A life lived in Wyoming beats the heart of the music of The Libby Creek Original.
The five-man Americana group, named after the stream that crashes down the eastern flank of the Snowy Range, celebrates its home state with high-energy arrangements backing lyrics about high ground, seam-ripping winds and long road trips.
“Patrick (Harrington), our songwriter, has a lot of interesting things to say that connect with a lot of people in Wyoming,” said mandolin and fiddle player Jackson Clarendon. “We’re trying to help him spread that message.”
The group performs in and around Laramie and plays an essential role in building a vibrant local community, said Danee Hunzie at the Wyoming Arts Council.
“Music is one way to enhance that and a powerful way to bring people together, directly and indirectly,” she said.
Hunzie, community development and independent music specialist for the Wyoming Arts Council, is hoping to bolster home-grown sounds across the Cowboy State as both a cultural asset and an economic driver.
She started the Wyoming Independent Music Initiative in 2015, aiming to build a sustainable local music scene by supporting musicians, soliciting community support and enabling events.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but there’s so much talent that that’s exciting, too,” she said.
As part of the initiative, 10 Laramie bands are participating in a pilot effort this spring targeted at nurturing their work. Since January, they’ve been meeting with industry professionals, business professionals and other mentors to work on all elements of the music-making business. The program will culminate with a showcase in June.
For example, each group had professional photographs taken and filmed a performance video a couple weekends ago. They’re also getting access to a music attorney, record label, booking agency and venue owner.
“It’s what the bands wanted to know but didn’t know how to access,” Hunzie said.
Fred Schmechel, a business counselor at the Wyoming Technology Business Center, met with each group to talk about running their operations as businesses. That might mean building a brand identity or selling enough albums to support a tour.
“We’re trying to help the bands grow beyond where they’re at now and make Laramie known to be a place of creativity and innovation,” he said.
A music group goes through the same stages of growth as any small business, he said, from developing a product to finding a market to gaining stability. Schemchel said Laramie has a tight-knit music scene that enables networking.
“Laramie is a very optimistic place to be a band,” he said.
Hunzie and the arts council solicited a variety of bands to be part of the pilot program, and she said everyone has different goals. Some groups envision national tours, while others are content to perform locally while they finish school. Everyone is united in their desire to grow as artists.
“Everyone wants to play more shows and share their talent with more people,” she said.
John Wilhelm and Rob Joyce are part of the indie rock band Wynona, formed about three years ago together with Larson Lind and Connor Novotny.
Wilhelm said members are hoping to build the group, and that requires putting in serious work. They’ll use their music video and photographs on a website, which will help them connect with their audience as they work on an album and think about touring in the future.
“We’re not particularly interested in making this a full-time job, but we might be interested in making this a part-time job that loses us money, and that we have more fun at,” he joked.
Clarendon, with The Libby Creek Original, said the group would like to find a bigger audience inside and outside the state.
“It’s a passion, more than a hobby, and if we could have this passion support itself, that would be fantastic,” he said.
He’s excited about the June showcase, when all the bands will perform in one location.
“It’s cool to connect with other musicians … and connect with other people in the industry,” he said.
Hunzie said live music will be more important than ever for Wyoming if the economy remains sour.
“Keeping the morale high is important, and art just adds to livability,” she said.
As the pilot program continues, she’s hoping to expand to more corners of the state. The mechanics of such an expansion aren’t in place yet, but such a program could include weekend workshops or technological outreach to find musicians. Already the word is getting out.
“My phone rings all day from musicians that want to be a part of this,” she said.
For Wyomingites, that means more sounds to take them home.