Copper Mountain Music Festival features Peter Rowan, bluegrass artists
if you go
What: Copper Mountain Music Festival
When: Saturday, July 11
Noon-1 p.m. The Honeycutters
1:30-2:30 p.m. Balsam Range
3-4:30 p.m. The Larry Keel Experience
5-6:30 p.m. Jeff Austin Band
7-8:30 p.m. Peter Rowan Twang an’ Groove
Where: Burning Stones Plaza, Copper Mountain Resort
More information: Visit www.coppercolorado.com
This summer, Copper Mountain Resort is introducing another genre to its summer musical lineup. On Saturday, July 11, five bands will bring the sounds of bluegrass, country and Americana to this pocket of the Rocky Mountains.
The definition of the term “bluegrass” depends on who’s talking. Many bands prefer to define their particular style of bluegrass, adding on other genres to describe a unique sound or emphasize certain root influences.
“I think we’re progressive traditionalist,” said Tim Surrett, of Balsam Range out of North Carolina. By that he means the band is on the progressive side of the traditionalist bluegrass camp. He also admits it sounds a little bit like trying to explain a political affiliation.
Amanda Anne Platt, founder, songwriter and lead singer of The Honeycutters, also from North Carolina, likes to describe her band’s sound as “Appalachian honky tonk.”
“We definitely fall very neatly in the middle of the Americana category,” she said. “That genre is so vast right now and so many artists are defined or self-defined by Americana, that I try to be more specific.”
Peter Rowan, who has been a large figure on the bluegrass scene since the ’60s, will finish up the festival with his quintet “Twang and Groove,” which he says utilizes “all those elements in bluegrass in a more electric format.”
Rowan’s opinion as to why bluegrass has been and continues to be so popular relates to the emotional and spiritual elements of the genre.
“I think that it has great rhythm, and there’s something about bluegrass that is very spiritually uplifting,” he said. “And it’s based in two very strong elements — it’s based in blues, and then of course sort of mountain folk music, that’s all part of it, but it has a strong gospel element.”
THE MUSICIAN AND THE MUSE
Whether or not a musician defines their music as country Americana or bluegrass gospel or any combination, their origin stories tend to be similar.
“Bluegrass and country music and gospel music is just a normal part of life,” said Surrett, who grew up in North Carolina. “You’re almost born into it.”
Surrett, Platt and Rowan all mentioned families with musical interest and talent that inspired them to make their own way in the business.
“There were always family members and friends who played music coming over to the house, so I got to experience ‘live’ pickin’ and singing from the get-go,” Larry Keel, of the Larry Keel Experience, wrote in an email. “My father and my brother taught me how to actually play music, showed me chords, bought me my first guitar, really got me started playing serious by the time I was 7.”
Rowan has fond memories of his Uncle Jim, who returned from service in the Navy in World War II with “these grass skirts and these coconut bras, and he made me and my mother and father and everybody put these things on and he started playing the ukulele.”
Rowan picked up the ukulele from his uncle, which later transitioned into acoustic guitar, and the rest is history. And though his music has evolved over the years, he finds himself returning to his early roots.
“I’m historically oriented. Like right now, I’m listening to Hawaiian music from the 1930s and I just think that music of those olden times had a feel to it, you know?” he said. “I always go back to this stuff from the golden era of earlier recording, early 1900s.”
Rowan said he is drawn to the innovation of those early decades, when instruments and their uses were still new and different. His guitar and his techniques often play a large part in his songwriting.
“I’ve got a song called ‘The Raven,’ that is, it just feels like a raven, it feels like those big wings flapping, and it’s a technique on the guitar that’s using your fingers instead of using a flat pick,” he said.
He also admitted that it’s not unusual for him to get so involved in a song that everything else fades away until it’s done, including paying the bills.
Platt prefers to do all of her songwriting with her guitar close at hand. She prefers solitude, and her house is an ideal sanctuary, with a great back porch and a kitchen with “amazing acoustics.”
All of the musicians agreed that interacting with the audience is their favorite part of a live performance.
“We really try to create that same feeling of connection that we feel at a campfire jam or living room party pickin’ when we’re onstage,” Keel wrote. “We want everyone involved to go for it, whether you’re playing an instrument or not. It’s awesome to just celebrate everyone getting on the same brainwave.”
Platt added that she hopes her lyrics connect to the audience, as well as the rhythm of the music.
“If there’s one song in particular that somebody will hear and just be like, ‘oh yeah that lyric makes me think, or just takes me somewhere,’ that’s what I hope they take away from a live show,” she said.
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