COLORADO BLUEBIRD SKY (BY THE STRING CHEESE INCIDENT) A Colorado Song

The String Cheese Incident (“SCI”) is your typical Colorado bluegrass-Afro-Latin-Calypso-electronica fusion jam band.  The group started in 1993 when several musicians from Telluride and Crested Butte got together to do some jamming.  During

A Bluebird Sky
(Photo from Pintrest by @epidote1)

their early days, they played at various Western ski areas for lift tickets.  As their popularity increased, they moved to Boulder in 1996 and began playing for money.  Over the years, they have released several studio albums and some live albums, but they are mostly known for their tremendous performances.

Like other great jam bands such as the Grateful Dead and Phish and Widespread Panic, SCI has a very knowledgeable and devoted following.  A quick search will find several websites devoted to the band’s set lists, lyrics, upcoming shows and news.  As the years have passed, SCI has moved from playing small clubs to much larger venues such as multi-day performances at Red Rocks, Austin City Limits and the Bonnaroo Music Festival.  Leading into this coming New Year (2017), SCI will play for three nights at the 7,500 seat 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado.

Like the Grateful Dead, R.E.M. and Pearl Jam, SCI has tried to develop its music without becoming a slave to the music industry.  Before releasing any albums, the band members formed their own record company, SCI Fidelity, which also records a number of other local groups.  SCI filed a complaint against Ticketmaster with the Federal Trade Commission and sued Ticketmaster when the FTC did not act.  That lawsuit was settled so that SCI now is entitled to additional tickets to be sold without the seemingly exorbitant Ticketmaster charges.  The band has actively worked to give back to the communities it visits by promoting “Green” shows and tours and contributing to various nonprofit organizations.

All of the band members are involved in writing songs, but this particular song – “Colorado Bluebird Sky” – was written by guitarist Bill “Hershey” Nershi and his wife, Jillian.  Nershi moved to Telluride, Colorado when he was 20 or 21 years old, in 1981 or ’82.  In 1993 he moved to Crested Butte for a short time, and that was where he met the other band members.  That is pretty much the story he tells in this song.

The song title hearkens back to the days when the band members were skiing and playing for lift tickets.  A “bluebird sky” is the clear, blue, cloudless sky that is often seen the morning after a snow storm.  It could be called, simply, a “blue sky,” but it is more than that.  It is a term that incorporates the happiness (“bluebird of …”) felt when the weather clears and a whole mountain of fresh powder awaits.

The YouTube video below is the version of the song on the 2014 album, Song in My Head; and it lasts for about six and a half minutes.  Since this is a jam band, however, you can find other renditions online.  If you would like to hear a version that is more than twice as long, just click here.

And the name of the band?  Where does that come from?  It seems it either relates to a broken mandolin string or a late night food fight or something else.  They have never tried very hard to explain it.

Continue reading

COLORADO GIRL (BY TOWNES VAN ZANDT) A Colorado Song

van-zandt-albumSinger-songwriter Townes Van Zandt (whose full name was John Townes Van Zandt) was an enigmatic, perhaps singularly talented individual.  He never had a hit song, and most people probably don’t even know his name.  Nevertheless, he was quite influential in the music business and his songs – the best known of which are “Pancho and Lefty” and “If I Needed You” – have been recorded by numerous artists, including Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Cowboy Junkies, Lyle Lovett and many others.  A documentary film about his life, entitled Be Here To Love Me was released in 2004, and he has been the subject of at least three full length biographies, perhaps the best being A Deeper Blue:  The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt (2008), by Robert Earl Hardy.  I can’t hope to give much insight into his life in this brief post, so let me simply tell you why this is a Colorado Song.

First, of course, the name of the song is “Colorado Girl,” which probably qualifies it for inclusion even though it comes from a quintessential Texas songwriter.

My maternal grandparents settled into Sulphur Springs, Texas, which is between Dallas and Texarkana, in the latter part of the 19th Century.  If you were to travel to the southwest for less than an hour from their house, you would be in Van Zandt County, which is nothing at all like Colorado.  The county was named for Townes’ great-great-grandfather, who had been the official diplomatic representative of the Republic of Texas to the United States, and who had died while he was running for governor.  His great-grandfather was one of the founders of Fort Worth.  His mother’s maiden name was Townes, and she was a direct descendant of John Charles Townes, for whom the main building of the University of Texas at Austin Law School was named.

With that pedigree, he might have spent his life in Texas and become quite influential in matters other than music.  However, his father was an attorney in the oil industry and his business required the family to move frequently.  In 1958, when Townes was 14 years old, they moved to Boulder, Colorado.  He attended school there for a short time, but because of his extremely high IQ he spent his last high school years at the exclusive Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Fairbault, Minnesota, where the son of Senator and soon to be Vice President Hubert Humphrey was one of his classmates.  After graduating from Shattuck in 1962, he returned to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado. Continue reading

MOSE ALLISON 1927-2016

mose-allisonAfter recently writing about Leonard Cohen’s passing and some thoughts about the recent presidential election, it is appropriate that I should mention, too, the passing of a unique musical talent, Mose Allison, who died on November 15, 2016, four days after his 89th birthday.  Although his work has been called too bluesy for jazz and to jazzy for the blues, it has been accepted and honored in many fields.  In addition to his many recordings, many of his songs have been performed by the likes of the Who, the Clash, Elvis Costello, Georgie Fame, Van Morrison, Blue Cheer, Paul Butterfield, Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Roy Rogers and many, many others.

