Shades of purple, Guitar Shorty and Solar Junkyard

Guitar Shorty plays The Hank this Friday night

by Chris Aaland

I hate the weeks leading up to presidential elections. Every four years, the puppet-masters who pull the political strings subject us to the most inane advertisements imaginable. We’re pigeonholed based on our perceived voting records and expected to toe whatever company line we’ve been spoon-fed.

What these experts don’t understand is that we’re 305 million unique individuals, not equal splits of red and blue on the electoral map. We’re all just different shades of purple.

After years of introspection, I realize I tend to be liberal on environmental, equal rights, foreign policy and women’s issues, yet conservative on fiscal affairs. Other issues blur party lines.

Take gun control, for example. One of my best friends calls anyone who owns more than three firearms a gun nut. I own two shotguns and two hunting rifles. By my friend’s standards, I’m a gun nut. Yet, despite being a lifelong hunter, I fully support firearm registration, background checks and required hunter’s safety classes as criteria for responsible gun ownership. At one point, I was a member of the NRA, although I quickly cancelled that membership in my early adulthood because of their radical politics. I subscribe to Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, yet cringe at how those rags paint me as someone who takes away the people’s rights.

But my inner redneck was given the opportunity of a lifetime last weekend. I was recruited to join the “cannon crew.” For as long as anyone can remember, a black powder cannon has been fired after every Fort Lewis College football score. Two loyal alumni in particular, Brad Hitti and Coby Wiegert, sounded the call to arms from the southeast corner of Ray Dennison Memorial Field at every home game for more than 20 years. Yet the cannon didn’t thunder the first two home games this fall. Hitti, a colleague of mine at the Fort, owns Denver Broncos season tickets and prefers to drive up to the Mile High City a day early. Wiegert, father to pre-teen triplets, simply has his hands full.

So last Saturday, Hitti taught me the art of cannonry … loading powder into plastic baggies, ram-rodding the baggies and wadded up newspaper down the barrel, feeding the wick into the top of the barrel and touching off a celebratory round with a cigar (“From the back, Chris, not the top, unless you want to singe your eyebrows!”). Hitti also showed me how to nurture the cannon. He’s created scrubbers out of vacuum cleaner parts and designed an assortment of tools to tighten, loosen, lubricate and clean.

It’s not just a football ploy. The weapon frequently starts cross country running and mountain bike races and, more recently, announces the arrival of FLC’s homecoming parade at each block of Main Avenue. It’s an antique that honors the college’s diverse past, first as a military base (the only American military base never to have a soldier die in battle), then as a boarding school for Native Americans, and later as a state-supported agricultural high school, junior college and four-year, liberal arts college.

Some may see the cannon as a sign of military madness or patriotic zealotry. Me? I just love the smell of black powder. I think of elk steaks sizzling on the grill, hopefully a hibachi that feeds the cannon crew and wafts scents of my wild-game marinade across the field into the grandstand where fans are subjected to stale nachos and bland hot dogs.

I also like the smell of the blues. A sticky, beer-crusted dance floor occupied by sweaty guys with neo-mullets and white man’s overbites wearing bad Hawaiian shirts, grooving and air guitar soloing like their very existence depended on it.

Durango Acoustic Music welcomes legendary Texas blues guitarist Guitar Shorty to the Henry Strater Theatre for a 7 p.m. show this Friday. Shorty has been cited as an influence by a pair of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarists, Jimi Hendrix (Shorty married Jimi’s step-sister in 1961) and Buddy Guy. He’s recorded and toured since 1957, when his debut single was produced by Willie Dixon. In ’59, Ray Charles recruited Shorty to play lead guitar in his touring band. The rest is blues history – literally. He’s since toured with the likes of B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Guitar Slim and Sam Cooke.

The Brent Barry Band from Taos makes its Durango debut at the Summit tonight (Thursday). Their tunes are an original blend described as Afro-coastal-Americana dance music. Barry is a bit of a one-man-band in his own right, kicking a bass drum while playing guitar, blowing harp and singing. The band is celebrating the release of its latest album, “Twenty Lives.”

The two-piece Voodoo Organist brings a righteous mix of salvation and sin to the Summit on Sunday. With five albums under his belt, the Voodoo Organist plays what critics and fans call “industrial waltzes,” “garage punk gospel rave-ups” and “swinging, exotic, demonic blues.” His music has also appeared in such indie horror classics as “Die You Zombie Bastards” and “Return of the Living Dead 4.”

Crested Butte has evolved into the jam-band center of the Rockies, having served as ground zero during the early years of the String Cheese Incident and home to Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt. Solar Junkyard, which plays the Summit on Friday, is the latest to spring out of the Gunnison Valley. The five-piece outfit includes electric guitar, bass, keyboards, mandolin, drums and percussion and is touring in support of its self-titled debut CD.

DJ Mowgli spins a mix of music, turning throwdowns into hoedowns from 10 p.m. - 1:30 a.m. tonight at Steamworks. It’s Pint Night, too, with $1 drafts in your Steamworks logo glass.

Local music finds a home at the Summit this week. Oatie Paste holds its CD release party there on Saturday, with Fuzzy Killing Machine and Mutant Apocalypse along for the ride. Local party band The Sweats, which features members of Aftergrass, M-Theory and Staboola McPet, takes over the Summit’s stage on Wednesday.

This week’s Top Shelf list is a one-entry acknowledgement of election-year stupidity. While waiting in line for a diet soda last week at a convenience store, a 50-something gentleman in front of me dropped six bucks for scratch games. He won $2 and used it to buy gasoline. The clerk and I were rendered speechless. •

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In this week's issue...

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January 26, 2024
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January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows