The Story of Covenhoven

Covenhoven was built by his Grandfather. One skinned log atop another. Arcadia in the woods. A cabin where he and they always came together to be alone. The Grandson’s childhood grew from that soil and when he was back in the city he dreamt of those surreal washes of color and scent: those sounds that don’t live in the other places. In real places. 

Over the years the family learned that secret places are difficult to share with others. You can’t tell somebody the story by just giving them a map. You see, while Covenhoven is a real place, it’s also not. It’s more than that. It’s thousands of memories and entire childhoods, lives that have passed-on. And now, this place, this thing – because of the Grandson: it’s a symphony of sound. It’s an orchard of stories. And, it sounds like a good novel should read. 

You can hear it in “A Love Sincere” when the strings kick up like autumn grass in that old aspen grove. This was something different than the Grandson had done before. Alone, he wrote, played and recorded the entire thing save for the stringy violin and cello, whose parts he wrote instead. 

The Grandson is Joel Van Horne and this is his project. 

For his siblings, parents and relatives, Covenhoven was always a place they drove four hours up to. But it was just as well a place that the Van Horne's could take back with them, when the summer was over as an emotional souvenir. It was a dreamy respite in the middle of a work day. A subalpine scent in the middle of a traffic jam. A memory of everything quiet and celebrated. And then, as years turned into decades and those logs settled down into their place in the earth of the Medicine Bows, Covenhoven grew into the central legend of their personal, familial history. 

For Van Horne, a Colorado native, this storied plot of land was where the best of his childhood took place. And so it wasn’t such a surprise that, when the 33 year old was looking inside for a new project and a fresh lease on his musical life, he stumbled back upon the memory of that time. That place way out there had been something that he had wanted to write about. Up until this age, he just wasn’t ready. 

The symphony hadn’t arrived. Not yet. 

Van Horne grew-up on the west side of Denver, next to the hogbacks, beneath the sunsets. Every summer his family would go for a couple of glorious weeks, up to the Medicine Bows, up to Covenhoven. Dad played Dylan tunes on his old six-string. Others had their instruments. Music had been painted all over his family. Everybody had been infected. So it was no surprise when the Grandson, Joel, caught the bug. At eleven Van Horne had his first guitar. At fourteen, his first band. Before he could even drive, he was on the road. Playing his rebellious soda pop punk, touring the west coast. 

But his goal was to write a symphony. Always, there was going to be an orchestra. 

He couldn’t really read music, but he tried out for a jazz program anyway. He auditioned with his guitar. He was accepted. And it wasn’t a surprise or an obstacle, the fact that he was on probation for his first semester. It was going to be a challenge, like he was tangled in the cattails at Covenhoven, waist-high in the Rafting Pond. Trying to get in, trying to get out. 6, 7, 8 hours a day he practiced by himself. Reading. Making runs up and down his fretboard. And he was rewarded. He gigged-out with other students. They even played in Russia, in a hall that Rachmaninoff built. But Van Horne wasn’t content yet. His heart called to an even different style of music. Original music. Sure, paying homage to your past grew him, but he wanted to tell his stories, sing his songs. 

Eventually he ended-up in Carbon Choir, a big, full band with a penchant for the mellow, but a drive toward the rock. Like with his adolescent band, you felt this one in a physical place. But still, his emotional center, that inspired pit, needed sunlight. And so he continued looking around until it began to grow and make sense. Within the last couple of years,it came back to him: the symphony. Covenhoven. It was all there, all the sounds and stories, if he could just paint them clearly. 

Van Horne would do it all differently. He would go at it alone. No band. No body else. He would write all the parts. All the lyrics. He would record it himself. He would make the calls. He wouldn’t have to worry about finding a part for this instrument, or that player. This was finally the time to write that story, those pictures, about those days. 

The symphony of an American upbringing. A Colorado childhood. 

It’s a series of vignettes. Revelations. Private memories made public through spacious textures and dynamic composition. Because if there’s something apparent about Van Horne’s sense of song it’s his ability for smart, poignant textures. Organic, as though a naturalist built it altogether. Each one as though they were truly given a space, a place of their own. 

Van Horne was his own filter. He would bounce-out songs to go over in his car, sometimes with 40 different takes. He was on his own through it all until he enlisted the help of sound engineer Jamie Mefford to help mix it. Finally he had a second eye on it. The two of them set those sounds onto the page, and the chapters, the movements became concretized. They bound the book. 

Van Horne is a songwriter. He knows his way around verses. Covenhoven is not just about streams of banjos and mountains of heavenly percussion. It’s about the things you say when you’re way out there, with others, but by yourself. They are simple, woody meditations on his “Love Sincere”. In “Young at Heart” Van Horne sings, “And I’ve always been an old soul/Empty has always been full/Lost is my own kind of found/And silence my favorite sound”. 

