Now, you wouldn’t expect a great song about, say, Nebraska to be written by Hannah Montana.
And Tennessee Ernie Ford wasn’t known for his songs about Rhode Island.
And who would think John Denver would give us a song about West Virginia.
Well, that last thing may have happened …
Nevertheless, we are going to consider a Colorado song – the “Colorado State Song” – that was written by Mr. U. Utah Phillips.
Phillips, who passed away in 2008, at the age of 73, was sort of a latter-day Woody Guthrie, hopping freights and riding Greyhound Buses across the country to sing songs, tell stories and act as a labor organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World (the “IWW” or “Wobblies”). Wikipedia has a nice little piece on Mr. Phillips, so rather than repeat what has already been written, I will refer you to that article.
Although the “Colorado State Song” is a good song, the only recorded version of which I am aware is on the first album by the local group, Grubstake. That brings up another name to know: Harry Tuft.
Harry Tuft is the dean of Colorado folk music. In 1962, he opened the Denver Folklore Center, which sold musical instruments and accessories, books, recordings and such things; provided lessons on guitar, banjo and other instruments; was a gathering place for local musicians, and a performance venue for nationally known folk artists. He eventually closed the Center, reopened it, founded the Swallow Hill Music Association and recently (August of 2016) sold it, giving him more time to pursue musical interests as he moves into the 9th decade of his life.
With all of that going on, in 1972 Tuft joined geology professor Jack Stanesco and businessman Steve Abbott to form the folk trio known as Grubstake. They have been playing with some regularity ever since.
Now that I have abrogated my responsibility of informing readers about U. Utah Phillips and Harry Tuft, I would like to use the rest of my allotted space to share a Utah Phillips story.
Back in the early 1970s, I attended a Folklore Center concert featuring Phillips and Rosalie Sorrels, who was a national treasure, performing folk songs and promoting social causes from the 1950s until her passing in June of 2017.
During his set, Utah mentioned that he had recently been on a program with other labor organizers and activists, some of whom had claimed that the FBI was opening their mail. This was in the days before the NSA could hack anyone’s email and cell phones. Utah was not surprised because he knew the government had been opening his mail (and that of other Wobblies) for years.
He didn’t think much more about it because he had a different concern, an agricultural concern. He liked to grow a large garden in the field behind his house in California, and it was getting late to prepare the soil. He had delayed doing that because of his touring schedule and was afraid that he would be unable to plant that year.
Well, the comments about the FBI gave him an idea. He wrote a letter to a friend and in that letter he said, “Whatever you do, don’t dig in the field behind the house. That’s where the guns are buried.”
When he returned home, the whole back field had been dug up, and he was able to plant his vegetables, gratefully thanking the FBI, before he had to go back on the road.
Now here is Utah’s “Colorado State Song.” performed by Grubstake, with Jack Stanesco doing the vocals:
COLORADO STATE SONG
By U. Utah Phillips
Well, I understand that Boeing lost a contract
They’re laying off a thousand engineers
And they all want to move to Colorado
And open up a charge account at Sears
Oh, you can visit now and then
Bring your money, bring your friends
Bring your campers and your Winnebagos too
Bring your festivals and dope
And we all sincerely hope
That you won’t forget to leave when you get through
Now I see them standing out along the highway
With big red packs and long shaggy hair
And they all want a ride to Colorado
But I don’t care, I’ll leave them standing there
Now we’ve got a lot of trouble with the jet set
Them lazy, no good bastards love to ski
And they all want to fly to Colorado
And buy up all our mountain scenery
Oh, I’ve travelled all up and down this country
And I’ve seen many different kinds of bums
And they all want to move to Colorado
And make it just like all those Eastern slums
(I do not have the copyright information for this song, but Harry Tuft gave his permission to use it here.)