It’s all in your head: Shred music

geoff snow-face

Photo by Chris Segal, Crested Butte Mountain Resort

It’s here, it’s finally here… the month we’ve all been waiting through the off-season brown, beefing up with pot lucks, brews and conditioning classes in anticipation of burning quadriceps and lifts cranking up to take us to the magnificent white glory. It’s cause for celebration. Opening day costumes, copious brews, facial hair encrusted in icy splendor and music to help drown out the deafening sound of your lungs as you huck yourself down the slopes.

That means you’d better revisit your iPod, like, now, and get some new favorite tunes loaded up, whatever your preferences run, because a decent playlist is as essential as good ski equipment. Music makes the inexperienced more confident as it glides them into a rhythmic schussing of their very own beat and makes the seasoned shredder immortal. No one genre is going to suit every snow condition or style, so you may want something less challenging on your initial ride up (some classic Dead or Marley, perhaps?), only to switch gears to something to rip by (kick in the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Pow days might require a bit of Led Zep (“Immigrant Song” is a good one to have snow nuking non-stop into your face.) Modest Mouse to Beatles tossed with Widespread Panic and seasoned with a touch of Drew Emmitt could be sunny daze cruising happily ever after choices.

You’ll certainly want your personal listening device as Thanksgiving nears and the incessant, repetitive holiday music starts crankin’ on your nerves from blaring outdoor speakers. Having a headset on is also a legitimately recognized means to ignore annoying conversationalists who take up precious time yammering away when you could be making another run. Less talk equals more gravity enhanced slope action.

If you want to slam to the same beat as the pros in your favorite ski movies, but don’t have the time to seek out every song, you’re in luck … someone’s already done the task for you. A whitewater raft guide named Jesse Lakes realized there wasn’t a site anywhere to be found with a comprehensive list of all those fabulous tunes featured in the dramatic drops those extreme sick birds take to, so he created, where you can search by movie name or its maker, skier or company, and then download it through just one click into iTunes. He’s also created for snowboard tracks and, when the lifts close and you grab your other board, you can download your faves from Pretty damn brilliant and convenient … search less, ski more is the motto here.

It’s also worth noting is that most of the opening-day celebrations at many of our favorite snow-farming resorts include music to stomp your ski and board boots to. Not wanting to give up a good party, some mountains carry on the revelry throughout the month and into the next. Vail is kicking off its 50th anniversary on November 16 with a new gondola and continuing their mezzo centenarian birthday with an impressive concert line-up for their Snow Daze, December 13 through 15, which includes The Shins, Michael Franti & Spearhead and Wilco. Get yourself tickets and info at

Out in Crested Butte, the drive to the end of the road is definitely worthwhile for their opening Free Ski Day November 21 and the wrap of their half-century celebration as they head into their 51st year ( You can also ski free on your own birthday (hopefully, it falls sometime during winter lift operations and may it scream snow like a banshee for your special day). There’s live music slopeside on the deck of Butte 66 with the return of a much-loved surprise band that can’t be named at this time, and thrown in for fun is local community radio KBUT (, which will also be spinning tunes between the lifts .

Aspen opens its slopes November 22 with the amazing Reverend Horton Heat funking up a free concert on the Upper Gondola Plaza on the 24th and, since no one knows what time this shindig kicks off, you’ll have to check in at

With all the sacrifices and dances to honor and implore Ullr, this year is sure to be big and deep, so don’t wait until the last minute to recrank the iPod, because you don’t want to waste any time getting to the slopes for your dance of vertical kinetics.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance journalist, photographer and vocalist happily entrenched back in the Shire of Crested Butte fully amped for really deep winter with new helmet speakers and a large stash of downloaded tunes. Give her a shout at  

Keeping It Free…

Free Concerts

Snowmass Village has a stage that uses the natural incline of the slopes for a perfect day of music in the mountains.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free …”

 — “Me & Bobby McGee,” by Fred Foster and Kris Kristofferson

It’s all about being free. Free Ride. Free Falling. I’m Free! Free Bird. Free your mind. Free your soul. Free love. Free spirited. Free the people. Free your heel. Free beer. Break free. Fancy free. Free agent. It’s a way of life. But, apparently, for some reason, it’s unanimously agreed that there is no free lunch. Fortunately, there are free concerts, and lots of them, for you to flee freely to throughout spectacular mountain venues where we can pack up the picnic baskets and Pibbers, the wine, the kids and the pooches and head out for an evening of social noshing and dancing. And … it’s free!

Snowmass Village has the venue with the views, a kick-ass sound system and amazing stage at their Thursday Night Music Series, which began in June and rocks the valley through August 16. Bring seats and whatever you want to chow down on, although you can purchase grilled foods along with beer and wine at the shindig. It’s kid friendly with a bouncy house and activities to amuse the little ones so you can thoroughly enjoy the music. Check out the schedule at

Up in Steamboat Springs, the summer viewscape is lush with five concerts, starting at 7 p.m. on assorted nights. Although pets and your personal alcohol stash are not permitted, you can buy libations there. Check out, then head on over to Vail where Jazz at The Market in the tent at Solaris (141 East Meadow Drive) kicks off the summer through August 26, from noon to 3 p.m. Click over to Just down the road a piece, Frisco is gathering for their Concert in the Park Series at 120 Main Street. You and your leashed pet can join them Thursdays, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. through August 16. Right around the corner in Dillon, catch the Friday Night Concerts at the Amphitheatre until August 31. While you’re there, hang out for the Sunset at the Summit concert series presented by the Lake Dillon Foundation for the Performing Arts, on Saturdays at 7 p.m. from July 7 through September 1. You can find all these events listed at

