See also: The Return of Colorado's Bluegrass Kings
Chautauqua's web site suggested parking along Baseline Road, which borders the north side of the Park. Walking from a few blocks away to the park and then onto the grounds, through a grassy area with picnic tables on the edges with the warm breeze and the dying sunlight faintly illuminating the outlines of shapes prepared you for the experience. Walking past the Chautauqua Dining Hall and hearing the sound of good cheer and laughter gave one the impression of a non-haunted Stanley Hotel in its heyday. Were these people going to the show? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it fit right in with the energy of the time and of the occasion. Like a scene from the happy, simple portions of a John Irving novel.
The Chautauqua Auditorium really does feel like you've stepped into a large, beautiful barn: the massive wooden support beams, the layout of the stage and the seating, the sitting down on wooden benches in the general admission section. They all conveyed a sense of the rustic. When the members of Hot Rize joked or brilliantly performed music that could have been written a hundred years ago or yesterday, they brought what one imagines the Grand Ole Opry might have been like during the 1950s: a lot of personality, smart, subtle humor. When Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers came on in the middle of the show, the joking went to another level of the absurd, with cowboy rocker outfits worthy of Gram Parsons and lively stage banter akin to the least corny moments of Hee Haw.
Perhaps the most poignant moment, though, came when Hot Rize proper came back on stage and a little boy jumped up and started animatedly dancing in the aisle because he was moved by the infections energy and rhythm of the band's music. In those fleeting moments, you had to be struck by the simple power of what Nick Forster described as "human-sized music." Sure, the songs are rooted in old time sounds, and it's being played by guys in their fifties and older, but in this environment in a barn with a presentation like Prairie Home Companion minus the elaborate skits (Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers aside). This Hot Rize show was the perfect experience for a perfect day in fall when you feel like you should be harvesting warm memories for the cold months ahead.
Bias: Growing up, my relatives in Missouri were way into bluegrass and country and came to Colorado for festivals and the like. I was never into it. But in recent years I came to appreciate the brilliance of Bill Munroe and saw country legend Charlie Louvin at Twist & Shout Records seven years ago. Hot Rize came out of that milieu way before it was cool in the modern sense and bring their own spin on that whole thing. When I'm Free is a great record.
Random Detail: The new CDs were on sale for $10.
By the Way: Red Rocks may be the most impressively beautiful outdoor venue, but next on that list is Chautauqua Auditorium and its environs. It feels very different from the rest of Boulder, despite being in what looks like an upscale neighborhood.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.