Whiskey Tango
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Whiskey Tango

Denver, Colorado, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2009 | SELF

Denver, Colorado, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2009
Band Rock Bluegrass

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"Nate Todd & Whiskey Tango Blaze Through the Colorado Jam Scene"

Whiskey Tango is a Denver-based jamband that can shift seamlessly from bluegrass and country to funk and good-times rock and roll. The band, which took the Denver Westword’s Best Jamband/Improv Group award four years in a row (2011-2014), continues to impress audiences in the state of Colorado and is taking their sound over the state line. Last year the group was accepted to play at Railroad Earth’s Halloween Hangtown Ball in Placerville, California, and they are now getting primed for roots festival favorite YarmonyGrass in Rancho Del Rio, Colorado (August 13-16). TipJar recently spoke with the band’s keyboardist and one of its founding members, Nate Todd.
TipJar: What’s your background and how did you get to the state of Colorado?
Nate Todd: I grew up in Amarillo, which is down in the panhandle of Texas. Amarillo is kind of a big small town I guess I’d call it. I moved to Colorado in 2007. I lived in Denver for a little while and then I headed up to the mountains before coming back to Denver in 2008 to attend school (at Metro State University). I actually moved to Colorado from Austin, where I lived for about five years before leaving Texas.
Your group Whiskey Tango started in 2009 right?
In late winter of ’09 I was in a band that played under the name The Five Points family band. Our mandolin player lived near Cervantes [Masterpiece Ballroom] in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver and we used to practice in a little space above Cervantes on Welton Street. We had different different musicians playing with us and sitting in and stuff. It was loose. This was back when The Other Side (next door to Cervante’s) was still called Quixote’s. We used to open up for people at Quixote’s, which at that time was located where the bar The Other Side is now. We were just getting started. We were looking for a banjo player and a friend or ours introduced us to Matt Gallagher, our current banjo picker. Matt was in a string band with some of his buddies from high school, including Zac Steinman (guitar) and Luke Kennedy (drums and occasional mandolin). So we combined our two bands and that was where Whiskey Tango pretty much began.
Where’d you get the band name?
Our bass player’s sister had a softball team called the Whiskey Tango Allstars and we thought that was a great name that had a cool ring to it. We adopted the Whiskey Tango portion of the name and we dropped the Allstars part as we didn’t feel it was appropriate at the time (laughs).
Did you know what Whiskey Tango meant?
I kind of knew the military jargon thing [Whiskey Tango Foxtrot], but it wasn’t long after we named ourselves that we started hearing about the “white trash” association. To us it was just two words that sounded cool, but it’s fun to hear all about the different meanings. We’ll have military guys come up to us and ask us about it. The best part is that it engages people.
When was the first Whiskey Tango gig?
I believe it was at the first Dancin’ in the Streets music festival that the Bianchi brothers put on in ’09. We didn’t play on the main stage, but we got to play inside at Quixote’s. We were joined by a local guitarist named Frank Tezak for that show. We just went for it and from there we moved on to playing at Owsley’s Golden Road at 22nd St. and Lawrence [later rebranded as Quixote’s]. We started playing there in the fall of 2009. We were a new band just trying to stretch our legs a little bit. [Owsley’s/Quixote’s owner] Jay Bianchi was giving us gigs and it happened where we started doing a regular Tuesday night show there. And occasionally we’d come in on the weekends and open for different bands. It was a cool weekly thing that was a lot of fun and it developed to a point where a solid crowed started showing up every Tuesday. Having a regular gig made us a lot better. We cut our teeth there and gelled as a band. We did it for a full year and then after that year was up we did one final Tango Tuesday blowout around Halloween of 2010. The whole experience really helped us grow a fanbase. It was a great place to start. During that time we also used to play a lot at this place down in Littleton called the Blue Mood Lounge. Matt, Zac and Luke all went to Columbine High School and grew up in that area and they knew the owners. We got some nice crowds there as well.
So that Halloween show at Quixote’s marked a turning point for you guys?
That was when we stopped doing the Tango Tuesday thing and started looking for more weekend gigs at different venues. The band started out because we liked to play and we were having fun, but after a year we had gotten pretty tight and we realized we might have something worth pursuing a little more.
Where did you play after cutting your teeth at Quixote’s?
We started doing shows at Cervantes, which is a bigger venue, and in Ft. Collins at Hodi’s Half Note, as well as in Boulder. We pretty much stayed around the Front Range for a while, taking any gig we could get. During 2010 and 2011 we played any gig we could and as much as we could and tried to reach as many people as possible in the Denver/Boulder area. We got more serious during that time and released our first CD, Groggy Mountain Mornings, in November of 2012.
Did releasing Groggy Mountain Mornings make a difference in terms of how much you played?
Yeah, it gave us something we could share with people including promoters, booking agents and so forth. It helped give us an air of credibility to have something official out there. There’s a certain level of prestige in having an album. It definitely aided us in terms of getting more press. It was a big step. It was important to us to be able to record a full-length album and have a collection of our best songs all put together. We’re really proud of it.
Nice. When did you start touring outside of Colorado?
