Lucas Wolf’s long road to debut album and Wheeler Opera House ‘On the Rise’ series
IF YOU GO …
Who: Lucas Wolf
Where: Wheeler Opera House ‘On the Rise’ series
When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $22
During his years as a drunken hobo, when he was wandering America with his guitar, few would have predicted Lucas Wolf would one day be headlining the historic Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.
But this Saturday night, with his debut album recently released, Wolf will close the Wheeler’s 2018 “On the Rise” concert series as the winter tourist season launches into high gear.
Born in South Dakota and raised in Arizona, Wolf dropped out of college and spent several years hitchhiking around the U.S. and busking on street corners.
“I had been fantasizing about hitchhiking the country with just a backpack and a guitar,” Wolf recalled in a recent phone interview from home in Boulder. “I grabbed a pair of shoes and a crappy JanSport backpack and walked to the edge of North Phoenix and then hitchhiked. … There was really never a destination.”
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It was on the road that Wolf, now 34, found his voice as a singer and songwriter. While he was living on the fringes and drinking heavily, the audiences he found on the streets gave him a glimmer of hope. They saw something in the hard-won wisdom and rugged beauty of his songwriting that, maybe, he couldn’t see yet for himself.
“I’d pull these emotional reactions out of people that, when I was writing these songs, I wasn’t intending or expecting,” he said. “I kept getting comments that were like, ‘Hey, why haven’t you gotten picked up? Why aren’t you based somewhere and forming a band?’ That made me think, ‘Man, what the hell am I doing drinking and bouncing from town to town?’”
He had developed death-defying drinking habits during his wandering years and latched on to his creative impulses to find something to live for.
“There were quite a few times I was told that if I didn’t quit drinking I would not live,” he recalled. “What pulled me out was that I knew I didn’t want to die of liver poisoning and that I had something to offer the world.”
So he tried to stay put in Boulder for a while. There he met the mother of his children, sobered up, settled down, started a family and got to work as a musician. He began performing regularly around Boulder, building a following through relentless gigging on the Front Range. He also started recording music, including a demo that he sold at shows for the past three years.
And earlier this year, he released his first proper album, “Falling Into Place,” so titled because things have been working out lately for the singer and songwriter.
“This is the first installment, hopefully, of a lot of albums to come,” he said.
The record includes songs he’s written over a period of years as he’s settled into life in Boulder and some from his time on the road. The oldest song in the collection is “Don’t Call Me,” which Wolf said he wrote when he was 19 or 20. Overall, it’s a gritty folk record by a writer searching for — and often finding — hope in the hopeless, with indelible moments like his refrain of “I believe we can turn things around” on “The Light” and his lament of “Take me back to where the birds sing, baby” on the bluesy “Birds.” It’s soulful and rootsy in the acoustic Xavier Rudd and Ben Harper tradition.
“These are the songs that I need to get out right now, so that I can move on,” he explained. “I’m excited not only to play these songs but also show some deeper writing development that’s happened over the last few years. … I’m writing so much, I’m probably five albums deep in my brain.”
Wolf is working on forming a permanent lineup for a backing band, but for now he’s plucking players from the tight-knit Colorado music scene. The new record includes instrumentals from Elephant Revival’s Charlie Rose and fiddler Natalie Padilla. For this weekend’s Aspen show he’s bringing along Gasoline Lollipops’ bassist Bradley Morse and drummer Andreas Schmid. (In keeping with his streetcorner troubadour roots, he’ll also play a handful of solo acoustic songs.)
Along with working as a musician, Wolf has trained as a yoga teacher, which he says is in keeping with his goals as a musician.
“I want to inspire people who are going through their darker periods in life,” he said. “People are suffering and I want to ease that. I want people to know that it’s not easy, but you can make your life better.”
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