Tim Van Schmidt
The news that the great Fort Collins music festival, FoCoMX, has been postponed from its usual April dates until the fall is a raw reminder that we aren’t done with this pandemic yet, but it has got me inspired.
I have decided to have a “music festival” right here and right now — at least on paper.
My festival’s theme is “out of the box,” and the musicians I am going to feature are some of the most unique players I have ever seen in northern Colorado.
Number one on my list would be Steve Amedee, the world-class percussionist for the subdudes. Amedee has figured out how to prepare and manipulate a “mere” tambourine into sounding like a whole drum kit. Amedee is a rhythm genius and a great vocalist to boot.
One story I’ll tell to illustrate Amedee’s willingness to explore would be from a KIVA recording studio session in Fort Collins. Amedee had agreed to work on some tracks for my own CD release, “Sunshine Songs,” and when it came to a particular piece, I had the idea that “chest thump” best described the bottom basic rhythm of the piece.
So that’s exactly what we did — we put microphones on Amedee’s back and sides, and he thumped his chest to the tune, which may have turned out to be a little longer than he anticipated. We also added a “knee slap” track as well. Amedee proved right there and then that he is more than willing to put himself into a rhythm.
Next, I would invite Francesco Bonafazi to perform — he doesn’t play an unusual instrument because he is the instrument. He is known as The Jazz Whistler, and he makes alluring musical sounds with his own breath. This has taken him into the recording studio and to international whistling competitions.
Then to get an outrageous dance groove going, I would call on WhiteCatPink. You can’t miss this flamboyantly costumed character when he’s in the room or guess what he’s going to do. He might play drums to pop music hits or bring on a belly dancing troupe to help entertain.
Since we’re calling WhiteCatPink, let’s also call Magic Cyclops, another character who acts as part DJ, part grumpy troll with a strong British accent. He also happens to be a regional air guitar champion.
On the folk side, I would get former Fort Collins musician Steve Eulberg on a plane from California and have him bring along all those great dulcimers he has collected and, more importantly, plays with heart. Especially, I would want to hear the hammered dulcimer — it is a mesmerizing instrument, percussive and bright.
For some years there was a program called Streetmosphere in downtown Fort Collins that put area musicians on street corners to make cool sounds for weekend shoppers — and I’d like to bring in a few acts I saw there.
That would include an ensemble called Synesthesia, which featured a harpist — yes, playing a real harp. Another act I would definitely invite was called Musical Gestures. This guy played the very unique electronic instrument called the Theremin to classical music recordings. He played the melodies with pitch-perfect accuracy with just the position of his hands within a field of invisible electricity.
Another performer I enjoyed on the busy downtown streets was Alyk the Traveling Marimba Busker. I don’t think she was a Streetmosphere act, but when I saw her on the corner of Mountain and College one afternoon, I had to respect not only that she played her instrument with aplomb, but also just that she would wheel the thing around to entertain passersby.
Since we’ve talked about the FoCoMX festival, I should mention some musicians I saw at various FoCoMX events. One would be Christi Mikles, a musical saw player I saw working with a couple of bands — she made otherworldly sounds with just a saw and a bow. I also would call an act named Rejected Kauses, a guy who had a unique rig mixing electronics with percussion.
Let’s also include a FoCoMX performing group I’ve never seen before or since called Faded Freak Show. While not a musical act as such, one of them did something I’ve never seen before — he sent a guitar string through one pierced cheek, into his mouth, and out the other side. I had to squirm when he pulled it back and forth like it was dental floss.
I would also tap More Than Physics, a group I saw at both FoCoMX and the Sustainable Living Fair, featuring a musician playing what looked like flying saucers and sounded like muted steel drums.
I’ve seen just tons of great acts at the Bohemian Nights festival that piggybacks onto the NewWestFest in August. But the one I’d call immediately would be Jam Key Jam, featuring a master sitar player. Some find sitar music hard to understand, but I particularly enjoy listening to its intoxicating sound.
Of course, I would have to also include my former partners in rhyme; a group called two fingers, namely David Zekman and Mark J. Rosoff. Originally they came from a group called fingers, which played stream-of-consciousness “sound art” on anything from electronic keyboards to household utensils and electronic toys. I enjoyed their irreverent attitude towards music so much that I wanted to join the band.
But by the time I got to them, there were only two of them left, and together, we formed an ensemble called TVS and two fingers. I’ll mention that besides playing toys and unusual instruments like masking tape to back up original poetry, one of the main attractions to our live sets was Rosoff’s “lid-a-phone” — an instrument made from pot and pan lids that sound like a collection of exotic gongs and bells.
To clean up, I would ask Widow’s Bane to be the party band at the end of my “festival.” Their ghoulish make-up underscores their story about being the crew of a pirate ghost ship. Their music gives a new meaning to “folk” music like polkas.
These outriders of music are just some of the most unusual examples of what our music scene has to offer. If you could gather the above musicians together, I guarantee that you would have a most challenging event because they all share something special — crazy ideas for making cool sounds.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his “Out of the Box: Unique NOCO Musicians” photo gallery on YouTube at https://northfortynews.com/timecapsules