Coral Creek brings bluegrass to Arapahoe Basin |

Coral Creek brings bluegrass to Arapahoe Basin

Coral Creek will play A-Basin's first Spring Concert Series event Saturday, April 30. Music runs from 1–4 p.m. at the base area.
Justin Tafoya / Clarkson Creative |


What: Coral Creek

When: Saturday, April 30; 1–4 p.m.

Where: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area

Cost: Free

More information:

As music has evolved, it is no longer easy to categorize a band’s genre. Music reflecting different artists’ influences mesh together to create variations of every genre. In bluegrass, the style has now branched from traditional to include progressive, jamgrass and even newgrass. It’s no different for up-and-coming Colorado band Coral Creek, whose music blends together Americana, country, bluegrass, folk and island music, along with a variety of musicians from different backgrounds and bands.

“Creatively, the chemistry is very good,” said Chris Thompson, songwriter and guitarist for Coral Creek. “The backgrounds of each of the players are quite diverse but have a lot of concentric circles around the bluegrass and the jam band and sort of old country rock stuff.”

Coral Creek will hit the new stage at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area for its first Shakin’ at the Basin Spring Concert Series show on Saturday, April 30. The concerts are free in the base area, and music will be from 1–4 p.m.


The original version of Coral Creek began when Thompson and his wife moved to the Virgin Islands in 2005, creating an album of island tunes called “Living on Vacation,” which became their first underground release in 2007. The band’s music and members changed over the years, eventually adding Bill McKay to create the “modern era of the band,” Thompson said.

“The band went through some personnel changes over the first few years, and it’s really come out as Coral Creek 2.0 here at the beginning of 2015 when Bill McKay and I started playing together and sort of rebuilt the band around two male vocalists; piano-, guitar-fronted band,” he said.

McKay is known for his roles with Leftover Salmon and Derek Trucks Band. The singer and keyboardist joined Derek Trucks Band in 1995, touring and recording with the group for five years. After moving back to Colorado in 2000 — where he had attended college in the ’80s — he picked up with Leftover Salmon before recently joining up with Thompson.

“Bill, like me, grew up as a Dead Head in the ’90s, ’80s, and he’s more of a rock and blues guy, but, 10 years with Leftover Salmon, you’re going to develop some pretty good bluegrass chops.”

Luke Bulla comes from a traditional bluegrass and country background, playing in Nashville for the last 15 years. Earning a Grammy Award with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, the fiddle player has also toured with Lyle Lovett as a singer and violinist.

The band recently released a self-titled album with executive producer Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth.

“Tim Carbone’s a damn good producer,” Thompson said. “I think the music serves the songs, and I credit him a lot for that because my own inclination is to let the jamming stretch on more than it ought to for a record.”

There are nine original songs on the album plus a Neil Young cover. Thompson said he particularly enjoys that there is a lot of piano on it.

“Bill is a ridiculously good piano player, so to have the piano be featured more than it has been on past albums, I really enjoyed,” he said. “I think that captures the sound of our live performances now; Bill’s piano playing is a big part of our sound today.”

Coral Creek is in the writing process for more recordings, and Thompson said they plan to get into the studio this winter for an expected EP release in 2017.


As a songwriter, he said his inspiration comes from the people around him and life events, whether tragic or beautiful. He tries not to be too political or serious but approaches his songs with a bit of humor, anger and happiness.

He’s not afraid to turn anger into a song, like he did with “Gore Massacre,” about a man in history who shot thousands of buffalo, bear and elk.

“Song about a guy like that is going to come off dark and negative, but I write songs about pink dresses and bunny rabbits inspired by my daughter,” he laughed.

His playfulness in writing is showcased in songs like “God Is Pink.” “God is pink, that’s what my daughter says, ’cause pink is the color that God loves best.”

But one of his favorite songs he’s written was about the death of a good friend who left behind a 4-year-old daughter. The tragic events hit him hard not only because he lost his friend, but because he had a young daughter of his own, and it was hard to imagine leaving her behind.

“For the people who knew Craig and know about the genesis of the song, it’s very powerful in that sense,” he said.

Coral Creek will be hopping on a plane in July for a United Kingdom tour, looking to push into that market and do some shows on mainland Europe. The band will also be on the docket this summer for Yarmony Grass at Rancho Del Rio, Clear Creek Rapidgrass in Idaho Springs, the Four Corners Folk Festival in Pagosa Springs and they will be a part of Beaver Creek’s concert series. Thompson said fans will see a couple new faces sitting in with the band this summer.

“This sound that this band is making now is something that I’m very proud of,” he said.

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