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