Typically, singer/songwriters make me want to prick myself with a pin just to feel alive again. But, as times go, I need girl friends so I volunteer around town now (volunteer selfishly obviously). My little volunteering gig tonight fortuitously took a turn toward music-watching, and with the plethora of bluegrass options in Gunnison, s/ss didn’t look so bad. Plus the arrangement was just right for a Dara: four s/ss on stage, talking to the crowd, talking to each other, and (this is key) limited to two songs each in a turn. Four songs from a band I really like can set me to yawning – I like to switch up, in nearly all aspects of life. Not to mention, the switching up enabled me to discern actual differences in s/ss for the first time in my life maybe. None of them, except maybe Kevin Walter, had great voices – but I imagined they were Kristoffersons. And if you’ve ever wondered what Gunnison is like, the personalities of these four s/ss pretty much encapsulates it.
Chris Coady: [Gunnison, CO] A slight man, worker man jeans, a dress shirt covered in guitars. He plays with a pretty well known local band 18 Mile Radius. Gentle loner mountain man. His sound varied from Tom Petty to Townes (that’s a stretch – some of his songs had a lonesome sound at least). Simple spare guitar. Genuine heartfelt lyrics – hearing his song on youtube right now is actually kind of giving me a cringing toothache, but there’s no denying he’s a sweet and good man.
Alan Wartes: [Gunnison, CO] A pretty man, except that he was in 80s jeans, a long sleeved red knit shirt covered by a black vest, and red Converse (which he mentioned). He was the one on the stage I’d never heard of but apparently plays with a pretty well established band Avalon Road. He is the enlightened spiritual leader. He was a lighter version (if that’s possible?) of Cat Stevens and Gordon Lightfoot. His guitar playing was a relevation after Chris’ – not sure if it was a difference in guitars (Alan’s had the roundy back) or in the playing – but Alan’s guitar sound was round and rich and intricate – he does more picking than strumming. Most of his songs told stories of family and average life – every one of his songs described him crying. He went into a tirade about how there haven’t been protest songs since the 60s – this false nostalgia is a pet peeve of mine and I was forced to degrade him into the self-righteous category. He followed this tirade up with a song about the pains of working too much and not having time for family (hello Cat Stevens), and this was about when I had to revoke his rights to be moved into a better category. He also over-emoted while watching the others play. Despite our personal differences ;), he was polished and confident, and I liked his round sound a lot.
Evelyn Roper: [Gunnison, CO] Another pro – beautiful, calm and confident – respectable jeans, a sparkly sexy top toned down with a long sleeved gauzey top. She’s at the center of Gunnison’s music scene, playing solo shows, organizing musical kid events –respected – never had seen her. She’s the strong unpretentious woman who runs deep. In contrast to the whines and simpaticos that preceded her, she was raucous on her guitar (as racous as acoustic gets). She often swayed country but was so metaphorical and literate, she also reminded me of Dar Williams. Her music was full of metaphors: men as tumbleweeds. She also incorporated a lot of desert imagery, which I enjoyed as a former desert girl. She’s the rare breed who is a poet that gets things done.
Kevin Walter: [Gunnison, CO] ElPrimoHaole has often waxed fond over this performer, purportedly recently returned to Gunny after some messy love affairs – alt-country, rowdy, engages the crowd in insults. He was by far the youngest on the stage – baggy clothes, baseball cap pulled low throughout the show, and consistently eager to have a beer close at hand. Radiated nervous intensity. Whereas the others prefaced their songs with poignant stories, he tried and finally said, “I hate this…” It was refreshing. I was nervous for him, what with his nervousness, but he totally pulled it out. His guitar was just so much louder – bluesy, rocking – he was Almost a one-man band (a la Scott H Biram) rather than a s/s. There was definitely some 90s sound there (Cracker, Marcy Playground) but also some country rowdiness (Kid Rock) and then this weird great British rocker snarl (Pete Doherty – yum). Lyrics were rawer than the others but real and honest. I really liked him.
Proper etiquette as a s/s in a round: 1) nod head to beat (when there is one) to communicate appreciation, 2) nod more forcefully when a lyric strikes you as insightful or particularly truthful, 3) before playing, compliment your fellow players and express doubt as to whether you are even qualified to follow them up