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Salt Lake City bluegrass comes to Durango

Many bluegrass bands are born from a bluegrass pick. It’s a story this column has referenced in the past: the “pick” being an informal collection of musicians playing an even less formal concert, happening perhaps in the parking lot or campground of a festival, a buskers space on a street-corner or a backyard or porch at all hours of the morning or night.

If music is a language, then the language of bluegrass picking circles is a more specialized dialect, spoken by musicians familiar with the bluegrass and folk music canon who are able to converse/play with others familiar with the lingo/songs.

One such band are The Pickpockets, a Salt Lake City quintet playing in Friday in Durango along with local bands The Robin Davis Duo, and High Country Hustle.

If you go

WHAT: Bluegrass and Newgrass with High Country Hustle, Pickpockets, Robin Davis Duo.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday.

WHERE: Animas City Theatre, 128 E. College Drive.

TICKETS: $20.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.animascitytheatre.com.

“We all met at a local bluegrass jam that used to happen on a Tuesday night here in Salt Lake City,” said guitar player David Almanzar. “We started jamming together, I think, in winter 2019 and had our first shows as a band in that spring and summer, and we finalized our lineup that fall. We’ve been performing as our current lineup since.”

One of the appealing aspects of this type of music is the community. There’s no phoning it in for bluegrass musicians and festival fans, as most involved are in the scene whole hog, usually bringing a love of other styles of music with them, thus diversifying the genre.

“I think getting exposed to the community, making it out to Telluride (Bluegrass Festival), starting to hear more bluegrass and starting to hear more newgrass and how the genre was evolving, it really kind of allowed me to take a lot of my musical interests and put them into bluegrass in a way that I think really makes a cool sound, and I think we’re all doing stuff like that,” Almanzar said. “We all love bluegrass, and we all grew up listening to different things and being able to take all of that, make bluegrass music but then put our own spin to it has been something that’s been really fun.”

That “spin” for The Pickpockets helps the band drift. Upon listening, you’ll hear a 1970s, Laurel Canyon vibe as well as rootsy-funk via an electric guitar. It’s those sounds that push the band into new-grass territory, which ultimately is a road that leads back to Bill Monroe.

“With newgrass there’s a tendency to jam, and we tend to fall into that quite a bit,” Almanzar said. “Our fiddle player is inspired by that old-school, traditional bluegrass, and he brings those elements, whereas you might hear that the songwriting that’s done by our mandolin player, he kind of brings the other songs that incorporate all these other influences. I think we try and honor the tradition of bluegrass, and how we layer all the instruments together. But we try and bring our newfangled songwriting and new ideas into the genre.”

Bluegrass communities are similar everywhere, whether it be states in the South, the mid-Atlantic, or anything West of the Mississippi River. These communities have musicians who want to pick; while it’s arguable that rock musicians may not want to play another dozen or so songs in someone’s backyard post show, bluegrass musicians will. It’s a scene that could very well unfold post-Durango show.

“We played a show with a band in Montana a couple months ago and we did just that. We finished the show, it was midnight, we walked off-stage, and everyone said, ‘who wants to pick?’ We played until about three in the morning, just trading tunes,” Almanzar said. “It’s just awesome. Where else can you do that?”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.