DEL NORTE— Known for providing “music from the Rio Grande watershed,” the Rifters flowed with melodies and harmonies at Wildwood Sounds in Del Norte on Saturday, Jan. 26. The room was filled to capacity, packed with fans who have followed the musicians together and separately for decades.
Led by multi-instrumentalist Don Richmond, the Rifters trio includes guitarist Rod Taylor and bassist Jim Bradley. Richmond lives in Alamosa, laying down songs for other musicians and himself at Howlin’ Dog Recording. From 1973 to 1990, Richmond performed with Tumbleweed, followed by a stint with Hired Hands in 1992. He has played and sung with dozens of musicians.
Richmond thanked Steve Crawford and Konnie Kenan for hosting the show. During the introduction, Crawford noted that the return of the Rifters on Saturday was show number 603 at Wildwood Sounds. Audience members hailed from all corners of the San Luis Valley, including fans from New Mexico too.
Based in Cimarron, N.M., Taylor plays guitar and mandolin while providing deep vocal textures for the Rifters. Bassist Jim Bradley also lives in the Land of Enchantment (Taos), and his vocals round out the harmonies.
The Rifters sang about the Rio Grande and the mountains framing the Valley. Before introducing a “love song for the Rio Grande” called “Before the river was tamed,” Richmond recalled accounts of the great river documented in Ruth Marie Colville’s La Vereda. Colville’s meticulous account retraces how General Don Diego de Vargas traveled an enormous loop from Sante Fe to the upper Rio Grande and back. The crowd cheered Richmond’s admission that “hopefully this year there will be water.”
Taylor added, “We just need another six feet of snow.”
“That’s right, or 60,” an audience member chimed in. “Yeah, 16 at least,” Taylor replied.
Before introducing “Indian Cowboy,” Taylor explained the origin of the song. A drinking collaboration between Joe Ely and Guy Clark, the song was Ely’s but he forgot about creating it until he heard Clark’s rendition on the radio.
“Joe told me the story,” Taylor explained. “He was in Nashville with Guy Clark.”
“Rod likes throwing around names like Guy Clark and Joe Ely,” bassist Bradley said. “Paul McCartney told me not to be a name-dropper.”
“So we’re going to play it the way Joe wrote it,” Taylor said. “Not like Guy wrote it… or Paul.”
Covering two sets, the Rifters show included more storytelling mixed with tight musicianship. The trio harmonizes on vocals and strings. Taylor played mandolin and guitar. Richmond switched between guitar, accordion, violin, mandolin and banjo. By the end of the night, the Rio Grande’s talented trio captured the local sound of the San Luis Valley at Wildwood Sounds.