Local Crews Help Build Country Jam’s Success

This article originally appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Spoke + Blossom magazine. 

Each year in early June, semi trucks filled with concert equipment descend on Jam Ranch in Mack, Colorado. Awaiting their arrival are small crews of sound engineers, stage hands, and festival organizers. They’ll spend the next several days busily sorting and assembling the main stages, sound systems, and general framework for Country Jam.

For nearly three decades Country Jam crews have transformed the open ranch land off I-70 exit 11 into one of the largest country music festivals in the U.S. Featuring top country music stars and attracting thousands of music fans from across the country for a four-day honky tonk, Country Jam is the premier live music event in Western Colorado.  

Thousands of work hours go in to pulling off the Jam, many of which are supplied by local crews tirelessly working behind the scenes to make sure every aspect of the event runs smoothly.

This year, for the first time in the festival’s history, Snob Productions, a Grand Junction based production company, will handle all aspects of Country Jam. Audio, video, lighting, and staging will all be assembled from the ground up by Snob.  

“We are super excited about Country Jam,” Snob Productions owner David Wall said. “It’s one of those events we’ve been working towards for a number of years. We’ve built up our reputation with the organizers and they’ve put their trust in us to run the event. It’s also cool to keep that contract local and that money local.”

Planning for this year’s Jam has been in the works essentially since last year’s event. Wall and crew have been meticulously ramping up effort as the event date gets closer and will use roughly 20 – 30 employees, a majority of which are local based.   

“I’ve worked some different [live] events and have seen it all, good and bad,” longtime Country Jam stagehand and stage manager Vernon Walker said. “We are pretty lucky to have a solid local crew that’s been doing it for a long time. Without them the show couldn’t happen.“

West Middle School principal by day, music fan boy by night, Walker has been working the Jam since 1998. Building the main structure, providing grunt labor for the performers’ tour crew, troubleshooting tech and audio issues, even playing tour guide to Chris LeDoux and suggesting which local golf course to play, is all part of the job.   

“Being around live music really attracted me to the job. There are few things cooler than live music. Seeing what goes into putting off a show like this is addictive,” Walker said.

Once all the structures are built and the festival gates open, local crews stick around to help shuttle gear during set changes, protect equipment from inclement weather, operate spotlights, and take on any unanticipated task that needs to be completed. While the performers get all the attention, it’s the anonymous local crews who work to ensure fans and performers have a great Country Jam experience.  

Country Jam 2019 is June 13-16, and features headliners Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Little Big Town, and Alabama. Tickets are available at countryjam.com.

Country JamPhoto courtesy of Country Jam. 

Nathaniel Rateliff

This article originally appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Spoke + Blossom magazine. 

Atop the Colorado music scene sit Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. Since the release of their 2015 eponymous debut album, the band is one must-see act currently active in the Colorado music scene. Led by their powerfully charismatic songwriter-and-lead-singer Rateliff, the Night Sweats are totally worthy of the accolades and love the state has shown them.

Even casual music fans will know the boisterous, bearded Rateliff from headlining gigs at Red Rocks, annual holiday shows at the Ogden Theater in Denver, or multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Rateliff and Co., fueled by a little bit of vintage soul and classic rock charm, have struck a chord with music fans around the state — and the world.

The band’s success, however, is still a relatively new phenomenon. Before Colorado was a trendy destination for twentysomethings, before Open Air on Colorado Public Radio championed local music through the airwaves, back when the Underground Music Showcase was indeed an underground music showcase, Denver music fans will remember Rateliff as a mildly successful folk/gospel artist, and not as the headlining frontman from the Night Sweats.

Venture through old YouTube videos of Rateliff playing solo gigs, and you will find a denim-clad songwriter with the voice and chops primed for a breakout. Listen closely to his acoustic work, and you will also hear the early influences and song structures that the Night Sweats developed to great success.

Rateliff’s solo music is slower and a bit more tender than that of the Night Sweats. Often strumming a nylon-string classical guitar, Rateliff is an introspective storyteller. His work on the 2013 album Falling Faster Than You Can Run demonstrates his ability to pierce the soul with little more than his voice and a thoughtful lyric.

