The Chapel of the Cross summer concert series is providing music lovers with some of the best and unique entertainment ever, organizers say. The two performances last week are perfect examples of the kind of entertainment audiences have enjoyed this summer.
On Thursday, Ray Carpenter performed a selection of cowboy ballads in a tribute to legends of the Old West. On Sunday, a uniquely entertaining performance by eight musicians from the North Fork, the Embodying Rhythm Faculty Marimba Ensemble, playing on seven marimbas and a set of drums delighted another full house audience.
There are still 14 performances on the Chapel Concert schedule including the Aug. 28 open mic night event that will bring the 2016 regular season to a close.
Ray Carpenter, brought a capacity audience to the Chapel for his performance that ended with fans calling for five encore numbers.
Introduced by event emcee Nancy Carlson as "that silky, silvery cowboy voice," Ray's program of music revisited the values, the ways, and the events from America's Old West. He performed over a dozen songs for his audience, not including the five encore numbers. The pieces were arranged around a central concert theme of "legends." As he entertained his audience with music and anecdotes, he also shared his research on some of the legends envisaged in his songs.
Appropriately, the evening began with a song that country-western singer Willie Nelson is known for: "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys."
Ray proceeded into his program of legends of the West with a song about an old vaquero in the 1600s "before Texas was Texas and before California was California."
Moving ahead to the 1800s and into the heart of the Old West era, a number about a one-time Texas Ranger, "Cowboy Bill," moved the audience with its poignant message about the forgotten legacy of an authentic Old West hero.
The melancholy life of solitary travelers was captured in a song about "an old singing cowboy who may be the last," and was a "disappearing minstrel" that sang songs of the free-roaming life.
The historical time clock of Ray's performance ticked forward again with his next song, about the son of a Baptist minister born in 1847 -- Jesse James. The song detailed how "the dirty little coward" Bob Ford, who wanted to be a member of the outlaw gang, murdered Jesse James by shooting him in the back. Accounts record that the same fate befell Ford himself a few years afterward at Creede.
More shootouts were the theme of the next songs. The first was about Johnny Ringo, a man who had been suspected by the Wyatt Earp clan of being Morgan Earp murderer. The song has been made famous by actor Lorne Greene and by the Sons of the Pioneers, Ray told his audience.
The next song was about probably the most famous outlaw of the Old West -- Billy the Kid -- and how lawman Pat Garrett declined to be another of the Kid's murder victims and in 1881 ended the Kid's man-killing rampage.
Even with the gristly subject matter of some Old West history, Ray's audience showed enthusiasm and delight with songs that touched on the spirit of the Old West; what some would call "the Code of the West." Based on self-reliance and determination in the face of adversity, the Code of the West developed the character portrayed by John Wayne and others. The code was never formally written down or officially adopted, but today it still inspires respect as a model for behavior. And, The Code always counseled that outlaws soon come to their end.
Not all the legends of the Old West era were cowboys, Ray noted. His next song was a tribute to the 750,000 men who died in the Civil War, 150,000 of them being mere boys aged 15 or younger. The Civil War theme was extended in the following song about the "homeward bounders," displaced Civil War veterans who became the "hobos" as they jumped freight trains looking for their ways back home. Some became permanent vagabonds and created a hobo social sub-class in America.
The famous American artist Charles Russell, the most talented chronicler of the Old West in paintings and sketches, was the legend of Ray's next song telling how Russell used his God-given talent to depict scenes of a quickly disappearing world.
In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner in an address concluded, "The frontier has gone, and with its going has closed the first period of American history."
As the Old West era came to a close, its focus shifted to a new frontier - Hollywood - and to the legends that the silver screen would create. Ray performed songs about Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Bonnie and Clyde to conclude his program about legends. He also sang a musical tribute to the work of author Zane Gray .
Ray's five encore numbers included a Merle Haggard favorite "Have you ever been down to Colorado?" which the audience spontaneously turned into a stand-up sing-along event. Ray also sang about how his home town has changed over the years; about love consummated on a Navajo rug; about "having it made" by living the simple life; and, finally, about a romance reignited when a man and wife decide to go dancing for the evening.
At the conclusion of his performance, Ray, obviously moved by the warm reception, gave his audience a sincere thanks.
Then on Sunday, eight members of the Embodying Rhythm Faculty Marimba Ensemble from Hotchkiss returned for a second annual performance at the Chapel.
Playing seven marimbas and a set of drums positioned at the front of the Chapel, the group provided a truly unique and entertaining musical experience. Performing their pieces without sheet music, the group's syncopated sounds and interweaving rhythms recalled the intricate musical conversations of a jazz ensemble combined with the soul stirring beat of a Ute tribal drum performance.
Their program included numbers with an international flavor, drawing from the cultural traditions of Africa, Ireland, and Puerto Rico.
In addition to performing, the group and its members are associated with an educational enterprise: the North Fork Valley Embodying Rhythm Project. Those performing on Sunday were founders David and Arlyn Alderdice, who began the project in 2014, along with Daniel B, Jeanette Carey, Matt and Rebecca Drbohlav, Osha Foster, and Jen Sanborn.
Upcoming events in the Chapel Concert Series include Lee Kersten on July 14; Two Cents & Change on July 17 which will mark the series half-way point; and Carma Grimes, Beth Williams and Mary Dalpiaz performing on organ, piano and accordion Thursday, July 28.
Performances continue on Thursdays and Sundays through August. Full schedules are available at the Pioneer Town Welcome Center.