It was a radial thing. We started by pushing farther and farther out to various ski towns in the Colorado mountains, and then we did a show in Texas and in Oklahoma. Last fall we got accepted to play at Railroad Earth’s Hangtown Halloween Ball, which is a cool festival not too far from Sacramento (http://hangtownhalloween.com/). We anchored a tour around that date. That tour took us through Utah, Nevada, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, where among other places we played at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley, before ending up at the Hangtown fest in Placerville. That was the first time that we hit the road in a serious way.
Did you enjoy the experience?
Oh yeah, we loved it. It was a ton of work, but it was infinitely rewarding. It was a dream come true to be on tour and be out on the road. It was a major milestone for the band.
Were you able to cover your expenses?
Yeah. We always try to put everything that we make back into the band so that we can do stuff like taking those tours. We make a little money along the way, and we try to make sure that we have all our expenses covered.
What more established groups do you guys identify with?
There’s definitely a few bands. In terms of our influences we like the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. And we actually did a cool bluegrassy thing called Pickin’ on the Rolling Stones recently. But our roots are entwined with Colorado bands like The String Cheese Incident and Leftover Salmon. We’re walking in their footsteps. They were the innovators of what we do and we just try to take that vibe further down the road through our own songwriting and compositions.
Have you had the opportunity to meet some of the major artists on the roots music scene in Colorado?
Yeah Tyler Grant has helped us a lot. He and his band The Grant Farm are great. Grant Farm has played at our annual Black Mountain festival a couple times. And Tyler puts on a fest at Quixote’s called Farmstival, which we were part of. Through our association with him, we met people including Billy Nershi (of String Cheese Incident) and Tim Carbone (of Railroad Earth). Also Chris Thompson of Coral Creek has helped us a lot. He also plays at our Black Mountain fest. Last year we did a Whiskey Wednesdays thing at Quixote’s, where we had some really great guests sit in, including Dave Bruzza from Greensky Bluegrass. We get to meet and play with some stellar musicians. These experiences always have an impact on us and make us want to play better.
How might you describe your sound?
We have elements of bluegrass, but we also have drums, keyboards and synthesizers, so we’re also a rock band. We try to push the envelope in terms of the sound. With Luke being able to put down his drums sticks and pick up a mandolin we’re able to straddle genres. You’ll hear some country, funk and even some jazzy stuff. We want to showcase that we can play in a variety of genres.
Who writes your songs?
It’s a group effort. I’ll have some lyrics and Matt and Luke usually come up with a composition to go along with them. It’s collaborative. Once we kind of hammer out the basics of a song we present it to the whole band and try to fine-tune it and get it exactly how we want it on stage. Our process seems to work out pretty well.
Any particular tunes people might want to check out?
To get familiar with us it’s best to download our album, Groggy Mountain Mornings, which is available on our website at http://www.whiskeytangoco.com/. All you have to do is sign up for our mailing list and you can download it for free. Also they might want to check out our recent live stuff on Archive.org. And we have a few good recent videos on YouTube from Manitou Springs and there’s a good clip from YarmonyGrass on YouTube as well.
Who is in Whiskey Tango at this point?
Our current lineup includes myself on keys, Matt Gallagher on the banjo, Zac Steinman on guitar, Luke Kennedy on the drums (and sometimes mandolin), and Ryan Thrush on bass. They’re all great musicians. This lineup can really cook. Past members of the group were Ryan Hall (our first mandolin player) and Bill Wells (our original bassist, who left the group a little over a year ago).
What are your plans for the immediate future?
Well we just finished playing a bunch of dates here in Colorado and up in Montana and Wyoming. We headed north instead of west this summer. We decided to hit up the Big Sky country. We wanted to get in with some of the venues and markets up there in places like Bozeman and Jackson. People might not think that there are thriving scenes up there, but it’s a great place for a band to make an impact. We’re heading to New Mexico for a little while and then we’ve got YarmonyGrass coming up August 13-16. That’s always a blast. Also we’re going to get back in the studio. We’re putting together a concept album. I’ll leave it at that. We have a lot of the material written and we’re hoping to get into that project sometime in October. And we’re putting in for a more festivals next summer.
Anything else people might want to know?
Yeah, we’ll be hosting our Black Mountain Family Reunion again this fall up in the mountains outside of Colorado Springs. It’s located in a little town called Guffey. One Memorial Day weekend back in 2010, a buddy of mine and I were sitting around in the park and we decided that we should start a music festival. My friend had a friend who had some land in Guffey. So the first year we built a little stage off an old beat up pre-’50s flatbed pickup truck that was sitting on the land up there. We just extended the stage off of the truck bed. The fest gets a little bigger and better every year. We’ve improved the sound system and gotten better lights. What started as a more intimate gathering, has grown a bit. It started as a one-day thing and is up to three days now. We get quite a few people in, but we like to keep it small. And we try to have themes every year. We’ve had an Alice in Wonderland theme and this year our theme will be Star Wars. The fest will take place the weekend after Labor Day, Sept 11-13.
Special thanks to Preston Heffley and IdeaZign Media. - TipJar Magazine