On the Western Slope, Rob Miller of Pickin’ Productions decided there wasn’t enough free music and created three new series in Ouray, Ridgway and Paonia, splitting the summer up nicely between the towns and booking some great acts into each. You can spend June in Ouray (OK … next year, and do hit the Orvis suit-optional hot springs), July in Ridgway (Town Park) and August in Paonia (Town Park and grab some of that valley’s magnificent organic produce and wine too). All shows start at 7 p.m. And being Ridgway, not only are they endeavoring to build a real stage, they have an afterparty at the Sherbino Theatre at 10 p.m. with the opening bands. More info at community radio

Want classical? Durango’s Music in the Mountains ( offers some of their series for free, as does Aspen ( Durango also has a free concert series throughout July and into August at Buckley Park, Thursdays 5 to 7:30 p.m. which you can access at

Hard to get to but well worth the journey are the Crested Butte concerts, both in town and on the mountain, along with down-valley Gunnison concerts.

Downtown CB’s Alpenglow series is smack in the middle of wildflower-filled vertical views every Monday at 5:30 p.m. through August 22 ( Chill out a few days and take the free bus up the hill on Wednesday between July 6 and August 24 for some fine performances at the Red Lady Stage on Mt. Crested Butte. Gunnison cranks out the tunes for two nights, Fridays at 5 p.m. in the Gunnison Arts Center courtyard and Sundays at 6 p.m. in Legion Park. You can check out all those concerts at

High above Boulder on the Front Range, the Gold Hill Inn celebrates 50 years of food and music this summer with both down-home and uptown musical acts and free shows throughout the year. Check out their summer freebies at And if you’re in the area, head over to Estes Park for their Thursday Night Live! free performance series, at 7 p.m. at Performance Park found at

Whether you’re already living in the hills or need a breather from the lowland heat, jump your favorite transport and head on up to the mountain stages to enjoy free music of every genre because the road isn’t just calling you, it’s screaming in four-part harmonies, for free.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer and vocalist living somewhere between the alternate universes of Crested Butte and Boulder. Contact   

Ridin’ the Rhythm Rails

Blues Train

“Now I’ve got nothing but the whistle and the steam, my baby’s leaving town on the 2:19.”

— Tom Waits

From the time the big iron wheels first started their screech down the tracks, people figured out a way to hitch a ride on trains, creating a distinctive rail culture. During the Great Depression, when money and work were impossibly scarce, kids would jump on the rails to go pick fruit and produce wherever laborers were needed. Music was spontaneously a part of that transient lifestyle for entertainment, communication and camaraderie in clustered gatherings around campfires and boxcars with harmonica, banjo or a little guitar.

Russ Lallier of Gunnison, Colorado, a train hobbyist, historian and videographer of three documentaries about regional rail history (youtube Russy Baby, or, all of which feature the music of Drew Emmitt (, tells that music was always part of train culture.

“When trains were first coming out, there were tons of songs written by the old wagon-train haulers, known as wagoners or freighters, and riverboat sailors on the Erie Canal,” which were the FedEx of the old days, Lallier says.

The rivalry and angst ensued because the newfangled trains were obviously a threat to their livelihoods and so inspired many protest songs.

“Steam was the devil to the canal men and haulers,” according to Lallier.

As trains rumbled through the years, their lore became captured in musical ballads, from spectacular wrecks to affection for the locomotives. To some, trains were merely transportation, but to those singing the blues, the train was rambling down that track carrying somebody’s baby who just done left them on that southbound train.

Fast track on down the line where Casey Jones needs to watch his speed, Johnny Cash is listening to the lonesome whistle blow just outside his accommodations at Folsom Prison, the Marshall Tucker boys are rocking a southbound all the way to Georgia, and you’ll find that modern mountain railroads have discovered the perfect blend of marrying music, splendorous viewscapes and, yes, halleluiah, brews.

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been in continuous operation for over 130 years ( Teaming up with Durango’s Bluegrass Meltdown event in late April this year, the ride up to Cascade Canyon featured The Freight Hoppers ( and Jeff Scroggins & Colorado ( playing in different cars while people strolled through chugging libations. Reaching altitude, they were then treated to a 45-minute layover concert and a blazing fire at the Canyon’s pavilion.

Telluride Blues and Brews Festival also joined up for the three-hour tour and wildly successful second-annual Durango Blues Train on June 2. More powerful than a coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive rhythmically clacking down the tracks was the soulful groove of Erik Boa and the Constrictors, The Sugar Thieves, Robby Overfield, Big Jim Adam and John Stilwagen, Alex Maryol, Donny Morales and Todd and the Fox.

If your tastes run true West, you can hop aboard the Cowboy Poet Train this October 5 and experience the traditional music of cowboys, along with their tall tales as the railway has pardner’d  with the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering taking place that same week.

