig at Linden’s on Monday. But also take the time to listen to “Unity” for both fun and profit of the soul.

Hot Dates: The Presidents of the United States are at the Ogden Theatre in Denver tonight. NRBQ will be at the Buffalo Rose in Golden on Saturday. Fort Collins guitarist Steve Wiseman will be signing albums at Barnes and Noble on Monday. Peter Kater is at the Lincoln Center Mini Theater and Lou Reed is at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on Thursday.

South By Southwest- An Insider’s View

So this is how it is at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media conference held annually in Austin, Texas:

It’s the tenth anniversary of the conference and Iggy Pop is kicking things off with a free street concert right in the heart of the downtown area. Everybody from street people to journalists and music professionals attending the conference are rocking out to Pop’s stripped-down garage rock. Enthusiastic audience members brave the rough treatment of security personnel on stage to jump up, revel in their moment of triumph and then dive back into the mass of yelping, yowling bodies.

Pop gets a cut on his cheek and he smears the blood on his forehead and chest. Then he grabs the microphone stand and swings it through the air, smashing it into the stage. There is the exciting feeling of being right on the edge of chaos. But then somewhere in the anarchy, Pop looks up to a hotel window up above the street and sees two men in suits watching the proceedings. Without batting an eye, Pop gives the suits a respectful salute and then goes back to stirring up trouble.

The suits were probably executives from his record company and Pop’s gesture no doubt tickled them immensely. Even with significant carnage going on all around him, it becomes clear that even Pop knows which side his bread is buttered on. He knows who’s paying the bills. And in the end, that’s what the whole immense party of SXSW is all about: who is paying the bills. For established artists like Pop or others who played this year’s festival such as Joan Osborne and George Clinton and P Funk, it’s a matter of schmoozing the industry that supports them.

For the hundreds of unsigned and independent bands, it’s a matter of schmoozing the industry that they hope will support them in the future. That’s why when performers gather in Austin for this awesome five day event in March every year, they play their hearts out. Everybody does- from successfully independent touring bands like Colorado’s own Acoustic Junction or the Nields to seasoned performers like Randy Newman. They just know that the right smile, the right energy can turn some trick in the industry.

You can’t blame them- it’s business after all. For the music professionals, SXSW is all business too-despite the fact that everything is sugar-coated with the alluring excess of a party that never ends.

During the day, the pros- journalists, record company execs, manufacturers and many more- attend a huge trade show in the Austin Convention Center where literally pounds and pounds of free samples are given out like candy. Everyone wants attention and trade show exhibitors work the crowd like carnival barkers- anything to hawk their products or services.

In conference rooms in other parts of the convention center, music pros sit in on seminars and panel discussions on subjects such as “How Do American Musicians Find Their Niche Internationally?” “Does America Need Stronger Copyright Laws?” and “How To Get Retail’s Attention.” Some of the discussions offer real information, but many others are just a chance for industry insiders from all over the continent to get up and strut their stuff in front of others of the same ilk. They are obviously schmoozing, too.

The schmoozing doesn’t stop when the trade show and panels are shut down for the day. Industry people meet and talk in Austin’s restaurants and hotels. That is, until the music starts. Then the schmoozing moves into the city’s many nightclubs until well into the next morning.

When SXSW is finally over, the constant talk, talk, talk and party, party, party indicates what the music industry is really all about. It’s about attracting attention. It’s about making connections. It’s about squeezing a living out of any advantage possible- just like the rest of the world. It’s about the power of schmooze, all wrapped up in party clothes. It’s about selling chaos while keeping one eye on the checkbook- just ask Iggy Pop.

subdudes Farewell

Saying goodbye has never been easy. But the subdudes are going out the same way they came in-by playing the same joyful and house rocking music that made them one of America’s most unique contemporary bands. That’s right, the subdudes are calling it quits as a group, but not before giving their devoted fans around the country a final farewell tour that promises to deliver the best of the band’s long 9-year career.

“It’s good to say goodbye before we go,” subdudes keyboardist John Magnie said recently in an exclusive interview.

The reasons for the break-up are as complicated as the confusing world of business in the music industry. And as simple as just the members of the band maturing as artists.

“Some of it has to do with the music business,” Magnie said. “But a lot of it has to do with the fact that we have run a certain musical course. At least this chapter is coming to a close.”

subdude guitarist and vocalist Tommy Malone and bassist Johnny Allen are looking forward to working in a new band called Tiny Town. Magnie and percussionist Steve Amedee will be working on new songwriting and performing directions.

In general, the break will give the members of the subdudes the freedom to discover what lies beyond the band that has garnered critical acclaim and a healthy respect from their peers.

“I’ve been with the band for a long, long time and it really is just a matter of four guys growing up and wanting to do other things,” subdude manager Tim Cook said recently. “The subdudes have given everything they’ve got and they can hold their heads up as one of the best bands in the country. These are four very talented musicians and now they want to try to do different things with their talent. It really is a positive thing.”

The current farewell tour, which includes a hefty 30 dates, is being structured so that within two full sets, the subdudes will be playing a retrospective selection of music from their entire career. But there’s more- starting with their October 7 and 8 shows at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and including their October 10 date at the Lincoln Center Performance Hall, the band will be recording each of their performances for a final live album release on High Street Records.

The tour and the live album are just the subdudes’ way of thanking their fans for years of support. Their thank you to fans in Fort Collins, however, is even more special, thanks to the city’s pivotal role in helping the subdudes develop their music when they moved to town from New Orleans in 1987.

“Fort Collins was probably the biggest part of our career,” Magnie said. “When we moved to Fort Collins, it was literally like stepping into the sunlight. Before, back in New Orleans, we just weren’t getting anywhere and it wasn’t until we go there that we realized just what we were doing. We had to get out of New Orleans to do it.”

The subdudes moved to Fort Collins because Magnie, a Colorado native, had once attended school at CSU. He suggested to the others that the city might be a place where they could work on their original sound- and have a good time.

“Everything that first year was fun because it was so different from New Orleans,” Magnie remembered. “We were playing and driving down the snowy roads and laughing. We weren’t making much money, but we were having fun.”

Then in 1988, the subdudes won the “Best Unsigned Band” contest sponsored by Musician magazine. Area radio stations such as KBCO started playing tunes off the band’s first demo tape. The group began attracting great crowds all along the Front Range and a bidding war developed between major record labels to sign the band. The subdudes then released their first self-titled album on Atlantic Records in 1989.

“From there, our career was as up and down as anyone’s could be,” Magnie said.

The high spots not only included three more national album releases, but also two appearances on the David Letterman show, tours with kd lang and Bonnie Raitt, and a slot on the Jay Leno show. The subdudes recorded with famed record producer Glyn Johns and Eric Clapton even publicly lauded the band.

The low spots, according to Magnie, included years of just slugging it out in the trenches and playing on the road a lot.”

Magnie, however, isn’t as interested in talking about what went wrong as much as what went right. And those are the thoughts that the subdudes would like their fans to keep in mind.

“This isn’t meant to be our eulogy,” Magnie said. “This is to celebrate the life we had as a band. Fort Collins was one of the biggest parts of our existence and we want everyone to come out and celebrate with us.”

The ‘fifth subdude,” guitarist and vocalist Willie Williams, who joined the band over two years ago, will also be joining Magnie, Amedee, Malone and Allen on stage for the farewell tour.

Liz Barnez

Here’s Fort Collins singer-songwriter Liz Barnez standing in the front hall of her home: her pants and shirt are fully splattered with house paint as she’s handing off a tape of her upcoming album release. The paint is from her day job- working with business and musical partner Pamela Robinson to do both interior and exterior painting jobs.

The tape- a copy of the music on the CD proof sent to Barnez by her manufacturer- is the thing that these two very determined women are working so hard for.

“I tell people that I have to paint to afford my habit-which is music,” Barnez said. “And this is what I’ll do if I have to in order to make things happen.”

What’s happening is that Barnez and Robinson are preparing themselves for a new chapter in a musical career that has made them one of the area’s most popular performing units. The painting is hard work, but then again, so is planning, rehearsing, recording and releasing your own CD.

“It’s big, hard work, especially since it was just Pamela and I from the inception of the project,” Barnez said. “We felt like we didn’t need anyone else and that we should do it all ourselves the way we want it done- from choosing which musicians we wanted to play on the songs to rehearsing the material to many long, long hours in the studio.”

Despite their willingness to go for it on their own, Barnez and Robinson found that there was plenty of help once they got into the studio. The bulk of the new album was recorded at Coupe Recording in Boulder and engineer David Channing also lent his production expertise as well as plenty of fresh, clean electric guitar work. Subdudes percussionist Steve Amedee also entered the studio not only to add his specialty to the music, but to give inspiration and valuable support as well.

“Steve was a big help,” Barnez said. “His excitement at being in the studio, his ideas and his musical ability were so great. We were in a band together back in New Orleans and he is still one of my best supporters.”

