The week the music died

The week the music died
Chris Aaland - 03/19/2020

For more than 12 years, I’ve written “Top Shelf” on a weekly basis as a column about the local music scene and nightlife. I also drift into sports, pop culture and political territory from time to time. And, on far too many occasions, I’ve paid homage to a family member or friend who has passed, like my son, brother, mother and festival friend.

Live music and nightlife are shut down. Gatherings of more than 10 people are forbidden. How long will this last? Two weeks? Two months? A year? The coronavirus has not sent me its touring itinerary yet. Just like with Milli Vanilli in 1988, we don’t know how long we’ll have to endure.

In last week’s column, I reported on the huge slate of upcoming concerts and festivals in the Four Corners region. It was a big week – Leftover Salmon, Dirtwire, the Durango Celtic Festival and much more. But I felt irresponsible publicizing these events.

I was an early adaptor to the concept of quarantining. After all, as a survivor of Marfan Syndrome and the corresponding aortic aneurism, I’ve milked nearly seven extra years out of life since receiving an artificial heart valve. Those seven years have been good and bad – just like life, essentially. I survive on a daily regimen of five pills to keep my blood levels thin enough so as not to clog my valve, and thick enough to prevent internal bleeding. I’ve done all of this while trying to live my life much as before. Let’s face it – this was unrealistic. I can’t hike up mountain creeks like I used to. I can’t drink beer like I used to. Shooting baskets in the gym or the driveway with my son taxes my back, my knees and my heart.

I’ve learned that smaller doses get me by. I used to be capable of downing a 12-pack in one sitting around the campfire. Today, most nights – hell, most weeks – see no alcohol. A 12-pack usually lasts a month or more.

Marfan’s is a bitch. It’s a genetic disorder that breaks down connective tissue. Bad backs, scoliosis, joint problems, poor vision and, ultimately, aortic aneurisms, are common traits. Fewer than 20,000 cases arise in the United States each year. There are treatments, but no cure. The worst is that those with Marfan’s have a 50 percent chance of passing the gene on to their children. My mom had it, and it ultimately claimed her life when she was 67. Mom passed it on to me, my sister, Stephanie, and my little brother, Billy. I had my aneurism when I was 44. Billy was 32, and not so fortunate. He died on the surgical table after suffering his aneurism.

Billy had no children. Stephanie has a 13-year-old daughter, Emma, who inherited the gene. So did my 13-year-old son, Otto. Rosie, thankfully, did not. Baby Gus who died when he was five-and-a-half months old? We don’t know. He died of a rare virus.

So call me paranoid when something like COVID-19 rears its ugly head. People die from rare diseases. I know – I’ve buried or spread the ashes of three of them. I’ll be making the rarest of appearances outside my house for the foreseeable future. Every time Shelly has to go to the store or run an errand, she risks bringing back the virus and exposing me. Every time the kids want to ride their bikes to the park to play and then come into contact with another kid, it risks exposure.

Last week alone may have sealed my fate. I work in a small office with just 11 people. But several of those people traveled on vacations or business trips, unaware or insensitive to the fact that they might contribute to the spread. I was one of them. In mid-February, I took Otto and my best buddy, Steve, to the NHL Stadium Series in Colorado Springs. At this point, the outbreak was limited to a cruise ship and was just reaching a senior center in Washington state.

Business and life went on as usual. Last week, KSUT hosted its annual spring membership drive. As the station’s development director, I was front and center each day, from the wee morning hours until long past sunset each day. KSUT is located in Ignacio and has very few visitors each day. During membership drive, though, we welcome dozens of guests, volunteers and bands to the studios for interviews, performances and more. I’d guess that somewhere between 50 and 75 folks came through our doors.

We posted signs saying this was a handshake-free zone, but the signs did no good. Most of our guests were young people who think they’re invincible. They often demanded handshakes or hugs. I resisted most, but not all. By week’s end, my co-workers shared my paranoia as the news kept coming.

The big eye-opener was when Gov. Jared Polis made the decision to shut down Colorado’s ski areas in the middle of spring break. The outcry from some of my friends was appalling, as they went on social media rants. In Colorado, the biggest outbreaks have happened in resort communities like Aspen, Vail, Gunnison and Summit County. Think about it – world class ski resorts attract visitors from around the world. They become miniature petri dishes with limited resources for medical emergencies.

Just as these areas were seeing outbreaks, many of my festival friends were trekking up to Telluride to see the Infamous Stringdusters. Those same friends drove back to Durango and saw Leftover Salmon last week. I’m not saying that they brought coronavirus with them. I’m just saying that we’ve all made decisions in the past month to travel, to embrace and to live our lives that may end up with a hidden fee that reveals itself in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, my employer, KSUT, has pulled the plug on our next two concerts (Old Salt Union on April 2 and Sierra Ferrell on April 13). Our Pagosa Folk’n Bluegrass Festival is in jeopardy. We haven’t announced our big July 5 outdoor concert yet. We live in fear, but we must embrace hope. And common sense.

I wish each of you health and happiness. I hope to tip a pint back with you soon.

Email me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net.

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