Tyler Lucas sits on the couch, cradling a guitar as though it were an old friend, a favorite child and a wondrous mystery that has kept its allure all these years. He plucks and strums out snippets, a bit of classical, blues, jazz and a Grateful Dead riff, easily transitioning from one to the other to demonstrate how music functions, how different scales fit the different chord progressions.
For most of us who only know what pleases the ear, none of this music mumbo jumbo means much beyond whether it’s got a groove and we can dance to it. But for Tyler, it is as intriguing as a jigsaw puzzle waiting to be pieced together. “What I really got into the most was music theory,” he says, cranking each tuning key on the guitar until he finds the perfect pitch for each string.
The eldest of three siblings, Tyler grew up walking a half-mile to his Catholic school in a suburb of Saint Louis. “I got my first guitar when I was ten years old. My mom loved the Beatles, Dad loved Dylan, so I was raised with that,” he recalls, citing these childhood influences and telling how he learned to play his parents’ favorites as well as classical. “I grew up learning rock ‘n roll classics like Jerry Garcia, whose biggest influences were a lot of blues guitarists.”
Tyler adds that he was listening to Jimmy Paige, Jimi Hendrix, and exploring jazz at the same time. “I grew up in St. Louis” he says, “so the blues is in your blood.”
Revelation came early for him. He explains, “I heard Phish and that was it. I fell in love with that music and the art of improvisation and music as meditation.” Tyler drifts off to a time in his parents’ basement when he was “trying to jam along with a Phish or Dead improvisation, 20 minutes of Dark Star.” He smiles as he makes the guitar sing the sweetly repetitive chords of that Grateful Dead song.
After graduating from an all-boys parochial high school in 2001, Tyler enrolled at CU Boulder to study sociology and music. He immersed himself in world music and ethnomusicology, playing in various ensembles. He was especially fascinated with West African styles. As part of the ethnomusicology department at CU, he performed with the West African Highlife Ensemble, a group of 25 musicians and performers who became more like a big musical family to him. The group included a horn section, singers, drummers, and dancers and evolved into multiple combos. “We had side groups from that project that played the whole Boulder bar scene in different bands,” he says of his reggae and jam bands.
Tyler hosted a blues night on The Hill across from Fox Theatre, where he connected with a lot of gifted musicians and in 2005 he traveled to Ghana, Africa, to study Highlife music and experience the genre in its true form. He explains that West African is a style of pop music that specifically started in the 1950s when the British were in the region and wanted to hear more of the Big Band sound. “The style developed out of West African interpretation of the European and American swing bands and evolved from there into its own sound. The style was adapted to interpret those popular tunes of the era. The West Africans brought in their rhythmic sensibilities—it sounded nothing like it but it became its own style,” he says.
He spent two summer months studying the language and music with some of the genre’s most accomplished West African musicians. Although he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in sociology, his heart was committed to music studies.
Returning from his West African travels, and in a bit of decision limbo, he was torn between going back to Boulder or heading into the mountains to ski. “I thought maybe I’d check out for a year and be a ski bum,” he laughs. He was persuaded by friends who had discovered Crested Butte when they came to party for Butte Bash. “I arrived in the autumn of 2005, spent the night in the back of my car in the post office parking lot… and there you have it,” he summarized.
Tyler wound up in an apartment next door to the infamous Tuck, separated by only a thin wall, and he recalls, “We slept head to head for four years. He calls me ‘Tyler Bear’ because I would wake him up with my snoring,” he chuckles.
His first job was as a host at Slogar’s, and he was later promoted to waiter. “As far as I know, I’m the only male waiter who’s ever served at Slogar’s,” Tyler proudly states of his eight-year stint. “That was my night job. Everyone has to have at least two jobs here,” he recites the mantra of work ethic in Crested Butte. “My first day gig was at Crested Butte Vacations, part of Crested Butte Mountain Resort central reservations, where I was selling vacations—booking people’s ski packages, everything from flights to ski equipment to lodging and transportation.”
Then in a career path decision, he moved to Denver to take a job with ski.com, a ski travel wholesaler to different resorts all over the world. “I lasted just six weeks,” he recalls. “And then called Gina Kroft. She offered me a job as a group sales manager at CBMR.”
Luckily, he had kept his apartment so he could continue annoying Tuck with his nightly log sawing.
In January 2008, Tyler left his CBMR desk job and skied powder for the whole winter. When the slopes closed and the market crashed that year, with no off-season work available he went back to St. Louis to his parents’ house, not knowing exactly what to do next.
But once you’ve spent a summer in Crested Butte, with its wildflowers and mountain splendor, there’s no comparison—mountain biking and home was calling Tyler’s name. He packed up his truck, built a bed in the back and camped the rest of the summer in Crested Butte, working at Slogar’s.
“I’m a big mountain biker,” he confesses. “I’ve ridden every trail and I try to ride every trail every summer. Last week I rented a fat bike (big snow tires) from Big Al’s and rode up the snowpacked rec path all the way to Gothic and back. It was hard…but it was fun. I’m not an über athlete but I like to push it. One of my biggest accomplishments was finishing the CB Classic.”
He recounts the 100 miles of single track from town and over multiple grueling trails, each one individually a pretty good day ride. “We finished in the dark, in the rain, with a failed headlight and at least two hours behind everyone else. I was dead last. I was delirious but proud,” he shakes his head with only a trace of a grimace.
In 2010 Tyler teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Ryan Herr. The duo started their local band Mine Control, playing at Kochevar’s every Friday night back then or, as Tyler puts it, “Whenever we felt like it.”
“The band is sort of the whole musical aspect of living here and completes my life, rounds me out,” he feels. “I love to play, I love to perform and I love to serve the tradition of the songs, keeping them out there for people to hear. Having rehearsals a few times a week is a great exercise to co-create with others, it’s a communal thing.”
He also plays with other local favorites, Empty Bottle Blues Band. Currently, he’s co-producing the music for the Red Lady Ball with Lizzy Plotkin. The March 15 soiree at the Powerhouse will include a square dance, with a pro caller—Tyler describes the event as a big Americana ensemble with a lot of moving parts.
Sharing his tastes in music, Tyler’s been a KBUT DJ for years with his Monday night show, Playing Through. He’s been involved as a volunteer from the time he moved to town and now holds the position of underwriting director, overseeing the underwriting on-air support for the station. “For me it’s really cool because I get to network with local businesses in every walk of life. I get to know the people who own the ski shops, bars, restaurants, the construction sector… everyone! I work with a great, amazing staff and it’s a ton of fun being at the radio station,” he says and praises the local aficionados of music. “The knowledge of music in this valley is unreal. There are amateur musicologists in this valley who know so much and you learn so much from them.”
Between the bands, teaching guitar lessons, the KBUT day gig and his current bartending job at Le Bosquet, Tyler still finds time to appreciate why he moved to Crested Butte for nine years ago. “I’m just having a good time. I feel richer than a millionaire,” he smiles appreciatively. “It’s the surrounding wilderness and the proximity to the great outdoors, the West Elks year-round. What other place in the world can you ski Red Lady bowl in the morning and go down to Hartman’s in the afternoon and ride your mountain bike in April?
“I also love being here because there’s a place for me in this community, whether that’s through volunteerism or through awesome opportunities to play music here, and to my circle of friends. I want to grow old here,” he reflects, but then agrees, none of us ever grow old here in Neverland.
Catch Tyler’s band Mine Control at the Eldo, Friday, February 7.