"2015 Westword Music Award Nominees and Icons"

Because there are so many deserving musicians in this state, we’ve also limited this year's ballot to bands and artists who have not been repeatedly recognized in the past. That said, we would be remiss if we didn't pay tribute to our scene’s mainstays and most popular acts, which is why you’ll also find a group of Westword Music Icons listed here. To qualify, an act must be currently active and must have been nominated at least four times in the past five years.

Westword Music Icons
A. Tom Collins • Accordion Crimes • Air Dubai • Alert • Allegaeon • Apex Vibe • Arcanium • Arliss Nancy • The Big Motif • Boldtype • Boonie Mayfield • CacheFlowe • Casey James Prestwood & the Burning Angels • Cobraconda • The Congress • Cysko Rokwell • The Delta Sonics • DeVotchKa • Diamond Boiz • Dragon • Dubskin • Elephant Revival • Enemy Reign • The Epilogues • Euforquestra • Extra Kool • FaceMan • Fierce Bad Rabbit • Filthy Children • Fingers of the Sun • Fresh Breath Committee • Frontside Five • Funkiphino • Git Some • Glass Hits • Greg Harris Vibe Quintet • Gregory Alan Isakov • Halden Wofford & the Hi*Beams • Havok • Head for the Hills • DJ Hollow • Hypnautic • I Sank Molly Brown • IAMTHESHOTGUN • Ian Cooke • Il Cattivo • The Indulgers • John Common • Joy Subtraction • Judge Roughneck • Kinetix • King Rat • The Knew • DJ Ktone • Lola Black • Long Road Home • DJ Low Key • Magic Cyclops • Mane Rok • Marty Jones & the Great Unknowns • Monroe Monroe • The Motet • MTHDS • MU$A • Musketeer Gripweed • My Body Sings Electric • Nathaniel Rateliff • No 1 Left Standing • P-Nuckle • Paper Bird • Patrick Dethlefs • The Photo Atlas • Pitch Invasion • Potcheen • The Railsplitters • The Raven and the Writing Desk • Red Stinger • The Reminders • Reno Divorce • Rob Drabkin • Ron Miles • Safe Boating Is No Accident • SHEL • Signal Path • Snake Rattle Rattle Snake • Something Underground • Spoke in Wordz • T Hash Tones (formerly The Desciples) • The Widow’s Bane • Tin Horn Prayer • Tjutjuna • DJ Tyler Jacobson • Vices I Admire • Whiskey Blanket • Whiskey Tango • Whygee • Wire Faces • Yamn - Denver Westword


