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Ski patrol band brings the jam to Gold Pan in Breckenridge

From left to right: Rob Gannon, Aaron Robbins, Nick Grasso and Elston "Elwood" Jones. The musicians make up local band Blue Monkey 22, who will play the Gold Pan Saloon on Thursday, March 3.
Heather Jarvis / hjarvis@summitdaily.com |

IF YOU GO

Blue Monkey 22 will play Thursday, March 3, 9:30 p.m. at Gold Pan Saloon, 103 N. Main St., Breckenridge; and Tuesday, March 8, 9 p.m. at Napper Tandy’s, 110 Lincoln Ave., Breckenridge

Like Superman and his alter-ego Clark Kent, the musicians that make up local band Blue Monkey 22 are ski patrollers by day, band members by night.

In the early morning hours of the locker room, they don their red Breckenridge uniforms and head out on the hill to throw avalanche bombs, transport wounded skiers or help someone in need. In uniform, they are all business.

But at the end of the day, they transition to a different role, one they take almost as seriously. At night, the men of Blue Monkey 22 bring the jams, providing their fellow patrollers and other music lovers a way to let off some steam and even sing along.

Even the band name is all ski patrol — it comes from three words ski patrollers would ask a head-trauma patient to remember and repeat back at a later point.

“The most important thing for me is that we bring all of our coworkers together in a social environment after work,” said Aaron Robbins, who plays bass and is also the longest tenured patroller in the group. “The stressful job that we have, it’s a pretty important outlet, I think, for everyone to take part in. Having a little bit of live music in bars is super fun for a lot of us, and for us that are playing the music.”

Blue Monkey 22 will play Gold Pan Saloon in Breckenridge on Thursday, March 3, with music starting at 9 p.m.

FROM COWORKERS TO BAND MATES

Sitting with the four musicians, it’s easy to tell how close they are. Their casual banter and playful jabs at each other portray a bond that only close friends share. Like many of the relationships made in Summit County, the tight-knit group of patrollers began spending more time together after meeting at work. After finding a mutual love of playing music, Nick Grasso and Rob Gannon started creating YouTube videos of the pair covering a different band each month. It started out with Banduary, covering The Band for the month of January, and every week they would bring in other musicians.

Grasso and Gannon, adding Robbins and drummer Elston Jones, only started playing together as a group for a ski patrol party. Every year, the rookies throw a party for the rest of the patrollers, and the four decided to learn about 30 songs to perform at the event.

After playing their set, they received a lot of positive feedback from the bar manager, bartenders and the crowd.

“We got a lot of encouragement from the people that were there, so that was sort of the big kicker,” Grasso, lead guitarist and vocalist, said.

Blue Monkey 22 covers a variety of songs, from Eric Clapton, Cream, and Derek and the Dominos, to Phish, Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic — “songs that people in a ski town want to hear,” Grasso said.

“I studied psychology, and I’ve found, because I love music, that people react very well to — you know the bell curve?” Grasso continued. “So if you hear a song every day — that’s on one end of the curve … and the other side are songs that you’ve never heard before. … The very peak, the very least standard deviation, are songs … called the familiar unfamiliar. A song that you’ve heard, that you recognize, but you haven’t heard it for two years, or six months, or whatever the time frame is for you to forget that song. And that’s a lot of the stuff that we like to play. People are going to know that one, but it’s not ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’”

Each of the players brings a different musical background to the table, providing for an eclectic set list. Although they play all cover songs, all the members will say that each song has a Blue Monkey 22 spin to it. Fans will recognize, say, the song “Use Me” by Bill Withers, but it will be the Blue Monkey 22 version, trying to make the song their own.

“I like to be a player not a writer,” Grasso said. “It’s fine for me to play other people’s music because we can take it, change it a little bit.”

Jones cuts in, “Nick is a player, I think that’s what he’s trying to convey.”

The playful banter continues, and as Gannon takes a sip of his beer, he adds that the songs don’t sound the same every time they play them.

“Because we don’t practice enough,” Robbins jokes.

PATROL FIRST

At work, Robbins is an avalanche specialist, Gannon an accident investigator, Jones started out as a snowmobile operator and Grasso calls himself a grunt. Robbins has been with ski patrol since 1997, and this is his 21st season working for the ski resort. The Alma resident grew up in Tulsa, spending one week a year on ski vacation in Summit to “raise hell and go home,” he said.

Gannon, who plays rhythm guitar, is from Boston but has lived in the county for the last six years, spending summers working at a golf course. A Texas native, Jones came to Colorado 10 years ago to work for one summer and never left.

Grasso is from upstate New York, although he “tries not to let it show to much” and has lived here for the last five years, with three on patrol.

“We are all ski patrollers,” Robbins said. “It’s a very interesting and challenging job. Every day is different up there. Some days are stressful, some days are blissful, but we all come together in the end. It’s a strong bond. Not a whole lot of people can say that about their chosen career or profession. “

What started out as a gig to entertain their friends has grown into a more serious band. The group has become the regular Tuesday night band at Moe’s Original Bar B Que in Breckenridge, and has started to see a larger following then just other patrollers.

“We are attracting a different crowd, but we still get a lot of support from all our coworkers, which is really special to me,” Robbins said. “It is really the whole reason why I signed up to do it.”


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