One of the most memorable things about Allison’s writing was the wry sense of humor with which he observed the world around him.

I would like to share a couple of his songs that seem to be relevant to our current political situation.  First, here are the words to “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy”: Continue reading

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER ON BEHALF OF GOD* About Choosing Trump

There are some folks who have written that it was God who chose Donald Trump to lead this country and God who is going to make America great.  On behalf of God, I Trump's posturewould like to point out that God certainly loves Mr. Trump — just as he loves Hillary Clinton and you and me and the homeless man you see walking around with a grocery cart. However, the president-elect was not chosen by God, but by a reasonably healthy, though distinct, minority of American voters.  God gave us the free will to make that choice (and accept the consequences).

God has warned us about what we should expect, though, in these words (slightly paraphrased to bring them up to date) from 1 Samuel 8:10-22:

 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a [president]  He said, “This is what the [president] who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.  Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.  He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.  When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the [president] you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a [president] …

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord.  The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a [president].”

That is how free will works.

Jesus, too, made it clear that there is a clear dichotomy between the things that belong in the realm of politics (the things that are “Caesar’s”) and those in the realm of the divine (the things that are “God’s”), as we see in Matthew 22:20-22, Mark 12:16-17 and Luke 20:24-25.

Now, just because the election of the president was the work of mere mortals does not mean that everything is not in divine order.  It is.

Also, it does not mean that the election is not an important symbol for our world.  It is.

For many centuries the world was predominantly patriarchal, with women forced into a subservient role, with the richest 1% of the population exploiting the other 99%, and with various tribes and racial groups competing with one another for control of limited resources.  Although that worldview is becoming less common and must soon be replaced by one that is more sustainable, Donald Trump clearly represents the vestiges of the past and his presidency will keep them in the spotlight, “warts and all.”

Imagine, then, what it will be like two years from now when Trump’s presidency ends early due to his health problems, which may begin manifest within a fairly short time.  As sad as that may be to many, it will be a powerful symbol of the changes that are taking place right now and are not going to be stopped.  I think it will happen.

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*The previous disclaimer my be seen by clicking here.

COLORADO SONGS The Series

The natural beauty and the interesting people of Colorado have inspired many wonderful songs through the years.  In this series of posts, we look at some of the best of these. The songs considered to date are:

colorado-flag

A Mile High in Denver, by Jimmy Buffett
America the Beautiful
The Ballad of Alferd Packer, by Phil Ochs
Boulder Skies, by Pure Prairie League
Colorado, by Paper Bird
Colorado, by Rick Roberts
Colorado Bluebird Sky, by The String Cheese Incident
Colorado Girl, by Townes Van Zandt
Denver, by Willie Nelson
I-70 Westbound, by the Railbenders (new)
In My Colorado Home, by Sons of the San Joaquin
On the Natural, by Hoyt Axton
Rocky Mountain Breakdown, by Poco
Rocky Mountain High, by John Denver
Where the Columbines Grow

There are also a few Colorado songs that were discussed in posts before this series began, including:

Get Out of Denver, By Bob Seger
Colorado Christmas, by Steve Goodman

BOULDER SKIES (BY PURE PRAIRIE LEAGUE) A Colorado Song

The fog on a London morning is not the same as the toxic haze of Beijing, and both are different from the the wide open vistas of Montana’s Big Sky Country.

Songs like Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Ole Buttermilk Sky” evoke images of particular and distinct locales.

sunset-skyThe sky that is seen from any place on Earth is determined and shaped by what is below it.  Its breadth may be framed by mountains or extend across an ocean to the horizon.  The color of the sky and the clouds it holds result from the dust and humidity of the land, and the clouds often form around geographic features like lakes or mountains.

The sky above is familiar to those below who have seen its ways.  They can predict the weather based on the color of the sunrise or sunset, and they can use the stars to guide them home.

In a real sense, any place on this planet is defined by the sky which is above it.  Therefore, it would seem that a song like Pure Prairie League’s “Boulder Skies” should tell us something about the City of Boulder.  But it doesn’t.

“Boulder Skies” is a pleasant song performed by talented musicians, and it is definitely a Colorado song; though I can’t say precisely what it is about – other than a brown-eyed “Colorado Canyon Girl.”  But was she real, or just a pie in the sky dream? Continue reading

ELECTORAL COLLEGE

The 2016 presidential election is finally over.  It appears that when all the votes are counted, Hillary Clinton will have received nearly a million more votes than her opponent, Donald Trump.  Consequently, Mr. Trump will be the next President of the United States.

How does that work?  Although the result is not what would be expected in a democracy, iconstitutiont is par for the course in the constitutional federal republic under which we operate in this country.  When I am asked why that should be so, I generally reply that the answer is obvious from the words “par for the course.”  The Framers of the Constitution were mostly good old boy politicians who got together on the golf course and had come to expect that the lowest score should win.

