Country and (Pacific North) Western 

Denver Keeps Country Music Pure

DENVER “Yeeee-haw! It’s the tree-choppin’ song!”

DENVER “Yeeee-haw! It’s the tree-choppin’ song!”

DENVER ARE from Portland. Right now three band members are seated in front of a heaping plate of nachos and a handful of empties at a Southeast bar talking about their love for country music. The fact that they're barely aware anything happened in music after 1983 is kind of refreshing.

"All I listen to is country," says guitarist/vocalist Mike Elias. "It's all I want to play; it's all I can play."

Drummer Sean MacNeil and guitarist/vocalist Tom Bevitori share Elias' view: When they talk about playing country music, it's exactly what they mean. Denver isn't trying to put a modern spin on a genre that spans back almost a century. Their music is about as pure a form as you'll likely find in Portland, a city that's cozying up to the genre with locals like the Portland Country Underground and Flash Flood and the Dikes delivering equally righteous twang.

Denver got their start three years ago playing occasional shows with Blitzen Trapper, a band with whom they share Trapper frontman Eric Earley. They recorded their self-titled debut full-length in a Southeast home, which by all accounts was a haze of music, whiskey, and beer. "I didn't do much," Bevitori jokes. "I just sat around and got drunk."

The album's been kicking around for a while, and recently got remixed for vinyl by Mike Coykendall, who gave the 11 songs some much-needed soul. Songs like "Toledo" and "Dancin' with the Moon" sound alive—taking on the feel of a recent rehearsal in the band's modest practice space, while also keeping the feel of the early-'70s outlaw country of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson—and one of Elias' favorites—Johnny Paycheck.

Elias, Bevitori, and MacNeil all agree they're ready to move beyond this batch of songs. Elias says they have an album's worth of new material ready to go after they head out on some West Coast dates later this year. Denver's live performances have gained a reputation for being a little drunken and unhinged.

"Why go see a band if you're not going to have fun?" asks MacNeil, admitting that the members have learned to harness their rambunctious ways in recent months. "But there's got to be some balance."

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