On a recent Sunday morning, my wife, young daughter and I attended the Hippy Bluegrass Church, the monthly nondenominational bluegrass Sunday morning singalong at downtown’s eTown Hall hosted by local bluegrass leader Nick Forster.
Boulderites packed the pews for the 90-minute gathering, which features Nick and other musicians singing various bluegrass classics on stage, with the words splashed on a screen behind them for the audience join in. Nick intersperses the music with thoughts and poetry readings.
As Nick said from the stage on the Sunday we attended, the gathering has four pillars (that Nick developed with his friend Mick Dayton): forgiveness, compassion, integrity and humor. Nondenominational or not, the event has a holy inspiration.
Nick Forster leads the Hippy Bluegrass Church band at November’s gathering. Credit: Paul Hagey
Nick, who has toured and played with bluegrass band Hot Rize for over four decades (for long periods full-time), started hosting the gathering at the 220-seat church-turned-music-venue eTown Hall, located at 1535 Spruce Street, this January.
“Music has the power to bring people together and build community,” Nick says of his interest in starting the popular event. Each event has sold out.
Boulder’s no doubt changing, from a hippie haven to a more modern, moneyed, still-liberal elite. But looking around the pews at bluegrass church crowd, Boulder’s hippie soul burned bright. It was the first time this relative Boulder newcomer (three years and counting) felt immersed in Boulder’s hippie roots.
ETown’s holding December’s church on December 22. Tickets are $10.
Nick, who moved to Boulder in 1975 and has hosted the eTown bluegrass music and interview radio show since 1991, runs a larger nonprofit also called eTown. ETown purchased the former church in 2008 and, after revamping the sanctuary’s accoustics and other remodeling, flung open its doors in 2012.
ETown Hall operates as an event space and music venue, and also hosts live tapings of Nick’s eTown radio show, which records live shows 30 weeks each year and is syndicated to 300 stations across the nation; it is also available as a podcast with some sections available on YouTube. The part-music, part-interview show features two artists, such as the Milk Carton Kids and Rose Cousins who appear at the upcoming December 17 show, who play music and whom Nick interviews.
An Eastern Europe tour with Hot Rize in 1990 inspired Nick to start his eTown radio show. A year after the Berlin Wall’s fall, Hot Rize jammed deep behind the recently fallen iron curtain. “These countries were divided and broken,” Nick says.
But from the stage at 1,000-seat halls and at smaller afterparties, Nick saw how music brought together Communist hardliners with progressives to create an overwhelming sense of community.
These ignited eTown’s seeds, which Nick has grown into a nonprofit focused on improving sustainability and community through music in his radio show, the eTown hall concert hall (and studio space) and, new this year, the Hippie Bluegrass Church.
Nick has ideas to deputize other people to lead their own versions of the church in other cities as an event of worship that focuses on inclusivity and the life’s best principles.
Header image: Nick Forster in his office at eTown. Credit: Paul Hagey