Blues Train singer

Jumping tracks over to Alamosa is where the Rio Grande Railroad ( rattles up La Veta Pass to their Summer Mountaintop Concert Series, all of which are powered by wind and solar energy, and which include a lot of regional brews. This month features concerts by Michael Martin Murphey with The Rifters (June 16 and 17), The Rifters with Chuck Pyle (June 22-24), Special Consensus with Anne Hills (June 29-July1) and more top-notch music weekly throughout the summer (check out the website for all the acts, bios, and dates).

Rails and Ales is a perfect hoedown for a good high-altitude buzz with a brew fest of more than 20 regional beer makers, and it cranks out the live music on a boxcar stage in a mountain meadow on June 23.

The symbiosis of song and track is something rail riders and musicians have realized for a long time, whether it’s like a lullaby or a train wreck rock finale. Paul Simon once said, “There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.” Don’t miss the train.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer and vocalist living in Crested Butte and working in Boulder. She just left on the 2:19. 



Tuning in … Greg Pettys wails a solo song in a house full of soul and bread.

Just when you thought we were safely out of the ’60s, along comes another generation glomming onto some of the love, peace and music concepts idealistically developed back in our various decade-long delusional altered states.

Although it wasn’t the hippies that conceptualized communal living with all-night jam sessions. Sharing space, women and food was advocated in recorded 5th-century Persia, where Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion, with doctrines encouraging its followers to take delight in life’s pleasures — eating, drinking, friendship, love without domination, no war or bloodshed and an open-home policy for all who needed shelter from the storm.

Persian reformer Mazdak carried the “share-the-wealth” ideology into the 6th century and professed that vegetarianism and free love was the way. Fast forward to late-19th century Germany, where Der Wandervogel (translated as rambling, hiking or wandering bird … yes, the original Freebird) emphasized amateur music and singing, unorthodox clothes and getting back to nature and was probably most influential to the ’60s hippie movement.

The ’60s band houses were a communal concept, where musicians ate, slept, worked and played together to maximize the creativity and share the joy of an uninhibited life. But the reality was usually quite different, especially if you had to have a day job and you’d come home to find your food stash in the refrigerator consumed by the guitarist who strummed all day and smoked all your weed. However, all trespasses were later forgiven through music and endless passing of the peace pipe.

Many of the neo-hippie musicians today are the spawn of their grandparents’ culture. Dreadheaded, long-haired, organic bio-musicians living in peace and harmonies under the same roof and sharing a healthier lifestyle through drumming circles, dance, yoga and musical dedication. In a rambling drafty house that was once a mountain bar from the old mining days in Crested Butte, a clan of seven mostly musicians live with Walter the dog. And recently, Eli the Kundalini yoga instructor, who was friend of a friend of a friend, moved in behind the still-intact original bar at the far end of the living room. They are referred to as the bread mafia, since most of the household members also help run their business, Mountain Oven (, whose mission is “ …  to bake delicious and wholesome goods for our community with creativity and love.” A package deal of soul food, music and a sense of extended family.

Lizzy Plotkin, mandolin player, fiddler and vocalist, says they’re all in about four bands (one of which is The Wild), in addition to the live-in ongoing jams. They’re melding music. Housemate Greg Pettys, who wails on horn and guitar, explains the incestuous nature of the commune. “We share each other lovingly. We have to, it’s a small town.” He also acknowledges that the love of learning to play multiple instruments is born of necessity. If they need a bass player, someone will pick up a bass and learn it. They all sing. “Like the Jack of all trades you have to be to live here in this town, it’s survival,” he claims. “We moved into this house as musicians, but we didn’t play together until recently.” Greg says the musical clan was initiated to relive stress. “We’re always working, living and loving together and the music is nice therapy. Everyone gets along when we start playing music.”

Another member of the Mountain Oven household is Jonathan Brown, who has seen four winters in Crested Butte. “I’m teaching myself keys so I can be in a loud dirty band with a friend,” he says, adding that he’s encouraged and inspired by his housemates. “All struggle is creative and an impetus for new art and intentional living. It’s a single house but it spreads to multiple houses.” Brown notes there are two other music houses on their street. “Everyone pooling energy, food, talents and skills to raise the bar. It makes it easier, providing more free time to allow people to devote themselves to whatever inspires them and feeds their soul.”

As for the healthier lifestyle, they all claim to save the acid for Vinotok, the local pagan autumnal festival. It’s just nice to know that the culture of love, peace, music and homemade bread is still alive and cookin’. Carry on.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer and vocalist who has lived communally in many hippie band houses throughout cosmos. She is currently hitting the open road with her guitar, 20 lb cat and a bird named Spike. Email 

A Little Traveling Music, Maestro

Soul Center Bridge“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he (Bilbo) used to say. ‘You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien,

“The Lord of the Rings”

With a few exceptions across the mountain states, the lifts have, or will be soon, cranked to a screeching halt and, while many will undoubtedly trek off to higher snow, most of us are ready to load up the water toys, climbing gear and mountain bikes and head out into the oncoming spring. Cars and trucks may be the vehicles, but music is what gets us there. There is a rhythm to tires on open road, a vibration synced from engine to asphalt that sustains us through the journey, but it’s the music that puts down the miles and propels us into the adventure.

