This article first appeared in The Denver Post on April 6, 2018
FORT COLLINS — Classic electric guitars gleamed behind the glass case. Hardware and whammy bars beckoned my inner teenager. There were replicas of a Fender American Vintage ’52 Telecaster and George Harrison’s 1957 Gretsch Duo Jet, to name a couple of items from the curated collection. On the other side of the small room, which was offset from the lobby of the Elizabeth Hotel, the acoustic instruments hung like warm, golden loaves of bread, sober grains of precious wood yelling, “Pick me! Pick me!”
My friend, Jeff Christiansen, a local neuroscientist and fiddle player, and I were deciding which ones to try first. It’s hard to overstate the kids-in-a-candy-store feelings that were washing over us. Finally, I asked for the locally designed Avian Skylark guitar, with its sleek, angled cutaway and strangely offset soundholes. Jeff took down a top-of-the-line, $5,500 Collings MF-GT F-style mandolin.
We sat down and started to play. The 164-room Elizabeth Hotel opened in December 2017, becoming an instant, long-awaited fixture in Old Town Fort Collins, which was in need of a classy, modern hotel of this caliber. Along with its art-adorned rooms and signature suites (there is a music suite, a beer ‘n bikes suite, and one dedicated to the CSU Rams), the property also has the fifth-floor rooftop Sunset Lounge, the Magic Rat Live Music bar (named after a lyric in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland”), and The Emporium Kitchen and Wine Market, an open-style cafe, bar and restaurant space. It also has access to the Fort Collins Guitar Lending Library, which is full of high-end stringed instruments, amps and accessories that guests can try out in the lobby or check out to jam in their rooms.
“Fort Collins is so focused on art and music,” said Scott Sloan, the general manager. The hotel has attempted to match the vibe of the city, he said. His team was inspired by the local focus on “the making of craft instruments, craft beer, music festivals. So we naturally gravitated toward music, and when you want to make music accessible to everybody in some sort of way, what better way to do that than put an instrument in their hands?”
Jeff and I agreed. We tuned up and launched into “West Virginia, My Home,” a wistful tune by Hazel Dickens. Not only are Jeff and I both Mountain State natives, we also had tickets to see the great Tim O’Brien, a fellow West Virginia boy, that evening at the Fort Collins Armory, one of the city’s many intimate music venues — practically right next door to the hotel.
For non-musician guests, the lending library has a collection of 1,000 LPs that can be checked out and played on a record player in each room. But for us pickers ‘n’ grinners, heaven was dorking out on some of the finest instruments on the market. After a few songs, I swapped the guitar for a Heartland Top-Tension Banjo, a deliciously heavy, clear-ringing instrument modeled after a 1937 Gibson Style-12. Then we went up to my room, where Jeff had left his fiddle and a Mason jar of peach-infused moonshine from — where else? — West Virginia. (By the way, did you know that Colorado and West Virginia are the only two states in the union with an official song by John Denver?)
At the Emporium downstairs, we filled our bellies with local lamb chops and bison bourguignon before the show. Then we played more music, met friends at the Magic Rat and walked around the corner to Ace Gillett’s Lounge, an underground speakeasy beneath the Armstrong Hotel, where a live jazz quartet was in full swing. It was Fort Collins on a Saturday night — and the bands played on.
If you go: Rooms at The Elizabeth Hotel (111 Chestnut St., 970-490-2600, TheElizabethColorado.com) start at $200/night; suites start at $800. FoCoMX, a music festival with more than 200 Northern Colorado-based bands playing at 20 different downtown venues, runs April 26-29.