Call me a fickle music fan, but I can recall the exact moment that my ears failed to tell one song from the next during the barrage of bluegrass emanating from the Mountain Avenue stage last Sunday, the final day of a particularly notable NewWestFest.
Local favorite Head for the Hills took the stage just as a spirited hippie, equipped with a large hula-hoop, shimmied and whirled his way through the entire 45-minute set. I absolutely loved it.
I checked out some of the other acts on the various stages downtown, then returned four hours later to witness what appeared to be the same young, shaggy-bearded man swinging the same oversized hula-hoop dance to what my ears instantly deciphered as almost the same exact song playing earlier from the stage.
It was a different band, completely identical sound.
My heart sank.
I want to love the music, I really do. But I can’t help but wonder who out there is doing something different with the same instrumentation.
I needed something new, something fresh.
Fortunately, placed behind the main sound pit, a mini stage was set up designed to showcase local artists as the larger, more popular acts set up behind them. One highlight of the day, folk-chamber-pop outfit vee device, had the opportunity to play at this quaint little stage.
The Fort Collins four-piece struck up its set 30 minutes before popular radio-friendly folk-grass act Nickel Creek (not to be confused with Nickelback, the Canadian suck-rock outfit with the lead singer akin to Jesus). Here is a local band that, dare I say, is truly doing something different.
Straddling a bizarre line between bluegrass and Indie rock, vee device (who indeed spells its name in lowercase) tore immediately into “Abductalized” from its most recent release, “Autobiography of a Dying Band.”
The songs swing and whirl. They tell mammoth tales and, thank the lord, it doesn’t last four hours. Mandolins, banjos, fiddles, double bass, accordion and guitars were all smattered throughout the truly original 15-minute set. Indie-music fans should rejoice at such musicianship, while bluegrass fans should rejoice at such innovation.
Asked what they thought of their performance opening for Nickel Creek, vee device front-man “Vee” joked with an ever-present smirk, “We were probably the best band playing in Colorado that day.”
While enjoying the exposure from opening for a band like Nickel Creek, the band is currently in a post-production phase of the first act of a three-part rock opera about the life of Russian author Isaac Babel, set to be released in late October.
“We also are working on a project involving 100 30-second songs”, says the bassist/multi-instrumentalist, who prefers the moniker “&roid.” The project, however, is actually not a joke, and illustrates the ambition of these seemingly unimposing musicians.
While I was only able to catch two band members, Vee and &roid indeed cite among their current artistic influences the Decemberists, as well as the Mountain Goats, Alexander Scriabin, Bela Fleck, Dmitry Shostakovich and John Cage.
While Vee mainly leans on Indie and folk in his songwriting, the other members bring their own influences into the mix. &roid “speaks” (as he likes to put it) classical music, while the G-Man, who plays the mandolin, guitar and bass for the band, mainly “speaks” jazz.
The Cannone’s degree in violin performance rounds out the sound while she also provides the sensibility to actually get out of its downtown Fort Collins home studio and enjoy the fresh air on occasion.
This is what I appreciate the most about vee device, and is also what I appreciate about any artist today, whether local or nationally recognized: The imagination, the versatility and the ability to never take the music and life too seriously.
Without imagination, versatility and humor, this overly critical cynic will be left deaf over the stagnant state of so much music today. I would implore any die-hard fan of bluegrass, country, hip-hop, rock, or any genre, to take a look around, see what else is out there, and find something bridging a gap between what you thought you hated and what you currently love.
There is something out there that will change your mind.
Staff writer Thomas Plassmeyer can be reached at email@example.com.