When local singer-songwriter Patrick Dethlefs looks back on his earliest memories, he hears the sound of his dad’s guitar. Music filled the rooms of his childhood home in Kittredge, Colorado — usual suspects like Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and The Grateful Dead — but it was his father’s original compositions that cut through the noise.
“He’d write songs, but it was never a professional aspiration of his to become a musician,” says the 32-year-old artist currently based in Lakewood. “He just did it because he liked it.”
Dethlefs followed suit. Pulled to the playground of meter and melody, he picked up the trumpet in elementary school, but it didn’t take. Then his neighbor got an electric bass, and the idea of starting a band began to germinate. Everything changed on his 12th birthday, when Dethlefs got his first guitar as a gift from his parents. Then it all changed again a few short years later, when his dad died.
“There’s probably a bit of responsibility in [terms of] why I am the way I am — or maybe why I reflect the way I do, in song at least,” Dethlefs says. “Trying to process that [loss] and find my way has been such a big part of my life.”
When it comes to reckoning with the not-quite-gone presence of what was lost, you’ll hear something of the sentiment on the title track from Dethlefs’ most recent 2021 LP, If You Listen. Before the record unspools into its sensible mix of galloping country soul and indie-folk tenderness, the artist presents listeners with a couplet that captures the ever-evolving lives of the things we thought we left behind.
“Nothing’s gone with the wind,” he sings with hushed reverence over a delicately strummed acoustic guitar. “It’s always here with you, if you listen.”
One song at a time
Dethlefs has called the Centennial State home since he was a kid, but he has become a common fixture around Boulder in particular over the last few years. Maybe you caught him with Sound of Honey at the Chautauqua House last month, or the Gold Hill Inn before that — or perhaps during an intimate evening at eTown Hall, or an in-store performance at Paradise Found Records and Music. Dethlefs gets around in Boulder County, and he says the region’s unique and intimate spaces are a big reason why.
“Playing a bigger venue is awesome, especially in an opening situation,” he says. “But for doing my own thing, I feel like playing a smaller, more unique spot makes the whole experience a little more interesting for me and the people listening.”
To that end, Dethlefs returns to our corner of the Front Range for a Sunday night solo performance with singer-songwriter Margo Cilker at The Velvet Elk Lounge in downtown Boulder on April 2. He says concertgoers will get a stripped-down glimpse at an artist newly emboldened by the tumult of the last few years.
“I was feeling a bit stuck with songwriting, but then the pandemic made it apparent that … it doesn’t need to be so trying to do this — it could be just fun,” he says. “I feel like I’m trying to create from that point of view, versus a career sort of thing. I mean, I would love [to be successful], but it’s also maybe out of my control at some point.”
The newly un-stuck Dethlefs is sure to remain a common sight on local bills for the foreseeable future, but where it goes beyond here is anyone’s guess. When it comes to navigating that unknown, he’s taking it one song at a time — a process that feels as much like an act of remembrance as an act of self-care.
“I play music because I enjoy it, but it also feels like a bit of a connection to [my dad] because he loved it so much,” Dethlefs says. “And it does feel like one of the ways I work through stuff is by playing music, besides going to therapy and journaling and doing whatever else to feel healthy mentally. Music is a huge part of that. It can just kind of bring me back into the moment.”
ON THE BILL: Margo Cilker with Patrick Dethlefs (solo). 9 p.m. Sunday, April 2, Velvet Elk Lounge, 2037 13th St., Boulder. Tickets here. | Patrick Dethlefs (full band). 7 p.m. Friday, April 7, Jamestown Mercantile, 108 Main St. (Free)