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Tone Dog: 'We decided we had something good going’

Bluegrass jams produce bluegrass bands. It’s well known that Durango has a healthy bluegrass music community, a community that supports bluegrass concerts and festivals, a fertile musical space loaded with pickers of every level ready to pick out tunes from the word go.

Most bluegrass musicians are all about the jams, informal gatherings where pickers of every level gather on a recurring basis to play. These jams can be loose affairs, as musicians will pick tunes from the old-time, folk and bluegrass canon; most are welcome, the only requirement it seems is that you come ready to play, and don’t bogart all the song selection or solo opportunities and keep it cool. Follow those rules and you’ll be welcome.

Durango has had a weekly bluegrass jam bouncing around various venues throughout the community for years. This jam had its regulars, a cast of musicians varying from people who do time in established bands to lone pickers who choose to play at the jams only.

With so many people musically socializing at these jams, it makes sense that these gatherings give birth to bands. These jams are how local musicians Tony Holmquist and Alex Graf met; it was a relationship that resulted in the formation of Tone Dog.

Tone Dog, who is Holmquist on mandolin, Graf on guitar and Silas Hamilton on bass, will perform Saturday at Fenceline Cider in Mancos.

“We played a bit and I asked if we could exchange numbers and maybe start playing a little bit. We decided we had something good going,” Graf said.

They spent quarantine time jamming via the computer; Holmquist was bouncing back and forth between Durango and Virginia, Hamilton between Durango and Vermont.

“We kept in touch and started sending each other tunes, working on things virtually. Tony got back to Durango, Silas was visiting, we sat down with him and we jammed,” Graf said. “It worked out really well, and the next thing you know we’re picking band names.”

If you go

WHAT: Bluegrass with Tone Dog.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Fenceline Cider, 141 South Main St., Mancos.

TICKETS: No cover.

MORE INFORMATION: Call 533-4005.

Musically, they’re a well-versed bunch. Holmquist is the resident historian on old-time music, with Graf and Hamilton having influences well beyond the music of Bill Monroe. It all works out into a mix of classic bluegrass, folk and acoustic jazz with elements of jam.

“We do play a number of traditional bluegrass songs that Alex and I have worked up over the past year,” Holmquist said. “Alex also plays a lot of jazz guitar, Silas plays Irish and old-time fiddle, so we incorporate some of that stuff into the mix. It’s sort of an outcropping of bluegrass. Bluegrass is a good place to start. And we’re putting in some old-time elements, too, and making it our own, using a lot of jazz chords and things like that.”

Plans right now are for Tone Dog to hit it hard. They’re writing original music and looking to get into the studio to record. Ultimately, they’ll be another welcome addition to Durango’s celebrated bluegrass community.

“I’ve got nine originals that we’ve been working up. We want to go into the studio to record our original music, but I think doing a run of shows will really solidify that original music. Things change when you play live, it takes a life of its own. That’s the workshop mode for live tunes, is seeing how they are live before recording them,” Graf said. “I think we’re hoping to just play a lot of music now, here this winter, and see what happens.”

The “play a lot of music” vibe extends into a busy 2022, with Tone Dog hoping to be booked for the return of the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, as well as a possible tour.

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