Sep 13, 2023 - Things to Do

Why you should hop aboard the Durango Blues Train

Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Rios/Durango Blues Train

Have you ever spent an evening wandering a vintage coal-fired, steam-powered train enjoying live music, drinks and incomparable views of the San Juans at sunset?

What's happening: That's what you'll find aboard the Durango Blues Train, about six hours southwest of Denver.

  • For a few nights a year, the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad turns into a 3.5-hour traveling blues festival, with a half-dozen performers positioned in different cars as the train steams into the evening.

Catch up fast: The event started in 2011 after founder Steve Gumble, who had several friends working on the tourist rail line, convinced the train's management to let him host a blues music event, he told Axios.

Word spread fast, he said. Tickets to the three-night Durango train tend to sell out instantaneously, Gumble said, many to repeat visitors.

Zoom out: The rail line has been in continuous operation on this branch of the original Denver & Rio Grande Railway since 1882. Today the tourist line still uses 1923-1925 vintage locomotives.

  • You can take its full route daily from Durango to Silverton between spring and fall, plus a "Polar Express" ride for a few weeks in the winter.

Between the lines: Operating a music festival on an antique train comes with its complications, whether that's a forest fire, wildlife blocking the tracks or technical issues, Gumble said. Train officials must also modify a few of the cars to make room for the musicians.

  • But both attendees and performers take it in stride.
  • Once a train car had to be completely detached due to a technical issue, he recalled, so a band moved into another car and played acoustically for the duration.

The big picture: Opting into an event on a rickety train brings a self-selecting group of attendees, Gumble said.

  • "I don't know how many times I've fallen into someone. I say, 'I'm so sorry.' And they just smile and they get it... it's part of the package."

What's next: Tickets for next year's late August dates will go on sale on Feb. 13.

  • Plus, the train leadership is assessing whether they'll be able to add back a few spring dates, too, Gumble said.

💭 My thought bubble: Put this on your bucket list. I didn't think the event would live up to the hype, but it definitely did.

  • And make sure to build in some time to explore the very cool town of Durango along the way.
Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Rios/Durango Blues Train

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