The Derby, real country and ‘afro-coustics’

by Chris Aaland

Horses and I don’t get along. Never have, never will. Growing up on a ranch on Silt Mesa near Rifle, I had the pleasure of riding and feeding the beasts during my formative, pre-teen years. They bit me, kicked me, bucked me and gnashed their teeth at me. Aside from a few pack trips, I’ve found little use for them.

Still, like most sporting types, I look forward to each May as 3-year-old thoroughbreds run for the roses in the Kentucky Derby. I recall vivid images of Grandma Smith’s parlor filled with miniature ponies, Remington prints and well-worn Walter Farley books. I also remember seeing the motley collection of cowboys, hippies, construction workers and musicians that was my Rifle family, all gathered ’round the TV to watch horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed win Triple Crowns. With those memories still etched in my mind, I even tried to master the mint julep this year – a classic cocktail that’s been all but put out to pasture, save for one Saturday each May. With all the major supermarkets out of fresh mint, I turned to a natural foods store on Saturday afternoon for some tasty, aromatic, organic herbs. An hour later with a bottle of bourbon in hand, I employed my wooden muddler for its first non-rum cocktail. Strangely, nobody else at the party could tolerate the classic mix of bourbon, mint, sugar and crushed ice. What was more telling was the fact that hardly any of the two dozen partygoers showed much interest in the race itself. The sport of kings has become a blood-doped, steroid-enhanced monster. Euthanized horses, like 2008 Derby runner-up Eight Belles or 2006 champ Barbaro, are becoming more commonplace. The sports media has reported on unchecked blood doping and drugging in top races. Unlike drug scandals in baseball, track & field, and cycling, these four-legged athletes have no choice in whether or not they’re drugged. Whether or not you believe that Barry Bonds, Marion Jones or Floyd Landis doped their way to stardom, you can’t deny they had the opportunity to just say no. So perhaps instead of reminiscing about horse racing’s past and Grandma Smith’s parlor, I should think about other facets of ranch life – like a love of real country music, not the Top 40 crap that has choked the airwaves since the “Urban Cowboy” heyday of 1980.

Bonafide country legend Ray Price performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Farmington Civic Center. Price doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves with today’s alt-country hipster crowd. The 80-year-old began recording in the late 1940s, roomed with Hank Williams for a short time in the early ’50s and enlisted the likes of Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck to play in his band in the ’50s and ’60s. If you don’t know his songs like “Heartaches by the Numbers,” “City Lights” and “Release Me,” then perhaps you should ditch your Carhartts and Western snap shirts and kindly step off the honky tonk bandwagon. Otherwise, head on down to Farmington and hear real country music performed by someone who shared the stage with Hank and Lefty and Webb.

Perhaps the week’s most interesting musical alternative is Bongo Love, a marimba-heavy, four-piece percussion ensemble from Zimbabwe that performs on Friday at the Summit. The band calls its genre “Afro-coustics,” which combines various traditional African percussion styles with lyrics in English, Shona and Ndebele.

Tired of letting others pick your music? The Summit hosts open turntables on Thursday. Local DJs are welcome to show up and spin – just bring your own records and needles. If you like your grooves mixed with psychedelia, hip-hop, funk and bluegrass, drop by the Summit on Saturday for Aftergrass.

This week’s Ska B-Q features rockabilly from the Soda Jerks at 5 p.m. tonight (Thurs., May 8). Bring your Ska pint glasses on the night of Mon., May 12, for $1 drafts and hear Warsaw perform in the tasting room. Past Warsaw appearances at the Bodo Park brewery are now the stuff of legends.

The Carver Brewing Co. hosts roots reggae on its back patio with DJ I*Gene from 3-6 p.m. Sunday. While soaking up rays and vitamin D, you can enjoy Carvers’ latest creation, Cerveza Real. We chugged through two growlers of this tasty Mexican lager at our Cinco de Derby party last Saturday.

Those kooks in Montezuma County are at it again. The Sideshow Emporium and Gallery in Dolores (411 Central) is hosting a super costume happy hour from 6-8 p.m. Friday. Get inspired and create your own super persona by making your costume and helping them create a super cocktail for a May 16 super hero party fund-raiser at the Dolores Community Center. Those with superhuman powers are asked to bring their ideas, materials, glitter and spandex.

In honor of country grandmas everywhere, here are my Top 10 horse-related country songs:

1) Doc Watson, “Tennessee Stud.” There never was a song like Jimmie Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud.” Doc’s version is a highlight from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” collaboration with country and bluegrass legends.

2) Bill Monroe, “Molly and Tenbrooks.” A bluegrass staple, recorded by hundreds.

3) Marty Robbins, “El Paso.” The greatest story song ever. Hell, maybe the greatest song ever.

4) Robert Earl Keen, “Willie.” A tune from REK’s debut album, “No Kinda Dancer,” inspired by the Ray Strang painting, “Slow Poke.” The painting later served as the cover for REK’s “A Bigger Piece of Sky” album.

5) Johnny Cash, “I Ride an Old Paint.” Nothing brings me back to my Grandma’s house than the Man in Black’s 1965 album, “Johnny Cash Sings the Ballads of the True West.”

6) George Jones, “The Race Is On.” The Possum scores a hit with Don Rollins’ song about a horse race as a metaphor for failed love.

7) Gene Autry, “Back in the Saddle Again.” Goin’ way back for this one.

8) Willie Nelson, “Red Headed Stranger.” Sparse, beautiful poetry about a cowboy, his steed and a dying way of life.

9) Rolling Stones, “Wild Horses.” This one has transcended genres to become a bluegrass and folk standard.

10) Beat Farmers, “California Kid.” Country Dick Montana sings about crippled horses, cattle drives, whiskey and whorehouses – who needs songs about mamas, trucks, trains and prison?

Got a little horse colt on the floor? E-mail me at