Last year, the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown gave Ewing Mesa a test run as a music venue. The plot of land that held the event belongs to Mark Katz, a local bluegrass musician who purchased the land southeast of downtown. Katz would like to see the land eventually become a city space for public use, which would include the fairgrounds, a sports complex and summer festival site.
The second Meltdown on the Mesa, a concert raising funds for spring’s Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, is Saturday. Playing this year are Six Dollar String Band, Fellowship of the Strings, Lawn Chair Kings, Lost Souls, Badly Bent, Running out of Road and Second-Hand Strings.
I know after last year’s Meltdown on the Mesa, every attendee walked away looking ahead to this year’s event with hopes of many more. It’s certainly one of the best festival venues I’ve ever been to, even though, at the moment, it’s just a field. By Saturday, a stage, tent for shaded seating, port-o-johns and food vendors will make it a festival and concert venue.
All of Saturday’s bands have performed Meltdowns past, with the exception of Second-Hand Strings. Harris Brogan, Justin Brown and Reuben Gallop are all Farmington-based musicians, joined by long-time Durango bluegrass picker Jeff Hibshman. Hibshman, who has done time in many bands of many genres around the state, gives this band, according to the other members, “street-cred.” Yet Hibshman was drawn to them after discovering them on the internet.
“I saw these guys on a Facebook post. And I thought, ‘These guys are good singers and they have some energy,’ so I pretty much cold-called them. And they said, ‘Come on down,’ we met in Justin’s garage, and well, here we are,” said Hibshman. “I like getting together with folks that are in the zone, and I could tell they were there.”
There’s a real dedication to the tradition of the music, and an even more dedication to craft. There’s very little screwing around; these people play, and make a hell of a time out of it. It’s more than three chords; it’s more than improvisation; it takes years of practice to play it well, and it’s a lot harder than it looks. Perhaps it’s that dedication that comes from its players and fans that have resulted in the community that exists at this festival in Durango and others around the state. The Durango Bluegrass Meltdown has created a scene with a working infrastructure sustainable via song.
“The bluegrass world is like a tribe, and it’s definitely my tribe,” said Hibshman. “I’ve played with Windham Hill guys, other guys and some big names. But they do not get together after the gig and just pick. When they’re done, they’re done. After we’re done on stage, then the picking might go until dawn, and I’ve seen bands form because of that, that interaction. It’s that aural transmutation of tunes in picking circles.”
Hibshman’s not alone with that opinion. It’s an infectious scene for player and fan alike, obviously noticeable if you have any friends or acquaintances who have been bitten by what is a rabid bug.
“Bluegrass music itself, I had a huge draw to that,” added Brogan. “Getting to play with these people, and watching people at these festivals stomp their feet and dance around, that’s what does it for me.”