"New Music Review: Whiskey Tango-Groggy Mountain Mornings"

Honing their chops each Tuesday evening for a full year at the famed Denver jamband venue Quixote's, Denver based quintet Whiskey Tango became known as a "must-see live" type of band. Much of the group's show is based around live improvisation, and attempting to convey this energy and passion to an album has proved troublesome for many bands tagged with this phrase; however, the band's much anticipated debut release Groggy Mountain Mornings is a proper introduction to this high energy group of talented musicians. You see, while all of the members genuinely appreciate traditional bluegrass music, Whiskey Tango is NOT your father's string band. They are big fans of the Grateful Dead, and their influence is apparent throughout the album, with keyboards and African drums sharing the spotlight with a fiery banjo and mandolin, ripping harmonies, and thick bass notes intertwined with substantial lyrics. Think Mumford and Sons on steroids.

The album begins with an upbeat selection, Betwixt, which showcases an instrument not found in most bluegrass bands - keyboards. Coal Creek Shakedown follows with a banjo and piano buildup releasing into a high energy, foot stomping pick-fest that any traditional bluegrass lover would appreciate. The band loses no steam with Renaissance Beauty, another "feel-good" song with reggae and calypso thrown in the mix using African drums backed by a soaring organ. Annalisa is arguably the most traditional and commercially appealing track, highlighting the picking skills of this group, and the energetic playfulness shines through. The group slows it down a tad on Mother Nature, and throws a bit of blues guitar in the gumbo of goodness they serve up on this album. They close out with Two Bucks and a Beaver Shot, a pure instrumental jam going well over the 15 minute mark with an ample mix of organ, electric banjo and psychedelic guitar funkiness that completes the unique sound the group brings to the table.

Whiskey Tango has been named Denver's best new jam/improv group by Westword magazine, the city's premiere entertainment magazine, and has won praise as being one of the hardest working bands in the city, both mighty feats considering the number of musicians per capita in the Denver area, which makes it difficult to stand out. But standing is something that you won't see much of at a Whiskey Tango show, and Groggy Mountain Mornings does a fine job at capturing the live energy and magic that has brought smiles to the faces of countless dance-happy jamband and bluegrass fans in the great state of Colorado. - Grateful Web


"Quixote’s True Blue Resurrects Dancin’ In the Streets Festival July 3 & 4"

Quite possibly one of the hardest working bands in Colorado, Whiskey Tango is a band of brothers. These Denver locals seem to communicate via special powers as they weave their psychedelic jamgrass net, catching new fans every time they take the stage. If you have a hula hoop, bring it. - The Marquee Magazine


"The Grant Farm & Whiskey Tango – May 13th – Quixotes True Blue"

The Grant Farm (featuring Keith Moseley of SCI) was rocking Quixotes on Friday night when we stopped by after the LOHI Music Festival. The band, which features former Emmitt Nershi guitarist, Tyler Grant and the current banjo player for that project, Andy Thorn, laid down some great bluegrass flavored rock-n-roll that had the crowd dancing through the night.

Outside on the patio local jamgrassers Whiskey Tango had a pretty good crowd of their own swirling in the chilly night air. Their cover of Cassidy was definitely a highlight of their upbeat set. - Listen Up Denver!


"2011 Westword Music Showcase Awards: Best of Denver"

Well, it's a wrap. The seventeenth annual Westword Music Showcase Awards are now officially in the books. Although there weren't as many winners on hand to collect their awards as we would've liked, the Bluebird was packed. The most noteworthy award of the night went to The Pirate Signal, which is now officially retired with its fifth consecutive win.
And there were plenty of other repeat winners, from Ginger Perry, Lords of Fuzz and Air Dubai and the Photo Atlas, each chalking up their second wins, to three time (Epilogues, Kinetix, the Swayback) and four time (Paper Bird and the Hollyfelds) winners.

