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Catching Carbon Leaf

Never mind the big acts. It’s the bands you’ve never heard of that matter. The whole family went down to Denver a week ago to catch Carbon Leaf at the Bluebird on East Colfax.

The Bluebird, a movie theater converted to a nightclub like the Fox in Boulder, is just about the right size. There are notbad spots in there. In Colorado Springs, 32 Blue fits the bill, too, although I don’t think it was ever a movie house.

The kids hate Bluebird, if only because they are relagated to the balcony there. They get to be up by the stage at the other two.



My son, Ben, who signed on to the Street Team after talking to the band after the 32 Blue show, sold merchandise at the Bluebird show with his girlfriend, Whitney. For their efforts, they got CDs, T-shirts and lead singer Barry Privet’s appreciation for their effort.

A cool thing about this band, besides their talent, is that they come out at the end of the show and mix with the audience. They are very patient and friendly. You get the sense they genuinely appreciate each fan.



The lead guitar player, Carter Gravatt, was chatting with my 13-year-old daughter, Rachel, and her bud Jessie, when I walked up. “Treasure this moment, girls,” I said. “Ten years from now these guys will be like Dave Matthews and way too big to come out and talk with you like this.”

Carter laughed. “Actually, I know those guys,” he said. Turns out he’s friends with Butch Taylor, DMB’s ever-present guest keyboard player.

My girls’ eyes got big. For my wife and daughter, Carbon Leaf is great. But Dave rules. We have every CD Matthews has put out, solo or with the band.



Matthews is way too huge for my son, though. He’s big on Carbon Leaf, of course. And some other bands you’ve never heard of. Kid’s got this thing for Celtic, and his taste in rock follows suit. Great Big Sea, Gaelic Storm, Seven Nations, Young Dubliners and some more bands even I can’t remember as I write here. And forget the Pepsi Center, his ideal venue is these small houses.

We discovered Carbon Leaf as the warm-up act for Great Big Sea at 32 Blue a little over a year ago. I don’t know that I’d look at Carbon Leaf as Celtic, exactly. The lead singer plays the pennywhistle in some of the songs, and there’s this haunting quality to the best ones. They also do a couple of more traditional Celtic folk songs sometimes, turning, say, Merrimac into a major rocker.

But I hear more folk, gospel, bluegrass and good ol’ classic guitar jam band than anything in this Richmond, Va., group. All six of their CDs are great, but I recommend their latest ” “Indian Summer” ” and then “Echo, Echo” and “5 Alive.”

Ben isn’t as crazy about the latest. Too many songs that sound like hits to him. He likes the looser feel to the previous ones. “I think Echo, Echo” is his favorite. There’s a reason for that. The 9-year-old band signed last year with Vanguard, and producer David Lowry brought some, ahem, editing to the pieces. So they are tauter, but without losing their unique sound.

They are a lot better, and way more original, than just about all of what you hear on the radio, although a couple of their songs have crept into one of our local station’s play lists: “Life Less Ordinary” and “What About Everything?”

Reading on their Web site ” http://www.carbonleaf.com ” they might not be quite as unknown as I imagine. They were the first unsigned band ever to perform at the American Music Awards in 2002. One review says they are “teetering between national fame and obscurity.” I was thinking more the latter the first time I bumped into the lead singer up close, man-handling his own equipment into the elevator at 32 Blue.

But they filled the Fox on a Monday night in March, and did it again a Sunday ago at the Bluebird, on East Colfax. And it seemed just about everyone knew the words enough to sing along.

A cool part at the Bluebird was sitting next to a couple from Longmont, I think, who saw them at the Fox. This is how the band is building a following, a fan at a time.

They play hard and well. I’m telling you, way better than anything you are hearing on the radio. Then they come out after the show and talk to my kids, make them feel special. And you know that makes it so for their parents, over and beyond the music itself. Which we love, a bonus. I know I’m most grateful for that.


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