Add in a list of top notch musicians such as bassist Marty Rein, drummer Sandy Ficca, pianist Tom Sullivan, Tommy Malone and John Magnie, also of the subdudes, trumpeter Hugh Ragin and more, and you have a project that is bound to be successful. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a good attitude from the start, either.

“The energy was so great in the studio,” Barnez said. “It was almost weird that there weren’t any big problems or complications. But we decided at the beginning that it was going to be positive and fun. And that’s what happened.”

The new album is titled “Inkmarks On Pages” and features originals by both Barnez and Robinson. The moods of the songs swing from introspective and sensitive to smooth and sassy and no two tunes sound alike. The music still carries the familiar heartiness of the sound that longtime fans have become accustomed to, but the production values of this project and the clear, clean arrangements are several steps up the ladder from Barnez and Robinson’s 1993 CD release as the Liz Barnez Band. That means that all the hard work- both in recording and painting- has been worthwhile.

But fans will have to wait a few weeks before they can hear the CD. Barnez and Robinson are scheduled to celebrate the release of “Inkmarks on Pages” at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver on June 13 and at the Mishawaka Inn up the Poudre Canyon on June 30. Still, there are plenty of other opportunities to hear the new tunes before the CD hits the street. That includes a date at Mishawaka on Saturday. Barnez will also be one of the featured performers on Channel 14’s television program “Alley Tracks” in June. This will be Barnez’s third appearance on the program, showing on Thursdays at 9 pm and Fridays at 6 pm throughout the month.


Fort Collins singer-songwriter Randy Pfeuffer is sitting in his “jam shack” living room, strumming a brand new 12-string acoustic guitar and playing his most recent song.

The chords of the song, titled “Falling Down,” are lush and full of Pfeuffer’s characteristically rich guitar flavoring. The guitar part is kicked into gear by a driving rhythm and the vocals dramatically reach for the sky. As good as the song is by itself, though, it has only begun to take shape. Though Pfeuffer writes the songs, he doesn’t feel they are complete until he works them over with guitarist Jesse Solomon, percussionist Larry Page and bassist Andy Blanton, his band mates in the group Windfall.

“We enjoy the creative process of getting together and building a new song from an idea or melody to a finished piece. This is the most satisfying thing for me- creating original music,” Pfeuffer says later.

The “acoustic-rock music from the heart” that Windfall plays, then, is truly a group effort. Pfeuffer’s songs begin the process that ends up inspiring his musical partners to take them further, creating what area music fans have come to know as Windfall’s own unique sound.

“Randy has a great voice and I love his melodies,” Solomon said by phone earlier in the day. “Since I’m an improvisational player, I pick up on his melodies and elaborate on them. I add color and texture and give the music a little extra kick.”

Windfall has been crafting their music as a unit for years. As a result, the band has been able to maintain a high local profile on stage, playing such events as the Colorado Brew Fest, the New West Fest and at venues such as Linden’s, the Mishawaka Inn, Avogadro’s Number and the Mountain Tap.

Windfall has been a featured band on TCI’s “Alley Tracks” program, has opened for Dave Mason and Firefall, played numerous charity events and was named “Best Band” of the Northern Colorado Musicfest in 1995. Windfall has also garnered the respect of other popular local musicians including singer-songwriter Rob Solomon, who lists Pfeuffer as a pivotal local musical influence. The Atoll even included a version of Pfeuffer’s song “Serenity” on their most recent CD, “Unity.”

Though Windfall has never released a fully produced recording of their own to the public, the gigs and the music itself have been plenty of reason for the band to continue on.

“Though we have gone in and out of performing on a regular basis, Fort Collins has always been there for us,” Pfeuffer said. “Just the fact that we’ve stayed together is a real testament to our goal- which is to make great music.”

The dedication the members of Windfall apply to their music is clear when you consider the trade-offs. Blanton balances a full-time parts and supply job with his bass work in Windfall. Page is a multi-faceted craftsman, making custom candles as well as holding down Windfall’s percussion end. Besides writing Windfall’s songs, singing and playing rhythm guitar, Pfeuffer is also an artist- specializing in portraits and pictures of animals- and is currently maintaining shows at two galleries in Estes Park. Solomon has just opened his own guitar school, the Academy of Guitar, in the Colorado Academy of the Arts building, at the same time as doing the lead guitar work for Windfall.

Despite their other work, however, the musicians of Windfall remain true to the band’s vision and are revving up for a new chapter in their career as a group.

“We’re a real creative machine now and we’re working hard on expanding our material,” Pfeuffer said. “We’re in our prime right now.”

Windfall is currently scheduled for a string of local dates including shows at Linden’s on Wednesday, Lucky Joe’s on Friday May 31, the Mountain Tap on June 4 and the Brew Fest on June 29. Windfall will also be on the bill for a special show at the Spring Canyon Inn on July 4.

Hot Dates: The Psychodelic Zombiez will be at the Fox Theatre in Boulder tonight. Jars of Clay will be at the Bluebird Theater in Denver, either I go will be at the Mountain Tap and Andrew Holbrook will be at the Rocky Mountain Coffee Connection on Saturday. Matt “Guitar” Murphy will be at Linden’s on Thursday.

Acoustic Junction

Acoustic Junction can play it their own way.

The Boulder-based band has a perfectly fine independent music career going. They’ve successfully released their own records and have built up an excellent live performance reputation that has them touring nationally.

“The East Coast is great,” Acoustic Junction vocalist and guitarist Reed Foehl said recently by phone from a tour stop in Connecticut. “In some ways, we’re more popular in the east than we are in Colorado.”

Their success is due to the band’s intense dedication to their music and some good, old-fashioned work ethics that has them practically living in their tour van and producing electrifying sets night after night.

“We’ve been doing it the hard and long way,” Foehl said.”But it’s been good and all the work is paying off. The number of fans continues to grow as long as our shows are right on and high energy. Word of mouth has brought us most of what we have.”

The buzz about Acoustic Junction hasn’t escaped the music industry either. A recent gig in the east not only attracted a full house of fans, but also Ahmet Ertegun from Atlantic Records, as well as representatives from A & M, Sony and London Records. Despite the interest- one company has come to see the band more than five times- Acoustic Junction is looking for only the right deal with the right company in what they call a “pretty big life decision.”

“It takes time,” Foehl said. “We’re trying to get a whole company behind us, not just someone who will sign us and then write us off. They’ve also got to do something we can’t do ourselves.”

Acoustic Junction certainly knows how to put out a good album by themselves. Their brand new release on their own Planet Records label is simply titled “Acoustic Junction” but covers a wide range of music and emotions. From high energy acoustic fusion to tender ballads, the album mixes styles and influences- including rock, folk, and country- into a fresh music that is difficult to tag.

“It’s very hard to pinpoint our sound because we blend a lot of different musical influences in,” Foehl said. “There are no boundaries with us- we like to explore it all.”

Though some of the songs on “Acoustic Junction” relate sadness and regret, most of material has an upbeat and hopeful tone that is an essential part of the band’s makeup.

“So many bands are into the negative. That’s not what we’re about at all. It’s easy to sit back and criticize the world but it’s much harder to be positive,” Foehl said. “We try to get what we want across in an uplifting way and to tell people that there is hope.”

Making good records and making good music on stage, then, can only lead to one thing- a great audience, which is something Acoustic Junction is blessed with wherever they go.

“They’re just good people,” Foehl said. “Maybe it’s the music, but we think it’s just the people. You can’t imagine how many bar owners say ‘we can’t believe how good your crowd is.'”

The crowds are turning out for Acoustic Junction in greater numbers probably because they know, or have heard, that this band delivers. The bottom line, however, is that this Colorado band just loves its music.

“For the most part, we put on a really high energy show-whether it’s for 2 people or 2000,” Foehl. “We just get up there and enjoy it for the moment. We definitely play for the music.”

Acoustic Junction will be celebrating the release of their new album at Tony’s on Thursday and at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on Saturday, June 8.

A Night in the Life of Alley Tracks

The first thing that hits you when you round the corner of the set for TCI’s “Alley Tracks” program is the lights- bright lights, that is.

The glare of the lights washes everything out of your sight at first. But then the familiar fencing and bricks of the back alley set scene comes into focus.

So do the performers, who are busy testing their microphones and tuning their instruments. Tonight, the taping is for Fort Collins singer-songwriter Liz Barnez and her partner Pamela Robinson, who are both dressed in striking combinations of black and purple.

Joining them are bassist Marty Rein, percussionist Greg Long, drummer Sandy Ficca and guitarist David Channing. This is Barnez’s third taping of the program and there’s good reason to celebrate this time. Barnez has just finished recording a new full-length album and the energy is high in anticipation of the record’s release in June. This show will feature new songs from the album and the band is upbeat and excited, joking with each other and trying out little bits of the songs while last minute preparations for the taping are being made.

