John Colson: Politics? Pah! Let’s look closer to home

John Colson
Hit & Run

I started out to write today about politics, or health care, or some other damned blight on our global consciousness.

But I decided to put all that aside, at least for today, and concentrate on something much more positive.

Instead of the troubles of the world, I want to take a moment to celebrate my feeling that I live in one of the most culturally, artistically and creatively amazing places on the planet — Carbondale — and that last weekend furnished an extended dose of proof for this claim.

The inspirational circumstance of modern Carbondale is made much more amazing by the simple fact that this town of roughly 6,000 people, until quite recently, was essentially a nervous combination of coal miners and ranchers.

That recipe for cultural schizophrenia was spiced up by the introduction of a creative mix of hippies, artists and other counterculture types who, starting in the 1970s, began migrating downvalley from certain increasingly unaffordable and unattractive aspects of living in the fabled community of Aspen, about 30 miles upriver from Carbondale but a world away in nearly every attribute besides geography.

Starting with the annual Carbondale Mountain Fair and the formation of the erstwhile Carbondale Council on the Arts and Humanities (now Carbondale Arts), our little town has built up a fine roster of annual events, as well as a remarkable scattering of nonprofit entities working in every arena from the artistic to the spiritual to the political, sometimes to stunning effect.

Last weekend, a series of events took place that, to my mind, glitteringly confirmed my assessment of my adoptive home town (OK, I’m a transplanted Midwesterner, I admit it, although living in the Roaring Fork Valley for nearly 40 years should somewhat make up for that).

First off, on Sept. 15, the Wilderness Workshop (one of those pesky nonprofits) sponsored something named Nature In Transition at the home of world-renowned artists James Surls (yup, the same guy who created the sculpture in Carbondale’s Main Street roundabout) and his partner in art and life, Charmaine Locke.

Attendance by me, I should note, was a birthday present from one of my longest term friends in the valley, and I will be forever grateful that she thought to include me and my spousal unit in her plans for that evening.

Describing a multi-phasic blend of dance, music and sculpture such as this one is a bit tricky, but I’ll give it a shot.

Walking up from Surls’ studio toward the house, a group of perhaps 100 were greeted with quick glimpses of sprightly dancers, some standing still, some not, whose artistic roles were underlined by an intriguing bit of percussive sound performed on metal pipes and other nontraditional instruments.

Nearby, two lady dancers in skin-tight costumes, and crowned with a feathered arrangement reminiscent of exotic birds, perched on a metal framework. They were stuck still but for occasional body-shivers such as the movements of waterfowl working the moisture out of their feathers.

Along the path I glimpsed a scantily dressed young woman whose white outfit and veil left no doubt that she was a virginal, bridal-type figure, representing exactly what, I did not know; a green-hued woman sporting what looked to be a stylized tortoise shell and a mask that was not a little frightening; a statuesque and stately singer who moaned out tones that were matched by a strange “squeeze-box” instrument that she operated with one hand, and many more such fantastic and startling figures, either in motion or standing quite still.

At one point, the audience turned southward and was treated to a soulful view of Mount Sopris framed by dark, scudding clouds and, on its eastern flank, a sweeping storm of rain or snow that seemed to be rooted in the mountainside while its towering cloud peaks moved off toward the east.

Upon entering Locke’s studio, which stands beside the couple’s home, we were treated to a bizarre and entrancing spectacle involving the aforementioned “bride,” the two bird-like dancers and another virginal young lady clad in white, all moving in a choreographed ballet accompanied by eerie instrumental offerings from a group of musicians hidden in a corner behind the audience.

The two young ladies in white seemed to be the central figures in this dance, moving in a dreamlike waltz around the studio space until the “bride” suddenly erupted into a wild series of aggressive, at times violent motions, accompanied by vocalizations that at times were crooning, at times screaming, but never truly intelligible.

There was much more to the scene, but as is typical with such performance art, describing it is a frustrating exercise in futility — you had to be there.

But the effect was electric. When the piece ended, there was a long, deep moment of reverential silence, followed by an outburst of applause and adulation for the performance artists themselves and for Surls and Locke, whose sculptures created a muted but impactful backdrop to all the movement and sound.

I, at any rate, was deeply moved, starting with a tour of Surls’ studio that somehow removed all traces of a bad mood I’d been in that afternoon, and left me completely open to the stunning series of set pieces that followed.

The next night I attended the 70th birthday party of yet another longtime friend at the Third Street Center, during which I got to catch up with a dizzying array of people, some of whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of decades. It was a comforting and warming reminder that, of all the places I’ve called home in my life, this is the one that has rooted me, changed me, molded me into what I am today (for good or ill — your call).

And on Sunday, at Steve’s Guitars in downtown Carbondale, I sat in an old movie-house seat against a wall and listened raptly to the alternatively bombastic, poignant and picante music of Corky Siegel, a blues harpist and pianist out of Chicago whose roots go back to the Siegel Schwall Band (with guitarist Jim Schwall) and the blues-rock explosion of the 1960s, and whose latest work embodies an effort to blend blues with classical orchestral instrumentation (known as Chamber Blues).

Once again, describing the evening would be to beggar the imagination, and could not come anywhere close to helping you feel what I felt.

But I, with about 35 or so others seated in the little room (as impresario Steve Standiford often calls his venue) were transported for a while, undoubtedly each to a different place and time, but just as undoubtedly to a spot where worry was a foreign thing, and our senses were full with enjoyment of the moment.

And that, faithful readers, was my weekend of bliss and excitement. I hope yours was good, too.

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