Cars and trucks have inspired generations of songs, but in taking our chariots to the next level of evolution in the marriage between vehicle and music, artists have lately turned cars into creative, tonal and percussive instruments. Using slamming doors, switches, ignition, revving and pounding the steering wheel, Los Angeles filmmaker Julian Smith made a music video starring a Jeep Cherokee. The genre is called “bootboxing” and it solely utilizes all the bells, whistles and actual sounds produced from any vehicle (check out “Techno Jeep” on youtube).

Japanese engineers even took it a step further, getting their groove on those annoying rumble strips meant to keep drivers awake and on the road. In California, they tuned the grooves of rumble strips to play the finale of the “William Tell Overture” when a car drives over the entire quarter mile of ruts (see “Civic Musical Road” on youtube).

My good friend, Cathy Hedin McNeil, who well understands the cadence of vibrations through the lower register of her bass guitar, is convinced that road and music vibrations work in harmony with one’s own internal field vibrations. “Music enables a person to travel in the most literal and the most figurative sense. Certainly on the open road, you can’t think about driving on the open road. The freedom that engenders necessitates music playing. The symbiosis of music and traveling is a very literal thing, in the car, rubber on the road, music blaring out of your speakers … In the figurative sense, a song like ‘White Rabbit’ (Jefferson Airplane) can take me traveling to unlimited other realms within the field. For instance, I can be in a normal state of emotion, but I can put on Tchaikovsky and it can move me to tears and traveling into that realm of my own emotion that I might not otherwise be able to access. I don’t have to travel … music takes me there from my living room. Between music and maps, I can go anywhere and it doesn’t cost much except a joint and a pot of coffee.” Indeed, that’s why they called it tripping in the first place.

Music transports us simultaneously into the past and the future, drops us into the heart of hot and gritty cities or takes us home down a country road. It lifts us out of a crowd and into our minds. It can bridge the distance of vastly different cultures. In Steven Spielberg’s conceptual movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it was a five-tone musical phrase in a major scale that was the communicative link between visiting extraterrestrials and humans during a starry-night concerto under Devil’s Tower.

Long before Led Zep rambled on, Steppenwolf decided they were “Born to Be Wild” and, yes, even prior to Lynyrd Skynyrd wailing about how they were such freebirds, there was music sparking wanderlust equally as much as wanderlust inspired the music. The lure of open road, open seas, endless railroad tracks, and space, the final frontier … it’s all about freedom and movin’ on. It’s enough for us to pack our bags, stick out a thumb and run down a dream and an adventure or two. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there, and with an inexhaustible playlist of traveling music, there’s no limit to where your mind and body can wander.


Dawne Belloise is currently staging a gypsy exit out of Crested Butte in a travel trailer large enough to hold a couple of guitars, a killer sound system and a 20-pound cat. Email her at 


Luthier Louis Hayes works the struts on one of his guitars. Photo: Dawne Belloise
Luthier Louis Hayes works the struts on one of his guitars. Photo: Dawne Belloise

Luthiers — makers of stringed instruments — speak in lilting tones of curves and tapered bodies, of deep waists and cantilevered necks, perfect action, sparkling highs, low profiles and how she sits in your lap. They focus on taking care of the desires of the player who is seduced by the dark smoothness or the glow of a golden face. The performance repertoire can vary from a sensuously rich timbre to a blues wail or pop and bark. Musicians have been known to refer to their beloved instruments as feminine and often bestow the title of “soulmate” on them. Although many don’t have the bucks to shell out for one of these handcrafted guitars, mandolins or fiddles, they might consider the advantage of having a single perfectly customized instrument that reflects their particular sound … and it beats lugging several cases to gigs.

In a converted carriage house tucked on the alley behind his downtown Paonia, Colorado, home, luthier Louis Hayes was hand working tiny pieces of wood for struts, the inner braces for the guitar — sanding, chiseling and fine tuning each one to exactly fit into the precise place for perfect tones and resonance. Exotic and beautifully grained woods, both cut and uncut, were stacked ready for transformation. Louie explained that different woods produce different sounds — warmer, brighter, fuller — and so the face of the guitar was usually different than the body. Holding up an unfinished and unattached guitar face, he tapped with one finger. “You should hear four tones … here … and here,” his finger rapping the wood in two different spots, the unborn guitar singing in sweet resounding vibrations.

Hanging on walls were molds and clamps, woodworking tools and guitar blueprints — the entire studio garnished with corkscrews of wood shavings in loose piles on the floors and worktables … a twisted sculpture in themselves. Like walking through the telltale aroma of a kitchen with a fine chef at work, the smell of wood hung thick in the air. Louie’s guitars are sold to musicians across the country, through music festivals and word of mouth. (On Facebook at Hayes Guitar Lutherie or call 970-527-8977.)