What’s in the rest of the room? Cameras, technicians and lots of wires. Space is at a premium. Russ Hopkins is running sound from a tight converted bathroom just down the hall. There’s no place for a visitor to stand without getting in the way, except in the dark corner by the back door, or in the control room, which is pretty spacious, but buzzing nonetheless. Co-producers Nancy Grey-Mowers and Clay Pahlau are busy there setting up the system that will turn all of this into a television show.

Grey-Mowers will record the audio and give direction for the proceedings. Pahlau will call on four camera technicians and blend their video images together into the visual portion of the show. Sound is checked meticulously and a trial taping goes without a hitch. Then it’s time for Barnez to shine.

Throughout the course of the taping, the band plays five powerful new songs. Barnez and Robinson’s voices fall into synch. The band knows the grooves and Barnez closes her eyes and her voice soars. It’s a positive and energetic performance, clean and professional.

During the interview portion, Barnez is sitting right in the thick of the blazing lights and talks to Grey-Mowers, who is seated off-camera. On the screen in the control room, Barnez’s head is haloed by the neon Alley Tracks logo in the background while she speaks to her goal, which is to maintain the integrity in her music that has helped make her one of the area’s most popular performers.

“The following is loyal because the music is consistent,” Barnez says. “It also may be speaking to something they want to hear.”

There is certainly an inspirational tone to Barnez’s music and as the band tapes their tunes, the warmth and soulfulness of the music comes out- despite all the lights and wires.

Barnez’s new album is titled “Inkmarks On Pages” and features originals by both Barnez and Robinson. On the recording, the moods of the songs swing from introspective and sensitive to smooth and sassy and no two tunes sound alike. The music still carries the familiar Louisiana heartiness that longtime fans have become accustomed to, but with brand new and exciting production values.

In the television studio, the new material is upbeat and uplifting. When the taping is all over, the technicians begin wrapping up all the wires, while the musicians crowd around a television monitor, checking out the night’s work- so much work and musical power translated into a miniature image on a screen.

Everyone seems pleased, from the performers to the producers, and so another taping of “Alley Tracks” is done-set to be shown on Channel 14 on Thursdays at 9 pm and Friday sat 6 pm throughout the month of June. Fans will have to wait a little longer to get their hands on Barnez’s new CD. Barnez and Robinson are scheduled to celebrate the release of “Inkmarks On Pages” at Herman’s Hideaway in Denver on June 13 and at the Mishawaka Inn on June 30.

Final Installment

This news may be sad, but true: this will be the final installment of my weekly “In Concert” column.

This is my 228th article in a series of concert-related writing that began right here in this spot in the Ticket section of the Coloradoan on February 7, 1992. Before I was actually given a column heading, I had been writing about music for the Ticket since its very first issue on August 17, 1990. I had two interview articles in that first issue; one with a personal hero of mine, Leo Kottke, and the other with Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, and I have been proud to be a part of it ever since.

Altogether, the Coloradoan has been generous enough to publish a total of 373 of my articles since I started my local freelance writing career- and has allowed me to explore a wide world of music. It has been fun and full of exciting experiences.

In the process of writing this column, I have been able to interview very impressive individuals such as Canadian harpist Loreena McKennitt- perhaps one of the clearest and most self-directed musicians I had the pleasure of talking to. Wyoming rodeo singer Chris LeDoux was also clear and made a lot of good, down-to-earth sense.

The most prepared and informative performer that I talked with was drummer Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, who not only knew his subject- drums and drumming- but loved it as well. Some other interviews were especially inspiring, including talks with Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and South African rocker Johnny Clegg. Blues queen Koko Taylor was truly gracious and wise and both Emily Saliers and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls were strong and sure.

I have been able to interview some of my personal heroes-such as guitarist Johnny Winter, singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, bluesman John Mayall and jazz guitarist Larry Coryell. I have also enjoyed talks with legendary figures such as Billy Preston, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie and Mick Fleetwood.

Some musicians have been weird- like David Thomas of Pere Ubu-and some have been wild- like Mojo Nixon. Mike Watt, then of fIREHOSE, was certainly lively while Barry Hansen, aka Dr. Demento, was kind of dry.

Thanks to the Coloradoan, I have been able to cover some music history- like interviewing rocker Henry Rollins on the eve of the first Lollapalooza tour and eulogizing Jerry Garcia the day after his death.

I have also been able to do quite a bit of globetrotting via the phone. I called Robert Cray in Australia while Clive Gregson called me from England. I had a moment’s time with reggae legend Toots Hibbert in Jamaica and had to get up at 2am to call WOMAD festival director Thomas Brooman in Turkey.

I ended up in a dark Fort Collins basement one night to interview blues legend Earl King when he was in town to play with the subdudes. Folk activist Christine Lavin called late one snowy, winter night to talk and I had to meet Texas rocker Joe King Carrasco out by the interstate in order to get his press material.

Some of the worst interviews I did for this column include bluesman AC Reed, who didn’t have enough bad things to say about the blues establishment and life in general. David Bromberg was especially stubborn about talking and singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler was openly testy. Bo Diddley was a jerk.

When it was good, however, the interviews could be both informative and uplifting. Art Garfunkel told me “you do your job well” and John Stewart said I was “the real thing.” Singer Judy Collins liked our interview so much, she asked for a copy of the tape and Mickey Hart thanked me for asking interesting questions.

It’s been quite a ride. As I end this column, I want to thank the excellent and supportive editing staff members that I have worked with over the years- especially my current editor Michelle Kubik. Thanks also to Bob Getz, Dale Uhland, Jim Parker, Chris Cobler and Joe Lewandowski. Thanks also to my readers, many of whom have taken the time to tell me that they have enjoyed my stuff- even to the guy who told me “I’m an old rocker just like you!” Maybe I’m old- I’m turning 40 on Saturday- but you haven’t seen the last of me. But for now, I’m going to take a break to enjoy the summer of the prime of my life.

Live at Legacy Park

Last year, it was beautiful.

Anyone who came out to the Live at Legacy Park concert last August will no doubt remember Fort Collins’ largest outdoor music event in decades for not only great live music, but also for the special effects of a gorgeous Colorado sunset. As former Fort Collins band the Iguanas were playing their mix of bluesy rock and conjunto music, the sky was blazing with oranges, reds, purples and blues. All the while, happy area music fans were joined together in an easy-going, picnic-in-the-park atmosphere.

This year, organizers expect the concert, which is scheduled to start at 3:30 pm today, to not only be just as beautiful, but bigger as well.

“Everything over last year has been stepped up four times,” said Jessica Wright, marketing director for the Live at Legacy Park concert. “Security is bigger, the staging is bigger, the power needs are greater and there has been more involvement from the city.”

Live at Legacy Park is an official event of the city’s annual New West Fest. The concert debuted in 1995 with the Iguanas, British blues band the Hoax, Texas guitar slinger Chris Duarte and headlining blues diva Koko Taylor- all great musicians, but not exactly big-draw names. In the concert promoting world, however, it becomes necessary to work with lesser known artists first- and even to lose money at it- in order to attract the attention of bigger acts such as this year’s headliners, Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

“We needed a good, dry test run in order to gain the confidence of the major booking agencies,” said Tommy Short, general manager for Live at Legacy Park. “We videotaped the show last year and distributed the tape to the agencies to prove that we could make this event happen.”

Still, despite the relative success of last year’s concert-there were no major hitches in the production and the music was top notch- organizers had to recruit the help of another regional promoter in order to secure a national act like Big Head Todd.

“Many of the established acts maintain loyalty to certain promoters,” Short said. “We had to play second fiddle to the major purchasers of the area.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, though, and Short, Wright and others spearheading the concert’s organization -including Wendy Chidester, liaison for the bands, Rich Werdes, production manager, and Maggie Kunze, operational manager-have succeeded in not only bringing in Big Head Todd, but also Merl Saunders and the Rainforest Band, the Lonnie Brooks Blues Band, and Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass.

Booking the bands, however, is only part of the job. Putting on an event of this size also requires gaining permits and approval from various city agencies, including the police and fire departments and Parks and Recreation.

“There are hundreds of items to go through. We’ve been working on this since January and have put a lot of time into it in the last two months,” Short said.

In order to sell beer during the event, Live at Legacy Park needed approval from the Liquor Board. The police department needed to establish several command posts to coordinate their presence during the show. Insurance had to be secured and approval from the fire department depended on details such as what kind of materials could be used for fences around the concert area.

“This is a major event structure as far as emergency services are concerned,” Wright said.

Then add sound and staging requirements to the list of artist contracts and permit requirements and you are starting to get an idea of what it takes to produce a concert of this magnitude in Fort Collins.

“Essentially, this is a Red Rocks-level production,” Werdes said. “Nothing is being spared in order to bring a high-quality performance to the people of Fort Collins.”

Getting the contracts, permits and logistics worked out, though, still isn’t enough.

