Thursday, January 16, 2003
Steamboat Springs Local fans of acoustic music have an opportunity to get "stomped" by Steamboat's newest band Saturday night.
The Seventh Street Stompers will play a benefit show for the 7th Street Playhouse at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. But don't show up at the 7th Street Playhouse, because if you do, you'll miss the set. Saturday's music will take place at the Depot Center for the Arts.
In addition to the music, some of Steamboat's best-known thespians will perform improv between musical sets.
Concertgoers can expect to hear up-tempo music that might best be described as "high altitude champagne stomp-grass."
"It's not bluegrass," mandolin player Dave Irby said with a sly smile.
If it's not bluegrass, the instruments will certainly remind listeners of that genre. In addition to Irby, the band features guitarist Doug Crowl, banjo player Dave Hanley, Bob Shaffer on upright bass and Seth Bograd on harmonica.
The five musicians got together this week for a living room rehearsal that smoked through about 20 tunes ranging from covers of Merle Haggard to Jerry Garcia to Bill Monroe to Jim Croce. Never mind that some of the musicians had never laid eyes on one another before. The instruments were so tight that Bograd's black cat got up and danced.
Hanley hadn't met Irby before that night, but it didn't seem to matter. Hanley appeared to know each successive tune before Irby called out its name.
"This is going to be all right," Hanley crowed. "Just don't turn your back on me, boys."
Irby shares vocals with Crowl, his old high school compadre from Loveland. Crowl somehow manages to simultaneously play both rhythm and lead guitar on his big Gibson.
It's apparent the two men have been performing together for the better part of a decade from the way their harmonies elevate each other's singing voice.
Shaffer's upright bass is the engine of this outfit and Bograd's blues-influenced harp is the turbocharger.
Although the band just formed this month to perform for the benefit, individual players have a great deal of experience with one another in various permutations. Shaffer and Hanley perform together in 3-Wire.
Crowl and Irby have played Steamboat gigs with County Road 41. The two friends have even cooperated with Bograd in theatrical productions at the playhouse.
Irby and Crowl have played music together since their college years.
"We always needed something to do, and we'd get together and pick after parties," Irby said. "We divvied up the instruments and made a grass formation."
Irby started as a guitar player but really began to fly when he first picked up the mandolin. He recalls watching David Grisman perform at Mishawaka, but it was really Sam Bush, one of the original founders of Newgrass Revival, who influenced his playing most.
Don't be surprised to hear the Stompers cut loose with a version of White Freightliner Blues, a la Bush's performances at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
Crowl's economical style of guitar playing evolved around Irby's mandolin licks.
"My whole style is based around Dave learning mandolin," Crowl said. "I needed to find a way to keep the rhythm and play lead at the same time."
As a result, Crowl has become adept at taking his leads at the same time he strums basic chord shapes.
Bass players don't often take leads, but Shaffer's thumping bottom end truly elevates this ensemble to band status. He has played bass in new wave bands and in cowboy bands but is best known to Steamboat audiences for his work with the lamentably defunct Celtic band Shenanigans.
Bograd started out in a fourth-grade harmonica band that gigged in the cafeteria during the lunch hour. He grew to appreciate the great Chicago bluesmen and you can hear his roots in his harp today. His playing adds a different sonic texture to the string instruments, while Hanley's five-string banjo insists on an upbeat tempo.
All the better for stomping.