See a slideshow from last night's party at the Bluebird.

There were also a ton of new winners this year, including DJ Ktone, Tin Horn Prayer, Reno Divorce, Euforquestra and Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, as well as some winners who were also first time nominees, such as Ishe, Girl Grabbers, Choke the Word, Kissing Party, Flashlights, Kevin Costner Suicide Pact, SuperCollider, the Love Royale, Isis Speaks, Whiskey Tango and Mr. Midas. See complete list of winners below. - Westword Magazine


Discography

Groggy Mountain Mornings-November, 2012

Live Shows at https://archive.org/details/WhiskeyTango?sort=-date

Photos

Bio

Since their inception in 2009 Whiskey Tango has been compelling audiences to move with their high-energy brand of Jamgrass.  But Jamgrass only breaks the surface when it comes to describing the original music that Whiskey Tango creates and the eclectic mix of artists they pay tribute to.  This diversity stems from the fact that each member has a different musical background; evident in their debut album Groggy Mountain Mornings, which cycles through a multitude of genres from Jamgrass and Country to Psychedelic and Jazz to straight up Rock & Roll and Funk.  This deep understanding of music and its history has won the group Best Jam/Improv Band in Denver four years in a row.  The band’s annual festival, Black Mountain Family Reunion, prompted Relix magazine to feature the single “Annalisa” on their international December 2012 CD sampler.  It is in Whiskey Tango’s exuberant live shows, however, that the spirit of this fresh, original band can really be felt.

Whiskey Tango’s music is both visceral and intellectual, with complex arrangements that evoke emotional responses and thought provoking lyrics that tackle a myriad of subjects such as politics, love, law, greed, travel, madness, and the environment.  And yet there are some songs that showcase a subtle simplicity that is not only relatable but also danceable.  To put it simply, it is Whiskey Tango’s music that grabs the attention of the listener and the lyrics that make them think.  This musical philosophy has had audiences contemplatively grooving for over half a decade, and will no doubt evolve and change to keep them grooving for years to come.

Another pillar of Whiskey Tango’s philosophy is to forge a deep connection with their fans (lovingly referred to as Tangorines).  The energy that they exude onstage comes directly from the bouncing, gyrating crowd in front of them.  The band is cognizant of the fact that without the vibrations from the audience the music could not function at its highest level.  To Tango the fans are family.  That love is reciprocated as their fans have voted Whiskey Tango best Jam/Improv band in the Westword Music Showcase four years running, prompting Denver Westword to elevate the band to Denver Westword Music Icons in 2015.  Tango gives the love right back having put on The Black Mountain Family Reunion every year since the band was formed, which in recent years has benefited the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and The Guffey, Colorado Fire Auxiliary.  It is this deep understanding of the cosmic, two-way nature of music that has allowed Whiskey Tango to endear themselves to audiences wherever they go.

With their Colorado fan base healthy and growing, Whiskey Tango has taken their electrifying show on the road.  While the band has played in Colorado, California, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah, Whiskey Tango is set to become a national touring act.  Their mind blowing live sets coupled with their accessible nature and easygoing personalities will soon have audiences around the U.S. wondering when Whiskey Tango will be coming back to their corner of the country.  Having shared the stage with many nationally touring acts, it is time for Tango to take that next step themselves.

Whiskey Tango has shared the stage with national acts such as Sam Bush, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Buttered Rum, Grant Farm, Bill Nershi of String Cheese Incident, Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon, Whitewater Ramble, and The Henhouse Prowlers.  Besides putting on their own festival every year Whiskey Tango has played such notable festivals as Yarmony Grass in Colorado and Railroad Earth’s Hangtown Halloween Ball in Placerville, California.  With their debut album under their belt and more than enough new material for a follow up the band will soon be back in the studio to craft yet another relevant and thoughtful work.  With their eyes ever tuned to the open road in front of them, the future for Whiskey Tango is a bright shimmering horizon that dances off into infinity.