The bluegrass bug bit Keith Reed when he was 15. First hearing the music on television and film, he then took the typical path of discovery for the genre, which was borrowing records and slowing them down so he could figure out how to play songs, and going to festivals.
Bluegrass has since been his world, playing in multiple bands including the now defunct Open Road, and currently teaching bluegrass guitar, banjo and mandolin, while also overseeing the bluegrass ensembles at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
Reed will be in Durango next week with said Colorado College Bluegrass Ensemble, who will perform at the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, while also playing with Tunnel Drive, a bluegrass supergroup he put together for the festival.
“I heard the ‘Beverly Hillbillies,’ and ‘Deliverance’ and that just got me hooked on Earl Scruggs and bluegrass. I found the Earl Scruggs book, then Pete Wernicks book, then going to festivals, then getting in a band in high school with friends whose dads were bluegrass nuts. They had every album, so I could borrow those albums,” Reed said. “I was possessed by it; it was kind of crazy.”
Musicians like Billy Strings are currently pushing bluegrass into the mainstream, which is a plus for Reed and the curriculum at Colorado College. His role as an educator, in addition to bringing his students to play at an established festival, is to teach bluegrass music from the ground up, not only how to play it, but its rich history and its place in American independent music and popular culture.
If you go
WHAT: 27th Annual Durango Bluegrass Meltdown bluegrass festival.
WHEN: April 21, 22 and 23.
WHERE: Venues include Durango Arts Center, Wild Horse Saloon, Animas City Theatre.
TICKETS: $150 full weekend pass, $90 Saturday only, $65 Sunday only.
MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangomeltdown.com
“Colorado College is a very artistic school in a sense that there’s a lot of musicians here, and a lot of people interested in the arts, but they’ve never taken any formal lessons. So that’s what I do, I teach them on the formal training as far as guitar breaks, singing and how to be in a bluegrass band, all of those things that help you prepare,” Reed said. “Then I have more of a formal class, which will be attending the Meltdown as well. It’s just a historic view on bluegrass and folk music, and what we do is we play the timeline, starting from the Carter Family all the way up to the present day. So that’s really fun for them.”
While Reed isn’t on stage with his students, he will be on stage with Tunnel Drive, who in addition to banjo player Reed are Josh Williams on guitar, Don Rigsby on mandolin, Shad Cobb on fiddle and Gene Libbea on bass. It’s a band of stacked professionals, a who’s who of bluegrass greatness who will be digging into some of the more traditional tunes from the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“We’re focusing on traditional stuff that came from The Bluegrass Album Band, or J.D. Crowe and The New South, or Tony Rice during their prime,” Reed said. “So, it’s stuff that’s just fun to listen to from an audience perspective. And these guys are such pros, they know the schooling of it so that’s just cool to see.”
While Reed remains a bluegrass educator and musician, he’s also just a fan, in town to enjoy a festival.
“I love it that it’s so vibrant, and young people are involved, and there’s a lot of opportunities right now for folks to be playing music and places to play, and that’s really awesome,” he said. “I love that.”
The Durango Bluegrass Meltdown happens April 21 to 23 with music at Animas City Theatre, Durango Arts Center and Wild Horse Saloon, along with workshops in the Oak Room of the Strater Hotel, and a special Barn Dance with Six Dollar String Band at the Elks Lodge..
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.