Americana band performs at Soulcraft

A 2014 move to a “junkie little house” next to the Arkansas River in Pueblo inspired Colorado Springs transplant – then Haunted Windchimes multi-instrumentalist Mike Clark – to scribble down more than a handful of lyrics about heartbreak, love and fleeing from societal expectations. Nearly four years later, Clark’s band, The River Arkansas, plans to release their third album in August – an album that is a collection of tunes with very similar themes.

“Any Kind of Weather,” the title cut, is mostly about “being able to adapt and keep up, no matter what the world throws at you,” Clark said recently. “Our cellist (Danah Olivetree) left the band and went back to school a while back, so we picked up a pianist and we adapted.”

He describes the sound The River Arkansas is styling these days as Americana. The recent addition of pianist Ben Gallagher to the band allowed the sometimes honky tonk, sometimes blues, sometimes country western band to toss a little Southern rock into the mix. “We really don’t stick to one thing, that’s for sure,” Clark noted.

“When we had full strings (cello and violin) there was a more somber feel. We were trying to rock, but could never get past it. We are much more rockin’ now that we have a pianist and have a four-part harmony. I’ve also brought in a hollow body guitar,” Clark said.

The band sticks to playing original tunes written exclusively by Clark. “I come with the arrangements, and the band improves it and helps to create a unique sound.”

Members of The River Arkansas connected organically. Bassist Macon Terry and Clark first met on the Front Range music scene years ago. Then one day, years later, Clark was in the studio for his initial recordings and he invited Terry to sit in. Later, Clark collaborated with Terry, drummer Robin Chestnut and violinist Rachel Sliker on a music video for Terry’s band, Clouds and Mountains. (Currently, Clouds and Mountains exists only as a recording project as the foursome have now banded together to form The River Arkansas.)

Although Clark says he’s always been a collector of CDs and vinyl albums, musicianship first entered his life during a cycling road trip to the Pacific Northwest. “My friend had a guitar he played while we were going down the road. I thought, well, if he can do that in his 20s, so can I.” Clark recalls buying a harmonica during the trip and learning to play it by the time he’d returned to Colorado. Since then he’s taught himself how to play guitar, banjo, violin and mandolin.

The other members of the band have slightly more formal training, Clark said, with the exception of Gallagher. “Ben had some piano lessons early on, but I’m pretty sure he just listens to a lot of Phish.”

The River Arkansas just wrapped up a winter tour, covering Colorado to California. So their upcoming show at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26 at Soulcraft Brewing in Salida, will be one of just a handful of Colorado shows they’ll be playing in the next several months. Clark described their live performances as offering “mostly upbeat, rockin’ tunes.”

Clark will be debuting his newest Kutthroat Stringworks banjo at the Soulcraft show. He’s already strumming a long-neck Kutthroat, but said luthier Kurt Snyder is nearly finished crafting a custom short-neck banjo for Clark that he’ll pick up later this month.

When asked about his dream venue, Clark identified Red Rocks Amphitheater as the “obvious choice.” This past summer, The River Arkansas performed live on stage at Red Rocks as part of the summer film series. In 2018, Clark said he’s looking forward to playing at California’s Lost Sierra Hoedown in September. “Right now, that’s about as far away as I’m dreaming.”

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