Exploring Durango's Bluegrasss roots
Durango Bluegrass Meltdown returns for its ninth year

A 1923 Gibson mandolin waits to take part in a Salty Dogs performance at Carvers on Monday. /Photo by Todd Newcomer.

In the year 1945, a Kentucky mandolin player named Bill Monroe named his band The Blue Grass Boys. With that one move, bluegrass became a musical genre, bringing forth mountain ballads and the harmonies of heartfelt performers.

Like a cherished story, bluegrass music has been handed down through the years and morphed with modernity, and now has found a home in the present.

And bluegrass music has found a comfortable home in Durango, Colorado. Over the past two decades, a thriving and entertaining bluegrass scene has swept over Durango. Memories of playing and singing bluegrass in Durango over the years are at times blurred by the passage of years.

Many of these memories are of informal bluegrass picks out at Haggard’s Black Dog Tavern, being awestruck by heroes on the Diamond Circle stage, staying up countless nights talking history and singing songs with friends, and experiencing the joys of performers and audiences alike at many a Durango bluegrass show.

Throughout, the ideals of community and friendship have thrived in the local scene, as evidenced by local music shops, bands, audiences, and venues. Bluegrass in this area has become more than a musical genre, but also a way of life.

Patrick Dressen has lived, loved and played music in Durango since the early 1980s. He is not only the flat-picking guitarist of The Badly Bent, Durango’s traditional balladeers, he is also one of the many treasured resident historians of Durango bluegrass.

In the early 1980s, Durango was not immersed in the active bluegrass daze that’s found on any given weekend these days, according to Dressen. Fans of the music were lucky if one national act a year came through town, and local bands were far and few between. But that is not to say that they were not there.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, a small but ever-growing number of musicians not only formed bands, but also friendships that have lasted to this day. Dressen described with vivid detail the days of the Animas Valley Boys pickin’ and singin’ down at the Southwest Coffee House on Main Avenue.

Immaculate detail and workmanship are characteristic of this Dan Beard resophonic guitar. /Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The Celtic sounds of the Wild Geese could be heard at local dances and the bluegrass performances of the Rusty Razor Band would always bring a cheer to the crowd at Farquarht’s for the Folk and Bluegrass Series on Sunday nights.

What lingered and strengthened over the years were the close ties and life lessons of the band members and fans that faithfully gave their support.

Speaking with Bruce Alsopp, co-owner of Canyon Music Woodworks, on the broad subject of music in Durango is like hearing the wise words of a Guru atop the high reaches of a peak.

Inside the doors of Canyon Music, a philosophy emerges amidst the handcrafted instruments. From his revolutionary statement of “Blow up your TV and play music” to his heartfelt belief that music transcends all boundaries and creates positive social change, Alsopp has created an environment in which all are welcome.

The vision for Canyon Music Woodworks first came to light during an early 1990s bluegrass gig in Telluride. While playing in a band of yesteryear known as the Wingnuts, banjo player Bruce Alsopp envisioned an all-acoustic instrument shop in a southwestern town. Driving back to the gridlock chaos of Boulder, he knew the time had come.

Within a year Alsopp and his wife, Alicia, had made Durango their home, and their living room was the original Canyon Music.

Over the years, the store has grown from living room, to barn, to the immaculate shop on East Second Avenue. But Alsopp said that the true inspiration is not within the acoustic instrument laden walls, but with the enduring philosophy of community, interaction, and education. “It is imperative in our ever-polarizing society to communicate more,” Alsopp said. “Music is a form of communication that crosses over all social divisions, and its power to persuade, introduce, and educate towards positive social changes is invaluable.”

The lasting connections between Durango’s bygone bluegrass days and the blossoming present can be seen in venues such as Storyville and Haggard’s, which always love to book a bluegrass act; it can also be seen in Durango’s staggering 11 or so bluegrass bands that make the rounds through bars, festivals, benefits and, of course, many a back porch.

But the bond between today and years past was not an explosion by any means; it was instead a long climb by faithful fans and hardworking musicians.

In the early nineties, as the ever rising tides of bluegrass began making an entrance into the Durango music scene, the time had come to organize.

Combining a dedication to community values and a true reverence for traditional bluegrass, The Durango Bluegrass Meltdown was born largely through the efforts of longtime, local musician Mike Burke. Burke was the first to emphasize that no endeavor can be brought about by one man, but instead by “conspirators.”

With the steadfast support of his wife, Sandy, and local musicians Larry Boyce, Steve Williams, Hugh Felt and Jack Tallmadge (to name a few), The Meltdown has become a culmination of the local talents and community-centered philosophies of the town of Durango.

At its conception and to this day, the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown is a get-together for friends and family, for fans of bluegrass music and for members of the Durango community.

The results of the Meltdown’s eight years of success can be seen this weekend, April 11-13 at the ninth annual festival.

Eleven local bands, four regional bands and five top-quality national bluegrass bands will be playing at the Diamond Circle Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and within the antiquity of the Railroad Museum.

Besides the main stage acts, several events will aim to bring the participating audience member closer to the participating musician.

These happenings include the Band Showcase, the Band Scramble, singer/songwriter shows, bluegrass in the schools and several instrument and vocal workshops for all levels of skill, interest and knowledge of bluegrass music.

This ladder has allowed numerous local musicians to excel, form bands, and become acts themselves down the road.

The caliber of musicianship participating in this year festival is also stellar. From Grammy award-winners and players rooted in Appalachia to locals who have known and played bluegrass for decades and are working to carry on the genre, this will be a Meltdown to remember.

The Badly Bent will sing out the eerie song of death, Butcher Boy, to a silent crowd at the Diamond Circle Theatre. The Stoney Creek Ramblers will play unpolished drinking tunes on the back of a flatbed truck with the La Plata Mountains as their backdrop. And the Blue Moon Ramblers will perform together to the whiskey toting patrons of the Diamond Belle Saloon.

This weekend will show that the road of bluegrass is well-trodden through the town of Durango.

The Meltdown has been bringing bluegrass to Durango for nine years. It is an undertaking that joins the forces of volunteers, bands, and businesses and the result is absolutely for the fans.







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