Birds of Play soar to Chautauqua for sold-out show with Rising Appalachia
Sep. 1—Rising Appalachia — a group rooted in the vibrancy of soul music, southern mountain tracks, the folkloric wonder of Celtic sea shanties and activism — returns to Colorado for a sold-out concert Saturday at Chautauqua Auditorium and Monday for a show at The Lawn at Buena Vista's Surf Hotel.
Based between Atlanta, Georgia and Asheville, N.C., the band's influence stretches far beyond U.S. borders as members have played everywhere from aboard seabound ships in the middle of the Salish Sea and in the lush jungles of Costa Rica.
Birds of Play, a Colorado-based quartet, is joining the multi-instrumentalist sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith, and the rest of Rising Appalachia, on the upcoming dates.
Fronted my mandolinist, guitarist, songwriter and singer Alex Paul, the group is a welcome addition to Rising Appalachia's Labor Day weekend shows.
In Birds of Play's music video for "Wonder," viewers are treated to breathtaking shots of the San Juan Mountains, cascading waterfalls and a musical tapestry that is just as serene and inviting as the stunning locales.
On the track, Paul sings, "Let's break our hearts wide open/ And towards love may we fall/ We'll revel in the mystery and wonder of it all."
The song — inspired by a hike from Colorado towns Ophir to Telluride — captures the thoughtful reflection of seasons and time passing.
In the vein of Gregory Alan Isakov or Ray LaMontagne, the group produces the kind of music one would want to hear when tending to farm land, sun at your back, or stargazing on top of a treehouse cedar deck.
Birds of Play was hatched after Paul won a solo blues competition at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival in 2018.
Paul had ambitions to form a band, along with plans to record an album using a grant he received from Telluride Arts District. He recruited fellow musicians Jack Tolan and Eric Shedd to start playing shows and lay down tracks in the studio.
Anneke Dean joined the group in 2020. Dean, a Denver-raised vocalist and classically trained violinist, only started exploring different genres during the last couple of years of her undergrad at Chicago College of Performing Arts.
After moving to Telluride in 2018, Dean began collaborating with other musicians and embarking on working the genres of country, bluegrass, jazz, blues and improvisation into her repertoire.
From playing around smoky campfires to taking the stage at Colorado venues in Denver, Salida, Leadville, Manitou Springs, Durango, Carbondale and Nederland, Birds of Play continues to soar.
While California spawned the Eagles and Atlanta brought forth The Black Crowes, Birds of Play is certainly a Centennial State act through and through.
The flow and beauty of the West can be found in well-crafted lyrics and the harmonious oaky feel of the mandolin, upright bass and violin. Stringed instruments hearken back to days of old, providing a lingering feel of nostalgia.
The band's song "Gale and Doug" — of off "Murmurations, Vol. 1" — is a playful and romantic take on the relationship between the element of wind and a swaying tree.
Currently, Paul resides in the historic Colorado mining town of Ophir — established in 1881 — so fodder for songwriting is never very far away.
The town of Ophir's website reports the population as 180 humans and 51 dogs.
We caught up with Paul to find out more about his journey into music that didn't have a particularly smooth takeoff, what he is looking forward to most about sharing the stage with Rising Appalachia and what we can expect from his flock next.
Kalene McCort: I read that as a child you had an utter disdain for piano lessons. What was it about the instrument that irked you, and what motivated you to ask for a guitar at age 13?
Alex Paul: I wouldn't go so far as to say I had a disdain for piano lessons, more that I didn't jive with the teacher and her repertoire. There was no conveyance of magic.
When I was 13, I just kind of casually told my dad that I might be interested in playing guitar, and he was so excited about it that we went out that afternoon and got a pretty entry-level Peavy electric. The shop is no longer in business, but I also did my first and only formal lessons there that year. I'm almost 40 now, and I've never taken any kind of extended break from playing. Playing guitar is one of my absolute favorite things about being human.
KM: What are you most looking forward to about supporting Rising Appalachia on these Colorado dates? Were you fans of Leah Song and Chloe Smith before gigging with them?
AP: I'm just really excited to share in the magic that they create in their performances and gatherings.
I had seen them play multiple times before getting to know them a little bit over the course of the last couple years and would very much consider myself a fan of their musical musings. They're such wonderful humans, and they walk through this world with deep integrity. Honestly, they were on our very short, short-list of bands that we want to share a stage with. So this is really exciting.
Also, Chautauqua is one of my all-time favorite venues. Anywhere. So to get to share a bill with some of my favorite musicians and humans at one of my favorite venues is pretty darn dreamy.
KM: Where in Southern Colorado did you grow up, and would you say being raised in this area had an influence on you artistically?
AP: I actually grew up in Littleton, just south of Denver. But I've been living down in Southwest Colorado for almost 13 years, mostly between Durango and just outside of Telluride in a little town called Ophir.
I would very much say that my time living down in these majestic mountains has hugely influenced my artistic and humanistic sensibilities. I write a lot about this land and it deeply informs so much of how I interact with the world. I feel very grateful to call these hills home and hope that my reverence for this land comes through in Birds of Play's music.
KM: Who are some other artists you really admire or would consider influences? I'm curious what dominates your playlist these days?
AP: Jeez. So many. Some of my faves include Punch Brothers, Wood Brothers, Andrew Bird, Gregory Alan Isakov, Paul Simon, Robert Ellis, I'm With Her, Watchhouse, Radiohead, Bon Iver, Andrew Duhon, Gabrielle Louise, Emily Scott Robinson and so many more. All of the Birds have pretty eclectic musical tastes and inspirations, and I think that shows up in our music in a big way.
KM: I'm really enjoying "Murmurations" Vol 1 and 2. What would you say inspired this collection, and can fans look forward to more music from Birds of Play in the future?
AP: I think a lot of the music was inspired by our deep connection to, and reverence for the land we inhabit and the communities in which we live. There are also some timely human experience themes on these albums. We recorded them both in January of 2021, and I think there's a continuity to the two volumes that reflects what we were all going through then.
That said, we're really excited to get back in the studio as we already have a whole new batch of songs that we're eager to get out into the world. We're hoping to record early 2023 and get the music out by middle of next summer. Working title is "Bird Songs of the American West." We'll see if that sticks.
After the Colorado dates with Rising Appalachia, fans can catch Birds of Play at Moab Backyard Theater in Utah on Sept. 29. To learn more, visit birdsofplaymusic.com.