Homegrown in America’s Highest City
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today (originally published June 26, 2015)
This is the story of Leadville Cherokee. It is the never-before-told account of the Cloud City’s favorite local band. For those die-hard Leadville Cherokee fans and the hundreds of new ones gathered since their first full-length CD release (How To Build A Fire) in 2015, here are the answers to your burning questions!
Read on to discover the individual band members’ stories, and how the group came together to create Leadville gold on stage. And what about their band name? Well, Leadville Today readers, it’s time for a little music-making history lesson. So, buckle up, for a good, old-fashioned, rock-n-roll story, that starts in the heart of Leadville.
Leadville Cherokee: How the Band Was Built
When it comes to legendary Leadville stories, most of the good ones start on historic Harrison Avenue. And so it goes for Leadville Cherokee.
It was at the old Doc Holliday’s restaurant (where the Leadville Race Series store is now located) that the group’s genesis can be traced. It’s at this former bar & grill that the original trio, Mark Niernberger (Lead Guitar/Vocal), Vilous Fox (Drums), and Peter Albrecht (Violin/Guitar/Vocal) first performed together under the name MVP (their initials) during an Open Mic Night.
But the trios’ introductions were made earlier, one fall day in 2009 when all three arrived on the Colorado Mountain College – Leadville campus.
“I was in front of the dorms, playing the guitar, trying to impress all the ladies,” said Albrecht.
“You mean, the LADY,” interrupted Niernberger, during a March interview with the band. The group laughed, as they all understood the reality of male to female ratio when it came to mountain living and dating. Clearly Leadville wouldn’t be offering the same kind of dating odds that Mark might have seen back in his suburban Chicago neighborhood.
“I got a violin scholarship to play at the University of Colorado,” recalls Albrecht. “But, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, so I dropped out. I knew I wanted to get up into the mountains. I had heard about Leadville, that it was the highest place in the United States, and I thought, that’s where I want to go!”
“I finally heard him playing outside and I knew that he could actually play,” said Albrecht who has the most classically trained background of the group. Once Albrecht’s Mom saw her son’s musical talents, she insisted that “Grandma started teaching me piano when I was in kindergarten.” But it was the strings that stuck with Pete and he went on to study music. But Albrecht knows that the key to success is in the basics, “of course, you have to practice every day if you want to play well. And don’t be afraid to go out and play with other people.”
Once Niernberger and Albrecht had made a solid connection, Mark suggested that the two bring in a guy named “V,” because he plays some “mad congas.” Enter one Vilous “V” Fox, Leadville Cherokee’s percussionist who was born in Shreveport, LA, but raised in Shelbyville, Texas. Now that second fact alone put him immediately at the top of the “biggest crowd that any of us have ever played” list among the band members. After all, Texas takes its high school football seriously, and if you play the drums in the marching band, chances are, you’ve easily played to a crowd of tens of thousands by playoff time.
And while his geography lent itself musically to the country genre, V’s mother made sure her son was exposed to a variety of music, including classical, folk and some old school rock-n-roll. And nowhere was that more apparent than when the high school band bus broke down, and while the other student musicians were more inclined to listen to some gangster rap, V pulled out his “Yellow Submarine” movie and encouraged others to sing along with The Beatles. But eventually, it was the Ski Op program at CMC which pointed his path to Leadville.
“I was not expecting to be in a band in Leadville,” said Fox in the Leadville Today interview. But there he was – and Fox makes three – for the not-yet-named Leadville Cherokee band.
The trio started playing and jamming regularly in the dorm’s practice room. They were finally ready to go public and decided on the band name: MVP, which was the predecessor to Leadville Cherokee. At that first Open Mic Night at the old Doc Holliday’s, they met a local guy: Andy-from-Chicken-Hill.
“He kinda took us under his wing,” recounted Niernberger. “We played at his house every day for the next four months, met a bunch of characters from the old guard on Chicken Hill.”
“So every day,” Albrecht adds to the story, “we’d drive up to Chicken Hill, drink a lot of beer, probably do a lot of drugs, and play a lot of music.” Afterward, they would walk back to the dorms, returning the next morning to fetch Mark’s car (No drinking and driving folks!)
“We did this every day – it was a daily thing for us,” added Albrecht, “and we called it the Trail of Tears.”
Eventually as these things go, some good beer combined with some good beats, resulted in several creative compositions, including one entitled: Leadville Cherokee. If you have ever wondered what the true inspiration is behind this song, Pete Albrecht reveals the truth in this video.
