Melting down, the big drive and creamed corn

by Chris Aaland

The 17th annual Durango Bluegrass Meltdown is upon us once again. That means banjos, mandolins, fiddles and their ilk will take over downtown Friday through Sunday. As always, shows are scheduled for a variety of venues, including the Hank, the Durango Arts Center, the Wild Horse Saloon (Saturday only) and the D&SNGRR Museum (a free Friday evening affair). Some of your traditional favorites, like the Celtdown (the DAC on Saturday night) and Super Jam (the Hank on Saturday night) are once again highlights.

I’ve been to most of these hoedowns, and it’s become one of my favorite festivals. Why? For one, the Meltdown clings dearly to its bluegrass roots, rarely straying from the traditional forms of the genre. You like newgrass acts like Yonder Mountain String Band, Tim O’Brien and Sam Bush? That’s great — Telluride Bluegrass is only two months away.

Second, the festival is adamant in its promotion of bands you probably haven’t heard of — but need to. Booked for 2001 are the Mashville Brigade (a collection of Nashville’s top pickers, guys whose regular jobs have included gigs with Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, and J.D. Crowe & the New South, among others), Avery County (a North Carolina band that plays a honky-tonk style of bluegrass in the vein of past Meltdown favorites Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, Open Road and Town Mountain), the Freight Hoppers (this year’s old-time act serves up string band favorites from the 1920s and ‘30s), Sierra Hull & Highway 111 (the biggest name on the bill, an artist that Telluride and Pagosa festivarians have grown to love) and the Bluegrass Patriots (a Fort Collins act that’s no stranger to the Meltdown).

The commitment to promoting Colorado’s (and New Mexico’s and Arizona’s, for that matter) burgeoning bluegrass scene, many of whom call Durango home, is something that’s near and dear to many of us. This year, check out regional acts like Mountain Holler (Bailey), the Duke City Swampcoolers (Albuquerque), Loose Cannon Bluegrass (Denver), Squash Blossom Boys (Albuquerque), the Knockabouts (Flagstaff) and the Colorado College Bluegrass Ensemble (Colorado Springs). And, of course, local favorites include Waiting on Trial, Wild Mountain, the A-Men, Blue Moon Ramblers, Bar-D Wranglers, Old North State, the Scrugglers, Giants Dance, the Salt Lick Scramblers and a special Rock & Rye reunion.

But mostly, it’s the intimacy of the whole affair. Small venues. Family bands picking in the lobby of the Strater. Durango Brewing ales flowing freely from taps at all the venues. Making Bloody Marys for Elwin Johnston and David Smith in the Louis L’Amour Room at the Strater. And not having to haul tarps, festival chairs and coolers through festival checkpoints.

KDUR’s spring fund drive kicks off Monday and runs for an entire week. Tune in at 91.9 and 93.9 FM and call in your support to 247-7262. As always, there will be loads of special guests, including one of the greatest record producers who ever lived, Ed Stasium (the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Long Ryders, among others). Ed joins Jon Lynch on his “Audience of One” radio show from 1-3 p.m. Monday. KDUR station manager

Bryant Liggett will join me on my “Cask Strength” program from 6-8 p.m. Monday, which means we’ll be volleying our favorite alt-country, classic country, bluegrass and even punk and metal songs back and forth for two hours.

As you might guess, some of the local establishments have jumped on the bluegrass train this week: Waiting on Trial plays Thirsty Thursday at the Summit tonight (Thurs., April 7); the new-and-improved Wild Mountain, featuring banjo picker extraordinaire Mark Epstein, will appear at Steamworks on Friday; Kentucky Deluxe and Billy Talley are at the Summit on Friday; and the Summit hosts a big ABQ twin bill with Porter Draw and the Squash Blossom Boys on Saturday.

The Starlight is launching its Friday Afternoon Club, with live music on its patio from 6-9 p.m., a new menu (paninis!) and drink specials. Fittingly, the Lawn Chair Kings kick off the series. No doubt the highlight of this week (sorry, Meltdown) is the Starlight’s fund-raiser for a local women’s rugby club. In classic dive-bar fashion, the girls will wrestle each other in creamed corn (truly the dish of the gods) at 4:30 p.m. Enjoi will then spin dance tunes at 9 p.m.

Elsewhere: Thom Rader rocks tonight’s Ska-B-Q; Kirk James plays solo blues at Rylee Mac’s at 5:30 p.m. tonight; Tyller Gummersall holds court at the Office at 7 p.m. tonight; and Pete Giuliani works Vallecito’s Schank House from 6-10 p.m. Friday.

In honor of the Meltdown, which sadly I’ll miss most of due to work commitments at the college, this week’s list acknowledges 10 of my favorite moments from Meltdowns past:

1. Town Mountain dressed in garb that can only be described as Sgt. Pepper’s nouveau to close down the 2010 festival at the DAC.

2. Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass’ blistering opening set at the Hank on Friday night in 2005.

3. All of the Reeltime Travelers’ performances in 2004. A throng of old-time fanatics and younger hippies alike followed the band from room to room.

4. The 2002 Super Jam, held at the Abbey Theatre. Dale Ann Bradley, Chris Jones, Missy Raines, Jim Hurst, Pete Wernick, the Reeltime Travelers and young fiddlers like Casey Driessen and Michael Cleveland ripped it up.

5. The Carolina takeover in 2006: Steep Canyon Rangers and Chatham County Line stole the show.

6. The Infamous Stringdusters in 2008. These guys earned their stripes by playing all three days, joining other bands, and picking up the slack for a group of badly dressed Alabamans who refused to travel through snow.

7. Sweet Sunny South’s 2005 Sunday set at the Strater. They built their loyal Four Corners following thanks in part to this legendary gig.

8. The Coal Porters ending their 2009 show at the DAC with a cover of the Faces’ “Ooh La La.” Who knew that Ronnies Lane and Wood authored a socialist worker’s anthem?

9. Riley Baugus and the Stuart Brothers in 2010. Old-time music doesn’t get any better.

10. Open Road’s last shows as a working band in 2006. Fortunately, Bradford Lee Folk has returned to the Front Range and is starting to pick again with Caleb and the boys.

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