Championship dreams, SpeakEasy and the Grant Farm

by Chris Aaland

The clock showed 8:31 remaining in the second half and the score tied at 38. That’s how close the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team was to its first national title. I logged 36½ driving hours and 2,105 miles to watch 14 young women represent my alma mater on the nation’s biggest stage: the Elite Eight and ESPN2. Surprisingly easy victories over No. 13 Seattle Pacific (68-59) and No. 2 Franklin Pierce (79-64) put FLC into the title bout against No. 15 Emporia St.

Unfortunately for the sixth-ranked Skyhawks and their five seniors — Audrey George, Laura Haugen, Katie Mackey, Lauren McCulloch and Allison Rosel — the Hornets outscored FLC 27-15 down the stretch for a 65-53 win. Championship dreams denied.

I’ve been working FLC women’s basketball games in one capacity or another since 1987. Many of those years were bleak ones. There wasn’t much question I’d be heading to St. Joe with my buddy Steve Miller, the official scorer at FLC home games the past 15 years.

We stayed with my high school basketball teammate, Jay Ernst, in the Kansas City suburbs. That meant a home base close to fine barbecue, cinemas, the Cabelas superstore and basketball. Jay and I spent nearly every day of junior high and high school in the gym. We’ve probably only traded jumpers two or three times in the past 15 years, so a Thursday evening on his driveway hoop was quality time, despite my rusty shot.

For craft brewing fans, the Midwest is barren country. Aside from KC’s Boulevard (the nation’s seventh largest microbrewery), there isn’t much variety. But turn over a few stones and you never know what treasures you’ll unearth. Weston Brewing Company, located in tiny Weston, Mo., is one such jewel. Founded in 1837, Weston was once America’s westernmost community. The brewery came five years later.

Hungry for something different, we walked into a white Victorian restaurant that had Irish music playing. The dining area had no electricity; rather, tables were lit by lanterns. We sampled a few of Weston’s offerings — O’Malley’s Cream Ale, Weston Ruddy Wheat, Drop Kick Ale and O’Malley’s ISB — plus pub fare like cheddar & ale soup, Rueben sandwiches and beef in Guinness. But the real find was three levels of pubs hidden underneath the restaurant in limestone cellars built in 1842. Each cellar — once home to brewing operations — now housed a pub. The lowest was a three-story monster, more than 20 feet high and 55 feet below ground. It smelled musty, and on this rainy day, water seeped through the ground and into the catacombs. Since Weston sits just 25 miles from St. Joe — famous as the westernmost point in the U.S. accessible by rail prior to the Civil War, the endpoint of the Pony Express and the former home of Jesse James — you could only wonder who else had sipped suds there in the past 168 years.

The Durango Bootlegger’s Society (Carvers, Durango, Ska and Steamworks) celebrates the 77th anniversary of the legalization of beer in America with a SpeakEasy Tapping Party at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Carvers. The breweries will tap their eighth annual Spring Tonic Elixir, a collectively-brewed dark lager based on a “medicinal” prohibition-era recipe. Door guys will be clad in 1930s clothing and women’s temperance activists will protest out front. “American Brew,” an acclaimed documentary of U.S. beer history and heritage, will be screened, local historian Duane Smith will entertain the crowd with colorful anecdotes before tapping the ceremonial first cask, and bluegrass band Waiting on Trial will perform. The event is free and a portion of the proceeds from sales of Spring Tonic Elixir will benefit the historic Animas City Museum.

The Community Concert Hall hosts Swing Fever, a California-based big band, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The outfit has entertained audiences in the San Francisco Bay area since 1978. Its members have cut their chops with jazz legends Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Tony Bennett.

Hip-hop artist RJD2 performs at the Hank at 7 p.m. Saturday. He recently released his fourth album, “The Colossus,” has produced work by such acts at Mos Def, Booker T. and Fallout Boy, and has done work for countless TV shows and movies (“CSI,” “Mad Men,” ESPN and others).

Rapper Gift of Gab returns to the Abbey at 9 p.m. Friday. Best known for his work with the hip-hop duo Blackalicious, Gift of Gab is also a member of Bay Area crew Quannum Projects and has performed and recorded as a solo artist.

The Grant Farm, featuring guitar virtuoso Tyler Grant (Emmitt-Nershi Band), songwriter Benny “Burle” Galloway, banjo wiz Andy Thorn (Emmitt-Nershi, Broke Mountain) and Jordan Ramsey (known for his Jesse McReynolds style cross-picking on mandolin), plays bluegrass, country and originals at the Hank tonight, April 1.

This week’s Summit lineup includes the Rumble Royal tonight, featuring DJ Ben K, Michael Dark, Peter Robot, Mr. Anderson, the Diabolic Sound Platoon and comedy by Jonezy; an acoustic happy hour with Eric Keifer from 6-9 p.m. Friday; the First Friday music and live visual artist event with DJ Mowgli and Blind Side at 10 p.m. Friday; Peter Robot & Smiley Coyote Saturday; and DJ Treez and friends Wednesday.

In what’s become a Durango tradition, Cuckoo’s celebrates its 11th anniversary Friday night with suburban rock by the Lawn Chair Kings.

The cast of the Salt Fire Circus hosts a fundraiser at the Durango Arts Center at 6:30 p.m. on April 1. The event includes live music from the SFC Band, juggling, singing, dancing, a silent auction, costume party, and Peter Robot & Smiley Coyote. SFC’s spring performance, “Twisted Fairytales,” is set for May and June.

Also of note: the Kirk James Blues Band rocks the Purple Haze for FAC (5-7 p.m.) and from 8-midnight Friday and Saturday; the Getbacks bring surf to the Starlight at 9 p.m. Saturday; and the Swingtones do big band at the Abbey Saturday.

One of my brackets is still alive! This week’s Top Shelf list gives you the only two words you need to know for Monday’s NCAA men’s championship game: West Virginia.

Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye? Email me at