“Legacy Park is not known as a concert venue. Booking an artist (like Big Head Todd) with a known name will help us immensely,” Wright said. “But most people in Fort Collins don’t know where Legacy Park is, so the biggest marketing task is getting out a lot of public education.”

The months of details and hard work are now almost over for this year’s Live at Legacy Park concert. But the future of the event is not just in the hands of organizers who are committed to a vision of making this concert into a major regional attraction. It’s also in the hands of area music lovers.

“This is really where our hearts are at- to put on a concert that the city can be proud of. But to make it work we need help from the community to come out and support it,” Short said.

Labor Day Benefit for PRFR

Contemporary regional music will mix with mountain serenity for several reasons when the Rocky Mountain Shambhala Center(RMSC) hosts a special benefit concert for Public Radio for the Front Range (PRFR) on Monday. One is that music is just a part of the human soul.

“Music is an expression of the creative potential of human beings. It’s an expression of the richness of our cultures and is something to cultivate, not avoid,” RMSC Director Allyn R.Lyon said recently.

The RMSC is known more as a contemplative center, fusing Buddhist and Shambhala traditions together, than as a concert venue. Nonetheless, an impressive roster of area musicians, including “Zen cowboy” Chuck Pyle, class jazz act Gourmet East, Wyoming singer-songwriter Inda Eaton, subdude John Magnie’s Parlor Sessions band and more are scheduled to play at the Red Feather Lakes area facility. But more than just a celebration of the joy of music, the concert is also a public invitation for neighbors in the immediate area and from Fort Collins to come in and visit the Center.

“This is a community outreach effort, getting to know our neighbors and letting our neighbors get to know us,” Lyon said.

RMSC was founded in 1971, originally settled by residents with a vision of turning the wilderness valley into a crafts community or a commune. Instead, the facility has become an important place for the study and practice of meditation. Though RMSC programs are based on Buddhist and Shambhala philosophies, that does not necessarily limit their appeal to people of different faiths.

“We have something to offer people of all religions,” Lyon said. “The basic practice of meditation does not have to interfere with regular life. And you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice it- it’s for people in the world.”

Though RMSC has monthly open houses as well as annual community open houses, they would like to increase their accessibility to the public and have been developing programs that are of general interest. These include “healing the healers” programs for health care professionals as well as others focusing on death and dying.

RMSC is currently looking forward to hosting an “introduction to meditation” weekend for the general public in November.

But for those not looking for contemplative-based programs, there is something else at the RMSC that may be of interest. That is, “the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, which liberates upon seeing.”

A stupa is a structure built to venerate great Buddhist teachers and they are an essential part of Buddhist life in countries such as Burma, China, India and Nepal. The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, being built on the RMSC’s grounds, is being constructed in memory of the Vidyadhara Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, who founded both RMSC and the Naropa Institute in Boulder, among a long list of other accomplishments. For Buddhists- and non-Buddhists- visiting a stupa can have an extraordinary affect.

“It’s a physical representation of an enlightened mind,” Lyon said. “It has an impact on people that is hard to articulate. But it’s something kind of magical.”

RMSC will be guiding interested visitors to the building site of this “monumental” stupa during the all-day Labor Day concert event. The music event not only offers an exciting array of area talent, as well as an opportunity for the public to become acquainted with RMSC, but it is also a chance to bring public radio back to the Fort Collins area community. That is PRFR’s goal and was one that RMSC was happy to accommodate.

“This is a good opportunity to help a cause that is certainly worthy,” Lyon said. “We like public radio- it’s a good thing.”

After the Fire

It’s not the money, it’s the music that counts when it comes to local retro rock big band After the Fire.

Since forming in 1989, After the Fire has been responsible for raising tens of thousands of dollars for such charitable organizations as Youth Safe, Nightwalker and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Larimer County. But when the band hits the stage, it’s not the benefit aspect of their performance that the musicians are thinking about- it’s the highly danceable tunes from the past and the powerful musical statement that a full horn section, 4 singers and a whole army of guitarists, percussionists and other instrumentalists can make.

“Being in this band is a thrill,” After the Fire keyboardist Dick Kyle said recently. “When it revs up, it really takes off. That’s the reason that we stay together. We do get off on the benefit aspect of the band, but really we keep playing as a group because we all just want to get up onstage.”

The music is classic- Sly and the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, the Temptations, Santana and much more. The musicians are a mix of area business people- including lawyers and stock brokers- as well as professional musicians that, in some cases, have played in some of the bands that originally made the music, like Tower of Power and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Together, the material and the dedication of the musicians make for an evening of loud, high energy music that keeps the dance floor packed from the beginning of the first set to the end of the last set. But, After the Fire not only enjoys playing the music, they also pay close attention to the details of their performances to make sure every show is fun and exciting.

“We don’t do it if we can’t get it right,” After the Fire percussionist Bob St. John said. “Just the logistics of putting the band on stage are a challenge. We do our own sound and lights and it literally takes all day to set up for the show.”

The emphasis is on the power of the band’s music, but the decision of the band to donate proceeds to chosen charities has resulted in making After the Fire an organization that attracts willing volunteer help from the community, including everything from ticket takers to donated rehearsal space. The real reward for the band, however, comes when the music is hot and the audience gets moving.

“We get our kudos when the crowd is up and dancing and having a good time,” St. John said.

After the Fire will be pumping up their soul, funk and rock dance music at the Sunset Night Club tonight and on Saturday. All proceeds from the show will benefit the Dance Connection Performance Network, a non-profit organization that has been bringing modern dance performances, classes and choreographers to the northern Colorado area for the past 16 years.

Lord of Word: It’s been a long time coming, but popular regional club favorite Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass are set to release their brand new album, “Positive.” The album, of course, mixes together the urban sounds of rap, jazz, rock and funk, but what really makes it fly is the inspiring messages that band leader Theo Smith laces tightly into the music. The result is dance music that works just as hard on the mind as on the body. The official CD release party is set for the Fox Theatre in Boulder on November 15, but Fort Collins fans have the opportunity to check out the new music tonight at Tony’s.

Hot Dates: The President of funk- George Clinton- brings his P-Funk All-Stars to the Ogden Theatre in Denver today and Saturday and to the Fox Theatre in Boulder on Sunday and Monday. The Freddi Henchi band will be at Linden’s today and Saturday. Also today, the Cowboy Cotillion with Liz Masterson and Sean Blackburn and the Cactus Crooners will be at the Temple Events Center in Denver and Paul Searles will be at the Rocky Mountain Coffee Connection.

On Saturday, Local Saloon will be at the Coffee Connection, Jackopierce will be at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver and Trickett, Bok and Muir will be at the Cameron Church in Denver. Tori Amos begins a sold-out 2 night stand at Macky Auditorium in Boulder on Sunday. Also on Sunday, Creedence Clearwater Revisited will be at the Paramount Theatre in Denver and Suzanne Vega will be at the Bluebird. Los Lobos is at the Ogden on Monday. On Tuesday, Paco DeLucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin will be at Boettcher Auditorium in Denver, Rusted Root is at the Paramount and Neil Diamond begins two nights at McNichols Arena. Cheryl Wheeler will be at the Sunset Night Club on Wednesday. The Stone Temple Pilots will be at McNichols on Thursday.

Dave Mallett

When New England singer-songwriter Dave Mallett gets off the road from bringing his tuneful and insightful music to audiences all over the country, he has what many would consider an idyllic life.

“When I don’t travel, I stay home and cut firewood and chase the dog around,” Mallett said recently by phone from his home in Sebec, Maine.

But that’s not all. Mallett also enters his “writing room” to work on original songs that, in the past, have been recorded and performed by more than 100 artists- including Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary and Hal Ketchum- and become major hits for country recording stars like Kathy Mattea and Emmylou Harris. It’s a simply furnished room for a job that requires a lot of concentration and imagination.

“I have a desk but I don’t have a telephone in there,” Mallett said. “I have three guitars standing around and an old piano and lots of pieces of paper.”

The music that comes out of this writing room then reflects Mallett’s continuing journey as a contemporary American songwriter.

His most recent release on Vanguard Records, “…in the falling dark,” for instance, marked a hard time of transition from Mallett’s 10-year songwriting residency in Nashville to a return to his ancestral home in Maine.

“I didn’t really want to be living in ‘Music City’ anymore,” Mallett said. “I didn’t want to live near the song mill and was kind of resigning myself to the fact that I’m an old folksinger at heart.”

Mallett’s new music, however, reflects more of the powerful natural landscape of New England.

“(The music) is a little more rural because I’m living back in the town where I grew up which is on the edge of the great north woods,” Mallett said.

Inspired by the natural splendor of Maine, Mallett’s take on folk music is quite a bit different than some of his more citified contemporaries- but then again, he doesn’t mind a bit.

“Folk music has become more of an urban thing recently,” Mallett said. “That’s kind of foreign to me. I’m not really an urban guy. I like to live where nature is in charge.”

Still, despite his love for Maine, Mallett finds that all his traveling- playing such places as the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and the Bottom Line in New York City- serves to stimulate the artist and give him ideas for new material when he is home and has “a lot of time to think.”

Besides that, he just loves to perform.

“I’ve always enjoyed performing. To me it’s kind of an athletic thing,” Mallett said. “I don’t jump around a lot but it’s very focused- like fly fishing, maybe. It’s a very focused kind of thing and it gives you a real rush.”

Mallett will be making a rare appearance in Fort Collins for an intimate show at the Bas Bleu Theatre on Thursday.

Durt: Two things come to the forefront when listening to Boulder-based band Durt’s brand new CD, “Turnbuckle.”

The first is great vocals. The album is full of tight, close harmonies that help propel the tuneful melodies into what it is that makes up the second thing.

The second thing is great grooves. Durt makes an acoustic hybrid rock that has plenty of energy to spare. The combination of great vocals and grooves then makes for an inspiring and infectious music similar to other Colorado bands like Acoustic Junction.

Durt will be celebrating the release of “Turnbuckle” with a date at Tony’s on Thursday.

Hot Dates: Speaking of Acoustic Junction, they’ll be playing two nights at the Fox Theatre in Boulder starting tonight. Also tonight, Fort Collins singer-songwriter Lloyd Drust hosts another musicians’ showcase at Avogadro’s, this week featuring such area talents as Kevin Jones, Jerry Palmer, Paul Taylor, Celeste DeOreo, Michelle Roderick and Judith Allen.

The nation’s top “microtonal” artists will be featured at “Microstock 2” at the Lindsay Auditorium in Denver on Saturday. Call 477-3268 for information about shows by both the Neil Haverstick Band and the Catler Brothers Band. Ani Difranco will be at the CU Balch Fieldhouse in Boulder on Monday.


From the opening salvo of funky bass notes on their brand new album release on Ichiban International, “Essensual,” it’s clear that Denver-based jazz band Dotsero has shifted gears.

“Essensual” has a fuller, bolder sound for a band known for a light, melodic jazz. But Dotsero fans needn’t worry- there’s still plenty of the band’s signature sound mixed in with this new energy.

“We’ve been able to maintain our melodic pop jazz style and yet I think we’ve been able to add more of an edge to it,” Dotsero bassist Michael Friedman said recently by phone.

Dotsero has certainly turned up the funk factor on “Essensual” with hip hop-influenced tunes like the title song, the Euro-beat stylings of “Joyride” and the R & B-inspired song “Pammy’s Park.” And the change in musical direction has already produced positive results even though the album is only a few weeks old.

“Some early results in national markets that we haven’t been able to hit real hard before- like New York City and Atlanta and Detroit- say we’re already getting some significant airplay, heavier than we ever have before on those stations,” Friedman said.

The band’s new sound is partially responsible for a higher profile. But also add in factors like the band’s new union with Ichiban, a record company that is getting national distribution for Dotsero’s record- something the Colorado band has never had before. The group has also signed with a booking agency in New York that has them traveling the country, from Disneyworld to Las Vegas, playing as many as 200 gigs a year.

Dotsero has also grown into a national jazz act because of over 12 years of hard, dedicated work. That includes treating their fans like friends, wherever they are.

“Our band is real personable,” Friedman said. “We enjoy meeting the fans. We enjoy the album signing events at record stores and just conversing with the people because they just have so much to do with our success. Really we couldn’t do it without them.”

The positive attitude that Dotsero shares with their audience also goes for each other.

“Everyone is very glad and willing to share the limelight,” Friedman said. “There’s just no personality conflicts. It’s kind of an all for one and one for all attitude. It has been from the start. No one in this group is looking to be the star. We’re looking to pass the ball around and it’s worked out nicely.”

So that’s how it goes- when Dotsero hits the stage, they are trying to connect with everybody- even people who don’t like jazz.

“Our music seems to be for all ages, from young kids to seniors. Even people who never liked jazz before are catching on to our sound. Maybe they catch our performance by accident and they say, ‘Gee, I didn’t think I liked jazz at all until I heard you guys,'” Friedman said.

Dotsero is celebrating the release of “Essensual” with a two night stand at the Sunset Night Club starting today.

Hot Dates: Beck is at the Mammoth Events Center in Denver and the Klezmatics bring their “klezmer with attitude” to the Bluebird Theatre in Denver today. The Psychodelic Zombiez will be at the Bluebird on Saturday. The String Cheese Incident will be at the Mishawaka Inn on Sunday.

The Hunger is at the Bluebird on Monday and Kenny Wayne Shepherd will be at the Ogden Theatre in Denver on Tuesday. On Thursday, Peter Himmelman is at the Bluebird and Lloyd Drust hosts another musicians showcase at Avogadro’s Number, this time featuring The Better Half and David Harris. Also on Thursday, the subdudes will be bringing their farewell tour to the Lincoln Center Performance Hall.

Lord of Word

Like a restless prizefighter who retired too soon, I’m back with a new weekly column about a familiar subject- live music, wherever it’s hot on the Front Range. For instance, those who made it to the beginning of the Live at Legacy Park concert last month were treated to the jumping rap and funk of Lord of Word and the Disciples of Bass. This is a big band, with vocalists, rappers/dancers, horns and electric instruments all revved up into one churning fireball of energy.

Lead by the “Lord of Word” himself, Theo Smith, this Boulder-based band stretched far across the Legacy Park stage and pumped a sun-baked crowd into a dancing fervor. Lord of Word plays hard, solid urban music but with a positive twist, and that’s why their Saturday night show at Tony’s ought to be a treat. Combine powerhouse groove music with nightclub intimacy and you’ve got a blasting good time.

Shawn Colvin: The new Columbia Records release by singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin, “A Few Small Repairs,” is also full of hard, solid music. The hard part is that the record chronicles the breakup of her marriage in all its emotional turmoil. From the passionate fire of “Get Out of This House” to the sadly harrowing “If I Were Brave” the album carefully turns over separation and divorce with excruciating honesty. The solid part of the music is that Colvin confronts her demons in a tuneful and sometimes even glorious fashion. Colvin’s crystal clear vocals are right-on as usual and her songs still maintain infectious rhythms and great hooks.

Part of the credit for that can be given to producer John Leventhal, who hasn’t recorded a full project with Colvin since the pair’s 1990 Grammy Award-winning release, “Steady On.” Leventhal not only produces on “A Few Small Repairs,” but he also co-wrote most of the material with Colvin, plays a wide array of instruments from guitars, mandolins and keyboards to percussion and harmonica, as well as arranged the string parts.

But “A Few Small Repairs” isn’t the only thing going for Colvin right now. Also include contributions to several upcoming and current motion pictures. Colvin appears in Allison Anders’ new film, “Grace of My Heart,” wrote and recorded the score for the upcoming HBO movie “Edie & Pen,” as well as sings her version of the Beach Boys’ tune “Sail On Sailor” over the opening credits of the film “Head Above Water.” Colvin also contributed a song to the current Kevin Costner-Renee Russo movie “Tin Cup.”Now add the fact that Colvin is currently touring the country with Jackson Browne, with a stop scheduled at Red Rocks on Saturday, and you are contending with a driven artist, indeed.

Richard Elliot: Richard Elliot’s ninth solo album, “City Speak,” depicts a saxophonist and performer in his prime. Comprised of R & B grooves and poignant ballads, Elliot has honed his repertoire of contemporary instrumentals. You may remember Elliot from the Yellowjackets, tours with Melissa Manchester and Natalie Cole as well as the legendary horn band, Tower of Power. Elliot embarked on his solo career in 1987 and hasn’t looked back. Elliot will be returning to Colorado for one intimate performance at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver on Thursday.

Hot Dates: Today, Travis Tritt is at Red Rocks, folkster Kristina Olsen will be at the Swallow Hill Music Hall in Denver and Tab Benoit is at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. On Saturday, Tab Benoit will be at the Mishawaka Inn and Kiss begins a two night stand at McNichols Arena in Denver. The Gin Blossoms and Sponge will join Neil Young at Fiddler’s Green in Denver on Monday. Hootie and the Blowfish begin a two nightstand at Red Rocks on Tuesday. Leftover Salmon brings its “polyethnic cajun slamgrass” to Mishawaka on Thursday.

Mark Van Ark

The title song for Fort Collins bluesman Mark Van Ark’s new album, “Life Inside A Box,” is all about getting stuck in a tight situation- and how to get out.

“It’s about a claustrophobic feeling,” Van Ark said recently. “It could be caused by relationship problems, financial problems, drugs and alcohol- any kind of problems closing in on you. But it’s positive in the song because the guy is going to break out. He’s addressing the problems and he’s going to move on.”

