Up here in the Rocky Mountains, the popularity of country music seems like a given. While there is crossover with the bluegrass and folk scenes, traditional country and blended takes on the genre have an audience here, and there are local gems to be found across the eras. Hell, Willie Nelson made his home in Colorado decades ago (though he's not associated with Colorado closely enough to be included here). John Denver is a notable omission, thanks to his inclusion in the recent "folk musicians" list; he's a crossover. Some of the following names (in alphabetical order) are nationally famous, others are hidden treasures, but all are part of what makes this state so rich with musical talent.
1. Audy Baldridge
A 34-year resident of our state, Baldridge has been playing country music his whole life, and he was inducted into the Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008. He currently plays with the Red River Band, as he has done for seventeen years. Baldridge is showing no signs of slowing down, and according to the Hall of Fame website, “his love of country music is rooted in the broad range of places he has performed and all of the wonderful people he has met.”
2. Beau David
Sadly, Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Beau David passed away in 2010 at the age of 73. Still, he packed multiple lifetimes' worth of work into just one. Alongside Charlie Pride, David is one of the men of color who changed the face of country music. Born in Cincinnati, David started out playing blues to his fellow troops in the Air Force, but he taught himself other styles, and country happened to be his favorite. He moved to Colorado in 1975 and was a founding member of the state's Country Music Hall of Fame.
3. Slim Cessna's Auto Club
Call it alt-country, call it outlaw, call it cow-punk. All you really need to know is that this group of local insult-flinging shit-kickers is one of the most raucous and riotous groups from any genre in the city. They’ve been in the game for more than twenty years, and have performed on bills with artists as diverse as Johnny Cash and the Dresden Dolls. In a rock-and-roll evangelist, Reverend Horton Heat sort of way, Slim Cessna's Auto Club delivers gospel music for people trying to reach the horned one down under. And that’s fine with us.
4. Leo Everett
Everett might be known as the Montana Yodeler, but he moved to Denver in 1981 and was inducted into our Hall of Fame in 1999. And that's wonderful, because yodeling is a bit of a lost art here in the United States, but it's a perfect fit here in the mountains. An acquired taste, maybe, but Everett is as good a talent as exists in the U.S.
5. Lannie Garrett
A Denver favorite, Garrett can perform a set of originals or a comedy-tribute set like the Patsy DeCline Show. She’s a dynamic performer, regularly found at the top of best-female-vocalist lists in mainstream newspaper polls. She's performed with the Colorado Symphony, headlined at Red Rocks, and worked with the likes of Roseanne Barr, B.B. King and Jay Leno.
6. Casey James Prestwood and the Burning Angels
Prestwood’s Angels are based in Colorado now, but the bandmembers come from far and wide, with Prestwood himself having been born in Virginia. The band gives the gloriously lonesome, haunting spirit of Gram Parsons and Hank Williams a contemporary twist without losing any of the originals' authenticity. A song like “Honky-Tonk Bastard World,” for example, is both touching and witty. That’s Prestwood’s bag.
7. 16 Horsepower
Between 1992 and 2005, 16 Horsepower was one of the best alt-country bands in the country, never mind in Colorado. Denver’s David Eugene Edwards (also of Wovenhand) cross-bred country and traditional bluegrass with hard-hitting rock and roll to find a sound that nailed what many Coloradans were looking for. It wasn’t just for the trad-country crowd, though: Punk and metal audiences lapped it up, and after the band broke up, Devildriver recorded a cover of the song “Black Soul Choir” for its 2011 album Beast.
8. Thunder and Rain
Based in Golden, Thunder and Rain is a youthful alt-country band that released the Holler Out debut album in 2015. There are bluegrass elements to the act's sound, and even an inevitable indie-pop edge. But the roots are all country, and these musicians are as good as we have right now. With unforgettable melodies, strong musicianship and meaningful lyrics, Thunder and Rain is enjoyed by country fans young and old.
9. Union Gray
From the “Stetson and rhinestone” school of polished country, Union Gray’s set encompasses Oklahoma red dirt and the sounds of Texas and Nashville. All of the members are solid musicians, and there’s a strong sense of authenticity throughout. They’re regulars on the Colorado/New Mexico/Wyoming honky-tonk and festival circuit, so go see them soon.
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David Eugene Edwards appears more than once on this list, as he should, because Englewood native Edwards is a uniquely talented songwriter and a local treasure. Blending old-time country with gypsy folk and even punk rock, Edwards is also massively influenced by his Christianity. Formed in 2001, Wovenhand put out its eighth studio album, Star Treatment, in 2016, following up 2014’s Billboard-approved Refractory Obdurate. The lineup has shifted more than a few times over the years, but Edwards’s signature sound remains intact.