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Reliving the musical past


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The phone message on Wednesday afternoon, just before the holiday break, came as a total surprise. It was one of those "I'm sure you don't remember me, but ..." calls that change your plans, even on short notice.

Not many last-minute invitations make you drop everything on the night before Thanksgiving. This one did. It offered the chance to step back in time.

"This is sort of a Fall River Road reunion," the voice said. "It'll start around 8 at McCabe's on Tejon. We thought you might be interested."

That would be a huge understatement.

For those who aren't old enough, or haven't lived here that long, this goes back to the late 1970s, when not much was happening in downtown Colorado Springs. In those days, arguably the busiest music venue in town was The Still (as in moonshine) at The Hungry Farmer restaurant on Garden of the Gods Road.

For several years, Fall River Road was the unofficial house band, playing country, rock and folk-rock to large, loyal crowds. Other weeks, The Still's clientele was just as happy to have the Phantom Hooters or Radford and Lewis, bands with their own distinctive styles. (I'll never forget being awestruck by Rad Huffman and Lewis Mock's version of "Sloop John B" by The Beach Boys.) Sometimes on off-nights, members of several groups and other friends would convene as the Clones of the Pioneers, playing oldies and anything else that came to mind.

Everyone eventually went their separate ways, as the musicians and the fans all grew up. But anyone who shared that scene during those times never forgot the many nights when we sat there, hour after hour, set after set, through countless pitchers of beer, wondering why those groups were here and not in the big time.

As it turned out, last week's reunion wasn't just a one-shot thing. It's been taking place for years on Thanksgiving Eve. We need to make sure that tradition continues, because the gathering on Nov. 21 was no less than a religious experience.

It wasn't just about Fall River Road or Radford and Lewis. It was more about reviving the atmosphere, and the music, from those Hungry Farmer years.

Rob Wheeler, pickin' his Fender like always, and singer-strummer Cinda Haggren were the Fall River Road alumni. Wheeler, a lawyer now working for the Iowa attorney general, came all the way from Des Moines. Haggren, who is involved with a church music program in Albuquerque, made the trip with her son from New Mexico while coping with the recent, unexpected death of her husband.

Another of the mainstays was Sean Anglum, a familiar presence around the area from his years with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and before that in public television and at KRCC. Long ago, he was the driving force behind the Clones.

Then there was Mock, who still plays regularly with the Tavern Orchestra at The Broadmoor, walking in with his Gibson guitar. Others, such as bass players Steve Foster and Joe Bevans, took their turns for songs or sets. Plans to borrow a drum set fell through, but it didn't matter. Voices, guitars and familiar old tunes were plenty enough.

They played everything from The Animals to Little Feat, John Prine, The Byrds and even The Beatles. They had the crowd singing along with "I'll Be Damned If I Let You Break My Heart," a Pure Prairie League song. The same went for "House of the Rising Sun," "Needles and Pins," "Caf Lights," "You Ain't Going Nowhere," "Willin'" and on and on. Out of nowhere, Mock nailed every guitar note of the Beatles classic "Day Tripper."

We could go on, but as the clich goes, you really had to be there. And you didn't have to be a Hungry Farmer alum; many in the McCabe's crowd were in diapers (if they were even born) 30 years ago.

They played all the way to 1 a.m., when Anglum ended the night by saying, "See you next year."

No problem there. In fact, part of me wants to help make this occasion bigger. Pull more people together, find a larger venue, raise money for a good cause (perhaps the zoo), and make it a red-letter event, every November.

Then again, perhaps it should stay as it is. The people who care enough will be there. Everyone else will be welcome.

And the memories will always be worth rekindling.


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