By Carol Calkin and JJ Hirt

Since 1997 the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown has sent national, regional, and local bluegrass artists into local K-12 schools to perform and give a presentation on traditional bluegrass music and instruments. The objective of our music outreach program is to provide local children with a bluegrass music experience that includes listening and observing a live band performance, as well as an introduction and education to bluegrass instruments and the history of the music. Due to Durango’s isolated location, opportunities for live music performances don’t come often to our schools. In addition, schools in the Four Corners area can be fairly remote and rarely participate in field trips, so they are very appreciative of music coming to them.

Bluegrass in the Schools (BIS) started out small in 1997 with only one band providing bluegrass music at Durango High School. Since then, BIS has expanded to scheduling performances for as many as 17 schools in 2014 and also includes participation in the neighboring communities of Bayfield and Ignacio. In 2022, Bluegrass in the Schools held performances in 10 different schools, reaching over 1,000 students! National artists who have participated in the Meltdown’s BIS program include the Infamous Stringdusters, Songs from the Road Band, the Earl Brothers, and many regional and local artists such as the Colorado College Bluegrass Ensemble, Jeff Scroggins and Colorado, and the San Juan String Band.

In 2019, Songs from the Road Band performed a Bluegrass in the Schools set at Animas High School as Tune Ambassadors with Can’d Aid and presented the high school’s music department with $1,500 worth of musical gear.

In October 2021, unable to enter schools due to the pandemic, and thanks to the creative thinking of our Bluegrass in the Schools coordinator, Carol Calkin, we presented our first-ever KidsPick in the Park with free live music and an organized Kids’ Jam which was great fun! We have now expanded this program to occur twice a year. About six months after the launch of KidsPick, we received a $2,500 gift of acoustic instruments from Can’d Aid. Today children have the opportunity to come to the KidsPick, try out an instrument with the guidance of one of our local musicians, check out the instrument as a free loaner for six months at a time, and win free lessons from local instructors. Our most recent KidsPick in the Park in September of 2022 drew over 80 participants.

Once pandemic restrictions were lifted in our schools, the Meltdown received more requests for live music than we could handle. Currently, the BIS coordinator’s duties include KidsPick event scheduling, coordinating school performances, supervising instrument rentals, and eliciting support from supporters and donors. Our ongoing goals for Bluegrass in the Schools and KidsPick are to have the resources to reach as many children and schools in our region as possible to provide this incredible bluegrass music experience. Read more about the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown here.

Return to the March 2023 issue of The Cornerstone.