Singer-songwriter Thom Chacon likes a good story. He likes a good story so much that when writing songs he favors the tales of towns and drifters as much as instrumentation and melody. Call him a storyteller with a guitar, a gruff-voiced independent-folkie who Durango locals may know more as a fly-fishing guide than musician, as he spends more time fishing in local rivers than he does performing.
The Sacramento native landed in Durango a dozen years ago, shortly after a stint in rock band Hollow Man, which he landed while working as a horseback guide around Los Angeles.
Potential horseback guide work is what first brought Chacon to Durango, but he soon traded the saddle for the fly rod. Guiding fishing trips became – and remains – a large part of his livelihood.
From the time Chacon was 3 years old, he was singing along to Glen Campbell songs, and he got his first guitar at 12 years old. He’s been writing songs since 16, and has kept music and songwriting close ever since. Hollow Man came and went, and he ditched the band life in exchange for the ease and – at times – financially reliable route of being a solo artist.
That route has been good to him. Two of his records have featured drummer George Receli and bass player Tony Garnier, who has a full-time gig playing with Bob Dylan. Garnier is also featured on Chacon’s newest album, “Blood in the U.S.A.”
Over the last year, Chacon has also played several shows in Italy, where he’s secured an Italian concert promoter, and even found himself on the cover of Buscadero Magazine, an Italian music publication.
Chacon will play more in Italy than he will in Durango this year, but he’ll fish more in Colorado than he does in Italy. He wants his shows to be “events” and not just sets of music in a bar, and the handful of shows he plays here – and in Italy – are just that.
He’s one of the many American folk musicians finding bigger audiences in Europe – audiences that love gritty folk music and the craft of songwriting.
“I bring up Kris Kristofferson a lot. I look to him and have for many years, because I can relate to the fact that he’s an okay guitar player, and no one’s ever accused him of being a really wonderful singer, and I feel like I’ve fallen in those categories,” said Chacon. “What I really love about him more than anything is (that) he can write a song like no one else. That was always my goal. I can’t really sing that well, or play the guitar that well, but I think I can try, or die trying, to write one of those great songs like ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’”
It’s all about finding that place where you’re at the center of your own universe, and you’ve invited a roomful of people to join you. He’s found that place with solo performance and his stories, which are accompanied by subtle melodies and delicate instrumentation.
“I think there’s a certain feeling that I’ve gotten used to over the years playing solo. You can really control the dynamics. And the venues I try and play are the listening rooms, and there’s nothing I love more than to go to zero, as we call it, during a song, and just really be in that moment. You can pluck the guitars strings as lightly as possible, and the story is now the feature of the song rather than the music,” said Chacon. “I spend so much (of the) song crafting the story and each word that the format that I use, solo acoustic, is really conducive to delivering that story. Hollow Man, we had nonsensical lyrics, and the harmonies, who cared what we were saying. But now it’s all about the story, so as a solo guy it’s a lot of fun for me to deliver. The acoustic guitar, for me, is just the vehicle to deliver the words to people.”
Chacon’s next shows are June 15 and 16 at the Wildhorse Saloon, where he’ll be opening for Austin country rocker Aaron Einhouse.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.