The Mile High Makeout: Red Turtle Music - Reverb

The Mile High Makeout: Red Turtle Music bolsters Colorado's musical future

A Red Turtle Music student at last year's showcase at the Gothic Theatre. Photo by Curtis Durham.

A Red Turtle Music student at last year's showcase at the Gothic Theatre. Photo by Curtis Durham.

“We’re trying to blur the differences between audiences and performers, and get people involved.”

Josh Skelton’s enthusiasm for his mission — turning ordinary people into performing musicians — is unmistakable. After playing with Denver bands like Xiren, Losing November and Starfuzz — and recording with hundreds of national acts, the singer-songwriter now focuses most of his energy on transforming living room daydreams into rock star reality. On Saturday, 22 Red Turtle students will make their dreams come true by performing original songs on stage at Casselman’s Bar and Venue.

“We start right off with people’s creativity and get them writing music as soon as possible,” says Skelton of his company’s innovative approach. Rather than starting out with scales, standard notation and “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the instructors of Red Turtle Music — who travel to students’ homes for lessons — begin the learning process with real songs that students really like. “If they learn a scale, it’s for a purpose,” he explains. “Like, if someone’s really into jam bands and wants to know how to improvise, we’ll give them scales as a tool to make the sounds they’re interested in.”

Skelton’s musical career began with lessons at the age of four. By the time he was 15, he’d started teaching music lessons. Shortly after that, he played his first professional gig.

In 2000, hours after earning his degree in music theory and composition at Butler University in Indianapolis, Skelton was in a Ryder truck, headed for Vail, Colorado. “It was the biggest culture shock of my life,” he laughs. A short time later, the guitarist made the move to Denver.

Though Skelton has consistently taught music lessons for nearly 20 years, Red Turtle didn’t take shape until 2008, when he was teaching music at Kent Denver School. Since then, the company has grown to include several instructors — covering guitar, bass, piano, drums and voice — and approximately 80 students. Even if only a handful of those continue professional musical pursuits, Red Turtle will have made a valuable contribution to the Denver music scene, injecting fresh, new faces into our city’s teeming talent pool.

Another Red Turtle Music student at last year's showcase at the Gothic Theater. Photo by Curtis Durham.

Red Turtle has already seen some success with its model. Graduates like Aubrey Collins and Beau Osland (a.k.a. For Love of Ivy) have gone from relatively little musical experience to national tours and recording shortly after starting with Red Turtle.

To help its students along on the path from student to star, Red Turtle Music is hosting a student showcase at Casselman’s on Saturday, with 22 performers playing 27 songs — many composed by the students themselves — and a 28th song performed with all the students and instructors. “We’ve got nine-year-old kids and businessmen,” Skelton exclaims. “It’s a big collage of styles of music and places in life.”

For Skelton, the showcase performance is a critical part of the process. “I originally envisioned Red Turtle Music as a way for concertgoers to stop thinking, ‘I wish I could be that person,’ and instead think, ‘That’s a great idea — I’m going to do something similar in my next concert,’” he says. “I already hear things like that from people we work with.”

One last photo by Curtis Durham of a Red Turtle Music student at last year's showcase at the Gothic Theater. We couldn't resist.

In addition to adding new talent to our music scene, Red Turtle also does wonders for its clients’ self-confidence. By giving students an authentic application for their learning and the tools to achieve what they might not have thought was possible, Red Turtle transforms music lessons into something like self-actualization, allowing ordinary people to turn fantasies into facts.

“Once a person starts thinking outside of perceived limitations,” says Skelton, “the possibilities are endless.”

Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday. Against his mother’s advice, Eryc has also been known to tweet. You can also follow Steal This Track on Twitter. Sorry, Mom.