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By Tom Murphy
Further proof that the digital age can make strange bedfellows:
This week, the Mercury Cafe will christen the Denver Barn Dance, a monthly series of country-music performances that hark back to the days when a nice, whoopin' hootenanny closed a day of ridin', ropin' and Bible reading. And while the emphasis is on music inspired by country masters of the past -- you'll see no computer-enhanced vocalists attempting to pass REO Speedwagon ballads off as country, for example -- the Barn Dance's primary promotional conduit is very much a thing of the 21st century. Co-presented by Pork Boilin' Poor Boy(and Westword contributor) Marty Jones and Open Road bassist Ben O'Connor, the series is the strumming, dancing, real-life manifestation of denverbarndance.com, the first local Web site to recognize the city's country-music subculture as a world unto itself. Maintained by O'Connor, the site is a cyber hitching post for the twang-minded, with calendar postings and message boards devoted to area country acts, as well as links to local band pages and record labels. There's even some fashion guidance for the aspiring cowperson: If you're wondering where you might find a double-breasted Western shirt, this is the place to start your search. Denverbarndance.com will soon begin streaming audio from regional artists.
Inspired by a successful, roots-oriented show at the Gothic Theatre last year, the first flesh-and-blood Barn Dance will scoot into the Mercury on Saturday, January 5, and then reappear on the first Saturday of every month for the rest of the year. The performances are designed as all-ages, family-style events, where even a Shania midriff might seem a little out of place. And the fun begins early, around 8 p.m., with guest DJs spinning sounds for the dance floor; Kathy Gatliffe, host of Radio 1190's excellent Americana program Skip, Pop, Skratch, will do the inaugural spinning duties. The show really starts when the vinyl is put away, however: Each Barn Dance will feature at least two or three bands, along with guest performers and jam sessions. This Saturday's show will find Hi-Beam honcho Halden Woffordand New Country Kitchen banjoist Armando Zuppa sitting in with the Poor Boys; next month, Nashville songsmith Tommy Womackwill take the stage, joined by local players.
"I think local country players know how hard it can be to get a gig," says Jones. "For the past year or two, there's been this energy of, like, a grassroots uprising of twang-type music here, with all the bands plugging each other. We want to be able to give the bands, and the fans and people who are just curious about this music, something that they can count on."
Stay all night; stay a little longer.