That explanation may be accepted by the average American; but I know that you, Dear Reader, are well above average.  I know that you know that the first American golf course was not established in Savannah, Georgia, until 1794 – five years after the Constitution came into effect.  Recognizing that, I will proffer a more detailed account.  In doing so, I want to keep within certain space limitations and I do not intend to write an academic paper.  There will be no footnotes and many of the statements will be general, though I will gladly provide references for anyone who feels they are necessary.

ORIGIN

Under the United States Constitution, the selection of the President falls to the members (“Electors”) of what is known as the Electoral College (although that term is not used in the Constitution).

After the Revolutionary War, the new United States of America operated under the Articles of Confederation, which was a form of constitution agreed to by the original 13 states.  It soon became clear that those Articles were deficient in many ways, and a new Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in May of 1787.  By July that year, most of the basic elements for a federal government had been agreed upon and a committee was appointed to work out the details.  One of the most important of those “details” was the office of the President.  Continue reading

LEONARD COHEN 1934-2016

leonard-cohenSinger/songwriter/poet/novelist Leonard Cohen departed this world yesterday, November 10, 2016, less than two months after his 82nd birthday.  He was admired and famous enough that today the print and electronic media include numerous pieces remembering him and his work.  I won’t add to that, except to say that in 2013 I posted some thoughts about a Leonard Cohen concert I saw with my brother Jim more than 40 years ago, when the singer was still a “youngster.”  You can read it by clicking here.

A MILE HIGH IN DENVER (By Jimmy Buffett) A Colorado Song

I have just returned from a week in Florida where there seems to be a law that tourists are required to listen to Jimmy Buffett’s “drunken Caribbean rock ‘n’ roll.”  Down there, nobody even thinks about – and perhaps they don’t even know about – Jimmy’s long-time ties to Colorado, which began no later than 1970 when “A Mile High in Denver” was included on his very first album, Down to Earth (1970).1

Jimmy Buffett was born on Christmas Day, 1946.  He grew up in Alabama and Mississippi, and earned a degree in History from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1969.  However, he really wanted a career in music and soon moved to Nashville where he worked for the regional staff of Billboard magazine and played in local clubs.  He is a talented writer and musician and was quickly discovered and signed to record for Barnaby Records, a label owned by singer Andy Williams.

Sometime before that first record came out, Jimmy vacationed in Colorado.  It being 1970, and Jimmy being Jimmy, the title’s reference to being a “mile high” has been seen as a sly refereimg_0150nce to drugs.  It may very well be that, but the song is mostly about a vacation in Colorado.

That first album is stylistically much different than Jimmy’s later work.  Back in 1970, he seemed to be another folksy singer/songwriter offering social commentary with songs like “The Christian?” and “Ellis Dee (He Ain’t Free)” and clever tunes like “Captain America.”  However, that first album also had an excellent song about Jimmy’s grandfather, a old seafaring man, called “The Captain and the Kid” that gave a hint of his future work.

Jimmy did not remain in Colorado.  After he left Nashville, he spent a couple of years busking in New Orleans and Key West, during which time he developed the “Gulf and Western” style that has defined his career and made him rich and famous.

Still, he must have liked Colorado because when he became rich and famous he moved here and bought a house on Snowmass Road outside of Aspen. Continue reading

COLORADO (BY RICK ROBERTS) A Colorado Song

By special request, this installment of Colorado Songs considers a song that is actually called “Colorado,” written by Rick Roberts.

Often, it is difficult to determine what may have motivated or inspired the composer of a song.  That is not the case here because Rick Roberts wrote a book called Song Stories and Other Left-Handed Recollections in 2014 which explains many of his songs, including this one.

flying_burrito_brothers_albumIt seems that after high school he decided to travel from Florida to California to become a rock star.  On the way, he passed through Boulder, Colorado and stayed for a few months.  When he finally hitchhiked to Los Angeles, he found that becoming a star was not quite as easy as he had envisioned, and started thinking that maybe he had made a mistake leaving the beauty and culture of late-1960s Boulder.  Then, he writes, “[t]hat was when this song came tumbling out. … It was one of the first songs I ever wrote that was not just an imitation of somebody else’s work.”  The parts about the girl he left behind were made up for the sake of the song.

Roberts’ luck did change for the better.  In 1970, Ed Tickner, the manager of the Flying Burrito Brothers, heard Rick playing at a small club.  He was impressed with the young man at just the time Gram Parsons had left the Burritos and the group was looking for a replacement.  Tickner and Chris Hillman invited Rick to join their group and his songwriting talents began to blossom.  Within a few months, the Flying Burrito Brothers released their eponymous third album which included “Colorado” and six other songs written by Roberts..

The Flying Burrito Brothers essentially broke up shortly thereafter, though they continued with differing lineups as a country music group for many more years.  Roberts, meanwhile, began a solo career and moved back to Colorado in the mid-1970s (answering the question at the end of this song:  “Colorado, … won’t you let me come home?”). Continue reading