Honey Island Swamp Band claims its Bayou Americana makes you smarter, thinner and better looking — but frontman Aaron Wilkinson also admits to being a fifth-generation North Florida redneck.
The musicians have traveled from their home base in New Orleans throughout the West to play in such fine establishments as The Goat Soup & Whiskey in Keystone and Whiskey Jacques in Ketchum, Idaho; this Fourth of July, the band, voted Best Roots Rock Artist in OffBeat’s 2010 Best of the Beat Awards, hits the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Ore.
Wilkinson wasn’t sure what to expect when the band began touring Colorado’s mountain towns, even though now, after years of traveling, they’re all beginning to blur together, he said.
“First time I’d ever really seen mountains, so I was all wide-eyed and full of wonder,” Wilkinson said. “Guess I kind of had an idealistic vision of what it would be like, nature and all.”
About six years ago, he and his crew followed a Telluride-area local to “secret” hot springs back in the hills.
“The city slickers in the band were huffing pretty heavy,” he said about the hike, which was a piece a cake for the locals. “You’re not prepared for that thin air, and we don’t exactly lead the healthiest lifestyles anyway. But after about an hour and a half of stopping every 50 yards so that my 55-year-old emphysemic drummer didn’t keel over and die, we come upon the spot.”
Situated at the bottom of a rocky bluff, it was gorgeous, just as advertised. Only problem: It wasn’t so secret; a rather portly man soaked in the pool with his cluster of kids — and at least a case of empty, crushed Busch cans beside him.
“He had on this bright red bandanna and a pair of those heinous reflective Oakley Blades,” Wilkinson said. “He’s all, ‘Come on in and join us,’ and we probably would have, given what we went through to get there.”
Just as the band was about to join the pool party, a train appeared on the ridge across the river, and the 6’6” man stood up, hollering and flipping off the train.
“Turns out, he’s butt-ass naked,” Wilkinson said. “Proud of it too. With his kids right there in the pool with him. Giving that train all he’s got and all God ever gave him.
“Needless to say, we didn’t join him, but then and there I realized something: Florida, Louisiana, Colorado — there are rednecks everywhere in this world, God bless ’em.”
Kimberly Nicoletti is the entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Silverthorne, Colo.
A good adventure-sports movie, no matter what sport it covers, usually accomplishes one thing: It makes you, the viewer, want to go out and do whatever it is those athletes are doing on film in that beautiful location, at your own speed — mountain biking, climbing, skiing, whatever. “Cold” is an achievement in that, instead of inspiring you to climb an 8,000-meter peak in winter, it makes you want to go home, curl up in the fetal position under a down comforter, and not come out.
The film begins with photographer and climber Cory Richards hunkered down in a tent at 21,959 feet, as the viewer is informed that the temperature is -51 degrees F., and can see that the inside of the tent is covered in snow. Richards asks, “What the fuck am I doing here?” And over the next 20 minutes of the film, you will ask the same thing. Richards and mountaineers Simone Moro and Denis Urubko summited 26,362-foot Gasherbrum II on Feb. 2, 2010, succeeding in the first winter ascent of an 8,000-meter peak in the Karakorum Range.
“Cold” gives you an up-front seat to all the post-holing, avalanche burials, whiteouts and the high-altitude coughs. Anson Fogel assembled Richards’ tirelessly filmed footage, and, with writing help from Kelly Cordes, won the Best Adventure Film at the 5Point Film Festival this spring. This is not three guys smiling for one moment in a summit photo. It’s real pain, cold, suffering and misery — high-altitude winter mountaineering at its best. It may not be inspiring, but it is amazing.forgemotionpictures.com
In his third book, author and University of Colorado professor James McVey takes the reader along on his experiences in the backcountry — hiking, running rivers, backcountry skiing and fishing — and provides scholarly depth in each experience, weaving history, ecology and philosophy into classic nature writing. McVey draws on 20 years of venturing into Colorado’s backcountry, from places as popular as Boulder’s Chautaqua Park to the solitude of a post-rafting season run of the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument.
