Top Shelf

Rockygrass turns 40, ska at Ska and the Aurora 12

by Chris Aaland

    The 40th annual Rockygrass sets up camp this weekend in Lyons

Why? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot the past eight months, ever since Shelly and I lost our six-month-old son and Otto lost his only sibling. I ask it nearly every day. Sometimes it’s followed by tears, sometimes by anger, usually by a hollow, empty feeling. It’s never followed by an answer.

Since last Friday’s shooting at the premier of “The Dark Night Rises” at a theatre in Aurora, I can’t stop asking. Why would somebody do this? Why perfect strangers? Why young adults, teen-agers and small children? Why does society allow this to happen year after year? Why do dozens of parents now have to go through what Shelly and I have gone through the past eight months? Why do tragedies, be they natural or manmade, cause extremists on each side of the aisle to come out with venom and fervor, blaming political leaders on the left and right? Why can a person order 6,000 rounds of ammunition in a matter of weeks over the internet? Why does anyone need an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle?

I have questions of myself, too. I consider myself a redneck hippie — a gun owner who supports gun control, a hunter who is an environmentalist. I’ve always been opposed to the death penalty, but not in the case of the nut-job who robbed all of us of the chance to feel safe in a movie theatre, took a dozen lives and wounded 58 more. What have I done to contribute to this culture of hate in America, this polarity that divides us? Am I a bad parent for owning guns or drinking beer or working too long of hours? Will I get to enjoy a lifetime of memories with Shelly and Otto? Will one of them be snatched from me like Gus was?

“Top Shelf” is a column that highlights music, nightlife and pop culture. In Durango, that encompasses everything from a music scene that skews a bit nerdy from what mainstream media forces down our throats to the celebration of our local, mom & pop microbreweries and restaurants to athletic events and environmental causes that most of America all but ignores. It’s not meant to be my personal soapbox, even though I use this medium to vent more often than I’d like.

Go and enjoy yourself this weekend. See live music or watch “The Dark Night Rises.” Go camping, biking or fishing. Eat at your favorite restaurant. Feel safe in the company of family and friends. Strike up conversation with strangers. Life’s too short.

For me, this means attending the 40th annual RockyGrass in Lyons. Technically the long-sold-out festival runs Friday through Sunday, though for on-site campers the land rush for prime real estate begins at 6 p.m. tonight (Thurs., July 26). The party starts as soon as tents and campsites are erected. Planet Bluegrass rolled out all the stops for its big anniversary with a score of bluegrass legends highlighting the bill: Ralph Stanley, Bobby Osborne, Jesse McReynolds and the Seldom Scene, among others. There are a few odd pairings that will prove to be unforgettable, too: namely Béla Fleck with three members of the Del McCoury Band and vocalist/guitarist Danny Paisley. The banjo wizard likely hasn’t been this traditional since he released his “Drive” album in 1987. Up until last summer, I’d attended RockyGrass for more than a decade without absence. I’m glad to be returning.

The latest free concert in Buckley Park features local talent in the form of The Hounds of Purg and Robby Overfield from 5-7:30 p.m. tonight. Many of us remember when the Hounds were fifth graders just learning their instruments. Now they’re 18 and back in town with new music and rock covers.

The Bodo boys at Ska Brewing have this strange affinity for ska music. Guess that’s why they named their company what they did. This week, there are not just one but two chances to catch ska at Ska. First, Las Cruces’ own Second-Class Citizens blend punk, rock and ska at tonight’s Ska-B-Q (5-7 p.m.) Then Dallas’ Rude King plays yet even more ska at Ska on Saturday. Enjoy a pint of the recently-released Wheelsucker Wheat while you’re out there.

Rude King also highlights this week’s Summit slate, playing a late-night concert Friday. With a high-energy live show and sound rooted in two-tone ska, the septet infuses its own style and intensity into its craft. According to their bio, “the seven-piece act includes male and female singers, a tight and soulful rhythm section, blistering guitar leads and a scorching-hot horn section.” They’ve shared the stage with true ska legends like the Toasters, Fishbone, Voodoo Glow Skulls and more.

The connection between the Summit and Ska must be more than pints of Pinstripe. Like Rude King, Overfield also gigs at the Summit tonight immediately following his Buckley Park gig. The songwriter has a knack for storytelling with genuine, soulful lyrics.

Kudos to Moe’s for hosting the “Bring Your Biscuits” canned food drive on Saturday. The 9 p.m. event features dancing to Goldfizz, Ralphsta and Phantom Cloud. Other entertainment includes Moe’s Friday Afternoon Club with live music by A Dub Rock Band, tonight’s Salsa Night and Sunday’s Jazz Church.
Also on tap this week: the Kirk James Blues Band plays the Balcony at 6 p.m. Friday and Durango Harley-Davidson’s 10th anniversary party at 11 a.m. Saturday; Black Velvet rocks Mountain Madness at 5:30 p.m. Friday and the Balcony at 5 p.m. Sunday; Jack Ellis strums and sings at the Animas River Café at 5 p.m. Saturday; and DJ Benjamin K spins at the Summit at 10 p.m. Saturday.

This week’s Top Shelf remembers the 12 people who were murdered in Aurora last Friday. I’m choosing to write their names and not that of their killer. You’ve probably already heard about some of their stories in newspaper articles or on TV, but join me in remembering them and keeping their families and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

Jonathan Blunk, 26.
Alex Boik, 18.
Jesse Childress, 29.
Gordon Cowden, 51.
Jessica Ghawi, 24.
John Larimer, 27.
Matt McQuinn, 27.
Micayla Medek, 23.
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6.
Alex Sullivan, 27.
Alex Teves, 24.
Rebecca Wingo, 32.

Maybe it’s the bullets, maybe it’s the real crooks? Email me at