Heading to the southern mountain town of Crestone, Colorado, from Glenwood Springs, Don Paine and his son Josh, are multi-generational builders of Pomeroy Mandolins. Their shop specializes in F-5 Gibson archtop replicas, archtop mandolas and octave mandolins whose sound has been described as an old Gibson on steroids. Don, who also builds exquisite fiddles, says his Crestone shop in a town at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where 14,000-foot glaciated peaks are graced with stands of Engelmann Spruce, is an inspiration for any luthier. (

A short jaunt from Monarch Pass, in Salida, Colorado, Jeff Bamburg says it was like jumping off a cliff when he chose to become a full-time guitar luthier. In Jeff’s world, it takes around 150 hours to build a basic guitar, a more customized one can take up to 250 hours. Jeff also teaches classes for aspiring luthiers, where a complete guitar can take two weeks of 12-hour days. “Every builder has his own signature sound and trying to build a guitar that resonates what the luthier wants that voice to sound like can take decades to develop,” he said of the technique. (

Brian Deckeback of Deltoro Guitars, has been building electric basses and guitars since 2001. He notes that there’s a little difference between creating a guitar and a bass, but the lower range frequencies are a consideration. Crisp, clean sounds translate into harder, heavier woods like ash and maple for clarity of the low end, while the lighter, airier dynamics would sport, for example, mahogany and alder. He feels the anticipation and fun about building is that you never know what the instrument is going to do until you string it and play it. “They sound better as they break in and develop their own personality. A guitar will sound completely different a week after you string it than when you first play it,” Deckeback  says. ( and Deltoro Guitars on facebook)

There are basic rules of relativity that affect these stringed wooden instruments. Don’t expect to jump off a plane and start playing immediately since, most likely, a guitar, mando or fiddle will wonk out of tune. For acoustic pickers and strummers, air conditioning and the outdoors will be really tough on your ax, along with wind, sun and temperature changes, which affect it more than a solid-body instrument. There are many luthiers to be found throughout the mountain states who all have the same hope that their creations are played and not just kept in a case in a closet. All of the builders agree, it’s always a great feeling when you match the musicians with their perfect instrument.

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living on an alley at the end of the road in Crested Butte. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact 

Regrooving Country in the Rockies

Country music lyrics in action on the bar at Kochevar's in Crested Butte. Photo: Dawne Belloise
Country music lyrics in action on the bar at Kochevar's in Crested Butte. Photo: Dawne Belloise

You won’t admit it, even though your bluegrass friends might be more understanding, but you are secretly amused by the emoto-schlock lyrics served up by classic country music. Country music vocalists are basically soul singers, but what is it that makes country lament in ways that are deeply rooted in the same stuff as the blues? Hardship …  hard luck in life, love and unfulfilled expectations. Traditional country is a romance novel rolled into a reality show and set to music. Clever, vengeful, heartfelt and notoriously comical, the lyrics span content ranging from d-i-v-o-r-c-e and the habitually jilted to countrified patriotism and redneck validation. There are love songs about pickup trucks, philosophy for raising children, memorials for grandmothers and odes to dogs.

No other music genre does love songs, splitsville and misery better than country, except maybe Italian opera, where someone is always betrayed, lied to, murdered or foreclosed on, with spectacular flair. La Scala’s country cousin is in Nashville and called the Grand Ole Opry. Achy-Breaky as it is for diehards, the old genre morphed into mainstream Americana acoustic rock and the lyric writers of the three-minute joke became noticeably more poetic a decade or so ago.

Craig McManus, a knowledgeable country DJ of both camps, explains the transformation of the music. “What you’re not hearing anymore are the silly lyrics that country music was known for. It wasn’t catchy, it was just silly and contrived. Most of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson stuff was that way during that time. What it’s evolved into is from the real heart of soul.” Craig still sees two factions. “It’s almost split into one wing that’s God, country and family and the other has gone into actual human feelings that are more honest, more down to earth. What they used to call down to earth back then was a little lofty and not down to earth at all. In country, folk and rock today, some of the music is so similar, you can segue between all of those styles. The genres have blended so much that alternative root is alternative country, which is now a combo of folk country and acoustic rock.”

This month, you can witness the contrast of both modern and classic country up at the end of the road in Crested Butte. Although they’re calling it an inaugural event and even changed its name to the Crested Butte Songwriters Festival, the town hosted the wild hootenanny called Country in the Rockies for well over a decade. In 2008, during a remodel of the main accommodations for the performers, the hoedown was moved to the champagne snow slopes of Steamboat Springs and then to Nashville for 2009. However, by 2010, the clamoring arose to bring it back to CB with much of the hooting coming from the musicians themselves … perhaps it was all the local ladies unabashedly gyrating on the bar tops, coaxing donations into their collective cleavage to help the stars raise upwards of $50k in a single evening for the fundraising breast cancer research sponsor T.J. Martell. The newly renamed Crested Butte Songwriters Festival will stir up the sequins and glitter in a sea of cowboy hats, January 13 and 14, 2012, and build on the popularity of its former self without sacrificing the caliber of talent or fun, and still continue to raise big bucks for breast cancer research.

Country in the Rockies brought hundreds of visiting big spenders and jovial locals out to cruise the many different acts throughout the liver of Crested Butte. There were songwriting seminars with the stars, celebrity bartenders and concerts in the round for almost a full week. The stars got to shred the slopes alongside the town clan. The new event is starting out smaller for its first year, but will undoubtedly expand back into a party of extended workshops and concerts in the coming years as it gets rolling again.

