Music with meaning 

A leaner Cold Mountain still believes in saving the world

Final Jeopardy time, kids. The category: “Musical Activism.” You have 30 seconds to respond to this clue: “This band crafted a mission statement to guide its musical activities.” Quote its mission statement for an extra $1,000.

“Oh that’s easy,” some of you are thinking. “Who is U2? Their mission, for an extra grand: ‘To become bigger than the Beatles.’”

“No, man,” others of you grumble. “The correct question is, ‘Who are the Rolling Stones,’ and their mission: ‘Tour religiously into our 80s.’”

Those of you in the musicians-as-degenerates camp might be thinking that the question is this: “Who are the Sex Pistols, whose mission: ‘Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Hell, f@*% the rock ‘n’ roll, just bring on the drugs and the sex.’”

The most savvy readers have, of course, already read this article’s headline and know that the band in question is Missoula’s own Cold Mountain. This band’s mission? According to bassist Zach Millar, the band’s five members have dedicated themselves “to bring positive change to the world with our music.”

Before a recent backyard chat with four members of Cold Mountain, I had never heard of a band with a mission statement (and I’ve even been in a few bands: $500 bonus if you can name one of them). Yet anyone who is familiar with the live shows of Cold Mountain and the band’s precursor—the Cold Mountain Rhythm Band—is probably not surprised to learn of the band’s unselfishness and commitment to bringing happiness to those touched by their music.

Anyone who attended either of the MUDdi Gras masquerade balls in 1999 and 2000 to benefit the Missoula Urban Demonstration project will tell you of halls full of happy partygoers, their ear-to-ear grins fueled by the energetic, blissful music of the Cold Mountain Rhythm Band. The band members, for their part, donated their time, playing only for dinner and drinks because they felt so strongly about the cause.

In the intervening years, members of Cold Mountain have retained their enthusiasm and their undaunted positivism. Yet, much has also changed with the band.

For one thing, Cold Mountain has made a clean break with the band’s past incarnation as the CMRB. As they prepare to celebrate the release of their CD, To the West, the Cold Mountain boys are sure to point out that this disc is the band’s debut, despite the fact that each of the band’s members played on CMRB’s self-titled release.

“This band is a different flavor,” says drummer Bob Hansen, and one, it seems, that tastes awfully good right now to the band’s five members: Hansen, Millar, John Curtis on piano and organ, Tory Dugan on fiddle, and Damian Mast on banjo. While all five contribute on vocals, most of the singing is handled by Curtis, and the rapping by Dugan, who periodically steps out from behind his fiddle to assume the persona of “the White Panther.”

Dugan’s first rap on To the West is “40 Below Cold,” in which he displays a bit of the musical activism that Cold Mountain embraces.

“Ending all motors on the National Forests was a matter of course, an outright attack,” raps Dugan, expressing his distaste for the desecration of federally-managed wildlands by motorized recreationalists. He goes on to lay out the song’s take-home message: “Wilderness is the only thing left worth saving.”

Lest the uninitiated get the impression that Cold Mountain is the Missoula music scene’s version of Eminem, it should be pointed out that Dugan’s raps are a small part of the band’s ever-maturing repertoire. The band’s press release takes a crack at defining Cold Mountain’s music: “A mixture of high energy music taking the listener from bluegrass, Celtic, ragtime, musical theater, to hip-hop and rock.”

Cold Mountain’s musical versatility and enthusiasm are best experienced live, preferably in a room full of people who are dancing and smiling widely. When asked why people should buy To The West even though it only offers periodic glimpses into the energy produced by Cold Mountain’s live shows, Millar hearkens back to the band’s mission:

“There’s only one reason to buy our CD or any CD, and that’s because when you listen to it, it makes you happy.”

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