Local bluegrass band Elk Range just wants to make you dance | AspenTimes.com

Local bluegrass band Elk Range just wants to make you dance

Elk Range.

In 2015, singer/songwriter Ken Gentry and guitar player Curtis Fiore happened to be camping next to each other at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The impromptu, early-morning jam session that ensued led to a music collaboration that eventually became Elk Range, a four-piece bluegrass band made up of mandolin, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and bass.

Elk Range. From left to right; Ken Gentry, Hugh Phillips, Curtis Fiore, Betty Hoops.

Curtis Fiore, who is originally from Illinois but grew up in Carbondale, has been playing guitar since he was 7 years old. He studied jazz and played in a metal band as a teenager, but, when he transferred to Colorado Rocky Mountain School, he met a teacher who introduced him to bluegrass music and would jam with him after class, which really inspired him and made him fall in love with the genre. Several years later, after he returned from college, he attended an open-mic night at Bolsky’s bowling alley in El Jebel, where he first heard Ken perform long before their campground jam session.

“I had my guitar in my car so signed up to perform on the spot. I met Ken, saw him perform, and was impressed by his voice, but we didn’t play together that night,” Fiore said.

Ken Gentry is originally from St Louis, Missouri. A self-proclaimed “city boy with a Southern grandmother,” he honed his singing chops in church and recalled always having music on and singing along to every song, whether he knew the words or not. At 16, he heard a cover by David Grisman and Jerry Garcia of the 1951 Roy Hawkins and Roy Darnell-written 1970 BB King hit, The Thrill is Gone, which changed the direction of his musical journey.

“It was the first time I heard a mandolin. I didn’t know what it was, but I couldn’t get the sound of the instrument out of my head. I saved up all my money, and, within a couple months, I purchased my first mandolin. That song and instrument made a real impression on me,” Gentry said.

When he was 17, he and his brother took a Greyhound from St Louis to Denver where he saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time and was blown away after hiking up Flatirons, outside of Boulder. Two days later, he attended the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Telluride opened his mind to what acoustic music could be.

“The mountains and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival had such a profound impact on me. I always knew I was going to come back,” he said.

Ten years ago, he did just that and moved to the valley. He didn’t know anyone, so he signed up for open-mic nights at the legendary Red Onion, hoping to meet fellow musicians. That’s where he met Betty Hoops five years ago.

Betty Hoops, a five time Guinness Book World Record holder in speed and distance running with a hula hoop (The hoop has never stopped nor dropped), was already well known in Aspen for her popular hoop exercise programs, as well as designing a collapsible hula hoop. But, that night at the Red Onion, she was playing harmonica. She came to harmonica somewhat randomly, when a friend gifted her a g-harp, which she learned to play while on road-trips.

“I had no formal training. I used to go on a lot of road trips for athletic events and playing the harmonica while I was driving was an easy and fun way to pass the time,” she said.

After she met Gentry at the Red Onion, he told her she should come jam with him and Fiore, and she became a “crazed fan who fell in love with their music.” She started going to all their jam sessions and began collecting harmonicas, so she could learn more just to play with them. When they invited her to join them on a few tracks for their freshman album, Long Winding Road, the deal was sealed.

Shortly after, they added stand-up bass player Hugh Phillips to round out the band.

Elk Range. From left to right; Ken Gentry, Hugh Phillips, Curtis Fiore, Betty Hoops.

Elk Range’s motto is “If it ain’t fast, it ain’t Elk Range,” and they pride themselves on performing both original music and covers at a more frenetic pace meant to get the audience on their feet and dancing. They attribute their love of bluegrass to several factors from the pop-culture influence of 2000 Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Tho, to the connection to American culture and history.

“Bluegrass music in general its very soulful and playful. It instills a sense of family and community. Going to bluegrass shows over the past 20 years, it hasn’t changed. It’s still about family, community excitement,” Hoops said.

Fiore agreed.

“I love bluegrass for the clarity of emotion. You can hear every note, there is so much precision, you can feel the story. And, it makes you dance, man,” he said.

Elk Range.

Elk Range is slowly gaining momentum. They have shared festival bills with mandolin hero Sam Bush’s band, appeared at the The Ute Theater, Aspen Mountain Summer Bluegrass Series, and played Carbondale’s Mountain Fair for the first time this year, as well as regular appearances at various venues across Western Colorado, including monthly appearances at the Tipsy Trout in Basalt. They even made a cameo in season 16 of The Real Housewives of Orange County during a cast trip to Aspen. But, what they are most excited about is their upcoming debut appearance at legendary Aspen music venue Belly Up as the opener for Mountain Rose on Dec. 3.

“When you go to one of our shows, you can expect us to be conveying to you our emotions. We put our whole selves into those songs — you’ll never see the same show twice. You’ll always get us putting 110% into the music,” said Gentry. “One of the joys of music is self-fulfillment and the ability to share that with people. We want everyone to be a part of It with us.”

CORRECTION: The article “ Local bluegrass band Elk Range, just wants to make you dance,” in the Friday, Nov. 18, edition had an error in the date when Elk Range will appear at Belly Up. The correct date is Dec. 3.