How it all began
I came across some old photos that brought back old memories that I would like to share. Brewer and Shipley had been doing a show at a long since forgotten bar in Denver. For some unknown reason, we played for a week, had a week off, followed by a second week of playing to people that had too much to drink. What were a couple of broke musicians to do in such a situation? Colorado was piled high with snow. Our good fortune. Some friends came down from the mountains and suggested we come with them to Crested Butte. A very small mountain town where some of our Kansas City crowd had migrated.
The snow was getting deeper as we headed west. This was my first venture into Colorado’s winter mountains and I was totally unprepared for what lay ahead. The town was old and tiny. There wasn’t a square right angle in any building I saw. Between houses, paths had been cut in the snow which reached to my shoulders. And everybody had a dog. A huge dog. I began to get the feeling that this was my kind of place. Old, worn out, and full of life.
The Second Time Around
It was not long after that Brewer and Shipley found some success and were playing Red Rocks south of Denver. Our friends from Crested Butte had come down to see us and let us know the town was having it’s first “art festival.” So it was back up the mountain to this little, and as yet, undiscovered piece of paradise. I’m still not sure how it came about but we found ourselves playing an impromptu concert in front of the Princess Theater. I don’t remember what they used for a sound system but I will never forget the lights. A single old Coleman pump-up lantern someone had managed to hang above the spot where we would be playing.
Our lodging was a grand old building called the Elk Mountain Lodge which would become an important part of my life. The owners, Jim and Joan Adams, became like a second family to me. Jim was a fly fisherman and over the years we spent many wonderful days on the rivers that abounded in those mountains. I was hooked. While Michael and the others headed back to Missouri, I continued with the party in Crested Butte. At that point, I don’t remember many specifics, probably because I was having way too much fun. And I had found a place to hide when the road or life, in general, got too hairy.
As the pace of life quickened with the release of “One Toke Over The Line,” The Elk Mountain Lodge became the place where I could go to be anonymous. Along with Jim Adams, I had accumulated a small group of fly fishing friends. I remember times when we would be joined by the ladies for an evening picnic if we managed to catch a trout of two. On other afternoons I would find myself on Slate River, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The rocks and “gravel” that covered the bottom and lined the shore were polished slate. A ribbon of black winding it’s way through the green meadows dotted by beaver ponds. “This is what heaven must look like,” I thought to myself.
Often, when I was on the road, I would head to Crested Butte on my few days off. It had become my second home. And every time I arrived I would see someone I knew. It seemed like a lot of my friends had come to know the place as had I. The Elk Mountain Lodge was famous for its breakfasts. Bacon so thick it almost took a knife to cut. And there, at the large table, would be someone I knew. Connie, Peter, Smokey, and others from various places around the country.
The Aspens were turning gold but the sky had become a nasty gray as I hiked up to the Peeler lakes. Being young and full of myself I hadn’t bothered to check the weather before departing. I did manage to get my tent set up but just in the nick of time. The wind had begun to howl. My little tent, which had been flapping in the wind, now became the landing spot for the sleet that came as the skies open up, followed by more wind. Enough wind to collapse the nylon, leaving me flat on my back covered in what once had been my tent. And there I lay from the last light of day to the next sunrise.
I finally managed to get my head out from under the mess of nylon and aluminum tent poles to see that I had truly weathered a snowstorm. My tenant and I were nothing more than a hump in the snow covered landscape. I packed things up and fortunately made it back down the mountain. I was lucky! The snow kept coming for days as an early winter set in.
Kiss It, Goodby
My love affair with that little mountain town continued for several years until real-life caught up with me. Finally, after too many years, we received an offer to play the beautiful new arts center in Crested Butte. Fortunately Randy, my old Missouri fishing buddy, and his wife already had plans to be in Crested Butte that week. So there we were on the creeks and rivers that had meant so much to me and another set of friends so many years earlier. And the town itself. Well, it was no longer the little hideout I held so dearly. It was now a major resort full of all the stuff you find in Colorado resort towns. I would love to go back but then again it is said that “you can’t go back home.” It has also been said that “once you call it paradise, kiss it goodbye.”