Bruce Hayes travels acoustic back roads
ASPEN Before Bruce Hayes settled in Colorado, there were strong indications that his musical future would lie here. His high school band, back in Glastonbury, Conn., was called Aspen. And when Hayes finally made the jump, after a year of college at New Hampshires Keene State, and moved to Colorado, it took less than a day to cement the reality that this was his musical home.The first person Hayes met in Aspen, back in 1981, was Sandy Munro, a fixture on the local acoustic music scene and owner of the Great Divide Music Store. That very day, Hayes found himself in a jam session that included a picker who had just been named the champion guitarist at the prestigious festival at Winfield, Kan.Right off the bat, I thought, Im going to meet the guys from New Grass Revival; this is going to be a really inspiring place, recalled Hayes.Hayes, now 47, has done more than his share of traveling. After a brief stint in Aspen, followed by a quick drift downvalley as far as Carbondale, he returned for a while to the East Coast. He put in five years in Los Angeles in the 80s, and on another occasion he traveled along the California coast before landing for a spell in San Francisco. Most of his moving around, however, has been within the Centennial State. At various times, he has called Pagosa Springs, Boulder and Crested Butte home. Now, Hayes seems to have found a spot to settle in Howard, a town five miles from Salida where he has been living for five years.Hayes calls Howard a good place to do laundry. A better reason to stick around is that he has been in tune with Colorado music since arriving here a quarter-century ago. While Hayes plays a variety of instruments, he is best known for his acoustic picking on mandolin and guitar. And while bluegrass has been the biggest influence, Hayes he takes a vastly open-minded approach to the genre.On Live in Salida, a CD released this year that features solo recordings of Hayes from several gigs at the Salida Cafe, Hayes plays complex mandolin pieces, electric blues, and songs like Easy Come, Easy Go that suggest laid-back Crosby, Stills & Nash one moment and aggressive Jimi Hendrix seconds later. If I have any rule, its to not play one style, he said.Often, Hayes accompanies himself on the Scuffy foot board, a contraption of his own invention that allows him to dance and play rhythmic percussion parts simultaneously. The progressive thinking about traditional music has put Hayes in the Colorado mainstream; he produced the first recordings by String Cheese Incident and Acoustic Junction, two bands that have put their stamps on the regional sound during the last 15 years.I think I had an influence on String Cheese in the early days, said Hayes, who performs Friday at the Double Dog Pub, and Saturday night at Steves Guitars in Carbondale. We were collaborating, making music together. Leftover Salmon was already doing its thing mixing everything up with bluegrass. But I was already doing that.If anything, Colorado influenced me to put more acoustic stuff into my music. Hayes was a music junkie at an early age, but unlike most kids raised in the 60s, it wasnt the Beatles that first captivated him. It was the Beatles TV offspring, the Monkees, as well as the equally fictional Partridge Family. He got his first guitar, a Silvertone, at 7, but his mother insisted that, along with strumming the guitar, Hayes take piano lessons. When it was time for college, he combined his instrument with his mothers favored style and studied classical guitar.The classical path lasted until Hayes got his first taste of a bluegrass festival. Straight from his last class of his first year at Keene State, he went to a bluegrass gathering in Gettysburg, Pa.That was a turning point for me. I loved the whole vibe, the weekend of hanging out in a meadow and playing music, he said. It was so much the opposite of the strict, regimented thing I had been doing for two semesters. I traded my classical guitar for a mandolin, and Ive never looked back.The shift in music style was accompanied by a change in region. Ever since he saw pictures of snow-capped mountains, Hayes had his eye on Colorado. When a high school teacher returned from Aspen with stories of the town in the early 80s, his destination narrowed. After arriving in Aspen, he quickly realized that downvalley was more his style, and he found his place in Carbondale, which he still considers something of a home base.It was pretty well settled that Hayes would pursue music, but to meet people and to appease his mother, he enrolled at Colorado Mountain College. The most significant thing to come out of his CMC phase was the foot board, a signature element of his music. Inspired by the late acoustic icon John Hartford, the original idea was to learn Irish clogging. Hayes took private lessons in clogging, and even built an independent study course out of his efforts. He never quite mastered clogging, but the stomp board, his own take on the dance form, survives today.After a few years in the valley, Hayes came to the conclusion that musicians in Colorado werent serious enough. So he took off for California and then back East for a spell. While on the East Coast, he produced the debut CD for Acoustic Junction, a band that formed in New England but would soon relocate to Boulder. When Hayes saw the quick success the band had in their adopted home, he pointed himself west again.The thing in Colorado was really starting to happen, he said. The original music scene was really starting to be something. Hayes has built his own Colorado scene over the past decade or so. He plays numerous gigs; he estimates that half of his time is spent on the road. But his RV doesnt leave the confines of the state all that often. Only a month of each year is spent away from Colorado, on a jaunt to Louisiana or the East Coast. He hasnt toured California in years.Hayes is a regular act at the Lake City Wine & Music Festival and the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, where he plays tweener sets between the main acts. In the winter, he has frequent gigs at the Gorrono Lodge, on the Telluride ski area, and at the Arapahoe Basin ski area.Perhaps the center of his musical life these days is the Salida Cafe, a former feed store that has been turned into a coffeehouse that can hold some 100 listeners for a concert. Hayes has been playing there once a season since before he moved to the area five years ago.Hayes concedes that he is missing out on the networking opportunities that would come with living in more of a music hub. While he has his Bruce Hayes Band and a bluegrass outfit, Unstable Able, some 75 percent of his performances is solo gigs, a reflection of his relative isolation from the rest of the music world.Hayes notes that, given the state of technology, it doesnt matter where a musician lives. Most of his working hours is spent on the computer. Still, it is certain that a player with his gifts would be better known if he made his home in Boulder or Austin. But Hayes reflects back to the time, in the early 80s, when he traveled the California coast and landed in San Francisco.Thats when I decided its not worth starving to live in a city just on the chance that you might be famous, he said. Better to find a place you like to live.I like to live where its easy to park a car. Thats why I live in Colorado to be in the mountains. I wanted a good mountain view, without too much cost.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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