A tribute to Morley, Leftover Salmon Incident & Homegrown

The Emmitt-Nershi Band plays the Concert Hall on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

by Chris Aaland

Durango got a lot smaller on Saturday with the passing of Durango Herald chairman and editor Morley Ballantine, a little lady with a giant heart.

My first job out of college was in the Herald’s composing room, where I pasted advertisements and stories onto layout boards. It was monotonous work. Before the advent of computerized layout and design, newspaper production required glass tables, light boards, X-Acto knives, hot waxers, pica poles and blue editing pens. Back in the day when the Herald was delivered in the afternoons on weekdays and mornings on weekends, it meant an odd schedule of early mornings and late nights — particularly on Fridays and Saturdays when high school and college sports forced scribes to scurry toward their 10:30 p.m. deadlines, which were frequently missed.

Once in a very blue moon, I was allowed to freelance for the sports, arts & entertainment and business sections. My first article was a feature story on Lane Maurer, an affable, 6-foot-10 former Fort Lewis College benchwarmer who played for Meadowlark Lemon’s barnstorming basketball circus after college. I think my first freelance check was $25, good enough for a couple of rounds at the bar. I practically ran to work to see the sports section that winter day in 1991. The composing room was at the bottom of the food chain and getting a freelance assignment elevated me in status. I beamed with pride all morning long. My ego was quickly deflated, however, when Morley handed me a copy of my article with a few words circled in red and some suggestions written in the gutters. But she also told me I did a good job. Freelance assignments started rolling in.

Morley taught me quite a bit about grammar and punctuation during my year-and-a-half of employment at the Herald. But she taught more important lessons in the 17 years since. By following her example, countless La Plata County residents have made donations to and become involved with hundreds of nonprofit groups that better our community. Morley championed the arts, education and women’s issues. Her fingerprints are certainly visible at FLC, where the Ballantine family played instrumental roles in the creation of the Center of Southwest Studies and Community Concert Hall, among other causes.

Morley’s life will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Friday in the Community Concert Hall. Fittingly, the venue she helped build will also host bluegrass, folk, rock, comedy, theatre and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong later this month. The diversity of programming is a tribute to how far-ranging her vision was.

Newgrass takes over the Concert Hall at 7: 30 p.m. Sunday in the form of the Emmitt-Nershi Band. Led by Leftover Salmon mandolin player Drew Emmitt and String Cheese Incident guitarist Bill Nershi, the group recently released its excellent debut CD, “New Country Blues.” The four-piece also includes two of the best young instrumentalists in the business, banjo player Andy Thorn (known locally for his work in Broke Mountain and the Colorado Playboys) and guitarist/bassist Tyler Grant. Like many of you, I first saw Emmitt-Nershi at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2008. Don’t be surprised to hear some of your favorite Salmon and String Cheese songs done in more of a traditional bluegrass style on Sunday. The Assembly of Dust opens.

The innovative guitar duo of Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic plays the Summit at 10 p.m. Friday. The latter is a nylon string Balkan folk guitarist; the former — no stranger to the Summit — is a 10-finger steel string tapping prodigy. They fuse their Serbian and Greek folk music roots with modern classical, world and jazz.

Denver’s Forth Yeer Freshman — called “the unholy spawn of Molly Hatchet and the Bloodhound Gang” by the Rocky Mountain News and “Southern by the grace of God” by Nashville Pussy’s Karen Cuda — gets crazy at the Summit on Saturday. The big bill also features Eric Kiefer of Aftergrass, DSP and the Boycotts.

Just a few weeks removed from playing Oktoberfest, the road dogs in Warsaw bring ska back to the Summit on Wednesday.

The Stillwater Foundation hosts a songwriter’s workshop featuring Kent Blazy from 5-7 p.m. on Friday at Canyon Music Woodworks. Blazy is best known for his work with Garth Brooks, penning such hits as “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” “Ain’t Goin’ Down ‘til the Sun Comes Up” and “Somewhere Other Than the Night.” He’s also written tunes for the likes of Kenny Chesney, Clay Walker, Diamond Rio, Terry Clark, Patty Loveless and Chris Young. All proceeds benefit Stillwater’s after-school music programs.

Lap-slide blues guitarist and singer Colin Lake returns to the Millwood Junction in Mancos at 8 p.m. on Sunday. Winner of the Telluride Blues & Brews Acoustic Competition in 2007, Colin has performed locally at Ska Brewing World Headquarters, the Skyhawk Festival sponsored by Fort Lewis College, the Rico Theatre and the San Juan Grill in Silverton. Since last visiting Southwest Colorado, Lake spent the winter honing his craft in New Orleans and opening for the Iguanas, JJ Grey and Eric Lindell.

The second annual Homegrown Festival takes place in Buckley Park from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Sunday. The event features live music, workshops and, of course, lots of tasty treats. Workshops include fruit tree selection and pruning, composting, urban beekeeping, mushrooming, local wild foods, homebrewing and more. Family events include pumpkin painting, apple dunking, pie eating contest, apple pressing and others. Music by the High Desert String Band and Carute Roma livens up the fiesta.

Durango DOT Comedy presents “A Murder Mystery” at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Durango Arts Center. The colorful cast of characters in Durango’s premier live comedy improv troupe takes on the game of Clue and turns it on its ear, incorporating audience suggestions along the way.

Bounce from one free show to another tonight (Thursday): there’s bluegrass rock by the Porchlights at the Ska Brewing World Headquarters from 5-7 p.m., Jerry-inspired jam by Redeyed Jinn in the Vallecito Room of the FLC Student Union at 7 p.m., and the sounds of DJ Ralphsta at the Summit later in the evening.

The Kirk James Blues Band struts its stuff at the Purple Haze at 9 p.m. Friday.

This week’s Top Shelf list is a simple toast to my friend and former editor: Morley Ballantine, thank you. •

You read it in the daily news? E-mail me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net.



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