Here’s Pierre, taking stock of his life: He’s got the job on the Mountain, with plenty of time to ski, a place to live, and his “Honey” to take out dancing when he wants, and enough change in his pocket to have a beer or two in the bar. This is it.
So here he is, contemplating the seasons still to come, and wondering how long he can continue to do this, how long before too many people make it impossible. And what about Taos, when will it be time to move on? To keep this happening, this life. Because this is “The Life.”
Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.
“I mean, how many places can you go where both you and your dog get arrested in the same day?” — An anonymous blogger expresses contrasting modern times in Nederland
There is a sepia poster circulated like a freak flag since the early 1970s, depicting a proudly ragtag group of young hippies, a couple of local dogs basking in the dusty street and two horses tied out in front of the weathered Pioneer Inn in Nederland, Colorado. Nederland at the time had a population of fewer than 500 old miners and cowboys and was gaining popularity with the new breed of artistic city escapees who weren’t quite welcomed by the locals. The sign on the Pioneer Inn read, “No longhairs or unkempt beards allowed,” but that didn’t deter two of the Nederland poster children (and their dog) from simply purchasing the place and becoming town business owners in 1972. The first thing new owners Bunny Spangler and her husband of that time, Art Yeotis, did was to take down that damn sign. Music was the soul food of the era and Bunny started booking bands regularly to cater to the younger clan of those wilder Ned nights, created in part by the newfound sense of freedom living in survival mode in minimal housing in a town with few rules and even less law-keepers.
At the same time, the PI (as the locals called the Pioneer Inn) was making history as the scene of Wild West barroom culture, one of the most-beloved and sought-after recording studios in the history of music was being built close to the mining ghost town of Caribou just above Nederland as an escape from the madness of the rock-and-roll industry. James Guercio opened the now-legendary Caribou Ranch recording studio in 1973, luring well-known, top-notch musicians to the paradisiacal getaway of almost 5,000 acres and some of the best recording equipment and sound in the West. It became a destination studio, and the partial list of recording artists is extensive: The Beach Boys, Chicago, Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills, Earth, Wind and Fire, Joe Walsh, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, John Lennon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Michael Murphey, Tony Orlando, Michael Jackson, Amy Grant, David Cassidy, Eddie Rabbit, Billy Joe Shaver, Rod Stewart and U2, to drop but a few of the names.
The PI provided a venue for the Caribou Ranch superstars to unravel and relax without being hassled by relentless fans, since the Nedheads were a private, close-knit community who knew how to keep a secret and not ask questions. After working all day in the studio, jamming on the porch, playing pool or riding horses, the musicians would head for the PI to unwind, meld with the locals and jam with the homeboys, who were glad and humbled to have the diverse and amazing talent on stage with them, even though most of the Nederland crew could hold their own in music finesse. Some were so talented, they were asked to show up for recording sessions.
Teresa Taylor lived in Nederland and worked her way from maid to kitchen staff at Caribou Ranch in the mid-’70s through 1981 and remembers that the music that started up at Caribou would wind up at the Pioneer Inn. “They’d sit in with who ever was playing,” she says of the recording artists. “I remember one Halloween party when Joe Walsh came in with a football helmet covered with silver foil and antennae and sat in with a local band. He wanted to be incognito. Everything was peace, love, Rocky Mountain high and John Denver … it was a very innocent time. There was great music and great people in the mountains … people like Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg … no one thought anything of it. We were all connected. Caribou was connected to Nederland and the locals were quite proud of the PI and they were very loyal and protective of it,” Teresa recalls. “Everyone got to party and they did their jobs. Caribou got to put it on the map. It wasn’t a known fact in Boulder about all the famous people playing at the PI.”
