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:

www.caribouranchradio.com

www.pioneerinnnederland.net

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

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

4 Comments

  • Cowboy Sam says:

    Great artical. I lived in ned from 72 to 82.

  • Bob Alphabet says:

    Ned head from 76-77. It was a magical place. Where else could you get picked up by America hitching down the canyon, meet Carole King at lunch at the Branding Iron, and jam with Dan at the Toots house after the PI closed. Cowboys (hey Sam) and hippies , musicians and skiers, it was a vortex for talented and free spirited folks from across the country. Enjoyed the article…

  • Jim Hilton says:

    Great story!

  • Hey Cowboy Sam! It’s me, Rose…from Frank & Rosie! I also lived in Nederland from 1970-1989. I worked at Caribou Ranch from 1972-1983 and was part of the magical history we all experienced there. It was a time we will never forget.

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