This year’s raucous soiree has an impressive roster that includes some heavy hitters, all BMI-affiliated artists, like Texas roots country hero Robert Earl Keen (; veteran troubadour Dean Dillon (; country icon, hit writer and actor Mac Davis ( and Marti Frederiksen (, who has penned songs for the likes of Ozzy to Mick and Sheryl Crow to Pink. There are newer talents being showcased, like Jake Owen (, who happened to nail one of the coveted People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive slots; Kristen Kelly (; Nicolle Galyon (; Emily Shackelton (; Kristy Lee Cook (; and modern country hit songwriter Rodney Clawson ( They’ve thrown some local music into the mix, with Tyler Hansen (, Steve Snyder and David Paulik  — aka Dobro Dave (

The entourage starts at 8 p.m. on Friday the 13th at the rowdy Kochevar’s bar and moves to the Eldo Brewery at 10 p.m., with the admission a reasonable pay-what-you-can. If you prefer the less boisterous, Saturday night will feature a real concert ($50, It’s just fine if you only have a few bucks to toss into Friday’s kitty because others will toss several thousand into the hat. So get on up and take an honest look at the real country music of dirt roads and hollow body guitars through its singers and songwriters. And the locals will even invite you up to dance on the bar.

For more info head to:

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in Crested Butte. She can infamously shake it dancing on the bar. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact 

Far Out! Pass the Wassail and Crank Up John Denver

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together“I’m not religious, but church music is the shit,” a friend whispered in a confessional tone over his beer. “The chord changes are intricately complex and it’s timeless. That’s why there have been Christmas carols since Henry the VIII. He even wrote some of them, or his court musicians did. That’s where ‘Greensleeves’ came from. The biggest problem I have is that it starts too early … like the week before Thanksgiving and then it’s like January 14th and you’re still fucking hearing it in grocery stores. That sucks. But when you hear the bell choir and you hear the ‘falalalala,’ it’s good cheer. I love it. Dylan came out with a Christmas album (‘Christmas in the Heart’). It’s terrible.” He made a face like he had just eaten blood pudding thinking it was chocolate. Yes, ’tis the season for that irksome, repetitive, mind-deadening holiday music, endless Christmas canticles blared across the loudspeakers at ski resorts and pouring out of restaurants and shops, permeating the streets and oozing up from the powdery whiteness of an otherwise perfect day.

It may be somewhat of a Scrooge attitude, but as hard as some of us try to ignore it, Christmas music won’t go away. If you ever actually liked Christmas music, by the time the celebrated Eve rolls around, you loathe hearing another verse of what has become insipid muzak droning out seasonal cheeriness. Call it the Christmas creep — whereas the assault used to start in early December but has now slipped into the day after Halloween. It is why many of us pay homage to Saint Steve for bringing us the iPod and the choice of a night silent of the inanity of granny getting run over by reindeer, or the looping of high-pitched androgynous voices, of sleigh bells ringing or little drummer boys who have nothing to do with rock-and-roll or Christmas for that matter. Even though Billy Idol oddly snarled out an album of traditional Christmas carols, The Boss electrified Santa Claus coming to town and plenty of indie and alternative bands startled new life into old hymns, there are actually a few holiday scores that especially warm the cockles … the ones you find yourself inexplicably whistling in July on a deep wilderness hike. The Grinch. Charlie Brown. But most notably, John Denver and the Muppets.

With just one song, John Denver did more to uplift the Yuletide spirit of more folk all over the country than a bowl full of wassail; he opened his nationally broadcast show in 1988, “Christmas in Aspen,” with one of his favorite Christmas songs, “Rocky Mountain High,” the tune capable of invoking euphoric mountain pride and responsible for relocating generations of happiness seekers to the beauty of the Rockies. The seasonal show was the highest-rated show for the ABC network at that time, watched by more than 60 million people.

John’s voice had the perfect cadence for traditional carols and his broad smile was the epitome of kid on Christmas morning. Although he made his “Rocky Mountain Christmas” album in 1975, which included the non-traditional “Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas),” “Aspenglow” and “Christmas for Cowboys,” the collaboration with Jim Henson’s Muppets in the 1979 “A Christmas Together” is truly the playful stuff that transcends the holiday season drollery. Nothing is more exhilarating than Animal screaming, “Run run, reindeer!” in “Little Saint Nick,” written and originally recorded by the Beach Boys (Wilson/Love) in 1963 and played by the Muppets’ band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. There’s a couple of John’s originals as well, such as “A Baby Just Like You,” in which his son Zachary is woven into the lyrics but the song was written for Frank Sinatra, and “Alfie The Christmas Tree,” which he said was inspired largely by the Muppets.

The cast of Muppets harmonizes well with John, who naturally fits right in with a diva pig, frogs, long-snouted creatures and feather-headed sax players. The album was re-released in 1996, but was sorely missing three integral songs — “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “When the River Meets the Sea” and “Little Saint Nick” — much to the disappointment of fans. Luckily, the faux pas was corrected in 2006 when the CD was again released in its platinum-certified original version with all 13 songs. Even though the CD and digital download have been available through Windstar Records, the vinyl had been out of print for a long time when John Denver’s estate decided to release a Kermit green edition in vinyl this year. Yes, this album is enhanced in frog green (and available exclusively from Urban Outfitters). The original LP inspired the exceedingly popular TV production of the same name in 1979, which, for some reason, has never been available in VHS or DVD to the public (but can be viewed in segments on In 1990, John also recorded the album “Christmas Like a Lullaby,” with more religious tunes. And just in case you were thinking you’ve heard all of John’s recordings before his fatal plane crash of 1997, this past October, John’s estate announced a series of previously unreleased live recordings. The first is digitally mastered from a 1990 concert in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and available as digital downloads from

John’s penchant for introducing people to his adopted Aspen paradise extended to Muppets and, in 1983, he brought his close friend Jim Henson and his eclectic clan of creatures westward to film a campout under the gaze of the Maroon Bells (John: “The mosquitoes aren’t bad.” Kermit: “Aren’t bad? They’re delicious!”). The bedazzled gang donned classic plaid flannel shirts and puffy down vests for the 50-minute TV musical special, “Rocky Mountain Holiday” (still available on DVD).

