by Flower Conway photo by Travis Lowell
I find myself on this windy evening sitting in a dimly lit pub. The room fills with friendly faces welcoming each other, as the expert bartenders continue to light fruits on fire to create the most unique beverages in town. It’s Alchemy on a Tuesday night. As I watch Jesse Cotton Stone set up his musical equipment, the bartender sets food down next to me and calls Jesse over.
Jesse and I strike up a conversation. He starts by letting me know he is going on tour for a few weeks after he finishes tonight’s show.
“We leave from here tonight and head to New Orleans, Louisiana for the Juke Joint Festival,” states Stone. Jesse informs me about how he grew accustomed to playing in front of a crowd at a very young age.
“I learned a lot about performance through travels with my family in the carnival circuit when I was a kid,” says Stone. Jesse and his family would travel all around Colorado to Kansas, creating entertainment for people through performance.
“Through traveling, I was turned onto Hendrix, and became all about the old blues. I was inspired by Hendrix, and I decided to teach myself how to play guitar. From there, I really got into it and set my life in the musical direction,” says Stone.
After years of traveling, Stone and his family found themselves back at his birthplace, Manitou Springs. Jesse takes pride in the history and meaning of his hometown.
“My early childhood was in East Kansas, where free thinking was just not acceptable. People here in Manitou just don’t judge for that,” states Stone. A perfect example of this out-of-the-box thinking is the skate park that Jesse and his friends help build for the town.
“When I was little, a tennis court was given to us for a makeshift skate park. We decided to expand it, and the town allowed us to do a skate demo. We closed off (El Paso Boulevard) and set up skate competitions with ticket sales, and a live band. In the end, we raised enough money to help fund today’s Manitou Springs skate park.”
Jesse believes that the counterculture he loves so much helped create a certain vibration within Manitou Springs. The town is filled with art, artists, musicians, and other innovative thinkers, which is what makes it Manitou. “Manitou thrives as a community of art, and I will fight to preserve this right,” states Stone. The town has begun several business transformations that just don’t correlate with the traditional roots of Manitou’s artistic community. “It’s gentrification on a socio-economical level.” Businesses are shaping and molding this town into a facade for tourists and shoppers, which is disheartening to many of the town’s natives.
“Just the other day, I was harassed by an officer because a business owner thought I was being too loud. I would have been happy to lower my volume, but this officer was belligerent and demeaning to me,” says Stone. Jesse strongly believes musicians should remain having the right to play on Manitou streets, just as tradition has always allowed. “We are being bunched with panhandlers and homeless, but we are musicians with a legitimate job,” states Stone. Jesse feels a deep connection between his blues and his hometown, and he plans to fight for the artistic community it is diverging from. He is even considering running for town mayor in a few years, after it was suggested to him by several locals.
As Jesse finishes his food, he tells me he is about to begin his set. He and his drummer, Studd, who has been touring since the age of six, begin to test their instruments. Grant Sabin is also setting up to play. Grant often fills in for Jesse when he is on tour or out of town.
As they begin to play, I see Jesse feel the music with his entire body from head to toe. He continuously connects with the audience with a positive attitude and comedy between his songs. Meanwhile, Studd uses a multitude of senses to play the drums soulfully. He has a passionate Southern-Mississippi-blues style, which brings a grooving vibe to the entire room. As they continue to play, Jesse, Studd, and Grant feed off of each other, while they play with a profound rhythm through every muscle in their bodies. With each song, the room and all of its contents vibrate, as everyone dances to the beat of Jesse Cotton Stone, a man with passion for his music, his town, and his life.