The collection of essays in “The Way Home” provides rich writing with a solid balance of adventure and nature, and the question of our place in all of it. McVey writes of a day of backcountry skiing on Wolf Creek Pass: “But the truth is, something else drives us out here to the geographic backbone of the continent. What lurks there in our tangled psyches? What genetic baggage left over from the days of sabertooths and woolly mammoths?” $19.95. uofupress.com
Somebody once said to me, “You sure do a lot of things you don’t want to do!” Well, I don’t know, last week I had my feet up, cruising on Trout Lake in my little slip of a sailboat, and now I’m looking at a sign pointing out the trail to Hope Lake. Great! That’s me, Hope Lake!
So it’s Hope, hope hope, “the Boys are Marching!” Hope, hope, I hope it’s not too far! I hope, hope hope it’s really worth it! I hope there’s snow, I hope the wildflowers are out around the lake. I hope there’s not a lot of mud from the run-off to slog through, I hope there’s a rock to sit down, so I can put my ski boots on. I hope no one has to see this grizzly knee brace I have to wear. Hope I can hide my shame from the full, bright summer sunlight.
It’s okay, Peter is already near the top of the couloir, he won’t see a thing! I hope I can catch up. Catch up, up, up, and wipe the sweat out of our eyes. Hope, hip and a hop, and we’re on the top!
Peter goes first, so I can shoot a pass-by, my un-favorite type of ski photo. The Nikon goes into my jacket, and then I’m off! What a relief just to let ’em run, after a whole winter of squeezing through the trees! I pass Peter by, because it’s just so easy to keep on going, over the sun-cups freeze-melt, long, wide turns — “SVOO-pers!” — and then you’re down. Right to the edge of the scree. But how could it be over so soon? There’s got to be more!
That’s Hope Lake — hope, hope, all the way home! What’s “Hope”? Hope is just having a project into the future. Something like, “Live to Ski Another Day.”
Charles “Chongo” Victor Tucker III is one of the most legendary dirtbags in the history of dirtbags, and probably the most-famous dirtbag in the history of Yosemite. I paid full price for his book instead of asking for a free “review copy” (as is the standard) because as Chongo says, “I live outdoors, which I guess you might call a homeless lifestyle.” He sleeps outdoors in Sacramento because, in 2005, a two-day court trial ended with Chongo being removed from Yosemite National Park, guilty of three misdemeanor violations of camping regulations.
As far as I know, this is the first-ever review of his book. What is the book? Somewhere between the “Tao Te Ching” and the “Tao of Willie”: An 89-page collection of maxims from Chongo on being bitchin’, one per page. Example: “The road to not being bitchin is paved with illusions of being so”; and “If it was bitchin once but not now, then it was never bitchin in the first place”; and “Pride derived from power is cowardice disguised as courage.” If you can’t meet Chongo — and I haven’t, besides reading his profile in the New York Times and the YouTube video on him from ad agency Ogilvy & Mather — I would guess this is the next best thing. Spiral-bound copies are $20 plus $3 shipping. chongonation.com
You’re sitting on a stool in some mountain dive bar where the music is beyond the aural spectrum your ears can handle, which is OK, because the melodic nuances were lost at the bottom of that fifth pint and shot you ordered. In this scenario, it’s not likely that you’d be musing about the origin of your historic watering hole and the various music genres that have bounced around the dance floor, but it’s staggering in more ways than the obvious to visualize what may have come before. Tap into the collective wildness of its previous incarnations and perhaps in your elevated consciousness ask yourself, “Where am I?”
… a roadhouse, honky-tonk or just a dive?
According to Dr. Chani Marchiselli, a Colorado mountain native and now a Professor of Communications at New England College, “Roadhouses developed outside of municipalities that had been subject to zoning and regulatory acts put forward by Progressive Reformers who were interested in saving cities and towns from the scourge of noisy, drunken dance halls and their attendant business and prostitution. Roadhouses developed in the teens and 1920s when they wouldn’t allow dance halls and sometimes alcohol consumption so houses moved outside (of town and city limits) to avoid regulations. They were made possible by the invention of the autos.” Although given an understandably bad rap, Dr. Marchiselli explains that teetotalers shouldn’t be bashed since their main thrust was to curtail the exploitation of women. “They were interested in banning alcohol in cities because husbands would work in dank, dirty factories, get drunk and then beat the shit out of their wives. So a lot of the Progressive Social Reformers were concerned about how wives were treated.”
