Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part column highlighting the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown and its overall contribution to the community.People have big opinions about bluegrass music. “I don’t like bluegrass” is something that has been muttered in my general direction hundreds of times in the last 20 years, and despite some people’s dislike of one genre of music, the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, or “The Meltdown” as it’s called with great affection by the diehards, continues to draw growing numbers of attendees to this annual event.
The myth – and an arguable one at that – is that the only type of music this town offers is bluegrass.
In all reality, aside from the Meltdown, there are only about two shows a year at local venues that feature nationally recognized bluegrass bands. Local bands playing? That’s a different tale. You may think there’s too much bluegrass here because the bands aren’t afraid to poster every bulletin board in town, call local media organizations like The Durango Herald or Durango Telegraph, KSUT or KDUR radio, or tell just about everyone they know. You may think there’s too much bluegrass here thanks to the local bluegrass bands whose efforts of self-promotion exceed that of the competition.
Beginning April 12, the town will burst at the seams with bluegrass music; that’s the first day of the Meltdown’s 25th festival, with music running through the weekend at The Henry Strater Theatre, Durango Arts Center, Wild Horse Saloon, and for Saturday only, Animas City Theatre.
It remains a festival run by a 10-person board that also has up to 70 volunteers helping make it all happen. What began as a festival with only a few bands playing in the old Farquahrts to liven up the doldrums of the late winter/early spring shoulder season has grown into a three-day affair that features dozens of bands.
“It’s recognized all over the state of Colorado as being one of the last traditional bluegrass festivals” said longtime board member Elwin Johnston. “We’ve evolved to the degree where we accept bands that aren’t just strictly traditional bluegrass, and we also feature a lot of up-and-coming bands that we think and will identify as a band that’s going somewhere. We get them while we can still afford them, and we’re still a total nonprofit. Everyone volunteers on this thing and they have for the last 25 years.”
In 2016, Fort Lewis College’s business department did an economic impact study on the Meltdown, analyzing the financial shot in the arm this event gives the community. Hotels get packed, restaurants remain steady and a respectable amount of beer is consumed to a score provided by banjos, mandolins and fiddles.
“The study showed we brought in $215,000 to town, and over $5,000 in sales tax revenue,” said Meltdown Board President Tommy Frederico. “That’s all supported by a volunteer-operated organization that puts about 4,500 volunteer hours into the event.”
Playing this year’s Meltdown will be The Larry Keel Experience, Junior Sisk, Songs From the Road Band, John Reischman and The Jaybirds, FY5, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, and a load more – 29 bands total, many of which are local.
“This festival gives local bands an opportunity to play in a professional setting, with a very attentive audience” Frederico said. “They get to play alongside some of their heroes.”
Twenty-five years in, and the bands get bigger and tickets sell faster; credit the diehard board members whose year-round efforts include researching bands to invite to handling all the hospitality legwork that keeps the musicians happy. The Meltdown is in fact a festival where musicians often have as much fun as people who buy the tickets and fill the seats.
“We get some nice thank you cards from some of the bands, saying how much they appreciated and enjoyed the hospitality,” Frederico said. “It’s known back east as a great festival, and people approach us because they hear we treat the musicians so well.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.