On Monday afternoon, Alex Paul was driving through Glenwood Springs on his way to play a Tuesday night gig in Carbondale with his new band, Birds of Play, followed by a Thursday night gig in Crested Butte.
“We did 35 shows last winter. And we’re on tour right now, getting ready for Blues & Brews,” Paul said. “Friday will be the last show of our summer tour.”
Their Blues & Brews appearance is the culmination of a journey that began a year ago, when Paul won the Telluride Blues Challenge, a musical competition he didn’t even know existed before last year.
“I was at Telluride Music Company, and (store owner and employee) Tom and Warren mentioned that it was happening,” Paul exaplined. “And they thought it would be a cool thing for me to work up some songs and submit them.”
Paul proceeded to record and submit two songs specifically for the competition, thriving under the constraints of genre and a deadline. He was one of six finalists to perform at last year’s challenge.
“Out of 30-plus entries, it was outstanding to see a local win last year’s Telluride Blues Challenge,” said Patrick Shehan, partnerships director for SBG Productions, the festival organizer. “Not only is Alex an asset to the Telluride music community, he’s also a really talented songwriter.”
While Paul, 36, doesn’t characterize his music as blues, it’s a genre he’s comfortable playing. Growing up in Littleton, he’s been playing music ever since his father bought him a guitar when he was 13. Paul also plays mandolin, piano and upright bass, and has performed solo and with a number of band projects across the greater Rocky Mountain region for the last decade.
Paul played a solo gig regularly at The Liberty this past winter, and as a reward for winning last year’s Blues Challenge, was invited to perform on the Durango Blues Train in May.
“That was a really cool, unique experience, playing on a moving, narrow-gauge train that wobbled as I was standing the whole time,” Paul said.
He also released an EP last year titled “Joy,” a solo project he recorded in LA.
“The ‘Joy’ EP is quite produced,” Paul said. “It’s got drums, some keys and back-up singers and female vocalists, with a lot more instrumentation and arrangement.”
After winning the Blues Challenge, Paul put together a band — Birds of Play — with two of his best friends, Eric Shedd and Jack Tolan, and the Americana trio has become his priority and passion.
“We’ve convened around adventuring with music; playing outside in the desert, riding around on bikes and skiing and picking around a campfire in the evenings,” Paul said.
He is grateful to have received a small arts grant from the Telluride Arts District that enabled the band to record an album — “Anthrophony” — that was released this summer.
“So there’s ‘geophony,’ which is all of the sounds of the Earth outside of biological life; rivers, wind, thunder, earthquakes, ocean waves,” Paul explained. “And then there’s ‘biophony,’ which is all of the sounds of biological life on Earth outside of human sounds; birds, plants, animals, trees blowing in the wind. And then there’s ‘anthrophony,’ which is all of the human sounds of the world. And I really like that word in that context.”
Band influences include the Wood Brothers, Gregory Alan Isakov and Mandolin Orange.
“We definitely have some blues, bluegrass, folk, funk and rock influences,” Paul said. “It’s a broad amalgamation of musical passions.”
The trio has played two public shows in Telluride: One was a sold-out show this past winter at the SHOW bar. The other was their official album release party in late-June at the Transfer Warehouse building.
“It’s been really cool to see the support and encouragement around our music from the local community in Telluride,” Paul said.
Shehan observed that it’s been inspiring to see how winning the Blues Challenge has helped kick-start Paul’s album, tour and local shows.
“That after all is really the purpose behind the challenge,” he said. “To help artists climb to a new level in their music career.”
Paul feels an energizing momentum heading into Friday afternoon’s performance at this year’s Blues & Brews festival.
“It’s the gig we’ve been working towards with all of our shows this summer,” he said. “And the one we’re most excited about playing. I can’t wait to be out on that stage with a whole bunch of friends, family and community members there.”
Alex Paul and the Birds of Play will perform on the Blues Stage at 1 p.m. on Friday. This year’s Telluride Blues Challenge will take place at the Elks Lodge from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, followed by a performance by this year’s winner on the Main Stage at 5:50 p.m. on Saturday.