VAIL — DeVotchKa’s music is naturally big and sweeping. And then you hear them perform their song “All The Sand in All the Sea” with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and the word colossal isn’t hyperbole. Stop reading and look it up on YouTube. Seriously. The Denver-based band played a sold-out show at Red Rocks with the orchestra last month.
“It was pretty intense,” said Nick Urata, the band’s singer and frontman. “We came up playing parties and dive bars, so it still astounds us when you step into a situation like Red Rocks. Luckily this was our fourth time doing a big show with the orchestra, so we had some idea of what to expect.”
The collaboration goes back a number of years, according to Urata.
“We started recording our records with some of the individual members (of the orchestra) that were friends of ours, and it progressed from there,” he said.
The Colorado-based band performs a free show at Checkpoint Charlie in Vail tonight as part of Vail Rocks, a fundraiser for the Love Hope Strength Foundation. The foundation, through its Get On The List campaign, registers marrow donors resulting in matches from concerts around the world. The music starts at 5 p.m. School of Rock will play at 6:15 p.m. with guests Scotty Stoughton of Bonfire Dub, Billy Bunting of Under a Blood Red Sky, Cy Curnin of The Fixx and Mike Peters of The Alarm. DeVotchKa takes the stage at 7:45 p.m.
GYPSY INDIE ROCK
The band’s sound is perhaps best described as rock-gypsy music, exceedingly beautiful, expansive gypsy music.
“I guess if you took a mariachi wedding band and crossed it with indie rockers from an Eastern Bloc country, and added strings, you would have it,” Urata said.
Urata’s voice is haunting and a bit dark. That, combined with the band’s instrumentation, makes for a sound that truly is uncommon, thanks in large part to the plethora of instruments the four band members play: vocalist Urata is on guitar, theremin, trumpet and piano; Jeanie Schroder plays acoustic bass and sousaphone; Shawn King plays drums, percussion and trumpet; and, finally, Tom Hagerman is on violin, viola, accordion and piano.
For years, the group was a Denver-based gypsy wedding band. And then they scored big when Nic Harcourt, former music director for KCRW, introduced his listeners to a then-unknown rock band of worldly sounds on his daily radio show, “Morning Becomes Eclectic.” Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton happened to be listening that day and discovered the sound for their movie, “Little Miss Sunshine.” A critical and box office hit, the film was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and, for DeVotchKa’s soundtrack, a Grammy. And like that, the little gypsy wedding band from Denver was playing large venues and major music festivals, including Coachella, Lollapalooza and the now-defunct Mile High Music Festival.
“After years of toiling in obscurity, the band was selling out shows at the Fillmore in San Francisco and First Avenue in Minneapolis, with breakout performances at Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits Music Festival,” according to a press release from the band. “The love spread to Europe, which has become a yearly destination for the band.”
Eagle County resident John Friestad saw DeVotchKa at Lollapalooza in Chicago in 2008, he said.
“They were from Denver, but I had never heard their music,” he said. “There were very different instruments, and a great sing-along during their show.”
Friestad hasn’t seen the band since, but he plans to “definitely” attend tonight’s show with his wife, he said.
‘A PRE-EXISTING CONNECTION’
Understandably, life has changed a lot for a group of musicians who went from playing at stale bars and post-nuptial gigs to huge music fests with thousands of screaming fans. As with most things in life, there are positives and negatives.
“The best part is we don’t do weddings anymore, and on a different level it’s a real blessing to travel to faraway spots on the globe and have a pre-existing connection with strangers through music you’ve created,” Urata said. “It’s something you dream about when you’re struggling to learn your instrument.
“The downside is you lose access to the simple things that make a life worthwhile,” he continued.
Having experienced both sides of the making-music-for-a-living spectrum, Urata and his bandmates know how easily things could have been different. Success is elusive for many deserving artists in the world.
“I think there is a tendency to take for granted what a fine line you walk between actually creating art and total failure,” he said. “Where does it come from and what is the invisible force that guides us? We are just like the field biologists of the 19th century, with giant butterfly nets running blindly through the meadow trying to catch an unknown specimen.”
So what does the future hold for DeVotchKa?
“We can only hope to continue to create music that people can connect with and maybe knock back a few bottles of good wine in the process,” he said.