There’s a rumor going around that Durango’s a bluegrass town. Sure, the town’s got a few bands and hosts the best bluegrass festival in the nation. But this is a music town. What lacks in national touring acts is gained in local creativity. The talent pool keeps getting deeper, and much of this community digs good music, enough to support two kick-ass public radio stations not serving up a predictable plate of “Stairway to Hotel California.”
Bluegrass that is made here represents the better side of the genre, void of the watered-down elevator music from groups disguised as a bluegrass bands but revealed as Air Supply. Our local bluegrass and old-time players know the value of a good murder ballad, and in the case of Six Dollar String Band, the value of a drunken hoedown.
The Six Dollar String Band will perform Friday at an old-time barn dance with caller Wendy Graham at the Irish Embassy Underground.
Graham is a local caller who travels nationwide and overseas to “call” the dances. A self-proclaimed “facilitator of fun,” she walks the crowd through the steps for various reels and jigs before the first note, then calls out dance directions as the show goes on. It’s something she fell ass-backwards into as a kid when her family would attend annual dances in Kentucky. She learned the art of calling, and has honed her skills in dance communities from New York to Durango.
These dances exist on a nationwide circuit, often with playlists varying from country to rock, salsa to hip-hop.
“This phenomenon, called ‘Dare to be Square,’ is sweeping the nation. It’s a revival of the square and barn dance,” said Graham. “It’s cool that Durango is embracing it. Young people are discovering it.”
This is not country line dancing. It’s not an event aimed at senior citizens. Events like this are an upbeat and raucous party, and the Six Dollar String Band, featuring Stephen Sellers on bass, Brendan Shafer on banjo, Tony Holmquist on fiddle, and, for this show local bluegrass veteran Pat Dressen on guitar, are the perfect band to provide the soundtrack for rowdiness. They’re a string band playing a style of music that was the punk rock of the early 20th Century, outsider music ignored by the mainstream and void of fluff and over-production. It’s high energy music that exists right alongside rock ’n’ roll, created by a sweaty collective hunched over their instruments, playing like it’s the last dance on Earth.
“This band has my heart,” Graham said. “They play music that moves me to call and music that moves the dancers.”
Techno is clocked anywhere from 120 to 150 beats per minute. “I Wanna be Sedated,” by the Ramones is 165, and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is 115.
“One hundred twenty beats per minute is probably the slowest we’ll go,” assured Graham. Having a caller allows the band to concentrate on the up-beat instrumentals and keep the songs coming one after the next. That’s a pace that can whip people on the dance floor into a frantic jig, especially when some of their songs are clocking in at 150 bpm.
“This is the band to do it,” Graham said.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]