John once said, “There’s one piece of advice my dad gave me when he dropped me off at college. He said, ‘You’ve got the talent. You can sing and play guitar. That doesn’t make you any better than anyone else.’” What made John more admirable than many though was how he used his well earned fame, calling attention to environmental issues, sustainable living, fighting homelessness and world hunger, especially where it concerned children, a supporter of space exploration and NASA and, of course, he testified in front of Congress in 1985 to protest the Washington Wives’ attempt at censorship in music. Earlier, he had been forced to defend “Rocky Mountain High” as a song about the natural bliss of being in the wilderness with friends around a campfire as opposed to a drug-induced high. The song was granted legislative status as Colorado’s second state song in 2007, after the 1915 “Where Columbines Grow.”

If you dread the Christmas musical inundation, but want to pump up the holiday spirit, John Denver and the Muppets “Christmas Together” is the one album to have for dancing around Yule fire … far out!

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and vocalist whose huge Italian family sang the entire score of “Guys and Dolls” and “Westside Story” on Christmas Eve. After hearing “Rocky Mountain High,” she moved to a garage on a back alley in Crested Butte. 

Greensky Bluegrass Becomes Bearish on the Green Room

Greensky Bluegrass
Greensky Bluegrass

Greensky Bluegrass brings all the grit and attitude of a whiskey-soaked card game to its bluegrass-spiked-with-rock-‘n’-roll sound. The Michigan crew has been carting its dobro, banjo, guitar, bass and mandolin around the country for 11 years and counting, but the guys didn’t get bearish on green rooms until a gig in Crested Butte.

Aside from the usual terror anyone would face driving over Red Mountain Pass in a van towing a trailer amidst a storm that dumped three feet of snow — the worst part being they survived but couldn’t ski it due to their demanding tour schedule — Greensky Bluegrass got an unexpected dose of Colorado’s wild nature once they reached their venue.

After a killer first set at The Eldo, the boys headed down to the ground-level green room “to do everything you think bands do at set break,” said dobro player Anders Beck.

Twenty minutes later, the band sauntered toward the door with beers and instruments in hand — none of which could immediately help them with what they encountered next.

Seems a black bear wanted in on the green-room action.

Banjo player Mike Bont was the first to open the door and realize he was “literally face to face with a very large black bear — who wanted to come in for tequila shots, I assume,” Beck said. “Though the bear looked about as freaked out as us at the moment, you’ve probably never seen Greensky Bluegrass move so quickly in one direction. Drinks spilled, instruments clanked together in strange dissonant harmonies and the door slammed shut — quickly.”

But the bear wasn’t shushed away easily; the boys had to conjure up a heap of noise, and to this day they’re pretty sure it was the banjo that ultimately made the curious bear scuttle down the river path so the musicians could head upstairs and continue the show.

“I don’t remember what we played that night, but I certainly remember that set break,” Beck said. “(It was) the biggest bear we had ever seen, and it was pretty damn scary.”

Kimberly Nicoletti hasn’t encountered a bear in her yard since 2004, but her otherwise intelligent American Eskimo ran up to the moose that frequented her yard this May. Needless to say, human intervention was required when the moose lowered its antlers in response to the barking dog, and she could’ve really used a banjo. While not busy protecting her two little dogs from moose and coyotes, Kimberly acts as the A&E editor at the Summit Daily News.

Camp Rock & Roll – The Pioneer Inn and Caribou Ranch of Nederland


“I mean, how many places can you go where both you and your dog get arrested in the same day?”
 — An anonymous blogger expresses contrasting modern times in Nederland

From the collection of Thom Sontag. The Rudy Toot band rocks the Pioneer Inn in its early wilder days. Left to right: Bob 'Rudy' Kittle, Mickey 'Boom-Boom' McAdams, Thom Sontag, Russell Kortright, Dan Fogelberg.
From the collection of Thom Sontag. The Rudy Toot band rocks the Pioneer Inn in its early wilder days. Left to right: Bob 'Rudy' Kittle, Mickey 'Boom-Boom' McAdams, Thom Sontag, Russell Kortright, Dan Fogelberg.

There is a sepia poster circulated like a freak flag since the early 1970s, depicting a proudly ragtag group of young hippies, a couple of local dogs basking in the dusty street and two horses tied out in front of the weathered Pioneer Inn in Nederland, Colorado. Nederland at the time had a population of fewer than 500 old miners and cowboys and was gaining popularity with the new breed of artistic city escapees who weren’t quite welcomed by the locals. The sign on the Pioneer Inn read, “No longhairs or unkempt beards allowed,” but that didn’t deter two of the Nederland poster children (and their dog) from simply purchasing the place and becoming town business owners in 1972. The first thing new owners Bunny Spangler and her husband of that time, Art Yeotis, did was to take down that damn sign. Music was the soul food of the era and Bunny started booking bands regularly to cater to the younger clan of those wilder Ned nights, created in part by the newfound sense of freedom living in survival mode in minimal housing in a town with few rules and even less law-keepers.