If there was an analogy in this for Van Horne, it would have been about the accumulation of skill sets. The sum total of the previous challenges into one more. A tribute to that path, to everything he’s become and more than that: a celebration of a place his grandfather built by himself. It is a tribute. An articulation of reverence. To his family. His siblings. The secret memories that are only theirs. 

This is that sound. That place. Covenhoven.

- Jonathan Bitz,
Denver Syntax, 2013.

Thanks, thanks, and more thanks...

In 2015, these 104 wonderfully generous and supportive people supported me by helping fund The Wild and Free.  THANK YOU!!!  (in no particular order)

Corrie Van Horne, Beth Rosbach, Chris DeBlaay, Jon Banks, Jeffrey Rhodes, Garnet Morris, Carl Mueller, Carrie Whiting, Sarah O'Sullivan, Sam Skeene, Gregg Cantelmo, Nate Crites, Jacquie Sewell, Rachel Young, Aimee Giese, Andre DeRosby, Talia Karim, Perry Ritter, Benjamin Rea, Stacy Price, Ryan Fechter, Joyanne McShea, Kerry Fisher, Amy Paterson, Freya Stanley-Price, Iain Fox, Laura Bostillo, Karen Wachtel, Jenna Gallagher, Kristian Cruz, Katey Laurel, Michael Thornton, Tessa Coker, AARON J BOOTON, Rob Field, Krista Kiratibutr-Martinson, Scott M. Manson, Michael John McKee, Lauryssa, Michael Gillette, Michelle Tomlin, Rachel Eisenstat, Micah Sewell, Spencer Murphy, Jacob Holmes-Brown, Andrew Micheal Guerrero, Gary Ayling, Michael Bogart, Paul Engel, Christopher Sturniolo, PinothyJ, Aaron Hansen, Tyler Olson, Craig Sanborn, Markie Hernandez, Jared Mahoney, Alyssa Berry, Seth Evans, Adrian Pottersmith, Jan Murre,, Scott Griebling, Micah Banner-baine, Forsyth & Gee, Skoob Books Intl., Lisa Vallad, Craig Sammon, David Dufresne, Scott Weidner, Chris Ecks, Tiffany Fodor, Matthew Jones, Tracy Zabel, Dylan Steffen, Mark Smith, Jenni Hinckley, Diette Crockett, Bob Rea, Michael Thompson, Abby Finch, Kit Chalberg, Melissa Ecker, John Baginski, Kathleen Brusehaber, Laura Karlis, Salim Haji, Greg Misky, Lance Smith, Jeremy Craig, Cheryl J Sanborn, Daniel B, Brian Van Horne, Pete Allison, David Van Bussum, Ryan Holly, Cory Walker, Tomm, Federico Pena, Sara Sankovich, Dave Siple, Trish Pottersmith, Lisa Santos, Tom Weidner, Sheldon Berke, Pamela & Chris Hatton.

In 2013,  these lovely people helped me release my first (S/T) record. 

Heartfelt thanks goes out to...  Andy Guerrero, Jeremy and Emily Craig, Katey Laurel, Melissa and Tim Beard, Herb and Beth Allison, Pete and Grace Allison, Trish and Adrian Pottersmith, Justin Peacock, Eric Forsyth, Lisa and Jerry Van Horne, John Baginski, Pam Zulauf, Brian Zulauf, Dave Hedin, Greg Pfanstiel, Brian and Marge Van Horne, Jenni Hinckley, Sara Montoya, John Bunzli, Megan Burtt, Dave Tamkin, Michael and Mason Solmos, Ryan and Julie Fechter, Laurel Himes, Mary-ann Greanier, Tom Weidner, Rachael Berry, Skyler J. Van Horne, Brian Dunlap, Katie Bechter, Aaron Purcell, Judy Craddock, Salim Haji & Micol Rothman, Julie and Grace Fuller, Aree Bly, Tom Leonard, Krista Kiratibutr-Martinson, Esther James, Cheryl and Tyler Sanborn, Kelsey Sanborn, Gissel Rosario, Tim Dunn, J Smith, Scott Weidner, Cari Wood, Mark Leachman, David and Elizabeth Van Bussum, Kerry Fisher, Corrie Van Horne, Dave Beard, Jenn Ambrose, Andy Van Horne, Sarai Ontiveros, Bill Bloomquist, Sarah Gee, Ben Van Horne, Greg & Caren Misky, Jason Schulten, Rebecca Gillis, Patty Beard, Deborah S. Leonard, and Philip Roliz.  

Without your generosity and support this record would not have been possible!