Honky-tonks came later, as did the music so associated with those venues that it eventually came to bear the name. Jazz came out of the brothels of New Orleans and the nastiest honky-tonks of the West. Dr. Marchiselli adds that honky-tonks get “blamed” for some of the raunchy influence on American music, mostly ragtime and jazz. “Roadhouses were out of town; honky-tonks were basically filthy folk-music saloons and, like roadhouses, were associated with prostitution and suspension of social order. Honky-tonks were usually associated with out West and a particular kind of music and they were really rowdy … and mountain honky-tonks were way off the maps (as far as unruliness). Hymnals actually influenced country and blues.” Country music didn’t show up in honky-tonks until the 1930s.
Craig McManus, a popular KBUT radio (kbut.org, Crested Butte) country music DJ and bass player in rock-and-roll bands for a couple of decades, thinks the true honky-tonk is either dying or just plain dead and, if nothing else, on its last breath in the mountains. “The road house is usually in between two small towns, like the Almont Resort between Crested Butte and Gunnison or The Sleepy Cat between Meeker and Buford,” both of which McManus has frequented. Although The Sleepy Cat was turned into a private residence by new owners, long-time owners of the original roadhouse, the Wix family, plan to eventually build another close by to appease the pleas from area locals who miss the joint’s good times. The Almont Resort, with some of its cabins dating back to the late-1800s, is still a place for a raucous evening of drinks, live music and dancing.
Between Bond and Wolcott, State Bridge was another off-the-beaten-path roadhouse with all the fixins’ of music, dance and rowdiness that unfortunately burned to the ground in 2007 when a vexed burglar doused the resistant ATM machine with gasoline and set it ablaze. Scott Stoughton, the current Social Chairman of the newly rebuilt Eagle County lodge, says it was once a haven for trappers, traders, miners and cowboys. “Before the fire, since the early days, it was a little hotel, a brothel, a trading post and later a speakeasy during Prohibition. It rebounded with rafting and music throughout the 1980s and ’90s for bikers, rafters, fisherman and hippies. It was rocking until the fire.” Its grand reopening last month (June 2011) included concerts and music on the newly rebuilt stages.
McManus observed that there weren’t really any rules for roadhouses and honky-tonks unless patrons went past the unwritten allowable, and you could get away with even more after midnight. “These were venues where the people living out in the rural mountain areas could meet, listen to live bands, drink and not worry about the laws and the rules. On most occasions, you could find a crap game or two going on in the bar.” Music that was played in more-isolated honky-tonks tended to be good-time country bands. “I talked to somebody who played rock-and-roll in a country bar and every time they played that type of song it would rain beer bottles. They had been hired by mistake because of a misunderstood name the band had. But if you’re musically inappropriate in a place like this, the audience will let you know physically that you’re in the wrong place. I have played behind a caged stage to protect bands from flying burgers and beer bottles.”
McManus feels the death of honky-tonks is because of several reasons, “One reason is the DUI, but that’s one of the reasons they had their own cabins. Secondly, country music — true country music — has lost most of its venues and there are less country bands regionally. People aren’t going out as much anymore, either. I remember the honky-tonks’ hardwood floor with sawdust, a lot of dancing and drinking and you wouldn’t dare ask for a martini because it was a shot-and-beer place … American beers, thank you. And you better not talk to any pretty girls unless you know who their boyfriend is or was because he may still be there and it doesn’t matter if he ain’t seeing her anymore — you ain’t.” McManus describes the basic difference between a roadhouse honky-tonk and a dive as, “The number of Harleys out front. If it’s a honky-tonk, there would be pickup trucks in the parking lot. If you see one SUV, move on … it’s been turned.”
Although true mountain roadhouses and honky-tonks have either transformed or disappeared into the setting sun, saloons with their odoriferous air of fermentation, dance floors and music are still alive and well at high-altitude locales and worth much exploration … which surely means a future Mountain Music story of its own.
Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in a tiny cottage with a ginormous cat 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
Late Thursday evening, early spring, van driving hard toward Pagosa Springs on the yearly penance run to the Front Range for a weekend of old friends, bluegrass, weirdness and beer at the Boulder Theater.
No snow yet in the graying sky, but “The Wolf” to cross — Wolf Creek Pass, among the upper class of high-mountain passes in the West, and no interstate or magic tunnel to guide us into the night. Stones wailing in our ears, the yet-frozen forest of the high-alpine passes into night as we careen down into South Fork, Del Norte and on through forgotten space towards Saguache. Darkness takes the snow-bound heights, clouds descend and snow flurries scatter in the metal-halide glare of the state prison as we enter Buena Vista.
Our destination this eve is the Eddyline Brewery, a newer participant in the Colorado micro-brewing movement. Located on the banks of the Arkansas River in the “South Main” area of B.V., it is a partner organization to the Socorro Springs Brewing Co., in Socorro, NM. (Author’s note: Fayhee gives Socorro Springs a hearty thumbs up, as he has found himself dry-of-mouth in Socorro on numerous occasions.) You ain’t late if you make last call, and doing so, it was beers and wood-fired pizzas all ’round. The brew was solid, and following the opening of an additional production facility this spring, will be available in 16-ounce “pounders” by high summer. It is always good to find a friendly brewery after an arduous drive, and even better to find one with nearby riverside parking for “stealth camping” in the van (which was kindly pointed out to us by the lovely bartender). It is this type of experience that defines the mountain-town vibe for me, and awaking to the glory of the Collegiate Peaks shining in the mountain sun across the valley the next morning, I needed no explanation why the motto in B.V. is, “Life is Better When You’re High.”
By June in the High Country, the clear snowmelt is running from the peaks, and beer is flowing in the hills at the many brewfests that grace the region. To begin, the 17th Annual Mountain Brewers Festival will be held in Idaho Falls on the 4th, featuring eight breweries from Idaho and a host of others from the Pacific Northwest, Montana, Utah and Colorado.
Depending on where you are in the state of Colorado on June 11, two festivals, both celebrating their second anniversary, require attendance. The first is the Boulder Sourfest, hosted by Avery Brewing. Think the kool-aide that Lindeman’s mass-markets as a Lambic-style beer is authentic? Well, stop by Sourfest, and think again. Celebrating all things wild, as in wild yeast and “spontaneously fermented” beers, this event will introduce the participant to flavor components of beer described as barnyard, earthy, goaty, hay and my personal favorite, horseblanket. Not for the faint of palate, Lambics, Guezes and sour beers are a connoisseur’s delight.
The second event is Silverton Rockin’ Brews, taking place at 9,318 feet of elevation up in Silverton, CO. The organizer, Silverton Brewing Co., was damaged when a tragic fire burned several historic buildings in town this past spring, including the brewery and taproom. This event will coincide with their reopening after being closed for repairs. Breweries from across the Western Slope will be pouring, and music will be playing under the big top tent.
June 24-26 is host to four events. Big Sky Brewing Co. in Missoula, MT, will host its annual BBQ Festival on the 25th. Less about beer and more about meat, last year’s event pitted BBQ cooked up by eight local restaurants against discerning BBQ aficionados from all over Montana. Big Sky’s offerings will be on tap to cool the heat, with live music throughout the day.
In Summit County, CO, look for the Summit of Bluegrass and Brews to take place over two days on the 24th & 25th at the Lake Dillon Amphitheater. Featuring national bluegrass acts and beer from breweries from all over Colorado, the event is a fundraiser for the Colorado Brewers Guild.
The 22nd annual Colorado Brewers Festival hits downtown Fort Collins on the 25th & 26th. An old favorite of mine from my days at Colorado State University, this is a full-on party that consumes Old Town.
And finally, the Made in the Shade Beer Tasting Festival will take place at Fort Tuthill County Park in Flagstaff, AZ, on the 25th. Featuring 50 beers from across the Southwest and around the world, this is the place to be if you’re down in the A-Z.
