OURAY – If you’re lucky at the gala concert at the Wright Opera House on Saturday, July 30, bandleader Mike Gwinn will tell you a story.
A couple of weeks ago he and several members of his jazz/funk big band were rafting on the North Fork of the Gunnison River above Somerset. (The band is called Mike Gwinn and the North Fork Flyers.) In big water, their paddle raft high-sided a boulder and spilled everyone.
Gwinn and the woman who owned the raft caromed for several hundred yards through the waves below. Gwinn is a life-long surfer, a strong swimmer, and a big guy. “My life vest wasn’t made for a guy six-four, 230 pounds,” he told me. “It was like a donut around my neck. I’ve been held down by big waves in the ocean. This was intense. I’d pop up for a breath and get dragged down again. I held onto my paddle, though, and kept my feet out in front of me.”
Somewhere around the Somerset curve, they managed to extract themselves and coax the raft into an eddy. When they walked back upstream, they found two other band members stranded on the mid-stream rock and had to line them across to the bank. That night the North Folk Flyers played their gig at Paonia’s Cherry Days festival.
What does this have to do with the music, and with the ongoing celebration of the Wright’s rebirth as a community arts venue? Nothing. Except that Mike Gwinn is a storyteller. Sometimes he uses words. Sometimes it’s his black Gibson guitar doing the talking. In song, it is both. And the result is a big, guitar and horn-driven sound that will fill the Wright from 7:30-10 p.m.
This is the third concert this summer at the Opera House. It is scheduled to coincide with the 51st Artists’ Alpine Holiday weekend, and will be a benefit, according to Joyce Linn of the Friends of the Wright Opera House, to help with the restoration of the 1888 Victorian. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Wright Ticket Office in the Blue Pear, at Kristopher’s Culinaire, and at Mouse’s Chocolates in Ouray; in Ridgway at Cimarron Coffee and Books; and in Montrose at Ouray Silversmith, 312 E. Main.
Gwinn has been a songwriter and bandleader since the 1960s. (His father was host of the 1950s TV game show “What’s The Name of That Song?”) His latest assemblage includes Flyers: Justin Hess, drummer (also with the Strolling Scones); tenor sax and flute, Willie Wright (Paonia school music teacher and band leader, and former defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals); alto sax, flute and bass, John White (honor band teacher at Columbine Middle School in Montrose, “the incendiary one” onstage, according to Gwinn); and Tony Peters on trombone, trumpet and bass (Peters teaches at the Vision School in Paonia and, like all the Flyers, freelances with numerous bands on the Western Slope). All are virtuosos, and the arrangements give each player plenty of room to soar.
Arranger, lead guitar and lead vocalist Gwinn has an eclectic ear. The song list for the Wright concert will range “from Miles to Motown, from Chuck Berry to Steely Dan, from Rogers & Hart to Robin Ford.” Along with a couple of Gwinn originals. Check out the video of the band’s latest, “Social Network Lament,” on their website, www.mikegwinnandthenorthforkflyers.com. The band’s latest CD is a KAFM Radio Room Live concert recorded in Grand Junction last year. It is called “Model Citizens.”
Gwinn will be performing a solo gig at the Telluride Jazz Celebration in August, performing his newest original song, “Jazz Standards Man” – as a “’tweener” onstage between acts. The full band will also do a show on Saturday night of Jazz fest, at Rainier Park.
Come hear these super-polished, high-energy musicians and help the Wright Opera House at the same time.