Earlier this year Denver’s country and western renaissance man Curtis Wallach launched Queen City Country & Western music cooperative.
“The goal is pretty simple: exposure for all of us,” Curtis said when asked why his group the Hang Rounders and several other Denver and Colorado country outfits banded together. “Stop competing for crowds and work together to bring wider attention to the throwback country scene as a whole,” he added.
Fortunately for Swallow Hill, Queen City Country & Western is taking over Daniels Hall on Friday, September 27 at 8 p.m. for A Country Dance Concert. The concert not only features the Hang Rounders, but Casey James Prestwood & The Burning Angels, and an opening set from Larry Nix performing Merle Haggard.
We got to learn more about the concert, the cooperative, and why Curtis finds classic country and western music so compelling in our Q&A.
What can folks expect from your Country Dance Concert in Daniels Hall on Friday, September 27?
We’re gonna pull the chairs out of Daniels Hall and turn the joint into a honky tonk for the night. What’s a honky tonk, you ask? You know that “Rawhide” scene from Blues Brothers? The scene was (gloriously) tongue in cheek, but honky tonks look like that. They tend to sound a little more like this here Rusty Wier song.
You can expect barn burners and ballads, and plenty of chances to show off your two stepping prowess.
Loads of originals and classic covers, including a whole set of Merle Haggard from Denver gem Larry Nix & his band of Mile High City all stars. As for the other two acts, Casey James Prestwood sounds more than a bit (in the best way) like Gram Parsons, and Hang Rounders are channeling something of a modernized Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
Dance is a big component of events like these. Were audiences ready to embrace the dance element of events like these, so you filled an existing need, or did you have to bring them along?
The crowds in Denver are slowly coming around to dancing. It’s taking some doing, especially with the younger crowd. As the Denver country dance halls have all but faded away, the dancing has too. The older folks that used to frequent those dance halls don’t make it out as much, and the younger folks don’t know what the hell that kind of dancing is supposed to look like. But they like the music and they’re Googling the moves, and sure enough it seems there’s a few extra couples twirling at every new show.
Earlier this year you launched the Queen City Country & Western music collective. Can you briefly tell us what the goals of the collective are, and how the first year is going?
The goal is pretty simple: exposure for all of us. Stop competing for crowds and work together to bring wider attention to the throwback country scene as a whole. A rising tide lifts all boats. That sorta thing. Get folks talking about it. When we started discussing the collective amongst ourselves (the six bands officially represented can be checked out at countrywestern.co). we were, and are, a group of acts that played together quite a lot, and even though we vary sonically, we noticed a lot of audience crossover. So we said, “Hey, let’s start this thing, and maybe our crowd will tell folks about your band, and your crowd our band, and we’ll all benefit.”
Beyond the six groups, though, we try to spotlight lots of cool non-pop, non-bro country goings-on around the city through our Instagram (“qccandw“). Follow us there and through the website if you want the inside scoop on where to get your two stepping fix in Denver, usually showcasing several events every month.
Note: Learn more about Queen City Country & Western in this February, 2019 article from Westword.
What is it about this music that you find so inspiring?
The songwriting, the musicianship, the lifestyle, the aesthetic…the whole package, really. When I picture classic country music, it’s some heart-on-their-sleeves romantics, in some backroad dive at 1am under neons shooting the shit about their love of the land, and full of optimism, hope and opportunity for everybody. I like that picture. I like to picture them the next day too, out fishing or with family somewhere quiet and picturesque. They’re never working. If they are working, they’re thinking, “Take this job and shove it.”
How did you personally get into classic Country & Western music as a fan? Did your role as co-owner and talent buyer at of the Hi-Dive play into that at all?
Nah, the Dive came after. We bought the Dive with a group of pals in 2012, and I didn’t begin booking the club until 2015. I definitely have made it a priority to get more classic country acts into Hi-Dive since, typically and historically a more rock oriented joint.
I guess I got into classic country in earnest playing music with my wife in the early 2000s. We both performed with more of a folksy act that had a few incarnations, eventually becoming a band called Legendary River Drifters, but explored classic country and definitely leveraged some songwriting techniques from the old greats. She has more of a country background than I do, having been raised spending evenings singing Kristofferson and Waylon and Willie with her dad.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
This is gonna be real fun! We’re all such fans of Swallow Hill and the work y’all have done through the years (one of us Hang Rounders is even an employee). I saw Willis Alan Ramsey there and it was a dang special night.
I sure hope folks will join us, and dance!