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Maggie Simpson is an acoustic guitarist and songwriter, a teacher who instructs other musicians on how to connect emotionally with their own art. Three years ago, Simpson left Boulder for Laramie, Wyoming, our dusty metropolitan cousin to the north, where many a saloon window is darted with historic bullet holes and the slow, cowboy pace of civic life allows plenty of time for picking and playing. So these days, Simpson's entitled to be a bit of a dreamer.
For the past few months, her Rocky Mountain reveries have focused on the Acoustic Carnival, an ambitious, mobile series of acoustic performances that Simpson's launching this week. On Thursday, January 10, at the Soiled Dove, Acoustic Carnival Volume One will showcase Simpson and Fort Collins's always excellent Three Twins (led by John Magnie, a former Subdude), as well as Massachusetts-based songwriters Beth Amseland Christopher Williams. Like all of the Carnival-affiliated events to follow, Thursday's show will feature a mix of regional and touring national talent in an environment that encourages improvisation and spontaneity. Simpson, for example, would be delighted if Magnie and his mates decided to join in on one of her songs, and she says she's ready to return the favor.
"We really want to encourage people to participate in each other's songs," she says. "That's something that I find audiences really appreciate. When the performers are having a great time -- laughing and joking and ribbing each other -- there's this energy on stage, this wonderful lift, and the audience gets to go on the ride."
Simpson frequently describes the Carnival in travel terms, which is appropriate considering its roving nature. Though she plans four big shows per year, in venues from the Dove to the Boulder Theater, Simpson also envisions the series moving into smaller spaces such as Swallow Hill, or even the itsy bitsy Acoustic Cafe in Nederland. Although initially a Colorado affair, the Carnival could swing into Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, with a special stop at the historic Wyo Theater in Sheridan. The idea, she explains, is to create a performance series that's mutually beneficial for the audiences that show up to listen and the musicians who entertain them. Eventually, the series might become a handy showcase-type opportunity for bands hoping to pitch themselves to record execs willing to make a stop at a Denver club on their way to a weekend of skiing in Vail.
"It's a big country, and everyone has got to come through here, right? On their way to one end or the other, they do," Simpson says. "That creates opportunities for us as musicians -- to be seen, to network and just to bring in some players that the average person might not have heard of but who are wonderful, wonderful musicians."
Simpson wants to work toward making the region an acoustic-music hub rather than a place where talented players hone their chops before "graduating" to cities with more established acoustic traditions. She also hopes to entice some of the area's more popular, not traditionally acoustic acts to strip down for Carnival crowds.
"People are always talking about getting out, launching from here and moving to places like Boston and New England, where there are just so many clubs and such a built-in infrastructure of support," she says. "But Boston is so old. It's been a city forever; they've had time to build everything up. It'll take time for us to do the same thing in such a younger area, but we'll get there.
"I'd love to get some of the big names, like Opie Gone Bad and people like that, to play acoustically and show us what drives their music," she adds. "I think it would be a great way to demonstrate that acoustic music isn't just what people think it is. It can be hard-driving and intense or aggressive; it's not all gentle and quiet."
Simpson is interested in hearing from local artists who'd like to take the Carnival ride. (E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.) The only requirement? You can't be plugged into anything except your own vibe. Tune in.
Not counting drunk/deranged family members at holiday parties, when was the last time you saw a grown man wearing nothing but white briefs and flailing about uncontrollably, occasionally barking out words and obscenities in front of throngs of onlookers both shocked and exhilarated? It's been too long, hasn't it, matey? Bill the Welder, which performs at the 15th Street Tavern on Saturday, January 12, with Reno Divorce and the A-Holes, will provide a chance to exercise your penchant for punk-rock panties. A revolving combo that enlists various members of the Fort Collins rock scene -- the ALL, Wretch Like Me, Tanger, post-Descendents lineage that orbits the Owned & Operated label -- Bill the Welder is essentially a solo showcase for one Daniel "Bugphace" Snow, a guitarist who once played the Christian role in a Cyrano de Bergarac-style band called the Plumbers, wherein Snow and his accomplice pretended to play their instruments while their more musically adept friends hid with their guitars behind half-stacks. These days, Snow's got his own act together a bit more, though it's not without its surrealist elements. At live shows, Bill the Welder displays a knack for enticing otherwise normal people to behave in ways that would make their mothers shrivel -- once, a young man relieved himself on stage in exchange for a free T-shirt -- while practically begging audiences to throw stuff at the band. Feel the Weld, if you dare.