Russell, Ramblin' Jack and a Night at the Opera

Russell, Ramblin' Jack and a Night at the Opera

American songwriter extraordinaire Tom Russell graces the Hank stage this Saturday. Tickets are selling fast, though.

Chris Aaland - 09/20/2018

I must admit that I love my professional life, balancing radio and writing. Ever since 1987 when I stumbled through an interview with Warren Zevon for KDUR and the FLC Independent, I’ve been hooked. Along the way, I’ve produced hundreds of concerts, interviewed dozens of musicians, spun countless records and CDs, and listened as my musical tastes ebbed and flowed with the latest craze, always returning to my roots.

Take this week, for example. I get to see two of my heroes at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, as folk music takes center stage at the Hank when KSUT presents Tom Russell and special guest Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Just 34 tickets remained as of Tuesday night; the others will be quickly snatched up at ksut.org. Russell and Elliott represent two vastly different poles of folk music. Russell is one of America’s truly gifted songwriters, having penned songs for Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith and the Sir Douglas Quintet. Ramblin’ Jack interprets classics from Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family and Hank Williams. The common thread is a love for all things Western.

Russell plows the fertile fields of country, folk, blues and rock with emphasis on storytelling. His best-known tunes have become part of the American songwriting canon – “Gallo del Cielo,” which both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen count among their favorites, and “Navajo Rug,” later made famous by Ian Tyson and Jerry Jeff Walker. He’s certainly prolific: counting studio albums, live records, compilations and imports, Russell has released more than 40 LPs in a career that spans five decades.

If Russell is a pioneer of Americana music, then Elliott is an icon. He ran away from his Brooklyn home to join the rodeo in the mid 1940s. Though he only lasted a few months before his parents tracked him down, he was enamored by a singing rodeo clown who played guitar and banjo. A young Jack Elliott taught himself to play guitar and started busking. By 1950, he’d befriended Woody Guthrie and became a disciple of his. Huntington’s disease claimed Guthrie in 1967, but by then the torch had already been passed from master to pupil. Elliott was the living link between Woody and Dylan, inspiring countless aspiring troubadours, including Arlo Guthrie and Phil Ochs. Rock & rollers took note of him, including the Grateful Dead and New Riders of the Purple Sage.

The two come to Durango as part of Roots on the Rails, which books music trains all over North America. Their narrow gauge series includes a stop at the Hank; this out-of-town promoter has worked with Durango Acoustic Music in the past, bringing the likes of the Flatlanders, Fred Eaglesmith, Corb Lund and Eilen Jewell to town over the past dozen years.

Russell & Elliott have toured together several times. Both were part of the HighTone Records stable in the ’90s and early 2000s, along with Dave Alvin and Chris Smither. The foursome toured as “Monsters of Folk.” Elliott enlisted Russell to help with his “The Long Ride” record in 1999, and the two shared vocals on “Cup of Coffee” and “The Sky Above, the Mud Below.” Both are also veterans of the cowboy poetry circuit. (The only time I’ve ever seen Ramblin’ Jack was at the 1999 Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering; I’ve not only seen Russell, but booked him three times to play locally).

If you’re a fan of folk, Americana or cowboy music, grab one of those last few tickets. Now 87 years old, there’s no telling if Elliott will ramble back into Durango again.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango kicks off its 12th annual recital series at 7 p.m. Friday with a performance by soprano Ingela Onstad, mezzo-soprano Kerry Ginger, tenor Erik Gustafson, baritone Michael Hix and pianist Debra Ayers. The vocal quartet and pianist will perform “A Night at the Opera” featuring arias, duets, trios and quartets. Music will range from the Baroque era to the 20th century, alternating between some of the most celebrated arias and the most rousing ensembles, including Handel’s “Julius Caesar,” Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and “Cosi fan Tutte,” Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier,” Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Berlioz’s “Beatrice et Benedict,” Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress,” and Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Yeomen of the Guard.” The fellowship is located at 419 San Juan Drive.

Discover what your favorite Wonderland characters would be doing had they ran away and joined the circus when Durango Aerial Arts & Acrobatics presents “Circus in Wonderland” at 7 p.m. Friday at the Animas City Theatre. Once upon a time, long before Alice’s story, Wonderland was a beautiful, peaceful and prosperous place. Aerialists and acrobats of all ages will fly high from the ground to stilts, rope and trapeze.

Wells & van Tyn perform a benefit for the Humane Society at 7 p.m. Friday at the Durango Arts Center. The duo plays story-driven songs in multiple genres from folk to Celtic to Gypsy and beyond. This new powerhouse duo features CV Wells, known in California wine country for his soaring vocals and narrative songs, and Durango-based singer, violinist and multi-instrumentalist Jeroen van Tyn.

The latest iAM Music Fest at 11th St. Station features Make Beats, Street Blues Family, House of Stairs and iAM students at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Elsewhere: Durango’s latest bluegrass sensation, the Smelter Mountain Boys, plays 11th St. Station at 7 p.m. Friday; the Jade Robbins Band will be at the Balcony at 5 p.m. Saturday; the Kirk James Band rocks the Rusty Shovel at 5 p.m. Saturday; and the Black Velvet trio returns to the Balcony at 4 p.m. Sunday.

The best thing I heard this week is the latest from North Carolina-via-Wisconsin singer/songwriter Phil Cook, “People Are My Drug.” Cook, whose day job is teaching for the Center for Inquiry Based Learning at Duke University (Go Blue Devils!), has always dabbled in Americana, with veins of country, folk, blues and soul running through his two prior albums. Add gospel to the mix on his latest effort ... no doubt because Cook worked with both the Blind Boys of Alabama and Mavis Staples in between records. The lead single, “Steampowered Blues,” sets the tone for an album of pure joy and happiness.

You don’t find things that last anymore like a double-woven Navajo? Email me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net

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