Sportsman, Asleep at the Wheel and Bluegrass Boy

by Chris Aaland

You’ve heard the cliché, “You can never go home again,” countless times in my life. Time and time again, I’ve found it to be complete baloney. I’ve been given a professional opportunity to return to my roots in the Fort Lewis College Athletic Department as assistant director of athletics for external operations and communications. From 1992 - 2001, I served my alma mater as sports information director. SIDs, as they’re known in collegiate athletics, work a tireless schedule for peanuts. It makes real-life ambitions like starting a family and buying a home seem like pipe dreams. Thus, I pursued a sequence of career changes in the 2000s to better position myself to do both.

As I leave the alumni world, I am somewhat melancholy. The past four-plus years have introduced me to hundreds of people who learned, lived and loved at Colorado’s Campus in the Sky. I’ve found FLC alumni to be a unique breed, independent, outdoorsy and rough around the edges. We tend to like playing and living in beautiful settings off the beaten path, value things like the environment and freedom of speech, and appreciate craft beers and mom-and-pop restaurants. We usually dress badly, have biking, skiing, camping and fishing gear in our vehicles, and listen to music you’d struggle to find on radio stations in bigger cities.

My swan song as director of alumni relations is a picnic and Colorado Rockies baseball game in Denver this Sunday. Less than a week later, I’ll be on the sideline coordinating FLC’s annual athletic alumni games. It’s far more sweet than bitter, but like any good recipe, life’s ever-changing journey blends many flavors. I thank all who have helped guide me down the path.

This begs the question I’m often asked by friends, “sports or music?” I can’t imagine a life without either. Athletes and musicians are very much alike, performing on a stage for voyeurs who are either too afraid or lack the talent and determination to do so themselves.

Legendary Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel is back at the Community Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Since they last played here, the Wheel has released two stellar albums: 2009’s “Willie and the Wheel” (one of my Top 10 albums last year) and the brand-new “It’s a Good Day.” The band’s chief inspiration has always been Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, so it’s fitting that the latter is a collaboration with Leon Rausch, the 82-year-old who was the voice of the Playboys. But pegging the Wheel as a Wills knockoff is just plain wrong. Throughout their career, they’ve also tipped their 10-gallon hats to classic swing and jump blues artists like Count Basie and Louis Jordan. Most associate them with the Austin heyday of the 1970s, where they relocated in ‘74 at Willie’s suggestion. They’ve been championed by a diverse group of artists, including Commander Cody, Van Morrison, Merle Haggard and Lyle Lovett.

Bluegrass boy Peter Rowan returns to the region at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Liberty Theatre in Pagosa Springs. Rowan is most often associated with bluegrass and, indeed, his 45-year career was kick-started by an apprenticeship in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. He’s always been a difficult musician to pigeonhole, though. Early in his career he collaborated with the likes of David Grisman, Clarence White, Richard Greene, John Kahn and Jerry Garcia in such outfits as Earth Opera, Seatrain, Muleskinner and Old and in the Way – eclectic bands that blended a diverse array of sounds, including psychedelic rock, folk, jazz, Byrds-style country and bluegrass. His solo recording career, which launched in 1978, includes forays into bluegrass, newgrass, folk, country-rock, Tex-Mex and reggae. On Sept. 7, he’ll release his first true bluegrass record in nearly a dozen years, “Legacy,” on the Compass label. His Pagosa date is a solo outing, which is my favorite way to see Rowan. I was fortunate to catch him several times in the early ‘90s following the release of “Dust Bowl Children,” an oft-forgotten gem that ranks with classic titles by Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

Up-and-coming Texas troubadour Zack Walther comes to the Abbey at 8 p.m. Friday. Walther and his band, the Cronkites, served a musical residency at Gruene Hall, a Central Texas venue that has helped launch the careers of Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and others. Walther recently released his debut album, “Ambition,” which is a mix of classic and contemporary Lone Star sounds. Special guest DL Marble is also on the bill.

Farmington Hill and the Crags play the Balcony from 5-9 p.m. Friday. The former, of course, is the country band that features members of the Lawn Chair Kings and the Freeman Social. The latter includes the husband-and-wife team of John and Tracy of Jaki & the Joysticks.

Also of note: Seven grooves the weekly Ska-B-Q tonight (Thursday, Aug. 12); Neil Nelson & the Saloonatics play the Purple Haze from 6-10 p.m. Friday; and Jonezy spins vinyl at the Cosmopolitan at 9 p.m. Friday.

Two big shows have been announced, one of which already has tickets on sale. Ska Brewing’s 15th anniversary will be celebrated Sat., Aug. 28, with the Supersuckers, an opening set by Farmington Hill, a commemorative pint glass and pourings by several guest brewers. Get tickets at Ska, Southwest Sound and online at And Durango Acoustic Music kicks off its 21st season by bringing in the legendary Lubbock band the Flatlanders (Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock), with opening act Tom Russell at the Smiley Auditorium on Sat., Sept. 28. Tickets for the Flatlanders will go on sale soon.

A great injustice was undone this past weekend, as Denver Broncos great Floyd Little was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite its six Super Bowl appearances, the Broncos have largely been ignored by Hall of Fame voters. With respect to Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, Randy Gradishar and Rod Smith, all of whom may someday be enshrined, this week’s Top Shelf list acknowledges the three Broncos who have seen their busts placed into Canton’s hallowed halls:

-John Elway (1983-98). The man.

- Gary Zimmerman (1993-97). He had Elway’s back.

- Floyd Little (1967-75). Elway calls him “the greatest Bronco.”

I’ll keep the old back forty for my home? Email me at