The last time I heard music at the History Colorado Center, it was at an October program on state symbols: Denver Gay Men’s Chorus program director James Knapp sang “Where the Columbines Grow,” Colorado’s first official state song, which just marked its hundredth birthday. Knapp has a spectacular voice, but the sentimental sap made you long for Colorado’s second official state song, “Rocky Mountain High,” which isn’t exactly death metal, either.
Fortunately, music has a long and varied history in this state — and History Colorado is determined to celebrate all of it. Not only is the museum exploring the possibility of creating an exhibit devoted to the past and present of Colorado music, but it’s making some history of its own by hosting the Tiny Library Concert series in the Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center, a lovely and not-large space in the History Colorado Center that can seat just sixty people. The series, inspired by NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, debuted on Colorado Day, August 1; the second performance was last Saturday, when History Colorado hosted Slipstream, a bluegrass supergroup. And on Tuesday, November 17, the Tiny Library Concert will feature Patrick Dethlefs, a local folk/Americana musician who’s opened for Nathaniel Rateliff, recorded with members of Paper Bird, shared the stage with Gregory Alan Isakov — and won fans at the Westword Music Showcase.
“The idea was to bring people into an unusual space in the museum, a really intimate space,” explains Megan Friedel, curator of photography at History Colorado and herself a bluegrass musician who performed at the first Tiny Concert, surrounded by fellow musicians, books and historic artifacts. And the shows themselves will become artifacts, recorded and added to the collection. “We want to get people to start thinking about what’s happening in Colorado music today, and our rich history,” Friedel says.
The concerts are just part of an institution-wide initiative to document the “rich tradition of grassroots, popular, working-class music in Colorado,” she notes, for a show that would celebrate what the museum is tentatively calling the “Colorado sound.” But it’s less a sound than a spirit, Friedel clarifies,“sort of a DIY spirit born out of pioneer lives.” Much of that music was first heard in the homes of European immigrants, African-American and Hispanic families, as well as in churches, in mining camps and on ranches. By the ’50s and ’60s, the sound had started to develop into a real music scene. The proposed exhibit would “provide historical context for why there is such a vibrant musical community here today,” Friedel says, and would play into Governor John Hickenlooper’s plan to push the Colorado music industry into the limelight.
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As part of that effort, History Colorado is interested in collecting not just music memorabilia — “we’d be thrilled to talk to anybody who’s collected in that area,” says Friedel — but memories from local musicians. And it’s also taking suggestions for future Tiny Library performers; the only requirement is that the musician be from Colorado, but given the space, the shows so far have all been acoustic. The November 17 performance will be the last until after the holidays, but recordings of all of the concerts will be available online and added to History Colorado’s archives, Friedel promises, “so we can document a moment in time in Colorado music.”
Just leave “Where the Columbines Grow” at home.
History Colorado's Tiny Library Concert featuring Patrick Dethlefs starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 17, at History Colorado, 1200 Broadway. Tickets are $7 members, $10 others. Find out more here.