I’ve written often in this column about “the way things used to be,” mostly because when I’m able to connect with longtime local musicians, there’s a lot of nostalgia for it: everyone at the one bar with that one stage every weekend, gathered around, wondering if Willie might show up to end the show. And while those sound like decidedly good times, in the nearly five years I’ve been writing about music in Evergreen, those good times have seemed decidedly distant.
As we watch our community shift and expand to contain new people and new ideas, there is space in that expansion to remember the good times and also look forward to some new good. This is especially true of the Evergreen music scene, which no longer has to rely on the old days for it to be good. From the up-and-coming bands I try to feature here, and open mic nights or local talent competitions, to the countless national and international bands that make it a point to stop through the mountain communities during their western tours, there is plenty to love about the Evergreen music scene now.
Someone who agrees with me, Rodney Bennett, who cut his teeth in Denver clubs, bartending and booking talent, one day road his bike up the mountain to discover Evergreen. He’s since made it his home and has spent the last seven years managing the talent that comes through a favorite local watering hole, The Woodcellar Bar & Grill.
“The scene at The Woodcellar was already fantastic. I came in and just filled in the cracks,” says Bennett. He has worked to build the Woodcellar’s offerings so that there is music many nights a week—and a wide variety of music at that. “We’ve been working to create a fun scene that makes people want to come and hang out.” This has included funk bands, reggae bands, shredding guitarists and grooving jazz players—some local musicians and others from around the world.
“With the open mic nights,” which Woodcellar often hosts, “musicians from all over town found each other. We gave people a community, and Evergreen started to find its sense of musical prowess,” Rodney states. As the local musical community started to gel once more, artists of all sorts more easily found their way into a sense of belonging. “As a venue, we’ve had all sorts of bands—even DJs and electronic music—and we’re starting to accept our role and proliferate in all directions instead of only being, say, a string-band scene.” (Not that Rodney’s not down with that—he grew up in Appalachia on bluegrass music, and welcomes the genre whenever he can.) He adds, “I just have the luxury now of being able to throw darts in a lot of different directions.”
Rodney says the changes and growth at The Woodcellar are indicative of greater changes and growth in the mountain area, and each venue is finding a way to expand their market, their sound, their offerings. The point is more that as the community adds people, it also adds new tastes. And with so many venue options besides The Woodcellar, new bands from new backgrounds have new-to-them stages to play on—and that means new-to-us music to enjoy. Bands who might historically play bigger markets are starting to learn about all of the venue options in the mountain area, and Rodney says there is a lot of joy in playing to smaller audiences of big music lovers. “There is such a different dynamic, a different energy transfer than when you’re on a big stage, physically looking down at the people in the crowd. Up here, it’s laid back and the bands that play up here—there’s less pressure on them, and they feel like they get to explore more inside themselves and their music. It brings the best out of the bands,” Rodney explains.
What’s more, this is exciting for younger musicians who are only beginning their careers in our mountain community. “Evergreen has created an identity, its own music scene. In a mountain town, you can hone your sound.” He also mentions that many of our current local favorites have actually found each other and formed bands after meeting and playing together at the open mic nights. And this is important because, with the Evergreen music scene erupting and drawing in groups from other places, local time slots are coveted. For example, last year’s Evergreen’s Got Talent winner May Be Fern played some of their earliest local shows on The Woodcellar stage before moving into the Denver scene. On May 6, they’ll come back to the venue to open for an established Midwestern act, Erin Coburn, connecting the up-and-coming local scene with a national up-and-comer.
You can keep up with details of that show at facebook.com/Woodcellar/events, and come out to hear something brand-new and support local music all at once.