State Bridge was ‘an oasis’
When reggae band John Brown’s Body would tour to State Bridge Lodge, they always cushioned the trip with an extra day to float down the Colorado River or simply to relax and listen to the sound of the trains.”It was an oasis in the middle of tour,” drummer Tommy Benedetti said. “From playing clubs and theaters, going from hotel to hotel, we looked forward to being out in the open, playing outside.”The first time the Boston-based reggae band played there, all seven members were stuffed into a corner – cobwebs and all – on the lodge’s main patio. It was before the new, larger stage had been built in 2006. Benedetti admits that the sound system and accommodations were not exactly what the band’s members were used to while on tour, but the vibe at State Bridge more than made up for it.”Everyone would always hang out with each other after the show. Go back to the yurts and light fires and play music and listen to more music,” Benedetti said. “It was almost like a one-day-festival kind of vibe, where everyone mingles together, eats together. There’s no separation from fans and the band. You put your guard down for a night.”
“It just seemed to me like every single person at the show was there to be fully immersed in the spirit of the music,” Jocko Randall, John Brown’s Body’s sound engineer, said. “Some places you go, it’s just some cool thing to do on a Friday night. People were there to be affected by the music in any way.”On Saturday around 4:30 a.m., State Bridge Lodge burned to the ground. The fire took away a place where people had met for 117 years, leaving only memories. And State Bridge was the type of place where memories were made.”I’ve seen tons and tons of shows there over the years. It holds a big spot in my heart,” said Auto Andl, one of the owners of Colorado River Center, which operates rafting trips upriver from State Bridge at Rancho Del Rio. “I was down there (at) 5:30 this morning. It was very upsetting.”Anyone who has spent time there understands that State Bridge was much more than a music venue. It was many things to many people. It was a gateway to the the great outdoors, a post-kayak watering hole, a pit stop during that Sunday-afternoon Harley ride and a place to flex your hoola-hooping skills.
Sally McNutt, of West Vail, will never forget State Bridge. She and her husband, Dan, hosted their wedding reception there.”We had about 30 kayaks and six rafts cart our whole wedding down the river from Rancho Del Rio. We got married on the river with (local judge) Buck Allen and had our wedding reception at State Bridge lodge,” McNutt said. “It was kind of a dump, but we still loved it.”Vail’s T.J. Gulizia lived at State Bridge a few summers in the late ’90s. He worked as a kayak instructor and cooked at the lodge to pay his teepee rent. What attracted him there was the river, which had it all, he said – Class 5s off Gore Canyon and a rodeo hole that was a quick driving distance away. But after the workweek, it was party time, he said.”I would party with people from all areas – Breckenridge, Aspen and Steamboat. It was kind of like a central hub for people to get away,” Gulizia said. “Then there was the cool old-timers from around the area, who were pure entertainment. It was like going into an old Western bar, basically, when you sat down with them at the saloon.”There’s probably no man with more of an illustrious history at State Bridge Lodge than Jake Wolf, drummer for Shakedown Street. For the past 17 years, the Grateful Dead cover band has played a Memorial Day weekend party at State Bridge, nine years with Wolf as drummer. It was the last band to play before the place burned down.
“It’s my favorite place on the planet,” Wolf said. “There are a combination of factors that make it so special. For people in the High Country, who have been pent up so long during winter, this is the first blowout weekend. Cell phones don’t work there, which is a bonus – you can’t be bugged by anyone.”But Wolf, who was living in a teepee, almost died at State Bridge while mountain biking the public-use trails that surround the area. He fell 20 feet and landed on his knee, and his femur bone shot through his hip, disconnecting his leg from his body.”I owe my life to the staff at State Bridge,” said Wolf, who was driven to the hospital by Mark Mauer, the general manager at the time.Although upset about the fire, Wolf feels positive State Bridge will rebuild itself, allowing people to create new memories. He saw firsthand how Scott Stoughton, co-owner and general manager, had already improved the area tenfold.
“Scott should be given a lot of credit for pulling State Bridge around. To me, it felt like this was going to be the year that State Bridge was going to be in the black, not in the red,” Wolf said.Stoughton and talent booker Peter Blick are already planning what to do next, with the torched areas and the already-booked concerts. Stephen Perkins and his band, Banyan, scheduled to play State Bridge tonight, will perform at Samana in Vail Village, where Stoughton is also general manager.”We’ll try to demolish what burnt down and build a couple of bars and a stage; depends on the support we get,” Blick said. “Our different options for shows, we can move a few to Samana. Del McCoury, supposed to play next Sunday, what we’ll do with that, I haven’t gotten far with that.”Arts & Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938 or email@example.com. Arts & Entertainment Writer Caramie Schnell contributed to this story.
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