One of the more popular groups of the Pioneer’s early times was the Rudy Toot Band, which became the unofficial house band. Thom Sontag, former drummer for the Rudy Toots, thinks he got to Nederland in ’76. “I went out there to get away from the rock-and-roll industry in N.J., so I moved to Colorado, landed in Boulder, and realized I couldn’t afford it. I was living in a fleabag hotel when I was told to drive up Boulder Canyon because there were musicians up there in Ned. I’ll never forget the smell of the air was so sweet and, in the morning I walked out on the deck and there was Nederland and I knew it’s what I came out here for.” As a talented new drummer in town, he found himself in a band immediately. “Two of the most amazing moments for me was when I was in the Ned supermarket checking out and the guy in front of me is staring at me. I looked at him and it was Fogelberg. I’m staring at his face. At the time, I looked like Randy Meisner, the Eagle’s bass player, and Dan says, ‘Do I know you?’ I said, ‘no, but I know you.’ He took his bag of groceries and walked out the door. Then, many months later, the Rudy Toots are playing a gig up at the Stage Stop in Rollinsville (above Nederland) and Dan walks in with his guitar slung over his shoulder, walks up to Mickey the bass player and asks to sit in. Mickey points at me and says, ‘Ask the boss.’ Dan says, ‘Hey, I know you!’ For me to jam with Fogelberg was an amazing experience. It happened over a dozen times throughout the years.”
The days of Nederland’s after-hours wildness and fistfights may be long gone, along with notorious locals who had hippie nicknames like Meadow Bill, Cowboy Sam, Orange Dog, Red Ted and Karl the snarky PI bartender of few words who tattooed “restroom” on his arm so he could just point the way. Caribou closed its doors after a 1985 fire consumed the studio’s control room. The Pioneer Inn’s long-time owner Bunny Spangler recently sold the celebrated bar after 40 years to get on with a new life and the last remnant of that era passed into a new generation of owners. Teresa Taylor attended the 40th reunion this past August, “The whole reason I wanted to go was just to hug Bunny and thank her. I don’t know how she did it all these years, but then she was the sober one. She kept it all together and she was the reason it stayed open that long. At the 25th reunion, we saw people we thought were dead. That was the one where everybody showed up. This 40th reunion had a lot of new locals.” Although the feral child of Boulder Canyon may have transformed and grown up somewhat, it is hoped that Nederland and the PI will always remain the redheaded wild stepchild in spirit.
Find Caribou Ranch and the Pioneer Inn on Facebook as well as:
In last month’s Mountain Music story, “Sing For Your Supper,” Hard Pressed’s website was regretfully listed incorrectly. Their correct url link is: www.reverbnation.com/hardpressed
Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living on an alley at the end of the road in Crested Butte’s paradise. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact email@example.com
Colorado string bands have never been shy about having their way with bluegrass. Whether it’s Hot Rize unleashing their honky-tonk alter egos Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, Leftover Salmon throwing ganja-fueled slamgrass hoedowns or the String Cheese Incident fusing glitchy electronica with fiddle runs, Rocky Mountain pickers have never been able to show much restraint when it comes to interpreting Bill Monroe’s high lonesome sound.
“The fans are really open minded to the looseness,” says Mike Chappell, who grew up checking out Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band in high school and now plays mandolin in the up-and-coming Fort Collins-based band, Head for the Hills. “It’s become the Colorado tradition to always take bluegrass somewhere else.”
With a license to explore the outer sphere of a genre many purists back in Appalachia regard as church, it’s no wonder a new crop of High Country renegades is once again reshaping the bluegrass mold.
From the experimental bluegrass breeding ground of Nederland, which birthed Salmon and Yonder Mountain, Elephant Revival has recently emerged with a unique brand of transcendental folk that covers a broad spectrum of the vast acoustic landscape. The band’s live show always delivers a full-fledged gypsy string band carnival with a refreshing mix of male and female vocals. The versatile group switches between dance-friendly fiddle tunes to high-minded newgrass improvisations to new age High Country folk songs to create an eclectic sound that’s all tied together with soaring harmonies that delicately float above the strings.
Through long nights at the Appaloosa Grill in downtown Denver, Oakhurst built a devoted Front Range following that stomps along to the rowdy string band’s rough-around-the-edges brand of Americana that mixes old-school Appalachian-flavored mountain songs with hints of rockabilly and alt-country.
“We don’t necessarily jam out long extended songs, like a lot of the Colorado scene,” says the band’s mandolin player, Max Paley. “We stay true to the bluegrass form, but we like to add elements of rock and outlaw country.”
When they’re not playing at home or satiating their many fans on the ski-town circuit, the group has begun to embark on some successful national tours. The band recently even let a little Nashville infiltrate their sound, when they visited Music City this past summer to record an upcoming album with producer Joe Pisapia (Guster, K.D. Lang).