Rock-and-roll musicians have always been associated with survival, tagged as scrappers and road warriors who party all night after eating copious plates of food at wedding and corporate gigs, washing it all down with the host’s top-shelf liquor and still able to charm the garters off bridesmaids for a scandalous evening. Back in the day, it was a well-earned badge as your equipment-loaded van screamed into a slide of death at 3 a.m. on a recently closed mountain pass in a white-out blizzard. All this just to get to get to that next club gig, which paid a pittance, comped greasy burgers or nachos and if the bartender took a shine to you, free drinks. If you really scored, the club put you up in the band crash pad with the unidentifiable sticky black gunk on the shag carpet, cigarette burns on the couch and the sagging mattresses where half the town’s women spent the night with one or all of the previous weeks’ band members. But hey, they were paying jobs and for most of the musicians who were fortunate to live through the historic cornucopia of mountain gigs twenty and thirty years ago, the times have now changed. It’s an evolution of perspective, economics, aging and staying afloat. No, we’re not growing up, just redefining priorities and transposing the way music is created, performed and sold.
Music business is conducted in a far different manner than it was a couple of decades ago, primarily due to the internet reinterpreting how audiences all over the world access and listen, as well as how artists promote. Mountain musicians who have had to be especially good at creating market have expanded the parameters of their careers by reaching a limitless online audience.
Once upon a time, when gigs were plentiful, talented musicians could make a decent living playing full time and not have to take second jobs waiting tables or cleaning toilets until discovered by a talent agent. But much of that changed in the mid-’90s, according to Chuck Hughes, who’s been a band leader for forty years in various incarnations of Top 40 to Rockabilly with Chucky & the Cyclones and currently the Colorado-based Hillbilly Hellcats. “The DUI was the downfall of band gigs. That’s not to say that you don’t have several bands at any given time whose popularity will overcome any social or economic condition, like Big Head Todd, The Fray, Leftover Salmon, String Cheese, but DUI affected the fortunes of eighty or ninety percent of the bands.” Chuck attributes his musical longevity to a very basic essentiality. “I had no other marketable skills. I started out in the ’70s playing six nights a week in a Top-40 band and teaching guitar lessons in a store. Back then, for three-nighters, a quartet would be making $100 per person per night at a club and on six-nighters, maybe $80 a night. In the mid-’90s, we’d play mountain gigs where you got a condo, a ski pass and food for a six-night gig.”
Chris Daniels and the Kings formed back in 1984, and they’ve been playing consistently for the past twenty-seven years. “It’s very difficult these days. Bands now have to be incredibly versatile to make a living just playing music. In the old days, we could do a circuit,” he says of the glut of clubs, many which no longer exist as music venues. “You’d play six nights a week and, after six weeks, you’d come through and do the circuit again. Now it’s three or four bands per night at one club. Instead of making a $1,000, you’re making $200.” As far as traveling to mountain-town gigs, Chris says, “We do mostly mountain festivals; summer concert series are what we tend to play now as opposed to the mountain bars. Our crowd is older now. They want to go out with their kids and a basket full of chicken. They don’t want to go out to a bar with twenty-one-year-olds and do Jager shots and throw up.”
Back when there were agents doing much of the promoting and booking, bands didn’t have to hustle as much as they do now. Musicians do their own marketing these days, advertising in specialty magazines on both local and national levels. With a single posting on your band’s Facebook page, your closest one to five thousand friends across the globe get the party going and the club packed out in their town. “Artist management is basically handled by the artist these days as opposed to the old days where the first thing you tried to do was get a manager,” Chris says.
With club venues generally shrinking for live music, bands have taken their sound abroad, especially to the lucrative European market, where audiences are educated about the music itself. Chris, who also teaches music business and both rock-and-roll and jazz music history at the University of Colorado’s Denver campus, believes, “Europeans understand the history of the music that’s being played, whereas most American audiences tend not to know that they’re hearing a blues band or the roots of the music.” Chuck found that Europeans don’t look at your age. “The Europeans are first impressed by the fact that you’re an American band playing American roots music and not the newest commercial flavor of the month. They feel they’re experiencing authentic American roots and they’re much more interested.”
The indie musician licensing business started to kick in through the internet around 2001. Chuck’s band, which had forty songs on MP3.com, was contacted by pumpaudio.com. “They wanted to license all of our songs for TV and movies. I thought it was typical music biz jive talk but nonetheless I filled out all the paperwork and checks started coming in. By 2005, our income had switched to music licensing, music downloads and live shows.”