As a solo artist Rateliff found a reasonable amount of success touring the country. He was featured in multiple music blogs and magazines like Spin and Paste Magazine, as well as the documentary Austin to Boston, which shows the highs and lows of musicians on a low-budget cross-country tour in a caravan of old Volkswagen buses.

For music fans who missed his career as a solo artist, this archival footage shows that it was all there in the early days. Rateliff’s songwriting and massive voice were well-honed before people really started to pay attention. If you can entertain a bar with just your voice and a simple guitar riff, then you’ve really got something. Rateliff’s always had it.

Lucky locals enjoyed a rare chance to see a more retro Rateliff perform a stripped-down set opening for folk icon John Prine, who himself is having quite a moment following the release of his recent album, The Tree of Forgiveness. Their November 8 show at the Avalon Theatre in Grand Junction was just one of a handful of concerts together. (Western Slopers have another chance to see Rateliff, along with the Night Sweats, at the Belly Up in Aspen on December 15 and 16.)

Regarding the significance of playing alongside a living legend like Prine, Rateliff remarked, “We keep losing all this magic as people pass away, and now we just have to start making it for ourselves again.” Whether solo or with the Sweats, Rateliff has proven himself a magician indeed.

Downtown Art Scene

This article originally appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Spoke + Blossom magazine. 

Downtown Grand Junction streets are lined with sculptures, monuments, and interactive art pieces, all vying for our attention. These colorful wood, metal, and fused-glass installations inspire whimsy, curiosity, and Instagram photos from thousands of tourists and local visitors who flock downtown to enjoy Grand Junction’s most popular destination for art and culture.

With music venues, art galleries, and a rotating Art on the Corner exhibit, Downtown Grand Junction has made significant investments in the artistic community.

“We are striving to be art friendly,” says Downtown Grand Junction Marketing and Communications Specialist Caitlyn Love. “With new programs like Street Beat, Electric Art, and the downtown mural projects, we try to be supportive of art projects and the creative community.”

The beauty and vibrancy we enjoy today is largely thanks to Dave Davis, a visionary sculptor and magnet in the Colorado art scene. Davis, who passed away this past August in his Clifton art studio, was key in jumpstarting downtown’s investment in the arts by founding Art on the Corner in 1984. The public art project helped galvanize a community still dealing with the fallout of the infamous “Black Sunday” oil-shale bust of 1982.

What originally started as a downtown beautification and revitalization project has now grown to be a proven economic driver for downtown businesses and artists.

“Art on the Corner is a huge draw for the downtown area,” Love says. “It brings so many people together, and it gives visitors a chance to connect with artists and see their unique style.”

For sculpture artists like Pavia Justinian, Art on the Corner and similar programs are invaluable chances to connect with art collectors and sell their work.

“Big art displays well. Small art sells well,” Justinian says. “People may not buy a big sculpture, but they might contact me later to see if other work is available for purchase. It’s great publicity for artists.”

Artists who take advantage of programs like Art on the Corner can collect multiple stipends on work that would be valued in the tens of thousands but may be difficult to sell. For sculpture artists in particular, these stipends are one of the few realistic ways to monetize their art.

“Dave really laid the groundwork for other cities to emulate Art on the Corner,” Justinian says. “Now that other cities have similar programs, there is more opportunity for me to get art on public display, and a way to make money.”

Justinian is a graduate of Colorado Mesa University and a former apprentice under Davis. Through Davis’ guidance she learned new artistic techniques and trade skills, like how to weld and work with various metals. Now an accomplished sculptor, Justinian has shown her work in exhibits across the West. In 2016, she won Best in Show in Art on the Corner for “Sigma.” In this year’s collection, she debuted a new piece made in collaboration with Davis, called “Untitled.” Davis and Justinian finished this abstract sculpture about one month before his passing, and it is likely his last completed sculpture.

For working artists, opportunity is everything. Now, thanks to a new designation, there may be more opportunities for artists coming to the downtown area. Recently, Downtown Grand Junction was awarded Creative District status by Colorado Creative Industries. The goal of the designation is to draw artists to the downtown community and foster local economic activity through the arts. According to Love, it brings Downtown Grand Junction more opportunities for grant funding and helps it get on Colorado Department of Transportation signage, which means more statewide exposure.