“Some of the new material is in the vein of Mumford and Sons,” Paley adds. “We’re not afraid to mix bluegrass with some pop sensibilities.”
Rare bird alert. Spring Creek is a Colorado bluegrass band that largely plays it straight. The young crew taps into the soul of the traditional sounds of genre legends like Monroe and Del McCoury with polished picking and tight, ascending harmonies that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The group gained quick statewide cred in 2007 after winning the band competitions at both the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and Rockygrass. The band’s hard-driving, front-porch sound has helped foster a continually growing bluegrass scene in their Lyons hometown, especially at the Oskar Blues Brewery — where they play regularly.
If you catch a Whitewater Ramble show, don’t be surprised if the self-dubbed “high-octane Rocky Mountain dance grass band” makes you forget they’re playing acoustic instruments. With the pulsing backbeat of Luke Emig’s drums, the band takes a limitless approach to their acoustic strings, often exploding from a bluegrass base into psychedelic rock jams that touch on disco, funk, reggae and even house grooves.
On the band’s latest album, “All Night Drive,” they recruited keyboardist Steve Molitz of trance fusion outfit Particle and saxophonist Pete Wall to add even more layers to the multi-dimensional fiddle sawing of Adam Galblum and the effects-laden mando picking of Patrick Sites.
As a side note, if venue structure permits, watch out for upright bassist Howard Montgomery to play hanging upside down from the ceiling rafters.
Head for the Hills
With a simple formula of guitar, fiddle, mandolin and stand-up bass, Head for the Hills covers a lot of sonic ground. The young string crew formed back in 2004 as students at Colorado State University and has since grown from playing local dive bars to headlining the Poudre Canyon’s legendary Mishawaka Amphitheatre. A jamgrass outfit in line with successful predecessors like Yonder Mountain, the group is equally adept at picking a straight traditional like “Uncle Pen” or stretching the limits of an off-the-wall cover like Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.”
“We’re open to doing as much as possible on acoustic instruments,” says Chappell. “We tend to call it progressive bluegrass. We love the greats like Tony Rice and Sam Bush, but we also do an Iron Maiden song. It makes it a little hard to define.”
The group has received support and mentorship from Colorado bluegrass predecessors, as their recent self-titled album was produced by Salmon’s Drew Emmitt at the home studio of String Cheese’s Bill Nershi.
Jedd Ferris is the senior editor of Mountain Gazette’s sister publication, Blue Ridge Outdoors, for which he often pens music stories. He lives in Charlottesville VA.
It’s hard to get anyone to ski with you when you first start carrying a camera, because they think it slows them down, and makes them do things right, which it does.
Deiter was the only one in the ski school willing to give up his morning coffee break with the other instructors in order to ski the last of the powder on Bell Mountain with me, and have his picture taken doing so, as well.
Anyone who aspires to be a ski instructor needs to know how to do this, and what it looks like, in order to understand what he or she is trying to teach, and how to realize it on film. Otherwise, he is left in the realm of the “New School,” with nothing to teach, and nothing to learn. Too easy.
Senior correspondent Bob Chamberlain lives with his dog at 8,000 feet in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.
Like an anxious little puppy waiting for its treat, the busker’s hat sits in anticipation on the sidewalk, enticing, luring, siren-like but never begging, because the musician behind it is offering up his or her soul in twangy plunking, picking, bowing earnest for all who pass by. He’ll have an audience for about 30 seconds, sometimes a minute. Sometimes people will throw money into the hat. Sometimes people will sneak money out of the hat. Sometimes they’ll take the hat. But the wandering minstrel endures and has the benefit of praise and hopefully gifts … if he or she has a smidgen of talent. Of course, with a short-term audience, all the busker really has to do is learn three or four songs and learn them really well, since no one ever stays around long enough to hear more than that. Troubadours can go into a continuous loop and no one would know the difference. “Wow, that guy covers Neil Young perfectly!” Well, yeah, it’s the only song he knows.
This isn’t true of all buskers, of course. Paul McCartney once busked his tune “Yesterday” on a London street unrecognized and only heard the jingle of a few coins. Sting played the pavement with his hat pulled down and made £40 with no one noticing. Bruce Springsteen would show up on a corner with his guitar. Tracy Chapman began her career busking at Harvard Square. Bob Dylan was positively impromptu on 4th Street at SXSW in Austin. Even Benjamin Franklin was a street performer of his own composed songs, poetry and prose. He was the original beatnik, carrying on about current politics and selling printed copies of his work. No one notices buskers, especially in cities, because no one wants to look a busker in the eye for fear of getting his life story or, worse, feel guilted into dropping dollars into the case.
