Meltdown goes big for 25th

Meltdown goes big for 25th

Songs from the Road Band is one of several headliners for this weekend's 25th annual Durango Bluegrass Meltdown.

Chris Aaland - 04/11/2019

The sweet sounds of banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, guitar and upright bass will fill the air this week as the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown turns 25. The Meltdown rolled out all the stops for the big anniversary, too, by booking one of its finest lineups ever. Like an old-fashioned country wedding, the Meltdown chose something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue in selecting bands.

Headliners include Meltdown veterans John Reischman & the Jaybirds and Junior Sisk & Friends, the newgrass pioneers in the Larry Keel Experience, and up-and-coming traditionalists Songs from the Road Band. Reischman and company are purveyors of that clean, West Coast style of bluegrass forged by the likes of David Grisman, Tony Rice, Rob Ickes and their peers. Sisk has long been one of the strongest voices in traditional bluegrass, from his work with Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz through the years with BlueRidge, to his many albums with his own group, Ramblers Choice. Keel is quite simply one of the best flat-picking guitarists ever to shred six strings. And Songs from the Road Band, albeit one with four albums to their credit, are relative newcomers as a full-time working band since Charles Humphrey III left the Steep Canyon Rangers a year ago.

Local music fans will certainly recognize regional acts like Halden Wofford & the Hi*Beams, FY5 and Jeff Scroggins & Colorado. Then there are those that they may not be as familiar, including the New York duo Richie & Rosie; Minnesota-based old time string band Steam Machine; Front Range group Masontown; and the Wrecklunds, a Denver-area quartet that previously played the Meltdown last spring.

Of course, all the local favorites will be there, including the Badly Bent, Six Dollar String Band, StillHouse Junkies, Lawn Chair Kings, Robin Davis Duo, La La Bones, Last Nickel, Sunny & the Whiskey Machine, Blue Moon Ramblers (who have played every Meltdown from the beginning!), Lost Souls, Fellowship of Strings, Chokecherry Jam, People We Know, Smelter Mountain Boys, Crooked Measures, Shaky Hand String Band and High Country Hustle.

Meltdown’s commitment to local, regional and national bands alike is pure genius. Get a seat early at one of the primary venues (the Hank & DAC all three days, the Wild Horse on Saturday and Sunday, or the ACT on Saturday only) and you’ll get to sample a little bit of everything. Saturday’s evening shenanigans include the 7 p.m. Super Jam at the Hank hosted by Mike Finnders of FY5; a two-hour Halden Wofford dance show at the DAC; and an old-time barn dance featuring Steam Machine at the Elk’s Lodge.

Since the festival turns 25 this year, it’s appropriate for a voice from Meltdown past to provide a list of his favorite Songs from the Road Band tunes. David Smith continues to serve the Meltdown as social media coordinator despite living afar. He was a longtime board member, performer in such bands as Rock & Rye and was notorious late-night Green Room personality. He also knows more about bluegrass history than anyone in these parts. Here’s David’s list:

1. “Traveling Show” – I’ve had the honor of witnessing several bluegrass bands in the early stages of songwriting, traveling, gigging and finding voice: Broke Mountain, Steep Canyon Rangers, Town Mountain... I’ve heard these stories from those who lived them. The words and melody of “Traveling Show” create the hopeful dreamscape and unknown bends of musicians on the road.

2. “Rake Out the Nails”– It took a few listens to realize the depth of this tale of forlorn love. Has arson ever been spoken of with such beauty? It’s no coincidence the first two songs on this list are sung by Andrew Marlin of the band Mandolin Orange. Marlin renders lyrics of the utmost sorrow with a calming presence that carries you through the song, offering assurance of outcome.

3. “White Rose of Abilene” – It’s not easy to write a modern-day cowboy song. Have all the stories been told? This song of meeting in a western saloon is so true that I can hear Red Greer singing lead with the Blue Moon Ramblers as the Belle’s patrons are silenced in anticipation of the consequences.

4. “Margaree” – How about ol’ Robert Greer singing of a Mardi Gras experience? About 20 years ago, I went to New Orleans over Halloween and this song sounds like what went down. It’s always worth reading the liner notes of SFTRB albums, as the co-writers are often heavy hitters in the business, such as Shawn Camp.

5. “By the Banks” – Like the powerhouse co-writers by Charles Humphrey III’s side, lead vocalists are the best in bluegrass (including full-time singer and guitarist Sam Wharton). Following Andrew Marlin and Robert Greer on the list is Phil Barker, up front and powerful, with a legitimate anthem for a 21st century South.

6. “Taxman” – Sticking it to The Man, bluegrass style (perfect time of year for this one to be sung).

7. “Take My Cup and Fill It Up” – If “By the Banks” is an anthem to the south, then, “Take My Cup and Fill It Up” is your anthem for letting booze lead the way, for better or worse.

8. “Just Let Go” – SFTRB is a gathering of friends. From album to album, you’ll recognize musicians and songwriters from the tight-knit family of western North Carolina bluegrass. As mentioned, Wharton often shares singing duties. Here we find rare lead vocals from banjo player Andy Thorn, but it’s the instrumental interplay between Thorn and fiddler Bobby Britt that puts this one on the list. Turn it up and just let go...

9. “Blue Flame Waltz” – Equally as difficult as writing a good cowboy song is writing a good waltz. Already mentioned for his lead vocal skills, Barker is also high on the list of co-writers. This one captures his poetic rasp. “The strength of good whiskey is hidden in proof, touch it to flame, it dances anew ... .”

10. “Hitchhiking Freewheelin’ Hobo” – Humphrey’s inspirations are the twisted, experimental, unique, and legendary: Gram Parsons, Jerry Garcia, John Hartford. The roll-off-the-tongue, good timey feel of “Hitchhiking Freewheelin’ Hobo” sure has that Hartford feel.

Yee-haw! Email me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net.

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