Top Shelf

Goosebumps, Earl Scruggs and Head for the Hills

by Chris Aaland

Every once in awhile, I’ll have a goosebump moment at a concert. That’s when a performer reaches deep into my soul and yanks tears from my ducts with a moment that’s so perfect that it transcends the usual performer-listener relationship.

Last week’s Marty Stuart & his Fabulous Superlatives show may have been the greatest goosebump moment of all time. His crew launched into a good 45 minutes of pure honky-tonk bliss to start the night, twang drenched equally in beer bottled straight from Buck Owens’ Bakersfield some 40 years ago and heartache that Hank and Marty Robbins shared in story and song. Then the band stepped aside and Stuart strapped on a Martin acoustic and started flat-picking bluegrass standards like only he and a handful of guitar heroes can do. He alternately shredded the mandolin for extended solos that would make Sam Bush envious.

And this was all fine and good. But when Stuart stepped up to the microphone and told the crowd that after soundcheck earlier in the day, he got a voicemail telling him that Earl Scruggs had passed away … chills went down my spine. Scruggs, you may know, invented the rapid-fire, three-finger banjo style that defines the bluegrass sound. Prior to Scruggs’ tenure in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, banjo playing was associated with Dixieland or the clawhammer style of old-time Appalachian music. He and Lester Flatt left Monroe in 1948 to form the Foggy Mountain Boys, which soon became known simply as Flatt & Scruggs — a group that had a 21-year run atop the bluegrass universe. Fascinated with singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan and John Sebastian, the most famous banjo-man of them all formed the Earl Scruggs Revue in 1969 and continued to make music right up to his death.

I saw Stuart play in the Earl Scruggs Revue at the 1999 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and have seen him several times since. But when Stuart dedicated “You Are My Flower” to Scruggs last Wednesday, you could hear a pin drop in the Concert Hall. And when the crowd joined in on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” tears flowed onstage and in the seats. The rest of the night was a mere formality. Perfection had already been achieved.

Thank you, Marty. And thank you, Earl.

Head for the Hills is on the rise — or the Hot Rize, as they might say in the bluegrass world. The quartet, which plays the Abbey Theatre on Saturday night, has been heaping such praise as a SxSW Critics Pick by the Austin Statesman, a featured NPR radio appearance and back-to-back “Best Bluegrass” in Colorado honors by Denver’s Westword magazine. The band’s self-titled sophomore effort in 2010 was produced by Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon fame at Bill Nershi’s Sleeping Giant Studios, where much String Cheese Incident magic has been crafted. They played at all the big festivals in 2011, including Telluride Bluegrass, DelFest, South by Southwest, High Sierra, Crested Butte, Yarmony Grass, Ned Fest and more. While based in bluegrass, H4TH is much more. The Scrugglers kick off festivities.

Durango DOT Comedy performs “Double Digits” at 8 p.m. Friday at the Durango Arts Center. Come out and celebrate the 10th birthday of the region’s premier improv troupe with $1 Ska brews and lots of laughter. OK, so the actual first performance of the DOT commies was April 1, 2002, but April Fool’s Day fell on a Sunday this year and nobody wants to go head-to-head with “Ax Men” and “Full Metal Jousting” on History Channel.

Steamworks hosts April’s Firkin Friday this week, with the cask of One Wit Wunder to be tapped at 3 p.m. This Belgian-style wheat beer is spiced with coriander and bitter orange peel. Ken Martin, head brewer at Steamworks, said additional spice in the form of sweet orange peel and lemongrass is added and the ale is refermented with freshly pureed pineapple and its juice. There are beer and schwag giveaways, too, for the legion of suds hounds that descend on the brewery the first Friday of each month. It’s true. I nearly won a six-pack last month.

The Fort Lewis College men’s soccer team gets their NCAA championship rings at a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Thurs., April 5) in Whalen Gymnasium. A free barbecue for youth soccer players, coaches and parents precedes the event at 5 p.m. at Dirks Field. The public is invited to join the team in the celebration in the gym. Want your own bejeweled, golden ring just like the boys on the team? The Skyhawks kick off their Golden Ticket fund drive (raffle tickets cost $25, visit for more information) that will last all summer long, giving one lucky fan the shot at winning a personalized ring to be presented at a home game next fall.

This week’s Moe’s bill of fare includes live music and dancing with the Intelligents at 8 p.m. Saturday, the Jazz Church freeform jam session from 6-9 p.m. Sunday followed by Musica del Mundo at 9 p.m.

The Summit’s lineup includes Soap on Thirsty Thursday (9 p.m. tonight), the first First Friday of the spring, featuring the one and only Louis Logic and live art by Pascale Bauman, Jonathan “Breezy” Brewington and Lauren Ball (“This one’s gonna be a banger … Louis always puts on a hell of a show,” says Summit proprietor Scottie himself) and Sam & the Styles at 9 p.m. Saturday.

Elsewhere: Tonight’s Ska-B-Q features pop and folk music from Little Wilderness, plus free tortillas and chili; the traditional Black Velvet duo of Nina Sasaki and Larry Carver play the Derailed Saloon at 7 p.m. tonight; and with the addition of Randy Crumbaugh on guitar, Ben Simpson on drums and Dave Oz on bass, the five-piece Black Velvet rock & roll machine overtakes the Billy Goat Saloon in downtown Gem Village at 8 p.m. Friday.

This week’s Top Shelf list is a special thank-you going out to Susan Lander, who is stepping down as executive director of Music in the Mountains after 10½ years. Susan is one of my favorite people in town. She claims she didn’t know the difference between a viola and a violin when she started the job back in 2001 but guided the classical music festival through arguably its greatest decade. Well-played, Susan!
Polka on the banjo, make that five-string hop? E-mail me at