Opportunities brewing for independent musicians
The husband-and-wife folk duo You Knew Me When has been on the road in their van for nearly four years now, breaking from touring only to record the occasional album. Along the way, the independent band has found a unique niche and tapped a rich, relatively new resource for DIY bands stringing together national tours: craft breweries.
To date, You Knew Me When has played 126 breweries around the U.S. and Canada. The band will return to Aspen Brewing Co. on Friday.
“Folks that tend to like craft beer tend to be the kind of people who like independent music and might get into what we’re doing,” said Cie Hoover, who plays guitar and sings in the band alongside his wife, Karisa.
Hoover, a former events manager for Gibson Guitars, saw the boom of microbreweries in towns and cities across the U.S. as an opportunity for the band, which leads a growing contingent of indie bands playing the brewery circuit.
The number of craft and microbreweries in the U.S. has escalated rapidly in the past two decades. According to statistics from the U.S. trade group the Brewers Association, there were fewer than 600 craft breweries in 1994, which had ballooned to 2,400 by 2012 and jumped to 4,225 last year.
For musicians, this new universe of tasting rooms and brewery bars created a new cultural space — not quite a regular noisy, old bar, not quite a music venue.
“It’s a community gathering spot,” Hoover said. “But it’s not like we’re there to just be background music. We understand that in a brewery setting it’s not a sit-down club where people are focused attentively on you all the time — obviously it’s a place that people gather and converse — but they also generally really get into it.”
Duncan Clauss, owner and manager of Aspen Brewing Co., pointed to the history of small breweries as a vital town commons (there were actually more of them in the 1870s than there are today). Clauss brings live music into his tap room most Fridays and Saturdays in the summer and winter high seasons — some of them local, some of them touring bands, most of them in the rootsy acoustic folk tradition like You Knew Me When, who have previously played here twice.
“I’ve always viewed the tap room as something unique and different to the Aspen social scene — as an open community gathering space,” Clauss said. “Acoustic live music just adds to the ambiance. Most of the bands we book, it could just be two friends sitting in the corner playing.”
The wide spectrum in size and layout for breweries keeps the members of You Knew Me When on their toes. In Colorado, where there are more than 200 micro and craft breweries operating, the gigs can range from the cozy second-floor confines of Aspen Brewing Co. to the massive hall at Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins.
“Some are almost full-fledged music venues,” Hoover said. “And lots are like, ‘Hey guys, we’re going to have you play in this corner and it’s going to be awesome,’ and we just roll with it and cater the show to whatever the setting is.”
Given their beer-powered touring, it may be surprising that You Knew Me When doesn’t have a proper beer song in its repertoire. They do have “Whiskey Kisses,” included on their most recent EP, offering an ode to booze, and “We Found Roads,” the title track from the band’s self-released 2015 album, which tells of their years on the road, hopping from barroom to barroom.
After their upcoming run through Colorado — which also includes stops at Marble Distilling in Carbondale, Montanya Distillers in Crested Butte and Revolution Brewing in Paonia — they’re heading north to Alaska for the first time. And after about 200 shows this year, they’re planning to take a break from the road this winter to record another record.
Though breweries have become their signature venue and their bread and butter, You Knew Me When plays other venues, too. During their swing through Aspen, the duo will also play brunch at Justice Snow’s (June 26) and an evening show at the Hotel Jerome (June 29).
Back in 2013, while working on a proposed box set of archival recordings, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge came across a group of songs that had been recorded in the late 1980s but never released.
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