By Maggie Canty-Shafer
In a college town, band deaths due to attrition are as crowded as beer specials. Most never have a proper farewell, just a fading away. The Riflemen too are ending, but with a proper burial.
Coming together this month for a final show on April 9 at Everyday Joe’s Coffee House, the six will celebrate their growth from Rifleboys to men, and the natural progression as life calls them to places and projects anew. Not a gravestone but a graduation, and everyone is invited to the party.
When frontman Tony Guerrie and electric guitarist Daniel Stephenson broke away from their first band together, T.T. Lester, and moved to Fort Collins, they knew they wanted to keep making music. But what kind and with whom wasn’t clear.
“Tony just started bringing musicians in to practice and saying ‘they’re in,’” said Stephenson. “And then I’d high five them and we’d play.”
With the momentum from the new talent, it didn’t take long to develop a cohesive sound, reminiscent of rolling hills and open spaces but anchored by ‘50s pop and a steady diet of Fleet Foxes and the Swell Season.
“The beautiful thing about the Riflemen is that everyone would start working on a song and it wouldn’t take long for it to sound and feel right,” said Tyler Kellogg, drummer. “Playing together was always so easy.”
Perhaps the reason for the ease of their creative process is in part because they have no weak link – each musician involved has something to offer. The final count includes Guerrie, Stephenson, Kellogg, Phil Waggoner on piano, Jered Lish on violin and Jonathan Alonzo on bass; names already known among the local scene.
“My songwriting is influenced heavily by the musicians I am playing with at the time,” said Guerrie in an email interview. “I have been blessed to play with the highest caliber of musicians who have helped me craft my songs into something better than it ever would have been on its own.”
Their collective good looks didn’t hurt them, either.
The Riflemen started playing shows to eager crowds of college students at Everyday Joe’s Coffee House, building a community of fans and fellow musicians. After tricking enough hipsters into liking western music with a folk front, they started drawing crowds at Hodi’s, the Schoolhouse (a DIY indie/punk venue that has since been shut down) and even the Mishawaka. The band was quickly approaching their Rifletweens, and had full maturation on the mind.
But then – just like a baby seal – big oil put an end to them.
Guerrie was offered a job out of state with an oil company that shall not be named, and had to bid Fort Collins and his Riflefriends ado.
Like any long distance relationship, the band’s dynamic had to change; shows and practices became rarities and recording became near impossible.
That is, until last October. The band was able to sneak a weekend with recording engineer David Wilton at St. Ida’s studio, where they had two days to solidify the music they had once made and prove their existence in a tangible form. That weekend became Rocky Mountain Teeth, their first and last release.
“‘Rocky Mountain Teeth’ came from a lyric in the song,” said Guerrie. “Growing up Colorado I was privileged to witness some beautiful sunsets. The lyric is describing when the sun hits the mountains and an explosion of colors is released, like nectar released from one biting into a piece of fruit.”
The album will be made available for public consumption at the show.
“We had the lingering feeling to keep the songs alive,” said Stephenson. “We wanted a show to close the books. A celebration of who we were then and who we are now.”
And who they are now is perhaps in part due to their time becoming Riflemen – Waggoner, Kellogg and Lish all play in The Sunshine House, Stephenson in Denver-based A Mouthful of Thunder and Alonzo in Sour Boy, Bitter Girl, Paean and the majority of bands on local indie label Act So Big Forest.
The April 9 show is a dual CD release party, also featuring Josh Dillard. Sharing the stage with Dillard was not a hard decision. Guerrie has been inspired by Dillard’s reflective lyrics and nostalgic melodies since meeting and quickly befriending him in 2006.
“Every person in the Riflemen has been a part of my album,” said Dillard of his release, The Whale and the Sea. “They are all very humble, which is hard to find in the music scene. A lot of musicians are just out for themselves. But the Riflemen are always very humble and gracious. It’s about the music and the people.”
The two acts will surely draw crowds of Fort followers who want to pay tribute to those who helped pull the local scene up by its guitar straps.
“This show involves people who were here making music before the Fort Collins music scene was really recognizable,” Dillard said. “It’s a small group of brothers who bonded in the process. It’s a band of people who’ve been around, and this show is an accumulation of that.”