That’s exactly what Van Ark is doing as an artist. He’s addressing a problem with his music and he’s taking steps to move on. The problem is that Van Ark has a big backlog of original material that has never been recorded and the release of “Life Inside A Box” is the first album in a series of recordings that are aimed at bringing his material to light. The new album, for instance, features big band blues numbers that Van Ark and a cadre of regional musicians have been performing for years, but haven’t, until now, had the chance to record.

“A lot of the stuff on the album is music we’ve played live for a long time,” Van Ark said. “That’s a lot different from rehearsing a new tune, trying it once or twice live and then recording it. As a band plays a song live, it develops and changes.”

Since the music on “Life Inside A Box” was originally developed on stages throughout the Rocky Mountain region, that’s the sound that Van Ark, who produced the album, and recording engineer Randy Miotke were going for- live and in your face. The results are a raw, energetic blues music with a little jazz and funk thrown in for spice.

Certainly a lot of the success of “Life Inside A Box” has to do with Van Ark’s original songs, which tell “all true stories.” But also figure in the fact that many of the musicians on the recording, including John Johnson on bass, David White on drums and Chris Hammang on harmonica, are well acquainted from playing the same circuits.

“We had a ball making the record,” Van Ark said. “All the players at all the different sessions hit it off really well and created a certain chemistry. Part of that was luck, but part of it was also years of working together.”

For all its energy, though, “Life Inside A Box” is just the beginning of a string of recordings Van Ark is releasing in upcoming months. Also count in a three cassette trilogy of solo piano compositions that cover blues, jazz and classical piano styles. These albums will be debuted in a special piano performance at the Lincoln Center’s Ludlow Room on November 24.Van Ark also has plans for a “power trio” recording of other original material that promises to introduce “a different kind of blues.”

But for now, it’s show band blues breaking out of “Life Inside A Box.” Van Ark will be celebrating the album’s release with a special performance, featuring an 8-piece band, at Linden’s on Sunday. Walt Jenkins will be the featured performer after Van Ark’s set.

Patty Larkin: Her subject matter includes love, big hair, toxic waste and Ethel Merman, all delivered with intelligence, powerful and percussive guitar playing, and smoky, passionate vocals. Patty Larkin calls her own music “folk music meets the Beat Generation meets rock ‘n’ roll” and it’s the stuff that has won her a record 9 Boston Music Awards. Her most recent album is the adventurous “Strangers World,” a recording produced by John Leventhal (also known for work with Shawn Colvin and Rosanne Cash) and one that takes Larkin from folksinger to progressive recording artist. Larkin will be playing a solo gig at the Sunset Night Club tonight and will be at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver on November 2.

Hot Dates: Tonight, guitar wizard Michael Hedges will be at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver. Singer-songwriter Kate MacKenzie is ready to release her brand new record, “Age of Innocence,” produced by E-Town’s Nick Forster, and will be celebrating with a show at the Cameron Church in Denver on Saturday. Also on Saturday, Bob Mould will be at the Fox Theatre in Boulder. English experimental band Stereolab will be at the Fox on Monday. Michelle Shocked will be at the Bluebird on Tuesday. The Dave Matthews Band celebrate Halloween at McNichols Arena in Denver on Thursday.

Pato Banton

English reggae showman Pato Banton has a clear message he wants to share- love one another and “stay positive.”

From Birmingham, England, Banton uses the hypnotic power of reggae dance beats and fast-talking rap to promote a personal philosophy of peace and understanding. The artist himself has seen that message work wonders.

“I have a habit of mingling with the people before the show and I meet all kinds of people,” Banton said recently by phone from a tour stop in Seattle, Wa. “Then during the show and after the show I can definitely see the difference.”

In San Diego, Banton said, one woman changed her plans of suicide after listening to his music. In San Francisco, a father told him that that his son had cleaned up a drug habit thanks to Banton’s inspiration. In Florida, Banton’s “good news” even cracked the hard shell of racism.

“We’d done a show in Florida earlier this year and there was this guy there who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Somebody had dragged him to the show,” Banton said.”I heard that just during the last number of the show, when everybody was holding hands singing ‘What the World Needs NowIs Love,’ he broke down crying and said that he’s got to leave the organization.”

Banton’s most recent release on IRS Records is, of course, titled “Stay Positive,” and his songs reflect both the joy and the seriousness of living with a wide-open attitude. The song “Ven A Mi Fiesta” is a party track celebrating life while “Revelation” digs deep into the path of the positive. An adaptation of the Rascals’ song “Groovin'” is smooth and soothing while Banton and guest vocalist Sting find new gravity in the latter’s own “Spirits in the Material World.” Through it all, however, the meaning remains the same.

“People need to be positive and they need to be happy. They need to be living together and working together. Even though it can be difficult and hard, it’s for the best,” Banton said.

“Stay Positive” is the second album in a trilogy of inspirational works that began with his previous release, “Universal Love.” Banton is looking ahead to recording the third album, tentatively titled “Destination Paradise,” in the near future, but for now tours the world, making great reggae music and giving people the strength to carry on with their lives.

“I know that music is definitely the powerful tool to make changes in people’s lives and to touch people,” Banton said.

Banton, who has also recorded with other English reggae and ska bands such as UB40 and the English Beat, will be joined by his band, the Reggae Revolution, at the Mishawaka Inn tonight.

Newsboys: The good news about contemporary Christian music is that bands like Jars of Clay, DC Talk and Australian rock band the Newsboys are no longer considered fringe acts, but are making major inroads into mainstream commercial markets. These groups have taken Christian messages and fused them with popular music, expanding the genre into areas not previously explored. The Newsboys, for instance have not only collected multiple Grammy and Dove Award nominations, but they have also appeared on such mainstream television shows as Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight and on CNN. Their major label debut album on Virgin records, “Take Me To Your Leader,” entered Billboard’s top 200 pop album chart at number 35 with a bullet and nonstop worldwide touring has resulted in sold out shows thanks to high-tech staging and an excellent live reputation. Newsboys will be treating the Front Range to their vision of the new Christian pop music at the Mammoth Events Center in Denver on Saturday. Call 303-789-2997 for ticket information.

Hot Dates: Henry Rollins will be delivering a spoken word performance at the Glenn Miller Ballroom in Boulder on Saturday. De La Soul will be at the Glenn Miller on Sunday. Allan Parsons is at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on Tuesday. On Thursday, local jazz keyboardist Marc Sabatella introduces his new band, the Spanish Inquisition, at the Bar Bazaar, Cowboy Mouth is at Linden’s, and Moonpools and Caterpillars will be at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver.

Richard Thompson

There isn’t much of anything better than a new Richard Thompson album- that is, unless it’s two new albums.

Thompson’s new Capitol Records release is just that, a double album that does proud the English singer-songwriter’s tradition of putting out great records. For this outing, Thompson has divided his material into two discs, “Voltage Enhanced” and “Nude.” Just like the name simply, the first disc concentrates on Thompson’s electric work and the second displays his acoustic side. Both of these directions have usually been squashed together on previous releases, but here are given plenty of room to breathe and grow.

However, whether playing a sad, gentle acoustic ballad like “She Cut Off Her Long Silken Hair,” from “Nude,” or a raging, deep and dissonant electric guitar on “No’s Not a Word,” from “Voltage Enhanced,” the intensity of Thompson’s music remains the same on both discs. Like a rocking Dostoyevsky, Thompson pierces deep into the human psyche with songs that are not only tuneful but also swing from twisted to tender.

As an artist, Thompson draws vivid portraits of human emotion and it doesn’t seem to matter much if he’s playing acoustic or electric. Almost to prove the point, Thompson includes versions of two songs- “Razor Dance” and “Hide It Away”- on both discs.”Razor Dance” cuts just as deep either way and “Hide It Away” is so beautifully sad no matter what instruments accompany it. This is certainly the mark of a great songwriter who can have it any way he likes. That’s why Thompson can pull off a double disc set like “You? Me? Us?” with flair and confidence.

That’s also why Thompson is an excellent performer and reason enough to make today’s show at the Boulder Theatre the definite pick of the week. Thompson is currently touring with a “Voltage Enhanced” band but is sure to give generous time to a “Nude” acoustic set. The concert starts at 8 pm.

Semisonic: Thick, juicy electric guitar tracks and creative sound mixes turn pop-oriented songwriting into hot, neo-psychedelic music on Semisonic’s MCA Records debut release “Great Divide.”From Minneapolis, Semisonic features former members of Trip Shakespeare and to record the follow-up to their 1995 EP, “Pleasure,” they teamed up with producer Paul Fox, who has formerly worked with 10,000 Maniacs, XTC and the Sugarcubes. The result is an album full of strong rock rhythms, layered vocal harmonies and lots of electric guitar.

“Great Divide” is cool and wild at the same time and inspires plenty of creative “sounds like” descriptions- like the Beatles jamming with Pearl Jam; like Electric Light Orchestra without strings; like the Screaming Trees after having voice lessons. Semisonic’s music is challenging and energetic and that’s no doubt why they headlined the Fox Theatre in Boulder in August. They’ll be back in the area, though, playing with the Refreshments at Tony’s on Tuesday and at the Ogden Theatre in Denver on Thursday.

