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Canyon Country's Finest Troubadours Pay Tribute
to Katie Lee
Thursday, September 26, 2002

When the idea of featuring Colorado River-inspired music came up among the planners of the Moving Waters Culminating Conferenceto be held the last week of September in Flagstaffeveryone in the room immediately said the same two words: “Katie Lee.” Lee, based in Jerome, Arizona these days, has been a tireless and courageous voice for the big red river as a singer, songwriter, folklorist, river-runner and activist for some fifty years. To celebrate her legacy and influence on younger musicians as much as to celebrate the MIGHTY RIVER itself, NAU’s duBois Ballroom will be the scene of a landmark concert, “Love songs to a River: Katie Lee and Friends Gather at the River,” Thursday evening, September 26th, from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.

Katie Lee’s music and commentaries are usually enough of a kick in the pants to delight listeners of any age, but her friends and devotees include some of the finest troubadours in the Southwest. Among those joining Katie will be flat-picking guitar virtuoso Peter McLaughlin, who leads the Frog Mountain band; cowboy singer-storyteller Tony Norris and the Lightly-Crusted Du-Boys; and the “D-squared” harmonies of Mayer, Arizona musicians Don Charles and Deb Gessner.

The last time Katie sang and read her nature essays on the NAU campus eighteen months ago, she attracted a sell-out crowd to the Cline Library Auditorium. No wonder: her gut-splitting stories of skinny-dipping and love-making in Glen Canyon, complemented by her powerful eulogies to the river she loves, moved us all between laughter and tears. If her eight song collections from the classic Folk Songs of the Colorado River to Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle were not enough of a lasting contribution from one individual, her recent memoir All My Rivers Are Gone (Johnson Books, 1998) has elevated her stature to that of a living legend.

Peter McLaughlin, a former Flagstaff resident, is also a local favorite, from his days in northern Arizona as part of Flying South. A National Flat-picking Guitar Champion, Peter has also played with Laurie Lewis and Grant Street and several southern Arizona string bands. His CD release, Cliffs of Vermillion, should be recognized as the Official Music Score of the effort to successfully designate the Vermillion Cliffs of northern Arizona as a National Monument. Frog Mountain, one of his current ensembles, includes local physician and musician John Zarski, and includes in its repertoire a song, “Lost Canyon,” that was inspired by Katie’s romps in Glen Canyon, and dedicated to her.

Those who are unfamiliar with the music of D Squared are in for a special treat. Mayer residents Don Charles and Deb Gessner produce lovely harmonies, vivid lyrics and fine instrumentation that features a variety of instruments, including concertina and bass accordion. Their composition, “Row,” is one of the loveliest inclusions on a CD anthology of Colorado River music to be sold at the concert, River of Song, compiled by NAU alumni Andy Nettels, now a local events producer based in Moab.

As Flagstaff residents well know, Tony Norris and Bill Burke have been mainstays in the acoustic, old-time music scene in Northern Arizona for years. They will appear as the Lightly-Crusted Du-Boys, and will include special guests. Tony will also serve as Master of Ceremonies for the event, in his new role as Folklorist in Residence with NAU’s Center for Sustainable Environments.

The event is part of the culminating conference of a seven state effort to address humanities issues related to the Colorado River and New West collectively known as “Moving Waters.” NAU’s Center for Sustainable Environments will take this opportunity to recognize Katie as the first recipient of the Cultural Treasure Keepers of Canyon Country Award; the award honors those Colorado Plateau residents whose lifework has informed and enriched our lives through their understanding of this carefully watered land. For more information on the four day conference, see www.movingwaters.org.

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Last updated January 16, 2007