If you’re looking for real roots music in authentic surroundings, take a trip back in time.
The “thump-thump” of feet tapping on plank floorboards while keeping time to a musical tune hasn’t changed much over the years—whether it’s cowboy boots or Keens. The twain do meet in Colorado’s local grange halls. Considered the communication hub of their rural landscape for over a hundred years, farmers, ranchers and homesteaders gathered frequently within the walls of the simple wooden buildings to discuss agricultural, political and civic issues—and jammin’.
Fourth-generation granger, Donlyn Arbuthnot, describes the grange as the Internet of the day. “It was a line of communication for the rural community and provided an opportunity to have a political voice.” By joining efforts, farmers and homesteaders helped to fight price fixing by the railroads, strengthened bargaining powers to buy supplies and to sell their crops. In addition, they served as centers for social and cultural events. In 1896, Arbuthnot’s grandfather, who was a founder of the Altona Grange #127, helped build the permanent site in Longmont. Her father grew up attending meetings played in the band and met her mother at a picnic at the grange. After members attended meetings a dance or a concert ensued.
And in the 21st century? Grange halls still offer a valuable resource for entertainment, including performances by local folk, country and bluegrass bands. Arbuthnot, a former “master” (president) of the Altona Grange and a historian says, “we have a vision of the building being used as a community center, as active as it once was. Music concerts are only the beginning.”
Anita Hoyer, “overseer” (vice president) of the Pikes Peak Grange #163, says “our goal is to keep the doors of the Grange open to keep our historic building operating.” Concerts act as fundraisers for the grange. “We are working to get some of the good old times back and give back to the community,” she adds.
Justin Hoffenberg, fiddle player of the bluegrass band Long Road Home says, “I like playing at the grange halls because they have a much more intimate vibe than many bigger venues. The history of the building tends to shine through. Sometimes there isn’t even a stage, which definitely adds to the crowd’s sense that they are a part of the show.”
“Music has been a tradition at the grange since its beginning,” reminisces Donlyn Arbuthnot. “The old building seems to resonate with happiness when the bluegrass bands take the stage.”
So how to experience grange bands? Pikes Peak Grange #163 (pikespeakrgange.com) offers concerts throughout the year and a Gospel bluegrass jam the second sunday of each month. Left Hand Grange #9, established in Niwot 1873, reopened after renovations and repairs were completed (lefthandgrange.org). Altona Grange #127 partners with Colorado Bluegrass Society to bring a series of three concerts to the grange every fall. Check altonagrange.pbworks.com for concerts and events throughout the year. And Westminster Grange hosts old-time community dances with live Americana music (ci.westminster.co.us/131.htm). •