Dar Williams: Called “a standard bearer for a generation of New Folk” musicians, Dar Williams has toured extensively in the last year with folk icon Joan Baez and is playing Alcatraz with Baez and the Indigo Girls for Mimi Farina’s Bread & Roses benefit. In 1995, Williams released her second album, the adventuresome “Mortal City” on Razor & Tie Records, and has since topped 50,000 units in sales to become a big buzz in the folk music world. Williams will be playing several dates in the area including a show at the Lincoln Center Mini Theatre on Thursday and at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver on Saturday, September 21. Shanachie Records artist Richard Shindell will be opening both shows.

Hot Dates: Singer-songwriter Cosy Sheridan will be at the Swallow Hill Music Hall today and at Avogadro’s Number on Saturday. Also on Saturday, the Johnny Long Blues Trio will beat the Cameron Church in Denver. Wyonna will be at Fiddler’s Green in Denver on Sunday. Big Stoner Creek will be bringing southern funk to Linden’s on Tuesday. Duke Robillard is at Linden’s, Michael Bolton is at Fiddler’s Green and Yellowman is at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on Thursday.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal has been no vaporous phantom when it comes to blues.

Since the New York-born ethnomusicologist released his first self-titled album on Columbia records in 1967, Mahal has been one of blues music’s most adventurous spirits. Mahal has been tireless in fusing rootsy American blues with a wide variety of musical styles including ragtime, calypso, reggae and rock. His 1991 release on Private Music, “Like Never Before,” even brought blues to rap and high-tech dance music.

Of course, as might be expected, Mahal is not done yet. On his brand new album release, “Phantom Blues,” Mahal takes his funky sense of an old American music form and updates it with a slick and soulful show band approach. With the help of such high-powered fans and colleagues such as Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Mike Campbell and David Hildago, Mahal tackles some venerable R & B hits from the 1950’s and 60’s and churns them into an energetic work out.

The album starts off with the easy-going acoustic country blues of the song “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes,” but it doesn’t take much longer for Mahal to kick things into a higher gear. The next song, “Cheatin’ On You,” gets loud and proud-like the Neville Brothers in full swing- and hot sax and organ solos turn the next tune, “The Hustle is On,” into something even bigger and better. By the time Eric Clapton tears into his solo on the fourth tune on the album, “Here in the Dark,” the energy hardly lets up.

If you had Bonnie Raitt singing back-up vocals and guitar on one of your songs, what would you do? For Mahal, the answer is to let loose and for the song “I Need Your Loving,” he counters Raitt’s distinctive voice and slide guitar stylings with a vocal indulgence that rivals Little Richard’s classic abandonment. There’s some zydeco on “Phantom Blues” as well as some funk, but the bottom line on this album is hot and heavy blues- from the bandstand that is.

That’s why Mahal’s headlining gig tonight at the Fox Theatre for the 8th Annual Boulder Blues festival should be just as hot and heavy. Of course, Mahal is not the only blues in Boulder this weekend. The Front Range’s own Mary Flower will be opening the show for Mahal and Keb Mo will be joining the Duke Robillard Band at the Boulder Theatre on Saturday. Also on Saturday, the Boulder Blues Festival will be featuring a “Free Blues Blast” in Central Park. That show starts with Flower at 11 am and will feature other area performers including Heavenly Echoes, Tim Duffy, the Lee Thomas Band and the Homewreckers.

Yum-Yum: Recently named in Rolling Stone as a forerunner in a new movement in pop music, Chicago’s Yum-Yum takes timeless, incisive pop song structures and loads them up with lush orchestral arrangements including guitars, a string trio a horn section, organ and mellotron. That’s all from the group’s TAG/Atlantic Records debut album “Dan Loves Patti.” Yum-Yum centers around singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chris Holmes who has taken his knowledge of over 40 instruments and classic 1960’s pop music by the Zombies, the Left Banke and the Beatles and turned it into a glittering and energetic new music. The band will be appearing at the Mary Rippon Hall at CU in Boulder.

Hot Dates: Nashville guitar wiz Mike Dowling join “the smokin’est cowgirl fiddler in the West,” Barbara Lamb, at the Swallow Hill Music Hall in Denver tonight. Dar Williams will be at Swallow Hill on Saturday. Tony Bennett will be at the Buell Theatre in Denver on Sunday. The Cranberries and Cracker will be at Fiddler’s Green in Denver on Monday. Hot funk band 311 will play the Fox Theatre on Wednesday.

The Nields

Here’s the scene: It’s the annual South By Southwest (SXSW) Music and Media conference held just recently in Austin, Texas. And red hot folk rock group the Nields are blasting through another energetic tune on the patio of the Waterloo Brewing Company.

Seeing the Nields put out 100% performance power- sisters Nerissa and Katryna Nields creating a riveting charisma- made true believers of this crowd made up of music industry professionals of all types, including this journalist.

That’s why it’s a particular pleasure to come back from the conference to find out that the Nields are scheduled for a show at Avogadro’s Number on Saturday, March 30. Take this recommendation from experience: the Nields are one hot-wired unit and their performance should be marked on your calendar.

The Nields, however, were only one of hundreds of bands and performers playing for SXSW in venues all over Austin. For one long weekend, SXSW serves up panel discussions and a music industry trade show during the day and a music festival at night. The bands are there to attract recording contracts and to impress the press while the journalists, the record company representatives, and other music pros network and partake of a rich feast of live music. From big names like Iggy Pop, Joan Osborne and George Clinton and P Funk to independents like Colorado’s own Acoustic Junction, Austin was jamming to an event that, according to the Austin American-Statesman, was expected to generate up to $8 million for the city.

The musical opportunities were great and included seeing deep, rootsy solo bluesman Corey Harris at famed blues club Antone’s. Playing a stomping acoustic blues that built in intensity with each song, Harris was participating in a special Alligator Records showcase celebrating the label’s 25th anniversary. As luck would have it, Harris will also be in the area soon, opening for Buddy Guy at the Ogden Theatre in Denver on April 23.

Brand new folk rock super group Bryndle, featuring Andrew Gold, Wendy Waldman, Karla Bonoff and Kenny Edwards, also played. At the showcase stage at the SXSW industry trade show, Bryndle proved to be both powerful and uplifting- not hard to do with four such strong voices and such emotionally-charged material. Unfortunately, their March 24 date in Fort Collins has been postponed, but be aware that their return later in the year will be another important concert date to remember.

Other names will serve to point out the breadth of the SXSW music festival: young, flash guitar-slinger Kenny Wayne Shepard, cynical songwriter Randy Newman, deep reggae heroes the Killer Bees, and infectious African rhythm band Samba Ngo and the Ngoma Players. Also include the fragile beauty of Tish Hinojosa, the wry humor of Robyn Hitchcock, the rock power of Alejandro Escovedo and the revved up punk of B-52’s singer Fred Schneider’s new band.

These are only some of the famous names at SXSW. Add in hundreds of other performers from all over the country and you have an ideal situation for any adventurous music lover. The SXSW music festival is not just for the music industry, but is also for masses of other festival-goers who can purchase a low-cost wristband that allows entrance to all festival shows. This year it was reported that 12,000 wristbands were sold and the streets of Austin were jammed with participants. That makes this city become another major festival destination for those who don’t mind traveling for four days of great live music.

Hot Dates: French guitarist Pierre Bensusan will be at the Swallow Hill Music Hall tonight. On Wednesday, Folks Festival Songwriters’ Contest winner Erica Wheeler will be performing at the Sunset Night Club with Liz Barnez and Pamela Robinson opening. Also on Wednesday, The Violet Burning will bring their mixture of Smashing Pumpkins and U-2-style alternative pop to the Mountain Tap and local flamenco guitarist Michael White will be at the Starry Night Coffee Company. Steve Earle will be at the Bluebird Theater in Denver on Thursday.

Timberline Music Society

When New England folk legend Bill Staines takes the stage at the Rialto Theatre in Loveland today, he’s there not only because his music is a slice of Americana, but also because there’s people in this area that just love good music- and they really want to share it.

The Staines concert is the premier gala event sponsored by the newly formed Timberline Music Society. As a promoter, the Timberline Music Society is in it to provide a diversity of entertainment to regional concert-goers. But that’s just where it begins.

“We’re trying to bring in some music to the Fort Collins area that normally doesn’t get here- like Bill Staines,” said Timberline board of directors member and booking agent Charley Gannon. “It’s very much about live music. But besides promoting concerts, we also want to do some more non-traditional things like music lessons and workshops and open mike sessions. We want to be an all-around option for people interested in music. It’s not just about going to concerts- we want to offer a lot more.”

