Durango sees historic train rides as gateway to local culture

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4min 59sec
(Photo: CPR/Corey Jones)
<p>Blues musician John Long performs on the Durango Blues Train on May 31, 2014.</p>

Trains and music have a longstanding association, from train-hopping folkie Woody Guthrie to the Festival Express tour in Canada that carried musicians like Janis Joplin and the Band.

The annual Durango Blues Train aims to revive that musical tradition by utilizing one of the Colorado town’s biggest attractions.

While the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad typically attracts people because of its history and landscape views, the Blues Train adds a live soundtrack to the experience.

The event -- now in its fourth year -- has expanded to four different nights of portable performances, with the final two trips taking place August 22 and 23.

“It’s a blend of old and new,” musician John Long says.

Durango Business Improvement District executive director Tim Walsworth says the historic railway is one of the city’s top tourist attractions. And he hopes the destination event and its variations serve as a gateway to other cultural activities for visitors.

“The train built the town and today continues to be a huge driver of our local economy, however it’s not the only thing in town,” Walsworth says. “I see events that were once smaller and fledgling that have been able to grow, and you can really see that multiplier effect.”

“I believe in old traditional stuff, but I don’t play museum music," Long says. "I play for now, just like this old train with this new technology."

Producer Steve Gumble and his team transform the nine-car, 280-capacity train two days before it’s scheduled departure, installing lights and sound equipment.

“We’re still a young concept, but we are going on the right direction,” Gumble says.

Similar train rides exist both in and outside of Colorado, like concert series programmed by the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad and Pullman Rail Journeys in Chicago.

Beyond the history, Gumble says the train provides a suitable setting for music.

“The train is really the percussion, it keeps a beat to the music between the clacking of the tracks and the rocking rhythm of the trains,” Gumble says.

While some attendees relax while sitting in cars that feature solo acoustic music performances, others -- like Vance Parrish of Denver -- dance to the roaring riffs of a full band.

Parrish says the addition of blues music enticed him to take his first-ever train ride.

“The train is such an iconic symbol of America and its development,” Parrish says. “And Durango has a real inclusive sense of community and it’s creative and artistic.”

Tune in to the Colorado Art Report on Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear more from the Durango Blues Train.