Rising Appalachia – a band rooted in the vibrancy of soul music, southern mountain trails, the folk wonder of Celtic sea songs and activism – returns to Colorado for a sold-out concert Saturday at Chautauqua Auditorium and Monday for a show at The Lawn at Buena Vista Surf Hotel.
Based between Atlanta, Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina, the band’s influence extends far beyond the US borders as members have performed everywhere aboard ships at sea in the middle of the Salish Sea and in the jungles lush areas of Costa Rica.
Birds of Play, a Colorado-based quartet, joins multi-instrumentalist sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith, and the rest of Rising Appalachia, on upcoming dates.
Fronted by my mandolinist, guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Alex Paul, the band is a welcome addition to Rising Appalachia’s Labor Day weekend shows.
In Birds of Play’s music video for “Wonder,” viewers are treated to breathtaking images of the San Juan Mountains, cascading waterfalls, and a musical tapestry that’s as serene and inviting as the stunning locations.
On the track, Paul sings, “Let us open wide our hearts / And to love may we fall / We’ll revel in the mystery and wonder of it all.”
The song – inspired by a trek from Colorado towns from Ophir to Telluride – captures the thoughtful reflection of the seasons and passing time.
In the vein of Gregory Alan Isakov or Ray LaMontagne, the band produces the kind of music one would want to hear when tending to farmland, the sun at their back or stargazing atop a cedar deck in a tree house.
Birds of Play came about after Paul won a solo blues competition at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival in 2018.
Paul had ambitions to form a band, as well as plans to record an album using a grant he received from the Telluride Arts District. He recruited fellow musicians Jack Tolan and Eric Shedd to begin playing shows and creating tracks in the studio.
Anneke Dean joined the band in 2020. Dean, a Denver-raised vocalist and classically trained violinist, didn’t begin exploring different genres until the last two years of her undergrad at the Chicago College of Performing Arts.
After moving to Telluride in 2018, Dean began collaborating with other musicians and embarking on incorporating country, bluegrass, jazz, blues and improvisational genres into his repertoire.
From playing around smoky campfires to taking the stage at Colorado venues in Denver, Salida, Leadville, Manitou Springs, Durango, Carbondale and Nederland, Birds of Play continues to soar.
While California spawned the Eagles and Atlanta spawned the Black Crowes, Birds of Play is certainly a century-old act of statehood through and through.
The flow and beauty of the West is found in well-crafted lyrics and the harmonious woody feel of mandolin, double bass and violin. Stringed instruments are reminiscent of ancient times, providing a lingering sense of nostalgia.
The band’s song “Gale and Doug” – from “Murmurations, Vol. 1” – is a playful and romantic interpretation of the relationship between the element of wind and a swaying tree.
Currently, Paul resides in the historic mining town of Ophir, Colorado, founded in 1881, so songwriting fodder is never far away.
The City of Ophir website reports a population of 180 humans and 51 dogs.
We caught up with Paul to find out more about his journey in music that hasn’t had a particularly smooth take-off, what he’s most looking forward to sharing the stage with Rising Appalachia, and what we can expect from his flock next.
Kalene McCort: I read that as a child you had a total disdain for piano lessons. What annoyed you about the instrument and what made you ask for a guitar at 13?
Alex Paul: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I had a disdain for piano lessons, more than I disliked the teacher and her repertoire. There was no transmission of magic.
When I was 13, I just told my dad that I might be interested in playing guitar, and he was so excited that we went out that afternoon and bought a nice entry-level Peavy electric from range. The shop is no longer in operation, but I also took my first and only formal lessons there that year. I am almost 40 now and have never taken an extended break. Playing the guitar is one of my favorite things about being human.
KM: What are you most looking forward to supporting Rising Appalachia on these Colorado dates? Were you fans of Leah Song and Chloe Smith before playing with them?
PA: I am truly thrilled to share the magic they create in their performances and gatherings.
I had seen them play many times before knowing them a bit over the past two years and would consider myself a fan of their musical musings. They are such wonderful humans, and they walk through this world with deep integrity. Honestly, they were on our very short list of bands we want to share a stage with. So it’s really exciting.
Plus, Chautauqua is one of my all-time favorite places. Everywhere. So sharing a bill with some of my favorite musicians and humans at one of my favorite places is pretty darn dreamy.
KM: Where did you grow up in southern Colorado, and would you say growing up there influenced you artistically?
PA: I actually grew up in Littleton, just south of Denver. But I’ve lived in southwest Colorado for almost 13 years, mostly between Durango and just outside Telluride in a little town called Ophir.
I would say that the time I lived in these majestic mountains greatly influenced my artistic and humanistic sensibility. I write a lot about this land and it deeply informs how I interact with the world. I’m very grateful to call these hills home and hope that my respect for this land shines through in the music of Birds of Play.
KM: What other artists do you really admire or consider to be influences? I’m curious what dominates your playlist these days?
PA: Shit. So much. Some of my favorites include Punch Brothers, Wood Brothers, Andrew Bird, Gregory Alan Isakov, Paul Simon, Robert Ellis, I’m With Her, Watchhouse, Radiohead, Bon Iver, Andrew Duhon, Gabrielle Louise, Emily Scott Robinson and many more. others. . All of the Birds have pretty eclectic musical tastes and inspirations, and I think that shows in our music in a big way.
KM: I’m really enjoying “Whispers” Vol. 1 and 2. What do you think inspired this collection, and can fans look forward to more Birds of Play music in the future?
PA: I think a lot of the music has been inspired by our deep connection and respect for the land we inhabit and the communities we live in. There are also timely human experience themes on these albums. We recorded them both in January 2021, and I think there’s a continuity in both volumes that reflects what we were all going through at the time.
That said, we’re really excited to be back in the studio as we already have a whole new batch of songs that we can’t wait to release to the world. We hope to record in early 2023 and release the music by the middle of next summer. The working title is “Bird Songs of the American West”. We’ll see if it holds.
Following the Colorado dates with Rising Appalachia, fans can see Birds of Play at the Moab Backyard Theater in Utah on September 29. To learn more, visit birdsofplaymusic.com.