When it's trying to appeal to businesses that are thinking about relocating to Colorado, the Denver Chamber of Commerce is quick to cite a surge in the city's population. The numbers, however, don't reflect the veritable exodus of local musicians -- including Slim Cessna, Fat Mama and members of the Samples -- who, whether for personal or artistic reasons, have been hightailing it out of town faster than whooping cranes bound for Canada. The latest player to pack up his guitar case and move on down the road is Lonesome Dan Kase of the 32-20 Jug Band, who's moving to the frosty environs of Minnesota at the end of the month. Though we wish Kase the best of luck, the news is -- if you'll pardon the fourth-grade language -- a very serious bummer for D-town's music scene, not just for fans of the Jug Band's loving revisions of blues, country and bluegrass styles. Kase, a Michigan native who came to Denver in 1996 via Nashville and Los Angeles (and who's too busy packin' to be reached for comment), is a veritable Rhodes scholar of blues music. At 25, he's an archivist of traditional styles usually unheard of by the average player his age. It's a knowledge that shines through, both on his bluesy solo performances and in his contributions to the Jug Band -- his guitar work is meticulous and creative, while he's managed to elevate kazoo-playing to bold new heights during the two-and-a-half years of the Jug Band's life. The band's self-titled CD, released late last year, finds Kase and his jug mates covering tunes from greats like Roy Acuff and Huddie Ledbetter, as well as traditional gospel numbers and backwoods standards in a way that demonstrates why the band has found favor with hillbillies and hipsters alike.
The Jug Band's John Hickman, who plays banjo and other stringed things, says that Kase's departure was a very amicable one, based more on differences in lifestyle than musical taste. "What it really came down to is that Dan wants to work on his solo project, and he really wants to make a living as a professional musician," Hickman says. "I'm kind of in a different position in my life. I've got a job, a mortgage, I'm getting officially married later this year. I'm not really willing to go on tour and play at the Lion's Lairs all across America. It's just a money-losing proposition. I've seen people on the road. And they always seem miserable -- and broke."
Like most local outfits, the 32-20 Jug Band has never been a moneymaker for those involved. Though their CD was well-received by purists and press alike (including Westword; see "Please Release Me," January 27), and cuts from the album have enjoyed regular rotation on KGNU/88.5-FM, sales have been slow, partly because the band has never played the Denver club circuit with the fervor of peers like Marty Jones and the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys or Slim Cessna's Auto Club. "We've never really thought about the future, or been very good at marketing ourselves," Hickman says. "We've got some good friends at the Colorado Blues Society, and we like that organization a lot. Same thing with the Colorado Music Association. But it's like we never joined just because none of us ever got around to filling out the forms. I do feel like we have participated [in the music scene], but I think it might have made a difference if we'd actually done some of that stuff."
Hickman reasons that Kase's departure could wind up being the best for everyone -- excepting, perhaps, fans who crave a heels-up hootenanny every now and then. "Dan is really motivated to make it out in Minnesota," Hickman says. "In a way, it will be better for us, both individually and as a group, because we can all focus on our own projects and Dan can make the Jug Band's presence felt in an entirely new area." And, Hickman says, even though Kase and the rest of the players will be separated by distance, the Jug Band will remain active in a limited capacity. "We'll still get together every now and then and write songs, and we'll play festivals -- blues festivals, bluegrass festivals. I'll probably go out to Minnesota from time to time to play with him."
The outfit's remaining members -- Hickman, washtub bassist Aaron Thomas and jug player Chuck Cuthill -- haven't decided just how -- or if -- they'll carry on locally. Cuthill is a full-time member of the Pork Boilin' Poor Boys, and Hickman plans to keep busy with an as-yet-unnamed solo project that finds him focusing on songwriting and banjo playing; he also plans to sit in with Mr. Tree and the Wingnuts sometime in the near future. In the meantime, fans can say their farewells on Saturday, April 15, at the Lion's Lair, where the 32-20 Jug Band will perform with Kase for the last time in Denver. (Well, the last time as a headliner: The band opens for the Dusty 45s on Saturday, April 29, at the Bluebird, with the Hellmen.)
Lonesome Dan, we hardly knew ya.
One local traditional music institution that's not going anywhere is the Colorado Bluegrass Music Society, which formed more than 25 years ago to help keep the genre alive and well. It's a goal the CBMS has also extended to members of Denver's homeless community during the past decade, through its annual charity benefits for the Denver Men's Homeless Shelter. The event's title -- the 11th Annual Bluegrass Gospel Jamboree and Pie Social -- isn't the only mouthful you're likely to encounter if you head down to the First Baptist Church at 14th Avenue and Grant Street on Saturday, April 15 -- local bakeries have donated tons of pies to the Social, with all proceeds going toward the shelter. Mmmmmm, pie. The Harvesters (who will offer an acoustic set), Close Ties and the regional Ron Spears & Within Tradition will perform both traditional and neo-traditional bluegrass music from 5:30 to 10 p.m. B.J. Suter, secretary of the CBMS Board of Directors (who also plays banjo and guitar in local outfits Saskatune and Still Lookin'), says the organization expects the combination of springtime vibes and the music's inherent appeal to yield a sizeable crowd. "Colorado has a very lively bluegrass tradition. And bluegrass in general is gaining a lot more momentum nationwide. I think it just appeals to so many people because it's social and interactive and naturally family-oriented. It has a timeless quality to it," she says. "Hopefully, it won't just deteriorate into a pie-throwing contest." As if there's something wrong with that. (For more on the CBMS, check www.banjo.com/cbms/.)
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Poetry and jazz have often enjoyed a comfortable co-existence, ever since Jack Kerouac and his literary gang turned San Francisco's coffeehouses into bastions of beatnick culture -- in all of its bongo-playing, Buddha-loving glory. Denver has both a lively jazz scene and a historical place in Beat happenings (among other things, the city is featured prominently in On the Road, and, of course, there's a school in Boulder named after that book's disembodied poet author). It seems fitting, then, that the Producers Consortium has organized Beat Revival, a three-night event of jazz and literary fusion taking place April 13 -15 at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, in celebration of National Poetry Month. Local jazz innovators Tom Tilton, Joe Bonner, Artie Moore and guests will provide groovy backdrops for works by local scribes including Jess Graf, Tony Scibella and Ed Ward. Dig that, daddio.
Other events of note this week include the weekend-long Earth Day 2000 celebration, Friday, April 14, through Sunday, April 16, at Currigan Hall. Seems like damn near every act in town will be there at some point, including Wendy Woo, Running With Sally (who also plays at a CD-release party at Quixote's True Blue on Saturday, April 15), Crypto Star, Carolyn's Mother, Jazz Quartet and the Baroque Trio. Check www.coloradoearthday.org for a schedule. Sally Taylor debuts her second CD, Apartment 6S, on Friday, April 14, at Trilogy in Boulder, and the Breezy Porticos, the somewhat-new project from former Sissy Fuzz guitarist Andy Falconetti, puts in a rare live performance at the Lion's Lair with Jux County, in anticipation of a new three-song EP Falconetti and friends just finished recording. So many choices, so little weekend time.