Summer is one of the best times in the Rocky Mountain State. In that fleeting window, everything is drenched in green and wildflowers, our famous snows have all melted, and even the seasonally-closed roads are open wide for rambling.
No road trip I’ve ever wanted to participate in has embarked without a playlist, so here is yours: A baker’s dozen of mostly-Colorado artists ready to accompany your summer adventures, wherever you roam.
“Fairweather” – Houses
This now-defunct Denver band made some of the best, wide-open driving music of the last decade on their seasonally-named collection of EPs (this one from their Summer one, fittingly). Plus, the harmonies on the chorus are super easy to learn and belt out with the windows down: “So let’s leave this town behind, let’s go for a drive,” they urge. I wholeheartedly agree.
“The Fold” – Brent Cowles
“If I ain’t stuttering, I start to ramble. …” So this anthemic song begins, and I can almost see the sunlight flickering through the trees that fly past on our way to the rambling. Fort Collins’ Cowles played Memorial Day’s MeadowGrass Music Festival in Black Forest. You can relive his can’t-miss yowl with this track.
“Suitcase Full of Sparks” – Gregory Alan Isakov
With references to campfires, cottonwoods, swimming across the Poncha, buffalo trails and arrowheads, this is a quintessential Western states ode to summer-rambling. South African-born, Boulder-based Isakov is a state treasure, and while this song may be about the roaming we can do, in the end, he sings, “Honey, I’m just trying to find my way to you.”
“Seven Falls” – Laura Veirs
Colorado Springs native Veirs takes us in this gently shining song “up, up past the Seven Falls, beyond the moody Peak.” With lyrics also referencing Catamount and Ivywild, she reminds us that you don’t need to go far from town to find your summer adventure – or even out of town at all.
“Round & Round” – Mike Clark
Pueblo-based Mike Clark (of the Haunted Windchimes) exploded out of nowhere with this raucous, joyful summer song, the title track of his 2013 album. It remains one of the best ways to infuse a shot of 1955 chrome and AM radio into whatever late-model hybrid you’re driving over the winding hills.
“Ain’t Got Trouble” – Tejon Street Corner Thieves
One of Colorado Springs most prolific live performers, you can catch Tejon Street Corner Thieves playing most weeks at various watering holes all across this state – so they know a thing or two about long drives. The rattling percussion of the actual washboard in this song will drown out the engine noise and reinforce that you ain’t got trouble when you’re out on the highway.
“Let’s Go Down” – Family of the Year
The one song from non-Coloradans allowed into this mix (they’re from California, but let’s face it, so are some of your favorite Colorado transplants), through the unarguable merit of the specific joys they sing about: going down to the river/creek/lake to cool off this hot week, grabbing some firewood, and getting out of the city to where the sky is blue and the grass is green. One of the best summer road trip songs ever written. Grab the old guitar and your mama’s blanket for this one.
“Everything” – in/Planes
Inaiah Lujan and Desirae Garcia (also of the Haunted Windchimes) weave Beatles-esque harmonies and sweet playfulness from their Pueblo home studio, perfect for tapping your fingers on the steering wheel and smiling at the setting sun. “Everything is gonna be OK darling, as long as you are right here by my side,” the chorus croons. Think of it as an ode to whomever is in your passenger seat.
“High Wire” – The Still Tide
“Where do you run to, where do you go?” Anna Morsett’s honeyed voice asks us in this song, reminding us that running is not a bad thing, especially where there are so many hidden corners and trails to discover as salve. The Still Tide is from Denver, with a luminous new EP and an August 17 show at the free Levitt Pavilion in Denver.
“Another Colorado Song” – Patrick Dethlefs
Patrick Dethlefs hails from Kittredge, Colorado (population 1,304), and this song is a pure, sweet love song to best features and hidden vistas of his home state – one that inspires me to see more of the beauty he describes, as often as I can.
“Say It” – Spirettes
Pulsing and hazy, this song is best cued up for nighttime driving, with your headlights illuminating the white lines on the asphalt and the air still radiating heat from the day into the darkness. This whole atmospheric EP from Colorado Springs’ Spirettes (formerly Katey Sleeveless) will make the midnight miles pass in a blink.
“Where to Begin” – Covenhoven
Denver’s Joel Van Horne knows that the crucial part of the road trip may not be where you end up, but simply where to begin. The springtime is here, he sings, and the snow is melting and the green is beginning to grow. Even though the cold will come again, for now we have the golden sunshine.
“Baby I Lost My Way (But I’m Going Home)” – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
One of Denver’s best-known exports these days, the relentlessly-touring Rateliff and his band of soulful swaggerers know a thing or two about the gloom of getting lost every now and again – and the contentment when you finally find your way back home.