“The potential of a creative art district is exciting,” Justinian says. “I’m excited to see where it goes, but if you’re going to be a creative district it needs to be something more than the name.”

Throughout history, Downtown Grand Junction has reinvented itself for the better. It’s taken bold leaders with big ideas to guide the future of the area. Community leaders came together in 1962 to complete Operation Foresight, an innovative city design project that added the iconic curve to Main Street and won Grand Junction the All-American City award. Davis created Art on the Corner 22 years later, further adding to the beauty and economic diversity of downtown. Now a new opportunity presents itself with the Creative District designation. The only question is, who will have the next great idea to build upon Downtown Grand Junction’s growing vitality?


“Affirmation Station” by Timothy Flood photo by Caitlyn Love. 

Vibrant Together Logo

Vibrant Together is an update to Downtown Grand Junction’s 2019 plan of development. The goal of the project is to outline a strategic plan for the multiple areas of Downtown Grand Junction including the River District, Rail District, and the Central Business District.

Vibrant-TogetherDowntown Grand Junction wanted a logo for the project that represented more than just Main Street. For the design I choose to color block abstract representations of the various districts included in the plan. The orange buildings represent the brick buildings on Main Street, the red building represents the warehouses in the Rail District, the blue building is the Los Colonias Amphitheater in the River District, and the green building represents the Business District.

The bold color choices are meant to reflect the creativity and vibrant energy of Downtown Grand Junction. As the project develops, the goal is to use the colors to represent the individual downtown districts.


New growth is already taking place in the River and Rail Districts so it was important to highlight those areas as much as possible in the design. The new Los Colonias Amphitheater sits at the center of the design, just above two bold blue lines meant to invoke the prominence of the Colorado River. Anchored on each side of the logo are the brick buildings of Main Street. This adds balance to the design and is meant to unify the districts and show that the strategic plan is focused on the entire area, and not just the Central Business District.



Boneshaker Adventures

Boneshaker Adventures is a mountain biking skills camp and adventure tour group based in Grand Junction, Colorado. Boneshaker focuses on teaching kids skills to navigate mountain bike trails safely.

This design project is more of a design update than a total redesign. Boneshaker already had the essential idea for their logo sketched up and asked us to update the overall look. For the update we focused on three things: redrawing the skull while still using the essential elements, updating the typeface, and adding color.


Starting with the skull element, our goal was to simplify the art and make it more legible at multiple sizes. We kept the main bone shaker bike as the eyes but redrew it slightly to add symmetry to the art. We also resized elements like the bike seat nose and chain link teeth for simplicity. The over all shape of the skull was also reimagined to give it a more classic and easily identifiable look.

As you can see from the original Boneshaker design, a majority of our effort was spent working on a new typeface that captured Boneshaker’s youthful spirit and was more legible at distance. The only instruction was to create something bold and something that wasn’t overtly masculine. The new Boneshaker typeface is bold, shows movement, and can work as a stand-alone element.

The overall design update is impactful in one tone but we also wanted to add color. The orange and gold color scheme is inspired by the natural sandstone features and sunsets that dominate high desert landscape. Adding spots of teal, purple, and white add a vibrancy to the logo and again, match the playful nature of Boneshaker Adventures.


Grand Valley Cat Coalition

I love partnering with non-profits on projects, especially those that benefit local communities. The The Grand Valley Cat Coalition is a collaborative effort of six local animal welfare agencies and shelters and several committed community members. The project goal is to complete targeted TNR activities for community cats as well as barrier-free spay/neuter surgeries for pet cats in the 81501 zip code.

This artwork is for an upcoming t-shirt fundraiser. I took their sketch for the design, cleaned it up, and prepped the file for screen printing. It’s my little way to give back to an organization doing thankless work for the Downtown Grand Junction community and vulnerable pet populations.

Downtown Music Fest Poster

Earlier this year I teamed up with Andrew Watson, a good friend and artist, to create limited run screen print posters for the Epic Rides Downtown Music Fest. These prints are 18 x 24 inches and a total of 50 were made.

Andrew created the boarded and laid out the band text, and I created the bike collage and finished the overall layout. Collaborating with other artists is one of my favorite things to do as a designer. Hopefully this is the first of many collaboration projects.

