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Boulder Attorney, Musician Traveling to Tennessee to Write Songs with Veterans

October 12, 2018

Local musician Craig Skinner plays his guitar at his Boulder home on Wednesday. Skinner leaves today for Franklin, Tenn., to participate in the Challenge America music therapy retreat.

If you go

What: Lucky Me

When: Nov. 1 7:30 p.m.

Where: 2675 Northpark Drive, Lafayette

Cost: $8 advance, $10 at the door

More info: nissis.com

Boulder resident Craig Skinner is a defense attorney, so he has experience playing advocate to people in need.

Skinner also writes songs and plays in local band Lucky Me, so he’s likely a good fit for Challenge America’s veteran music therapy retreat in Franklin, Tenn., a program that pairs veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder with a songwriter as a way for the veterans to work through trauma.

Still, he’s not sure what’s going to happen when he flies into Tennessee on Friday.

“I’m trying to go into this without any expectations and let it unfold rather than me figuring it out on the front end,” he said. “I think it would be a good idea if I just get out of the way.”

Challenge America was founded by Aspen resident Houston Cowan — who is Skinner’s cousin — along with husband and wife, contemporary Christian singer Amy Grant and country singer Vince Gill.

The organization, according to its website, helps service members, veterans and their families connect with services. Part of that work is a music therapy retreat, which happens this weekend at Grant’s and Gill’s ranch. The songwriters and veterans will compose a song over the weekend and perform their work on Sunday.

Skinner said Lucky Me plays around Boulder County, describing the four-piece ensemble as “very local.” He has played in bands in the Boulder area since the 1970s, including the new wave outfit Pearl, which he said was a sort of response to the “back to nature hippie” stuff that permeated the Boulder scene in the late ’70s.

“It was the only music you could see in town,” Skinner said.

He said the songs he writes can take up to two years to write, and are more often than not are about “girls” (and the rejection and despair that can accompany love and romance).

“It seems that subject is just ripe for songwriting,” he said. “If I wrote a song about what a great day it is and how great life is, I don’t know if anything would come out.”

Helping a veteran write about his or her traumatic experiences is a different can of worms, but he has read up on PTSD at the behest of program coordinators and he thinks his job as an attorney will help him.

“I happened to be thinking about that today,” he said. “What I thought about was, I do criminal defense and what that means is I have a lot of exposure to people who are struggling in life. That includes almost 100 percent drug and alcohol issues, but it can also be bipolar issues and PTSD.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, anywhere between 11 and 20 percent of veterans returning from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom — the official designation for the war on terrorism — have PTSD. About 12 percent of Desert Storm veterans suffer from the anxiety disorder and 15 percent of Vietnam veterans.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Cowan said most of the veterans who have participated in the music retreats over the past four years served after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but there have been a few who served in Desert Storm and Vietnam. Not all of the veterans were deployed into combat zones, as PTSD can come from a variety of trauma.

He’s seen the music therapy work, adding that a veteran he called John, who was struggling with PTSD, stayed in his garage all day, every day.

“He would watch out a little window when his wife went to work,” Cowan said. “This is a Special Forces guy. You wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley, but he would be in that garage.”

He said that after a recent music therapy retreat in Cleveland, Ohio, John was the first one on stage to perform his song.

“It’s hard to verbally get a story out of these traumas,” Cowan said. “Interestingly enough, music is a way.”

John Bear: 303-473-1355, bearj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/johnbearwithme

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