How The Band Got Its Name
Fast forward to Leadville Ski Joring weekend 2010 and the trios loosely titled MVP band was headlining at Doc Holliday’s for the winter festival celebration. Little did they know that by the end of that night, they would give birth to their band’s new name, Leadville Cherokee, and that death would come to the venue – alas, Doc Holliday’s closed its doors after that weekend.
“Doc Holliday’s was kinda of our first (paid) gig,” says Mark Niernberger. “We all played together and we had partied all night and we were about to head up to Chicken Hill. And just about the time we were headed out, the cops came by and were shining the lights through.” The bar owner was particularly concerned because well, at this point Mark’s only 20 years old. So, as the officer starts in with his questioning to assess the after-hours bar situation, he asks the musicians what they were doing there.
“We’re the band” they respond in unison, as if they’d practiced. Well then, what’s the name of your band, the officer, a.k.a DJ Omar, inquired. After some familiar side-glancing, they answered in harmony much like a band of musicians does: “Leadville Cherokee.” And so it stuck. And so it was.
The group was getting better and before long, Mark’s old school mate Brian Carter (Bass) would become the fourth Leadville Cherokee and the band’s bassist.
It’s now 2011 and the group is booking some regular gigs, some down in Denver.
Leadville Cherokee Plays The Scarlet
“I moved to Denver in 2008 to go to school at Regis College,” said Carter, explaining his re-connection with Mark from their earlier school days. They needed a bassist, although up to that point I was a guitar player, he added. Most would also agree that Carter does a good job managing the group, setting up gigs, and coordinating Leadville Cherokee’s social media presence.
Bananas may have been the first thing that came to Pete Albrecht mind when he first met Mikey Seibel (Keys, Percussion, Vocal).“The first time I met Pete in 2011,” explains the youngest Leadville Cherokee band member. “I was working at Ski Cooper. It was the last day of the season; I was working on the triple chair on the backside, dressed as a gorilla.”
In jest, Seibel would jump out from behind the shack, scare folks and try to steal their hat. While Albrecht wasn’t too impressed with the practical joker, it didn’t stop him from inviting the young musician to a jam session which eventually led to stepping in as the band’s keyboard player. Mikey was just two days shy of his 21st birthday when he played his first Leadville Cherokee gig. For Leadvillites, Mikey might just be the favorite band member, simply by the fact that he is the Native Son. Seibel was born – during a blizzard – in Vail in 1991 and spent the first three years of his life in Silverthorne. Mom Robbie and Dad Dan moved the family up to Leadville in 1994. Mikey spend his entire academic career in Leadville from preschool to college
So when you hear about piano teachers such as Lynette Booth and Donna Schaefer, you know he got off to a good, structural start! And while there was a brief switch over to the drums during the first three years of high school, he was back to the keyboards by his senior year. Guess it took him those three years to realize that, “Ladies like it when guys play piano.”
Mikey graduated from Lake County High School in 2009, and fondly recalled his “band geek” moment regarding a musical performance at Disneyland.
“It was the first time I ever was in a studio and we got to see what it was like to score a movie,” he recalls. So there’s hope for all the LCHS band members – you too can become a local rock-n-roll star!
So, at this point in the Leadville Cherokee story, the group has grown to a five-man band. Enter the rose among the thorns via the sweet sounds of Coco Martin (Lead Vocals). A self-described worm-eatin and barefooted Tennessean, Martin grew up in the outdoors, in the woods and on the river. In fact, it was on the bank of a river that Martin’s path crossed what seems to be the group’s most common denominator: Mark Niernberger. It was the fall of 2012 and Coco was a Tennessee raft guide with a longing to return to the Centennial State after an earlier home-schooling field trip made its mark on her heart. A chance meeting during Mark’s southern trek led the band’s only female to re-connect with the guitarist, who encouraged her to move to “super-cheap” Leadville. Within a few weeks from their chance encounter, Martin was making herself at home on the old torn-up leather couch with $200 in her pocket.
But when concertgoers hear Martin’s smooth voice roll out the soulful notes, it’s hard to imagine that CoCo has had no formal training. Although the time spent singing in the church and children’s chamber choirs developed a natural comfortableness with performing in front of an audience. In fact, Leadville Cherokee is the first band Martin’s played in; well, aside from her brief stint with a punk rock, garage band.
So there you have it, that’s how you build the band: Leadville Cherokee! So what about their music? What kind of things happen when all of these talents come together? Come and see it for yourself, if you’re not a fan already! Check out their FREE show 6:45 p.m. tonight, June 26 at the south stage (in front of the Tabor Opera House), as part of this weekend’s BBQ & Brew Festival. Oh, and bring the extra 20 – you’re going to want to leave with a copy (or two) of their CD “How To Build A Fire,” after you’ve heard Cloud City’s favorite local band bring it!