It’s far different in the mountains for street performers, whose music and efforts are usually appreciated and rewarded. Outside of a coffee shop in Crested Butte, three bohemians are playing on a combined 20 strings — two guitars and a mandolin, while down the street on a bench sits Alex Klivecka, with guitar in hand and banjo at the ready. Alex jumped ship from a Silicon Valley job and hit the road busking from San Francisco to Park City, Utah, to the Colorado Rockies. “I don’t play perfect,” he confesses without remorse. “I can come out for half an hour and leave whenever I want. The crowds are more forgiving.”
“Busking in the mountains is much more friendly than the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Pearl Street is the Fillmore of busking,” says Tyler Lucas, a multi-instrumentalist. “There’s a lot of talent down there. It’s cutthroat.”
Jackson Melnick is still a teenager, but has busked all over the world, and now performs on the streets of Crested Butte. “I think how cultures respond to buskers tells a lot about how they feel about the arts in general. People who support buskers are the people’s patrons,” Jackson adds with a boyish smirk. “It also depends on your skill level.”
Mountain genre leans toward folk music, Americana and bluegrass, and there’s usually someone sitting around playing Grateful Dead songs. The busker will get requests for everything from Pop Goes the Weasel from a four-year-old to a promenading group needing a birthday song. While it’s true your ear will catch mostly popular culture tunes that pay the most, there are the phenomena of young students at classical music camps who will go solo or gather for a sidewalk chamber concert in places like Aspen during their music festival.
The resilient stock on the beat will brave the extreme elements, oftentimes getting the sympathy or respectful rewards. Andrea Lecos and Cory Obert (hardpressed.com) have played the pavement of Telluride and Ouray and were set up on a sidewalk in Durango when one of those ominous mountain storms rumbled in, badly bruising the sky to black and purple. “It was a deluge, but we kept going,” says Andrea, who wasn’t about to let the climate come between she, her partner and their prospective audience. “It was pitiful, because the streets cleared out, but we wanted to play. An older gentleman who was listening to us started throwing money in our cases and then said, ‘better yet make it a wrap and I’ll buy you a drink next door.’ Even though we wanted to make more money, it was still fun and we could have cared less … we were singing at the top of our lungs to no one and someone got us drunk.”
Minstrel Greg Pettys, who’s traveled the planet via guitar and horn, thinks Telluride’s great for busking. “People take care of you with money, booze and nuggets. People are psyched on the music. They invite you in and, before you know it, you have food and a place to stay. Music opens the doors. When you’re camping in the summer, you can make some pretty good money in the mountains.” Jackson won’t easily part with his own hard-earned coin unless there’s good reason. “Sometimes if there’s an amazing gypsy jazz trio on the street, I don’t feel obligated to give money because they’re just into playing for people and they have lots of paying gigs. But when it’s a dirtbag hippie like myself and he wants that muffin from the health food store, then I’ll toss a buck in.” However, Tyler feels that twinge of guilt. “Sometimes I feel awkward — those begging eyes and droning Dead songs. You feel like you have to give them a dollar.”
Clever performers know how to capture their audiences, as Michael Ruffalo on guitar and Ted Bosler, wearing the washboard, used to. “We’d get on the Mountain Express shuttle bus with all the tourists going up to the ski area. The more we insulted them, the more they liked us and gave us more money,” says Ted, the frontman, who went through their shtick. “Ladies and gentlemen, you are on the musical bus. In case of the unlikely event of a water landing, please use your seat as a flotation device. You will, at the end, give us most or all of your money.” And in between the guffaws, the duo would play their silly tunes, all related to local businesses and events. “The tourists loved us and the locals would grab a six pack and ride around. At the end of the night, we’d go to the bar and spend it all,” the Crested Buttian proudly proclaims.