The Timberline Music Society was formed earlier this year and since their first concert at the Docks- featuring regional talent like Beth Quist, Dave Beegle and Jerry Palmer- the group has attracted 50 members. They are promoting the Staines concert today and have a show scheduled with jazz harpist Deborah Henson-Conant at the Sunset Night Club on November 15.

But next is to achieve non-profit status and get to the business of organizing classes and programs very much like the Swallow Hill Music Association in Denver, who have been instrumental in helping the younger organization get started.

“We have to give a big nod to Swallow Hill,” said Timberline volunteer and member co-coordinator Linae Warden. “We are modeling ourselves after them and they’ve been very generous with helping us. We are fortunate to have such a great organization mentor us.”

Part of the service that the Timberline Music Society hopes to provide is a place where musicians can learn from each other about the tricks of the trade. The group has plans to present workshops and clinics on such subjects as vocals, how to wind up performances, songwriting, bookings, how to do sound and more.

Another important point about the Timberline Music Society is also to make music accessible to all ages- making concerts and other activities appropriate for the whole family.

After all, that’s what music is supposed to do anyway.

“Music brings people together and it’s a real bridge for all generations and all social backgrounds,” Warden said.

Staines has been bringing people of all generations together with a rootsy blend of folk styles that has made him a popular guest on radio programs like “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Mountain Stage.” The New England native has released 18 albums, has published 6 music books and has been covered by such artists as Nanci Griffith, Mason Williams, Jerry Jeff Walker and Grandpa Jones. For this special Timberline Music Society event, Loveland’s own singer-songwriter Barbara Rose will open.

Hot Dates: The 2nd annual Pike’s Peak/Mile High Area Bluegrass Festival will be at the Colorado Opry and Convention Center and at the Roadway Inn in Colorado Springs today through Sunday. Ottmar Liebert is at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver today while the Nields are at the Mercury Cafe.

On Saturday, Patty Larkin is at the Bluebird Theatre in Denver. Later that same evening at the Bluebird, the Heads- featuring Jerry Harrison, Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads- will share the stage with Jux County. Billy Bragg and Robyn Hitchcock will be at the Ogden Theatre in Denver on Saturday. Michael “Hawkeye” Herman and the Colorado All-Stars will be playing two shows at the Bas Bleu Theatre on Sunday. On Monday, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson and Steve Vai play the Mammoth Events Center in Denver while Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor perform the “Appalachia Waltz” at Boettcher Concert Hall. Columbus, Ohio-based jam band Ekoostik Hookah will be at Tony’s on Wednesday.

William Crist

Strength- that’s what you get when you listen to the music of Fort Collins singer-songwriter William Crist.

Put on Crist’s brand new Necessary Records release, “Three of Cups,” and his strong vocal work and strong songs are the first things that become obvious. Then add strong rock arrangements and production that makes it all come forward and you have a confident, powerful sound.

The strength that’s apparent in Crist’s new album comes from years of searching and learning on a road that took the 33-year-old musician from his home in Pennsylvania to a gig in the Air Force in Cheyenne to playing acoustic music at the Northern Hotel in Fort Collins in the late 1980’s. That evolved in Crist’s first period of participation in the Fort Collins music scene.

“It was just when the music scene here was starting to blossom,” Crist said recently. “The Subdudes were coming on strong and I was playing in a band with the Atoll’s Cary Morin.”

But things weren’t happening fast enough for Crist, who had been “trying to get into the business” by doing some recording and sending the tapes out. Instead of waiting, Crist packed up and moved to New York City.

“My reasons for moving to New York were twofold,” he said.”I wanted to get out there and make some noise in the business and I also wanted to learn how to make the music sound good.”

Crist managed to accomplish both ends. By busking in the subways in New York, Crist met a recording studio owner who invited the young artist to come and record. The results of the sessions were so strong that the owner and his partners were inspired to form their own record label- Necessary Records- and to record Crist’s first album, “Collage.” Even without national distribution, “Collage” had Crist playing around the country.

More recording followed- the material that would become “Three of Cups”- but his success could not keep him from leaving New York to move back to Fort Collins both to find new players and to pursue “real music.”

“I knew there was a good music community here, so I was confident I could find more players,” Crist said. “There’s as much talent here as anywhere I saw in New York. And a lot of this is closer to what I perceive as real music- people writing from personal experience rather than writing for a marketplace.”

With two band members in tow from New York, guitarist Roy Barrett and bassist Simon Maria, Crist then set himself to the project of creating a new band. Today, Crist has a seven member band that includes George Ball on mandolin, guitar and keyboards, Norris Jones on drums, Doug Shald on percussion and Bill Thornsby on guitar. Together, the group has been taking advantage of the open-minded attitudes of Fort Collins audiences and playing local clubs while preparing for the national release of “Three of Cups.”

“As a performer, this is an excellent place to play. It’s so good for you because it keeps your energy up to be accepted so openly. The audiences here really listen- and they let you know what they hear,” Crist said.

“Three of Cups” is already available in New York and is expected in the stores here next week. Crist is also one of eight nominees for induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in New York in 1996 and may soon be playing alongside greats such as Neil Young and Billy Joel.

Until then, William Crist and his band the MP will be playing at Dimmer’s tonight along with the Griffins and the Tim Corley Band as a featured act for Musicfest ’96. The show, along with 36 other live music events this weekend, is a benefit for Public Radio for the Front Range.

Hot Dates: John Magnie and a wide range of local all-stars will be playing at the Sunset Night Club tonight. The Liz Barnez Band will be headlining a show also featuring Karen Capaldi, Tim Cook and Paula Westerfield at Avo’s on Saturday. Chuck Pyle will be at Avo’s on Sunday afternoon. Jackopierce will be at Linden’s and Ziggy Marley will be at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on Wednesday and Little Sister will be at Linden’s on Thursday.

“Weird Al” Yankovic

It’s strange. It’s wild. In fact, it’s downright weird.

That’s right, as you look down recent lists of Billboard’s top albums, you’ll see not only expected names such as Alanis Morisette, Oasis, Hootie and the Blowfish and Joan Osborne, but also one name that shocks and surprises- “Weird Al” Yankovic.

That’s the “Weird Al” who has made a whole career out of taking pop music megahits and turning them into creatively produced belly laughs. In fact, no major hit maker is safe from Yankovic’s clever barbs- not Michael Jackson, not TLC, not Madonna or U2.

But just making great parody records is not enough. Yankovic’s records not only poke fun at pop music icons, but they also sell really well. In a career that has seen the release of 10 studio albums, Yankovic has garnered 14gold and platinum awards for record sales in both the US and Canada. That means that Yankovic fans are everywhere- even right here in Fort Collins.

“He’s awesome,” local fan Mollie Simpson, 12, said recently. “He makes parodies of songs that are better than the originals.”

Simpson was introduced to Yankovic’s music through her older brother, David, who has been listening to Weird Al since6th grade. Now the siblings at least share an appreciation for music that relies as much on humor and attitude as it does on catchy melodies and infectious rhythms.

“I like Weird Al for the originality,” David, 16, said. “Everybody else plays the same old songs, but Weird Al goes off the beaten path. He also puts a lot into it. He tries to put something into every little bit of the song to make it funny.”

As it turns out, the Yankovic fever is very contagious. Harlan Kefalas, 16, has become a confirmed Yankovic fan since his friend David introduced him to the work of a musician who has been described as “the undisputed Grand Poobah of Pop Culture.”

“I didn’t know who Weird Al was. Then David played me a tape and I was hooked,” Kefalas said. “Now I’m always wondering when the next album will come out because you get tired of listening to the same old songs over again.”

Kefalas isn’t alone in the search for new Yankovic recordings. In fact, there is a special breed of fans that storm the record stores every time Yankovic releases a new collection.

“Weird Al has a real loyal fan base,” Mark Cheatham, manager of Finest Records said. “People come out for weeks afterward whenever he releases a new album.”

According to Cheatham, what brings the fans together is a healthy appreciation for the humorous side of life.

“People who like Mad magazine generally really like Weird Al because they both capitalize on the satirical,” Cheatham said. “He is usually right on in his perceptions of the music he parodies and how it can be made funny.”

The Yankovic phenomenon is not just for teenagers, though. When Cheatham, 38, was asked whether he liked Weird Al’s music, he could only tell the truth.

“Yes I do,” he said. “A lot of songs that he parodies I don’t like personally and his songs split my sides sometimes.”

This is the kind of reaction that has garnered Yankovic two Grammy Awards (8 nominations), a 4-CD boxed set retrospective, his own feature film, 3 best-selling home videos, and his own Showtime and MTV specials. His most recent release, “Bad Hair Day,” enjoyed top 20 status on the record charts and there are no less than 10 web pages and various other sites on the Internet dedicated to Yankovic news.

The extent of the Yankovic phenomenon may even reach as far as your own home. In fact, your son or daughter might even be a fan.

“He’s cool,” said Kaitlin Schmidt, 12.

Yankovic will be at the Paramount Theatre in Denver on Thursday.