They grew up with rhythm thumping around their little heads, learned to dance before they could even crawl and were dragged off to many music festivals by parents. They live in a high-altitude paradise with the sounds of birdsong, rivers, wind in the aspens and communal jams, so it’s no wonder mountain children are predisposed to music. They may be mere babes in the wilds of the industry, but they’ve proven themselves to be very old souls in the world of picking, songwriting and performance. They are the next generation, the new breed of singer/songwriters, and they’re unafraid of expression, full of vim, creativity and a sassy grasp of their possibilities.
Sol Chase blew into Crested Butte on a gypsy wind when he was only six years old in August 2004. “I was traveling around 13 different countries with my dad, living a communal-centered, nature-rific alternative lifestyle,” the well-articulated 13-year-old says, painting a vision of a nomadic spirit most kids could only dream of. “My dad and a friend taught me guitar at the age of three. We were busking for many years, playing a lot of music on the streets of Europe. From age five, I could follow along on the songs and sometimes put out my own guitar case and for a couple hours I’d make 20 to 30 Euros. We’d set up on the streets and play whenever we went into town. From town to town, we’d camp somewhere and go into town once a week to buy groceries and play music. We’d busk to get enough money to get to the next town. It was a gypsy life and it was definitely fun. It exposed me to a lot of different cultures. I’ve got more of an open mind to other things, and I feel I’m a more well-rounded person.”
By age six, Sol had switched to mandolin as his main instrument because of the smaller size and he enjoyed the sound. Sol and his dad Merrick also switched mountain towns and uprooted themselves to Telluride, where there were more musical opportunities. “When my dad and I came to America, one of our first stops was at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I loved the music, I loved the atmosphere, the openness and friendliness. I actually got to play on the main stage that year,” Sol remembers, fearlessly plotting a course for the limelight. “I wanted to play, but it seemed unobtainable, it seemed super important, but I kinda thought it was possible right after Yonder Mountain String Band played.” Sol told his father he wanted to get up on stage and play immediately. “Like NOW, so my dad lifted me over the back stage fence. I had my guitar and dad was on bongos and I played three songs. I played one of my originals (“Last Train to Berlin”) and then played two old-time gypsy songs (“Raggle Tangle Gypsies” and “Go Move Shift”). People still remember it today. It was pretty awesome. I don’t think I quite realized the enormity of it, but my dad was freaking out. I was just playing to play,” he chuckles.
Sol’s influences draw from a tight genre: Yonder Mountain, Jeff Austin, Chris Thile and Drew Emmitt, the latter of whom Sol has played with several times. “I’m definitely bluegrass; it’s my thing,” he says. You can hear Emmitt’s influential style in Sol’s picking. Adept and lightning fast, his fingers know their way around a mandolin with surprisingly tasteful riffs for one so shy in years. “I haven’t really met anyone who started as young as I did,” Sol admits. “Some of the now-famous musicians started young. At this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June, I played with a guitarist named Bella Hudson. She’s 12 and lives in Evergreen. I met her last year at the kids’ tent at the Bluegrass Festival.”
“I had a feeling that I had to write songs and play music because I wanted to express myself in music,” says the 12-year-old Bella Hudson, a singer-songwriter who picked up a guitar a mere four years ago — but as a matter of perspective, it’s a third of her life. “I’ve written 20 songs and recorded 12. Growing up in the mountains with the views, a song will hit me when I’m looking out the window, and they’re my best songs.”
Telluride Bluegrass Festival has a history of being really supportive of kids in music, and kids get the benefit of serendipitously and spontaneously connecting. “I met Sol and we were jamming at the Festival,” Bella says of the 2010 Telluride event. She was asked to play on the main stage that year and came home super charged and inspired, having performed in front of thousands of people. “This spring, Sol and I recorded three songs together at Immersive Studios in Boulder, one of mine called ‘Cowgirl Prom’.” Bella and Sol worked on each other’s music for this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival and performed a mini set to about 12,000 people in a Saturday morning slot. “I wasn’t scared. I was really excited!” she enthusiastically giggles about the fabulous reception both she and Sol were given for their originals.
Although Sol loves to play and create, he has a clear vision of at least his immediate future. “People ask me if I see music as a career. I don’t really think I want to take it to a pro level as a career. I already have an EP on iTunes, and I’m working on a full album. My interests are more in math and sciences. This fall, I’ll be attending my first year of high school at Phillip Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.”
Although he’s taking his mandolin and guitar along to school, “There are so many academic areas I’m interested in that I won’t have much time to take the music courses offered.”
His talent isn’t going to fade away anytime soon, though, and music has a way of permanently attaching itself to one’s future.
Bella admits with well-earned, smug joy, “I’ve sacrificed soccer and swimming for my music. I practice every day, so it takes time from my homework and any sports I could have done. But since I’ve been in music, it’s been everything to me, and I don’t miss anything that I’ve had to give up. It’s what I want to do with my life.” Rock on little sister …
Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in Crested Butte. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous blogs, mags and rags. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.