Andrea thinks the benefits outweigh the sometimes meager living eked out, so she continues on her troubadour track. “You never know what kind of magic can come out of busking. It’s beyond just playing. It’s beyond the coin in the cup. It’s who you reach out there. People will come up and say ‘thanks for making our day.’ You make them happy. Of course, you might make some crazy. It’s a good gig. You reach a ton of people. It’s very low key and there’s no stress of having to carry around your PA, getting to sound check on time, no stage fright and, if you forget the words to your song, who cares, because people really enjoy it anyway and you still make money.” And she feels one of the big perks of busking on the street is always being able to have your best friend with you. “You can tie your dog up to something while you play, but you could never bring your dog to a real gig … and if you have a really cute dog, you’ll get more tips.”
If there’s too much structure in your world, and you can play three or four chords on any instrument while crooning out a few tunes, you may want to consider chucking it all for a life of busking and a sense of independence. The world will truly be your stage.
Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer and musician who is ready to abandon any remaining semblance of structure and give in to her lack of time management to busk the streets of the world. Until then, she’s a feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly who’s been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re familiar with Netflix and you’re a mountain person, you might know that the Web-DVD and streaming movie service has “The Eiger Sanction,” the Clint Eastwood 1975 climbing-murder movie, available to stream directly to your computer. Aside from that and a handful of ski and snowboard porn films, the selection of mountain movies is somewhat limited. If you’ve ever sat at home and wished you could watch a climbing or skiing movie without having to pay $29.95 to own it, you’ll want to check out SteepEdge.com, where you can stream, or buy digitally, hundreds of films on kayaking, mountain culture, climbing, adventure racing, mountaineering, mountain
biking, polar adventure and other topics. Films can be rented for three days of watching for $4-$6, or purchased for $12-$25. The selection is mostly British and European films, and is heavy on climbing — but my hope is that someone in the U.S. would be inspired by the idea and start a similar business on this side of the Atlantic — kind of like we did with “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” Steep Edge was imagined as “virtual mountain film festival” by seven British founders who are climbers, hikers, cyclists and entrepreneurs, some of whom founded the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in the U.K. in 1979. steepedge.com
Podcast: Off Belay Podcast with Chris Kalous and Jamie Lynn Miller
Chris Kalous and Jamie Lynn Miller have a lot to say about climbing, and almost none of it is about sponsored athletes, the newest, flashiest gear, or news in the world of climbing, The Off Belay Podcast is a candid discussion of the important stuff. How candid? Well, maybe your dog doesn’t belong at the crag. Or your kid. Maybe you should stop bitching when you show up at Indian Creek, the most-famous crag in Colorado (oh, it’s in Utah?), and there are dozens of other people there. Chris and Jamie have had a few guests on the show, but the highlight is their own banter — whether it’s about online climbing forums, guns, hung draws or whatever. Between the two of them, Chris and Jamie have written for Climbing, Rock and Ice, Elevation Outdoors, Women’s Adventure, 303 Magazine, Men’s Health, the Snowmass Sun and others. And oh yeah, the Mountain Gazette, where Chris was the gear editor for a number of years. Jamie Lynn is also an on-air personality at Aspen Public Radio’s Sonic Byways. The Off Belay Podcast might be the most fun you’ll have listening to two people you don’t know talk about climbing you haven’t done. offbelaypodcast.com
“Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms & Lingo,” by Matt Samet
Want to talk like a real climber, but don’t want to make a faux pas at the crag by misusing the word “pinkpoint” in a sentence? Fear not. Longtime climbing writer (and former editor of Climbing magazine) Matt Samet has you covered with the new “Climbing Dictionary” from Mountaineers Books. Not just a reference for newbies — although it is, explaining hundreds of basic terms from abseil to Z-clip — Samet provides plenty of entertainment explaining less-familiar terms like “aggrosheen” (n., profuse perspiration dripping from a climber) and “satchel therapy” (n., mental training learned by doing long runouts). Usage examples abound, i.e., G-climbing (n., alpine groveling, a play off sport-mixed or M-climbing): “The Emperor Face of Mount Robson is mega for G-climbing: Shattered limestone and shale plastered in snow and rime. Might I suggest the 5800-foot House-Haley, a WI5 M7?” More than 650 definitions are covered in the book’s 250 pages, with accompanying illustrations by veteran climbing artist Mike Tea. The “Climbing Dictionary” would make a great gift for a climber close to you when you don’t know what kind of gear to buy them, or a great addition to your bathroom shelf if you are a climber. $15, mountaineersbooks.org