Durango band returns to The Lariat in Buena Vista

If someone had mentioned the Colorado music scene toward the end of the ’90s, they most likely would’ve received more than a few blank looks and maybe a comment about John Denver having died in a plane crash. Colorado bands like Hot Rize and Leftover Salmon had just begun to change the perception of Colorado as a musical desert, and bands like The String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band further established Colorado’s reputation as a creative hub for progressive bluegrass.

Building on the work of these musicians, the next generation of Colorado bands ‒ including Head for the Hills, Trout Steak Revival and Liver Down the River – place Colorado’s now vibrant music scene at the forefront of the resurgence in bluegrass and Americana music. Buena Vistans have been fortunate to have all three of these bands perform in town this summer, and Liver Down the River returns for another performance at 10 p.m. Friday, June 14, at The Lariat, 206 E. Main St. The band’s last local performance at Paddlefest received rave reviews, and anyone who missed that show will want to make sure to be at The Lariat Friday night.

Part of the appeal of this new generation of Colorado bands comes from the way they incorporate a wide range of musical influences into the bluegrass genre. Liver Down the River bassist Derek Abt said he grew up listening to bluesmen like Muddy Waters and classic ’60s rock. As a bassist, he gravitated toward the slap style of playing exemplified by funk musicians and currently explores electronic dance music influences.

Founding Liver member, fiddle player and vocalist Emily Winter brings more of a traditional folk background to the band along with classical training as a violinist, said Abt. She minored in music while earning a degree in engineering at Fort Lewis College, Durango, where all of the band members met and earned degrees. Abt also credited Winter as one of the main songwriters in the band, praising the narrative, storytelling style of her songs.

Abt said founding member and mandolin player Patrick Storen is one of the driving forces behind the band, developing set lists and keeping band members on the same page. His meeting with Winter was the original spark that ignited Liver Down the River, and Abt said Storen’s early musical influences were rock ’n’ roll, especially Guns and Roses. He eventually developed a deep appreciation for The Grateful Dead and the bluegrass influences that Jerry Garcia and company brought to a wider audience.

Before joining Liver Down the River, banjo player Tyler Rice “was pretty nomadic,” Abt said. “He hitchhiked around the country a lot. I want to say he hitchhiked for 10 thousand or 20 thousand miles. He met Emily at a festival, and before that he mostly played solo banjo while traveling. His influences are definitely traditional bluegrass and The Grateful Dead.”

Speaking of The Dead, Liver guitarist Dylan Ruckel is another aficionado of the original jam band. Other musical influences include Jimi Hendrix and The Eagles, said Abt. “Dylan spends so much time studying and practicing guitar. He practices all day long to learn the techniques of great guitarists.”

Abt said drummer Carter Colia came to Liver from a jazz background. “He has a really free-form, improvisational style. It’s really cool because that jazz improv style works well with the jam-style music we do. He’s able to keep everything together when we get into deep jams.”

The band released its first full-length album, Life You Love, in 2016. The quality work on the album emphasizes the band members’ shared love of bluegrass, but as Abt admitted, “That’s not how we sound onstage.” More recently, “We’ve been working on a live album. We’re pulling our favorite tracks from our live shows … and getting them professionally mixed and mastered. … It’ll be our first release where people will be able to hear our live sound.”

Abt made an important point about what defines the band: “Everything we’re doing is not just about the six of us making music. It’s about having as much fun as we can and connecting with great people. We’re all about creating community, and that’s really important, especially in today’s world. People need to get away from the stress, so it’s all about kicking back, relaxing, enjoying the jams and having fun.”