By Steve Graham
Johnny Cash famously sang “Folsom Prison Blues,” a fictional prisoner story, for real inmates in California.
David Michael Boyd is reversing that process, playing a public concert of songs he wrote with real Colorado inmates. His band, Davey and the Blu Dog, is performing a free concert with special guests at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at the Music District building on South College Avenue. The show is part of the Blues Behind Bars project.
Boyd is a former pastor who runs songwriting workshops at the Larimer County Jail and the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, where they have crafted at least 80 original blues songs.
The songs are therapeutic for those “on the inside,” and educational for those “on the outside.”
“I could never write this stuff on my own because it’s not my story,” Boyd said.
About 10 years ago, a prison chaplain from Sterling heard Boyd’s blues band perform and thought he could find a few audiences.
“He invited us to come out and play the prison,” Boyd said. The band played for about 140 male inmates.
“By the time we were done, they were jumping, shouting, singing,” he said. “… One guy came and talked to me ‘that was the best Christmas party I’ve had on the inside in 30 years.’”
Boyd was stunned that a man about his age had spent three decades behind bars, and he realized their blues songs had made a difference to the inmates.
“The whole band was impacted by how appreciative those guys were,” Boyd said.
It eventually became an approved program for the Colorado Department of Corrections and a registered Christian-based non-profit organization.
Boyd’s band performs both workshops and concerts for inmates.
“Those audiences behind the bars are as important as any audience we play for anywhere,” he said.
The group has also attracted the attention of the Bohemian Foundation and the Music District, where they will perform on Saturday.
“I think their take on it has to do with music and the arts serving marginalized populations and the social justice dynamic,” Boyd said.