Every year for what is now going to be 22 years, an event is held in Durango that has strangers hanging out and playing music together in hallways and on street corners and everywhere in between. In the span of three days, you can catch nationally renowned acts and up-and-coming local bands. And if you’re a student, you just might find yourself in an assembly featuring a bluegrass band.
It’s the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, and this is the weekend.
Running Friday through Sunday, and with 24 bands and an old-time barn dance filling the bill, there will barely be time to take a breath. The music and merriment will fill the Henry Strater Theatre, Wild Horse Saloon, Durango Arts Center, the Elks Lodge and Powerhouse Science Center.
“The Meltdown started in April for the reason that it was the time of year the town was in a lull; there weren’t a lot of tourists coming to town,” said Tommy Frederico, president of the Meltdown’s board and member of the band La La Bones, which will be playing this weekend. “The Meltdown came about to bring more people to town.”
Over the course of more than two decades, the festival has enjoyed a “nice, slow, steady growth,” said Pat Dressen, Meltdown board member and a “longtime Durango bluegrass guy” who was on the committee to start the festival and has been with the Meltdown since its inception. Along with his board duties, he will be taking the stage with bands The Badly Bent (on guitar) and Lawn Chair Kings (mandolin).
Frederico said that the acts coming to town know what they’re doing.
“The festival brings in a lot of really well-known bluegrass names in the genre,” he said. “Rob Ickes played with Blue Highway for 20-some years and recently left the band and has been playing with Trey Hensley, who’s kind of a newcomer to the scene – he has some rock ’n’ roll background.”
There’s also going to be a cool family connection this year.
“Sideline, along with Songs of the Fall, are kind of unique because the old band Cherryholmes was a family band, and Skip Cherryholmes is the guitar player for Sideline, and Songs of the Fall’s banjo player is Cia Cherryholmes,” Frederico said. “And we’ve also got Molly Cherryholmes, who’ll play fiddle with them this weekend, so we’ll have three of the Cherryholmeses here in two of the bands, which is pretty neat.”
The Meltdown is also committed to including kids, with bands performing at local schools, workshops held during the weekend for children and the chance for the kiddos to play in public.
“The coolest thing I think about it is this weekend, any time you go to the Strater Hotel, it’s going to be packed. It’s going to be buzzing with people everywhere: in the lobby, in the stairwells ...,” Frederico said. “In every room, in every nook and cranny, there’ll be jams everywhere. People getting together, meeting new friends. And people playing from the stages, too, will come in and jam all night.”
Dressen said that even if there are some bands coming to town people may not recognize, festival-goers have come to rely on the Meltdown’s selections.
“We’ve gotten a reputation for that,” he said. “A lot of people just think, ‘Well, I may not know the bands, but I trust the Meltdown, and I’m going to learn about some new bands this year.’”
And for the newbie to the scene, or even for those who aren’t necessarily into bluegrass music, the social aspect of the weekend is worth checking out, Frederico said.
“It’s a ton of fun,” he said. “You’ll be smiling all weekend long. The music is great. Everybody is super-nice and friendly. ... The Strater is just a fun place – it’s a scene there that is just different than any other time of year.”
To get your tickets or for more information, check out www.durangomeltdown.com.