Durango, Colorado: Music & People, People & Place

When we rode past a ‘Welcome to Colorful Colorado!’ sign we had officially left the Land of Enchantment. Within minutes we found ourselves ascending into the lower Rocky Mountains toward Durango. I had heard of this town before from a friend, and they highly recommended going there whenever possible. With Rocky Mountain High blaring on the radio as we sailed into the lower Rockies,  Abigail, a gal on the trip who had slept through the drive into the mountains, was routinely slamming her unconscious noggin against the van window much to our amusement and delayed concern. The glorious American road ahead of us and the dust of the desert behind, we had entered a whole new world just across the border from New Mexico.

We blew into town and made our way to the historic Strater Hotel. A picture in time, the large late 1800’s hotel had stood the test of time and seemingly gotten better with age. Walking in, one smells a subtle scent of red oak and grandmas house with the welcoming aromas of freshly cleaned carpets and burlesque waitresses briskly passing by with trays of bourbon and glasses. Incredible woodwork embellishing the interior lit by ancient chandeliers, the subtle glow of oil lamps and conversation from of the olde tyme bar within, and the brilliant front windows flooding the lobby with the rays of a most beautiful Saturday .The allegedly haunted hotel felt comfortable and welcoming, but two of the amigos on the trip, (the only other males on the trip out of the 10 of us, not necessarily a bad thing) and myself were on a mission to find a music store to purchase an inexpensive guitar for the trip and beyond.

We walked the clean, colorful, cool streets of downtown Durango towards a place we had seen on the drive in. After a short and telling encounter with some delightfully toothless vegabonds who we would later realize were pretty much the only homeless people in Durango, we continued on and like a beacon in the night a sign ahead read “BAND WAGON MUSIC STUDIO” with a giant guitar on it that beckoned us forward. Before entering the store, outside of it was a group of people playing music outside. Like their own private gig, open invitation, saturday jam session. The owner of the store, Tim, introduced himself and invited us to play. I play the drums among other things,  James picked up an acoustic electric calling his name and Lin sat with a jet black bass. We all fit into place like we were expected to show up.

There was a elderly player of the Native American flute named Jim with Beautifully handcrafted flutes that he had made. A young man named Augustus shredding lead guitar, a gal named Heidi playing accordion, an middle aged former smoker with a hole in his throat named Brad who could play the Jembe (tall hand drum) like ringing a bell. And of course, Tim the owner on the harmonica and freestyle vocals.

There wasn’t a plan, and it is usually better that way. James layed down something funky and we just started rolling. Our music went from funk to blues and jazz to latin/bossanova to upbeat disco funky poprock & roll Jim jam jubilee and beyond all in about an hour or two of solid playing. Music brings people together in a way that nothing else can which is one of the reasons I love it so much. We played loud and we played with soul, with feel. A crowd formed around the side of the store where we were playing and folks were loving it. Eventually people moved on with their days and some folks had to leave the session. James was then busy finding the right guitar and we had simmered down to some funky polka just Heidi on the accordian and myself on the drums. Within an hour of arriving in Durango we had already played some great live music with people we just met who were great and we got ourselves a guitar for the rest of the trip which came in very handy. Augustus, the guy playing lead guitar, is a student at Fort Lewis who showed us around the spectacular FL campus overlooking the great town nestled between grandiose mountains and large hills.

On our way back down to Durango, a man in a Land Cruiser asked if we needed a ride because he saw the (new) guitar on James’ back. We hoped in the kind stranger’s vehicle and he told us he plays guitar too and was about to set up for a show at a local bar with an outdoor venue in the back. Naturally we had to check it out. And so we arrived at Moe’s Tavern (like from the Simpson’s) and saw some incredible music with a lot of fun people full of life and laughter and the most serene joy. The had the demeanor of folks that once had a vision of where they wanted to lived if they could live anywhere in the world, but no longer thought like that because they had arrived. With day one in Durango, Colorado there were many lessons about living the life you want to live.

First, if you smoke crack, you will loose teeth and become the friendly mountain town bum. Just kidding but not actually drugs are bad for you. I was reminded that no matter what, music is there for you and it can form new bonds with people and strengthen the older bonds.  I learned that the same genuine kindness that will get you taken advantage of or taken for a fool in one place will bring you joy and happiness in another. It is all about the people that make the place everywhere you go, but the place also makes the people, and shapes the people that go there. Even if it only takes one day.


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