At the same time, the PI (as the locals called the Pioneer Inn) was making history as the scene of Wild West barroom culture, one of the most-beloved and sought-after recording studios in the history of music was being built close to the mining ghost town of Caribou just above Nederland as an escape from the madness of the rock-and-roll industry. James Guercio opened the now-legendary Caribou Ranch recording studio in 1973, luring well-known, top-notch musicians to the paradisiacal getaway of almost 5,000 acres and some of the best recording equipment and sound in the West. It became a destination studio, and the partial list of recording artists is extensive: The Beach Boys, Chicago, Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills, Earth, Wind and Fire, Joe Walsh, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, John Lennon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Michael Murphey, Tony Orlando, Michael Jackson, Amy Grant, David Cassidy, Eddie Rabbit, Billy Joe Shaver, Rod Stewart and U2, to drop but a few of the names.

The PI provided a venue for the Caribou Ranch superstars to unravel and relax without being hassled by relentless fans, since the Nedheads were a private, close-knit community who knew how to keep a secret and not ask questions. After working all day in the studio, jamming on the porch, playing pool or riding horses, the musicians would head for the PI to unwind, meld with the locals and jam with the homeboys, who were glad and humbled to have the diverse and amazing talent on stage with them, even though most of the Nederland crew could hold their own in music finesse. Some were so talented, they were asked to show up for recording sessions.

Teresa Taylor lived in Nederland and worked her way from maid to kitchen staff at Caribou Ranch in the mid-’70s through 1981 and remembers that the music that started up at Caribou would wind up at the Pioneer Inn. “They’d sit in with who ever was playing,” she says of the recording artists. “I remember one Halloween party when Joe Walsh came in with a football helmet covered with silver foil and antennae and sat in with a local band. He wanted to be incognito. Everything was peace, love, Rocky Mountain high and John Denver … it was a very innocent time. There was great music and great people in the mountains … people like Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg … no one thought anything of it. We were all connected. Caribou was connected to Nederland and the locals were quite proud of the PI and they were very loyal and protective of it,” Teresa recalls. “Everyone got to party and they did their jobs. Caribou got to put it on the map. It wasn’t a known fact in Boulder about all the famous people playing at the PI.”

One of the more popular groups of the Pioneer’s early times was the Rudy Toot Band, which became the unofficial house band. Thom Sontag, former drummer for the Rudy Toots, thinks he got to Nederland in ’76. “I went out there to get away from the rock-and-roll industry in N.J., so I moved to Colorado, landed in Boulder, and realized I couldn’t afford it. I was living in a fleabag hotel when I was told to drive up Boulder Canyon because there were musicians up there in Ned. I’ll never forget the smell of the air was so sweet and, in the morning I walked out on the deck and there was Nederland and I knew it’s what I came out here for.” As a talented new drummer in town, he found himself in a band immediately. “Two of the most amazing moments for me was when I was in the Ned supermarket checking out and the guy in front of me is staring at me. I looked at him and it was Fogelberg. I’m staring at his face. At the time, I looked like Randy Meisner, the Eagle’s bass player, and Dan says, ‘Do I know you?’ I said, ‘no, but I know you.’ He took his bag of groceries and walked out the door. Then, many months later, the Rudy Toots are playing a gig up at the Stage Stop in Rollinsville (above Nederland) and Dan walks in with his guitar slung over his shoulder, walks up to Mickey the bass player and asks to sit in. Mickey points at me and says, ‘Ask the boss.’ Dan says, ‘Hey, I know you!’ For me to jam with Fogelberg was an amazing experience. It happened over a dozen times throughout the years.”

The days of Nederland’s after-hours wildness and fistfights may be long gone, along with notorious locals who had hippie nicknames like Meadow Bill, Cowboy Sam, Orange Dog, Red Ted and Karl the snarky PI bartender of few words who tattooed “restroom” on his arm so he could just point the way. Caribou closed its doors after a 1985 fire consumed the studio’s control room. The Pioneer Inn’s long-time owner Bunny Spangler recently sold the celebrated bar after 40 years to get on with a new life and the last remnant of that era  passed into a new generation of owners. Teresa Taylor attended the 40th reunion this past August, “The whole reason I wanted to go was just to hug Bunny and thank her. I don’t know how she did it all these years, but then she was the sober one. She kept it all together and she was the reason it stayed open that long. At the  25th reunion, we saw people we thought were dead. That was the one where everybody showed up. This 40th reunion had a lot of new locals.” Although the feral child of Boulder Canyon may have transformed and grown up somewhat, it is hoped that Nederland and the PI will always remain the redheaded wild stepchild in spirit.

Find Caribou Ranch and the Pioneer Inn on Facebook as well as:

In last month’s Mountain Music story, “Sing For Your Supper,” Hard Pressed’s website was regretfully listed incorrectly. Their correct url link is:

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living on an alley at the end of the road in Crested Butte’s paradise. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact