The esteemed members of the Congress – at Carbondale Mountain Fair | AspenTimes.com

The esteemed members of the Congress – at Carbondale Mountain Fair

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesDenver rock band the Congress, with guitarist Scott Lane, plays Saturday at the Carbondale Mountain Fair.

CARBONDALE – When the Denver rock group the Congress lost its bassist, Dwight Thompson, a few months ago – nothing tragic; he had a baby and another on the way, and chose fatherhood over rock ‘n’ roll – it changed things up a good bit. The group downsized from a quartet to a trio. One of the two guitarists switched to bass. Not only did the style change – they went from a loose jam approach to a tighter power trio – but even the way they shaped their sound was altered. Paradoxically, the band became louder as a trio, as there was no worry about finding a balance between the two guitars.But the truest essence of the Congress remains. The band is still led by Scott Lane and Jonathan Meadows, who have a strong friendship, a tight musical bond and something of a shared personal history that is key to the group. Lane and Meadows share Virginia roots: When Lane was at Randolph-Macon College, in Ashland, he would regularly make the short drive to Richmond, where Meadows, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, had a steady gig with his band, the Grove. The two got to know each other and occasionally Lane’s group, the Source, would open the shows, or Lane would sit in with Meadows. The two also ran an open jam at Emilio’s, a bar in Richmond. After college, when both were attempting to break out of the bar-band business – Lane took jobs in a bank and a music shop; Meadows worked the bar at Emilio’s – the two would still write songs together and bring friends into the studio to help them record demos.In 2008, Lane, realizing he was not built for a regular day job, moved with his girlfriend to Denver, on a whim. For the better part of a year he took freelance gigs, played for a while in the eclectic band Salem, and met a lot of fellow Denver musicians. And frequently he would call back to Virginia, trying to persuade Meadows to join him in Colorado.”I’d call him all the time and bug him to come out here, telling him we could get something going,” Lane said by phone from a coffee shop in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood. “I knew him pretty well; he was my next-door neighbor for a year. So I figured, why not bother the hell out of him?”Meadows had qualities that Lane wasn’t going to find in a Colorado-bred player: deep familiarity, a history together. Lane had always looked up to Meadows as a more experienced musician, and a deeper listener. Where Lane dinked around with music during his childhood – piano lessons at 4, stealing his brother’s guitar – he didn’t get serious until he was in college, and found himself with a drummer and a bassist as roommates. Meadows, meanwhile, had been in bands throughout his teens, beginning with a punk group, Five Flew Over, when he was 14. The two had a common path in terms of the development of their musical tastes. Both loved punk as kids, with a particular fondness for the New Jersey band Saves the Day. Both developed a love for old-school soul, especially Marvin Gaye, and for jazz-groove. (Perhaps the most significant dividing point is Led Zeppelin: Lane was a huge fan; they didn’t do much for Meadows.)And the fact that they were both from Virginia deepened the bond. “There’s a common belief, what music should be, that comes from where we’re from,” Lane said. “It comes part from that music scene we’re from. In terms of the kind of music I wanted to play, Jonathan was spot-on with me. I just know how he plays.”Lane never seriously considered heading back to Virginia, not after having had a taste of the Colorado scene. “Denver’s such an up-and-coming city,” he said. “So much opportunity. It’s one of the only places you can go and make a living just playing music, without ever leaving the state. Maybe California and Texas are like that. But there are so many places to play, so many towns with their own music scenes.” After nine months of phone calls, Lane finally sold Meadows on a move to Colorado. For a month, Meadows slept on Lane’s couch as they got the band – the Congress, a name they had used back in Virginia – rolling. Early on they recorded a demo EP, using horns, pedal steel, organ and a whole bunch of outside contributors. “That was more like an inflated singer-songwriter album, not really representative of what we are now,” Lane said. In the middle of 2009 they began touring, and defining the kind of sound they wanted, which touches on Southern rock and electric blues-rock, with bits of punk and groove also discernible. Last year, the lineup was solidified with drummer Mark Levy, and last summer’s itinerary included stops at such festivals as High Sierra and Wakarusa, and a well-received appearance on a side stage at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival. They have also played several times at Belly Up. In May, the Congress released its first full-length album, “Whatever You Want,” recorded at Silo Sound in Denver.Earlier this year came a turn in the road with the departure of Thompson, and Meadows’ move from guitar to bass. Lane says it has actually had a positive effect on the band’s sound.”With two guitars, the sound guy would try to distribute the two, balance them, and the sound kind of got smaller,” he said. “It’s counterintuitive, but now the sound is bigger. The sound guy can focus on just one guitar and crank it up. It’s more of a power trio sound, which is cool. I have more freedom and more responsibility. And I love both of those things so much.”stewart@aspentimes.com