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On page 88 of this issue, you'll find the first ballot for the 1998 edition of the Westword Music Awards Showcase, which takes place at seven venues in lower downtown on Sunday, September 20. (Duplicate ballots are scheduled to appear in each issue through September 17, when our Showcase guide will be published.) As usual, the list of nominees selected by our panel of nearly sixty experts from the Denver-Boulder music community is a strong one, and there's plenty of new blood on hand; well over twenty acts are being honored for the first time. Many longtime favorites are present as well--but the overall top vote-getter, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, is not. The reason is predictable: In a year already overstuffed with band breakups, the Auto Club has become the latest victim.

According to Cessna, the members of the band (which also included pedal-steel guitarist Glen Taylor, multi-instrumentalist Frank Hauser Jr., drummer Jon Killough and banjoist/bassist John Rumley) decided against playing a heavily hyped last show. Instead, they chose to check out after wrapping up a pair of previously booked turns in Breckenridge on August 7 and 8. The gigs themselves weren't exactly triumphs, Cessna concedes: "Friday was bullshit. We wound up playing for two bartenders and two people who came up to see us from Denver. And Saturday we played some outdoor festival kind of thing that was just as ridiculous. They paid us a lot of money, but the whole thing was really a waste of time." However, he adds, "we had a nice time up there, at least--and it was nice to be able to go out with everybody still being friends. For me, it was almost kind of a relief."

The Auto Club revved up for the first time over four years ago, when Cessna, a veteran of the Denver Gentlemen, decided to found a project of his own. It rapidly became one of Colorado's favorite live acts, but not everyone was charmed by the outfit's rambunctious take on vintage country; non-believers dismissed the style as a grating novelty. Cessna insists that such widely varied responses were actually a source of inspiration. "That made it exciting for us," he claims. "It was nice to know that we could create a reaction no matter what we did. We obviously love country, but we had a different take on it than most others. It was something that we knew was good and that people in Denver knew was good but that a lot of other people didn't necessarily want to deal with."

Included among the last group were the attendees at the Association for Independent Music convention held here in May. The Auto Club won the right to perform before these visiting dignitaries at a Museum of Natural History shindig alongside Tim Ryan, a signee to the Warner Western imprint, but the same audience that gave a rousing reception to Ryan left in droves shortly into Cessna's set. Still, Cessna says that such experiences weren't a factor in the dissolution of the band. "The last couple of months have been kind of difficult for me as far as the amount of work that we've been doing and the fact that vacation time was being used for band things. And then, when I'd come home, I'd have to do more band things. I just needed a break, and I needed to spend some time with my kids"--Amelia, eight, and George, six. Cessna initially envisioned a few months' hiatus from the Auto Club rather than a divorce. But, he says, "the more I thought about it, the more I thought that when I was ready to play again, that maybe I'd want to play something different."

At this point, the players don't have firm plans for the future, but Cessna expects that all of them will return to the stage in the near future. "I'm definitely not quitting," he says. "It won't be long before I'll be back at the Lion's Lair singing country songs." In the meantime, he has a lot of fond memories to look back on, including two fine CDs (1996's Slim Cessna's Auto Club and American Country Music Changed Her Life, a live disc issued in June) and a slew of great concerts. "We opened for Johnny Cash in Las Vegas, and we got to spend a couple of weeks in Paris," Cessna recalls. "It's been a wonderful time."

Careers in music are all about timing. Take the Verve, which headlined at Mammoth Gardens on August 11. The band, fronted by Rolling Stone cover boy Richard Ashcroft, has been big in Britain for several years, but it was going nowhere in the colonies until last year's impressive platter Urban Hymns. The album's first single, "Bitter Sweet Symphony," suffered through a troubled gestation period on the way to the marketplace. A dispute over a string motif sampled from a Sixties-era album of orchestrally rendered Rolling Stones ditties resulted in the track being credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Then, out of something very much like spite, the Stones' handlers sold "Symphony" to Nike for use in a series of TV spots. The Verve objected to the move, but it proved exceedingly beneficial to the quintet; the popularity of the commercial helped turn the song into a smash. In a sense, this makes it a cousin to the New Seekers' "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)" and Paul Anka's "Times of Your Life," which were adapted from ads for Coca-Cola and Kodak. But "Bitter Sweet Symphony" is something these precursors were not: good.

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