A Tank Comes to Rangely, Colorado

Ideas and Issues

Columbia   It had been a long exhausting day. It started with a phone call while I was in the shower at 4 am in Atlanta, where I’d finally gotten up, my mind racing from the meeting the night before and the details of the day ahead. ADT was calling at what would have been 3 AM New Orleans time that an alarm had gone off at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse at St. Claude. It turned out when I called back that a relief kitchen person had tripped it by mistake while closing up. Even getting on the interstate at 5 AM to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, one of the nation’s busiest, traffic was already piling up on 285 South with radio reports of total blockages in downtown. It was going to be that kind of day for the road weary travelers among us.

Twelve hours later I had finished my meetings in South Carolina and was trying to find a place to sit down where the sun was not heating up the airport and look at my email and messages for the first time since 930 in the morning. The beat wouldn’t stop. I was pulled into an earlier flight to Atlanta, which was good news, but then that didn’t change the after 9 PM flight to New Orleans.

Giving up trying to sleep at the back of the plane I was flipping through pages of a recent New Yorker, and suddenly something caught my eye that bolted me upright in the chair. The title of the piece was “Tank Music” in a section called “Musical Events,” and the drawing was of course a brown tank with an oil pumping jack and low slung mountains in the background, with a caption that was a mind blower saying, “The Tank, in Rangely, has become a haven for the local music community.” Are you kidding, this was going to be a story about Rangely, Colorado of all places and a 60-foot tall metal tank!

I know Rangely! Only short miles from Vernal, Utah and the National Dinosaur monument there the small, small town is in the far northwestern corner of Colorado in the high plains of the Western Slope. As a boy I had lived five miles away from Rangely in an oil field company camp. You turned right off the vacant highway by the small refinery with the gas flare that was always burning. My brother was born there. Even after leaving for many years, we came back for weeks every summer as part of my dad’s auditing job with the California Company that became Chevron Oil. I drove through and stayed at a workers’ boarding house and attended a city council meeting in the early 1980s when the town thought oil shale was going to blow their population up to 20,000. Later I’ve driven my family through on our annual campaign trips in the west when our children were young.

But, Rangely in the New Yorker: unbelievable! And, like Rangely, so unique.

“The Tank, as everyone calls it,…looms over Rangely in rusty majesty…in recent years [Bruce Odland] and others have renovated the Tank, turning it into a performance venue and a recording studio; it’s now called the Tank Center for Sonic Arts, and is outfitted with a proper door….sound seems to hang in the air, at once diffused and enriched. The combination of a parabolic floor, a high concave roof, and cylindrical walls elicits a dense mass of overtones from even a footfall or a cough.”

At the end of the article, the reporter says, “One road to the musical future now runs through Rangely.” What a second act for an unknown, out of the way, oil-and-ranching town! America, what a country – the music just keeps playing!