Covering Velvet Underground

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

KDUR Community Radio started doing “cover nights” to fundraise in the late ’90s. The idea was to think of artists with recognizable pieces of music everybody would know. It’s since become a rallying point, an opportunity for local musicians to come together and celebrate the work of a significant band or artist. This year it’s Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground (selected by a poll on the KDUR website). “It really helps people dig into the back catalog of these artists – you’re not just hearing their most well-known songs,” said Bryant Liggett, KDUR station manager and DGO music columnist. It’s not like an open mic night, either; these are all established musicians, not random people who can sort of carry a tune. This year’s event features local acts like the Lawnchair Kings, the Crags, Farmington Hill, Papa Otis, Caitlin Cannon and the Cannondolls and Bob’s Your Uncle.

So what’s interesting about Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground? “The stuff they wrote was catchy, dark, interesting, and cutting edge,” Liggett said. They’ve influenced myriad genres of music and musicians; classic rock, rock ’n’ roll, folk music, punk rock. It’s music that was representative of New York City at the time, a gritty and dangerous place. “It’s drug-music, seedy, waiting for your man on the street corner to show up with the heroin,” Liggett describes. The Velvet Underground was only around for a handful of years, though Lou Reed had a longer career as a solo artist, from around the mid-’70s up until his death in 2013. Even if you’re not a fan, you are bound to recognize quite a few of their best-known tunes: “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Sweet Jane,” “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Perfect Day,” which plays when Ewan McGregor overdoses in the film “Trainspotting.”

The Lawn Chair Kings have been together on the Durango music scene since 2000; their self-described musical genre is “western garage.” Erik Nordstrom plays guitar and sings in both LCK and Farmington Hill, another local band. The Kings have a long-standing tradition of playing in KDUR cover nights; we spoke with Nordstrom about the importance of Lou Reed and the inspiration behind cover nights like these. KDUR’s Cover Night presents Lou Reed & Velvet Underground is happening Saturday, Feb. 20th. Doors open at 7 p.m., music begins at 8 p.m. at Animas City Theatre.

Your band has done a lot of cover nights. What’s great about them?

The original idea was to have local musicians uniting in some fashion. We thought of Neil Diamond night, the first one. We wanted it to be genre-neutral, so bands of every kind of genre could come play, bluegrass or punk or whatever. On the one hand, you’re celebrating the artist – but the larger thing that’s happening is the music community coming together in a way that they typically wouldn’t. Whatever artist we’re covering is just a medium for us to all get together and do something in common. We wanted to give the money we’d generate to KDUR, a radio station that does such a good job supporting local musicians. I was directly involved with the first five cover nights, but all along I was trying to get KDUR to be increasingly part of the management of things. The first five I remember were Neil Diamond, Prince, Kiss, Madonna and the Rolling Stones. It does give you a new appreciation of the artists’ influence. Going back and listening to the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, I realized how they’ve been an influence on me.

Why are the Velvet Underground or Lou Reed important artists to consider within the history of music?

Some people describe VU as one of the proto-punk bands that pioneered the punk or art rock movement. I like them as somebody who gets into country rock – I think they have a little bit of a country twang to them, which is funny, because they’re all from New York. They dealt with the underbelly of NYC culture, heroin and sexual deviancies. It’s progressive music, and it’s interesting to revisit. When I think of indie or alternative rock, my ears definitely hear their influence in a lot of modern music, like Pavement and Yo La Tengo. And David Bowie! Some of the best covers I’ve heard over the years are ones that play around with the interpretation of the music. It’s more about how these musicians want to interact with the music than about the actual artists – that makes it different from a strict tribute night.

Any favorite cover night moments over the years?

On Neil Diamond night, this little girl came up on stage and did “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and sang, “like Neil Diamond in the sky.” That was one of the best moments. One Hit Wonder night was great; there was this band Warrior, featuring Dan Groth on toy guitar, and they did “The Final Countdown.” There was an all-girl band, I don’t remember the name, that covered “Big Balls” during AC/DC night. That sticks out in my mind. I always get wowed by something – I never knew that person could sing like that, or play guitar like that. So many good memories.


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