Today, like every August 1st since 1876, marks the anniversary of Colorado’s statehood, first ushered in by President Ulysses S. Grant just a year before he passed the debt-laden and recently reunified torch to Rutherford B. Hayes, seventeen years after the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush wooed a concentrated group of white settlers into the state, twelve years after the Sand Creek Massacre borne, also, from white settlement, and 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On this, Colorado’s 135th anniversary, we reckon with the fraught history of Western expansion just as we stand in awe of this crazy, craggy place! Katherine Lee Bates wrote the lyrics to the oft-recycled “America the Beautiful” after gracing the top of Pikes Peak in 1893, and hers is one of a far-flung legacy of mountain memorialization, picked up, most frequently, by country music.
“Hey, Colorado,” this week’s Big Sound Saturdays mix, boasts what I think are the sweetest, most lowdown odes to “the Mother of Rivers,” the big, wild state. Built from country and folk songs from the 1960s all the way through 2012, “Hey, Colorado” sings its state’s praises, but never without danger—these songs treat the state like the edge of a cliff. Save for the Kingston Trio’s “The Colorado Trail” which, in the spirit of lots of folk songs from the 1960s, is a love song with nothing to do with the actual location it features, these tunes make Colorado synonymous with freedom, a new frontier, an unsettled Wild West. With California already colonized by Guy Clark’s “L.A. Freeway” in 1975, Colorado seems to’ve held the faux-folk imagination long enough for some real beauty to rise up around it. Sublimity abounding, these mostly reserved songs weigh a balance to their thematic grandiosity. “Lucky Ole Colorado,” a la Red Simpson, sings big and sounds small.
Ushered in with Johnny Cash’s “You Wild Colorado,” a weirdo chastisement of “his woman” channeled through the “wild raging river from the fountains of the mountains” (Colorado is begging for that country rhyme), “Hey, Colorado” also features John Denver’s bombastic and caressing “Rocky Mountain High,” so kind that it’s now one of Colorado’s two official state songs. Circling through, among others, Johnny Paycheck’s talkin’ “Colorado Cowboy,” Stephen Stills’, Merle Haggard’s, and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ identically named and very, very different “Colorado”s, and finally winding into Townes Van Zandt’s small and perfect “Colorado Bound,” these songs sing big and tender of a very, very beautiful place.
Happy Colorado Day, from ACRO Collective in collaboration with the country music universe!
Special thanks to M John Fayhee for his suggestions!