Sweet Lunacy

The history of Boulderís music scene plays out in a new documentary.

Leland Rucker's introduction to Boulder, Colorado, couldn't have been much more prophetic. The first time he ever heard of the town, he recalls, was decades ago, when a classmate hipped him to an album he'd just secured. "It was The Astronauts, Live at Tulagi, Boulder, Colorado -- that's what it said on the album cover," Rucker recalls today. "And here was this picture of the band, taken on Panorama Point, with the town down below it. I thought, 'Boulder -- cool.'"

This Friday, that teenaged moment takes on foretelling significance. Rucker and Don Chapman (a producer with Channel 8) will debut Sweet Lunacy, a documentary that tells the story of music in Boulder, where Rucker's lived for the past seventeen years. According to Rucker (who served as an entertainment editor for the Colorado Daily from 1986 to 1993), Boulder's musical history owes much to the venue where the surf-rocking Astronauts recorded their live debut nearly four decades ago.

"Everything goes back to Tulagi," Rucker points out. "It's one of the most famous bars of the post-war period in the West. Every band who is in the movie from the past forty years has played Tulagi, from the Astronauts to Big Head Todd and the Monsters." Those bands are joined in the film by other homegrown acts, including Dusty Drapes and the Dusters (see Backbeat), Tommy Bolin and his band, Zephyr, Chris Daniels, Woody and the Too High Band, the Freddi-Henchi Band, Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids, Firefall and others.

The Astronauts blast off in Boulder.
The Astronauts blast off in Boulder.

"Boulder has always been a place where musicians gravitate," Rucker says. "There've been thousands of bands here over the years; we picked ten or twelve of them and tell some stories about them." He and Chapman started work on the film three years ago with a small grant from the Boulder Arts Commission. Since then, the two have supported the film's production themselves, with help from fans and musicians who have provided rare film footage and audio recordings for use in Lunacy. "The cool part about making this," says Rucker, "is that it's turned into a community effort. And nobody has wanted to charge us for anything."

The film is a first for Rucker, and he says the time it's taken to complete it has left him cool to the idea of pursuing more movie projects. But the subject matter was dear to his heart, he says, and the film's musical and non-musical moments serve as telling timepieces to Boulder's history. In the '60s and '70s, he notes, "Boulder was a hotbed of radicalism." Evidence of the town's moments of civil unrest appear in the film.

But it was something other than civil unrest that led musicians such as Joe Walsh, Steven Stills and others to join local players in making Boulder their home. "Boulder was a hippie center back in the '60s and '70s," Rucker notes. "People here were partying their asses off."

Today some might argue that's still the case, though Rucker thinks the town's musical climate may not be as fertile as it once was. "But you won't hear me complaining about it," he says. Instead, Rucker hears another voice, from the second time the name "Boulder" entered his consciousness. While hitchhiking across the country in the '60s, he met a fellow wanderer at a truck stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "I can still remember his face and everything about him, and it was 31 years ago," Rucker says of the gent, who offered a cryptic observation: "Man, gotta get to Boulder. Heavy times." The comment struck a familiar chord. "Boulder, that's that place again," Rucker remembers thinking. "It took me five years to get here and another ten to move here, and I was lured here by the music. And I'm not going anywhere now."

 
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