Apparently age and experience also initiated a generational paradigm shift in the band collective concerning the continual sex, drugs and party-seeking factor of rock-and-roll. Chuck feels, “When you’re twenty-something, you’ll think nothing of staying up all night and getting wasted if you think you’re gonna get laid, but when you’re older, you ask yourself, ‘Is it worth it?’ And it’s not novel anymore,” he admits in a been-there-done-that tone. Chris agrees that stereotypical endless rock-and-roll recreation is not for his age group. “The days of groupies end when you reach your mid-forties. What becomes important for me is the music, more important than the party, much more important than hanging out with a twenty-year-old who wants to talk about Lady Gaga.”
One thing hasn’t changed and won’t likely anytime in the future — musicians are still paying those hard-earned, steamroller, low-down, whippin’-post dues … but that’s what gives them the rock-ribbed, metamorphic tenacity to carry on.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Being the road-traveling warrior he is, MURS, who’s played Breckenridge and other mountain towns this season, thought he had seen it all — until he met Denver’s hip-hop mom a few years ago.
He showed up for a gig, only to hear minutes later, “MURS — Your mom’s here, and she brought food.” He ignored it, sayin’ his mama was in South Central, but the announcements continued. “Someone’s mom is here.” Finally, the band checked it out, only to find a short, white, middle-aged grandmother who had stormed onto the tour bus, homemade pecan pie in hand.
“I’m the hip-hop mom,” she proclaimed. “I just thought I’d bring you some food, made with fresh herbs I cut from my garden.”
“I was so nervous to eat the food — I was thinking, ‘Who are you? Who does this? Are you gonna poison us?’ but I was so hungry, and it was so good,” MURS said.
And the encounter didn’t end with an innocent piece of pie. A few months later, she barged backstage at the Fillmore to lecture MURS, De La Soul and a couple other hip-hop artists on some different pieces of pie.
“I know you guys have no idea how to [have sex] — you think just because you have big penises you know how to [have sex],” she said.
After clearly getting the boys’ attention, she hit ’em with a freestyle rap.
“It just flowed out of her,” MURS said. “She just emasculated the black male.”
Apparently, she was just revving up.
“It went over the top; there was some descriptions,” MURS said. “But she said she was only trying to help the women of Colorado we’re gonna sleep with.”
Taking a turn into detainment
After touring Western mountain towns, MURS headed back east, but took a wrong turn into Canada, by way of a Niagara Falls detour. MURS had invited a friend on the road trip and let him drive, with a firm instruction: “Do not cross the border. I have horror stories about crossing the border.” Despite the warning, his friend accidentally took the bridge of no return. As he made a U-turn, America’s finest Border Patrol stood, waiting to greet them. Patrol didn’t care about the band getting lost; they immediately pulled all eight people out of the van, pairing them up with one armed guard per person.
Apparently, responding to the request to fill out required paperwork with, “I don’t have to fill out shit because I didn’t go anywhere” doesn’t go a long way with border cops. They detained the men for three hours. Actually, the guys may have gotten away with the smart-ass remark, if the cops hadn’t found a ski mask and fake gun when they started searching the van. Seems the DJ thought the props made a funny skit on stage — but not so much on the border. From there, it got worse:
“One of the guys on the road with us was a felon, so he wasn’t allowed to cross into Canada. (The patrol) searched the van and asked if there’s weed in there,” MURS said, “And he said, ‘Of course there’s weed, and I’m the felon with the weed.’”
As MURS tells it, the cops finally let them go, saying, “Just get the fuck out of here.” Luckily, patrol never discovered the machete stashed near the side of the van; they probably wouldn’t have bought the story that MURS was just trying to be a good citizen. But, it’s true: During a break at their previous gig, they found a machete next to a beer in the back alley.
“We threw the beer out, but we didn’t think it was smart to let a guy who was drinking go around with a machete,” MURS said.
Naw, it’s a much more solid plan to transport the machete across the border.
Kimberly Nicoletti is the entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Silverthorne, Colo.