Comic Con


From the success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to the rise of comic conventions all across the world, nerd culture is taking over. I for one, could not be happier about it.

Mesa County Libraries Comic Con is an annual event that keeps growing year to year. Now in its fourth year, Comic Con is one of the largest events in Mesa County. I’ve been lucky to work on the organizational team from the start, aka Team Awesome, and get the chance each year to design the main poster art.

Like most children of the 80s and 90s, I grew up watching X-Men cartoons, X-Files, and playing video games. Those memories, plus the rise of throwback shows like “Ready Player One” and “Stranger Things,” inspired the design of this poster.

The arcade cabinets are heavily influenced by my time pumping quarters into games at Aladdin’s Castle in the Mesa Mall. Note the carpet detail, a design only found in arcades and perhaps bowling alleys.

Other throwback influences include Marty McFly’s jacket from “Back to the Future 2,” the lens flairs from “Poltergeist,” and one of my favorite video games “Street Fighter II.”

Special edition prints of the poster will be for sale at this year’s Comic Con. If you’d like to get your hands on one, message me and we can work something out.

970West Studio Lounge

I wrote this article for the Summer 2018 issue of Spoke + Blossom magazine.

Mesa County Libraries are challenging the definition of what a library is, and more importantly, what it can be for the community. Just like every library, they offer a wide selection of books and top-notch reference help, but outside of those core library services, Mesa County Libraries offer a radically different library experience than the one you probably grew up with.   

For proof, look no further than the new Studio Lounge project.

Studio Lounge is focused on showcasing the area’s talented local musicians through high-quality video productions. Each month, a musician or band is invited to perform their original music at the 970West Studio, a multimedia production facility located at the Central Library campus in downtown Grand Junction.

Using the studio’s state-of-the-art equipment, each performance is captured in HD and then shared in the library’s digital collection and YouTube channel on the fourth Thursday of the month. The library also debuts the new featured artist during its “Library Beat” radio show KAFM Community Radio.     

“I grew up watching MTV, and this recording experience made me feel like I was fulfilling my dream of having my own MTV Unplugged moment,” Charles King said. “As an artist, the opportunity to record your heart out in such an intimate setting and tell your story was a priceless experience.”  

King, who performs under the name Chaz Roi, recorded three songs from his latest album “If Truth Be Told” during his session. The finished Studio Lounge videos were helpful in both promoting his album release party at the Mesa Theater and as assets when applying for music festival slots and larger shows.    

Launched in January, Studio Lounge has featured local bands across a number of different genres. From Americana to R&B, bands Freeway Donna, The Fox & Hound Duo, Shaun Ray and Willie DeFord, and Chaz Roi have all been featured. All lounge videos are discoverable 24/7, and the library encourages bands to share them with their fans through social media.  

The next two lounge performances have already been recorded and scheduled for release. Rockabilly trio The Tankerays will be the featured musicians in May, and metal band Sworn Us Under will be featured in June.  

“970West gave us the best business card we could have ever hoped for,” Brian Mora, leader singer and guitars for the Tankerays, said. “Having a professional video is like having the ultimate press kit.”

Echoing the same sentiment as King, Mora also grew watching MTV and remembers watching his favorite music come to life through video. Now as a musician and featured Studio Lounge artist, Mora got to make his own video, an experience he called “instant magic.”  

“It’s amazing to be able to help local musicians and showcase the capabilities of 970West Studio,” Studio Coordinator Adam Lopez said. “Studio Lounge is good exposure and it’s a new way for musicians to reach new and broader audiences.”


Read with the Rockies

Summer time means different things for different people. For some, it means hitting the road on a family vacation. For others, it’s a chance to catch a baseball game and route for your favorite team. At libraries across the country, summer means summer reading programs.

Libraries have traditionally hosted summer reading programs to prevent summer set-back. When kids are out of school they typically don’t read as much and therefore, lose valuable literacy skills.

To keep kids engaged with summer reading in Mesa County, the library partnered with the Colorado Rockies Grand Junction rookie club, the GJ Rockies, to create custom “Read” posters.

Featuring Corky the Coyote and future Colorado Rockies stars, the posters are free giveaways at a library sponsored minor league night game. This community collaboration is a fun way to promote reading, libraries, and the MLB. Some would even call it a home run.