Tabernash / Live Music: Solo guitarist entertains guests at Devil’s Thumb |

Tabernash / Live Music: Solo guitarist entertains guests at Devil’s Thumb

by Cyndi McCoy
Tabernash, Colorado

Dinner guests at Devil’s Thumb receive an extra side of entertainment as the ranch and resort continues to bring live music to the area.

This Saturday, the Tabernash venue welcomes John Cotton McKay to its stage area, playing a solo show with what he describes as song-writer-driven rock ‘n’ roll. Called “a musician’s musician,” McKay is a “rock and roller” with a broad background in traditional folk and rock.

McKay, who celebrated a birthday this week, earned a bachelor of arts degree in classical guitar performance from the University of Colorado’s School of Music. Through his studies and listening to musicians like Robert Johnson and Leo Kottke, he developed a finger-style to his guitar playing.

With more than 25 years performance experience, McKay has played in several bands, including ones opening for national acts like Hot Tuna and Leftover Salmon. The Wiley Cotton Band was a group that showcased a broader spectrum of his original work. Most recently, he plays with the John McKay Band, jamming everything from folk rock to world music.

He incorporates his insights into “mind-expanding” lyrics on nature, places of the past, and love. Songs also include the “political observations of a protest singer.” McKay said, in this day and age, it’s hard not to think about politics. He doesn’t want to be known as a political songwriter, “but can’t help but throw politically tinged verses into my songs.”

“The JMB is a combination of the familiar things that exemplify retro rock ‘n’ roll and folk music that we all are presently yearning for from the past with a modern touch of contemporary times and life today,” he said. He lists influences as diverse as Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Little Feat, Queen and Black Sabbath. He tries to use all of them, he said, “in a melting-pot fashion.”

McKay released his debut CD “Wiley Cotton” in 1998. It was a “bluesy” folk work dedicated to his father, Wiley Cotton McKay, who passed away in 1983. Musicians who appear on it with him include his brother Bill (of Leftover Salmon) on piano and organ.

McKay’s second album was a solo compilation (2001), which like his solo performance tonight, showcases his passionate guitar work. Songs he’ll play for the Devil’s Thumb crowd, he said, might include some from his newest album “Beetles in Bacteria” that came out in 2008. It was said to be his “most rockin’ recordings to date.”

On it, songs cover many of his recent life experiences. One of them, “Marley’s Song,” he explained, is a reggae-infused tune about a dog he had for 15 years. His furry friend “went more than 300,000 miles with me,” he said, traveling around the country on tour.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch is hosting live music throughout the winter season at Heck’s and at the Ranch House Restaurant. Future performances highlight Matt Holliday March 7, the Bradley/Patrick Duo March 14, John McKay March 21, Pete Kartsounes March 28, and Jack Hadley April 4 and 11.

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