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Tie-dye and tunes in Carbondale

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CARBONDALE, Colorado ” It was 1982 when David Nelson and Buddy Cage hung up their hats from The New Riders of the Purple Sage. But there’s just something about those psychedelic cowboy tunes that won’t die.

This Sunday, they’ll be rocking Sopris Park with Ronnie Penque, John Markowski and Hot Tuna’s Michael Falzarano. The boys will be pulling out some of those old Riders songs ” and hitching up some new ones, too.

Just don’t call it a reunion, though.



“But renaissance, yeah, I can buy that,” said Cage, a pedal steel guitar player, “because it’s a celebration of the music and an exchange of ideas.”

The 60-something, 47-year music veteran was talking from his tour bus, barreling through some part of the Midwest. He was swearing and joking, describing what this whole Riders allure means to him.



“What hooks anybody into it?” he asked. “It has to be the songs.”

He sees Riders pieces, past and present, as a “freeform expression of music” ” not like the “mindless mastabatory” jam bands of the 90s. They’re singing about important issues and timeless themes, like love and war and freedom. Coupled with ripping, country beats, these sounds abide.

“They’re great songs, and we’ve just had a whole hell of a lot of fun,” he said.

Cage first came on board with the Riders in the early 1970s, when he replaced none other than Jerry Garcia. At the time, Garcia was looking to move on to other projects and hadn’t really ever mastered the pedal steel thing, anyway (“I’d have to live three lifetimes to learn this damn thing!” Cage remembers him saying). Garcia felt the band needed a “ringer,” someone who could really play the steel pedal into the ground. When he heard Cage, Garcia knew he’d found his replacement. And, really, who’s going to say “no” to Garcia?

“He was the most upfront, funniest, upbeat person I’ve ever known in my life,” said Cage.

Cage ended up touring and recording with the band for more than a decade. It took a dozen records before he felt they were starting to rehash.

In his words, “We flatlined.”

So he and several other band members left, while founding Rider John Dawson played the old stuff with a rotating cast of musical characters. Eventually, Dawson’s hard living life caught up with him, and he retired to Mexico in the late 1990s. About three years ago, a couple of old jam band friends perked Cage’s interest in getting back into the Riders world. They brought some new guys on board, threw in a few fresh tunes from Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, and they hit the road, all over again. As Cage described it, these new shows are made up of old stuff, new stuff and a whole lot of excitement from the band.

To him, the effect has been great to watch.

Old folks, young folks, all kinds of people groove at their show. It’s like they’re all celebrating something fresh, not just reveling in nostalgia. And Cage digs it.

“I just see people have fun, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said.

That’s not to say, however, that it’s been an easy journey. These days, Garcia’s “planting daisies,” he said, and Dawson is down for the count. So many of the fellows from Cage’s profession and time are feeling the effects from their hedonistic past. Back when they were all in that “caldron of creativity,” everyone was doing everything, he d added. But, 19 years sober, that’s just not his bag anymore. Performances like Sunday’s are what’s it’s all about now.

“Just come by the concert,” he said, in a shout out to his potential audience. “See if you have a good time. See if you get off.”

You know Cage will.

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

ssieg@postindependent.com


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