If you're in Boulder Canyon this summer and you hear what sounds like a live jazz-rock band echoing off the canyon walls, relax, you're not losing your mind.
It's just Ryan O'Malley -- aka Helicopterbearshark -- jamming away.
Those who regularly travel or recreate in Boulder Canyon likely already know O'Malley, or have at least or seen or heard him.
He pulls his distinctive champagne-colored Chevy S-10 pickup with a black topper into the parking area for Boulder Flycasters Memorial Park on summer afternoons, unfurls a rug, sets up a drum kit and the rest of his equipment and plays for hours on end.
"It's become my spot, I feel like," O'Malley said of the small asphalt parking lot about 2.5 miles west of Boulder. "For the most part, everyone seems pretty open to it and appreciates it. Some people pull in and then pull right back out, and I feel bad for them because if you go down by the water you can't even hear me."
The area is a little further outside of Boulder than O'Malley would like, but it offers sufficient space for him to set up "the helicopter" as he has dubbed his multi-instrument, multi-electronic rig. It also offers shade, decent swimming nearby for hot days, and a large rock face directly across Boulder Canyon Drive that lets his music reverberate and bounce back to him.
O'Malley, originally from the Boston area, has been honing his unique musical vision at the park for nearly three years now, playing almost daily from mid afternoon until dusk in the warmer months. (Helicopterbearshark was a name he and a friend came up with while playing a word association game and it sounded so good it stuck as a name for his one-man project.)
The multi-instrumentalist began playing guitar in the seventh grade. After studying the instrument and feeling like he had explored it thoroughly, he moved to others including bass, drums, banjo, piano and violin. And he's still adding to his repertoire, recently taking on saxophone and clarinet as he strives to master woodwinds.
"I realized what I really love about music is learning a new instrument and that whole journey," said O'Malley, though he adds the most important element of his rig is his loop station.
The electronic pedal board allows him to lay down multiple guitar or piano tracks and loop them back through his amplifier while he plays a live drum track, forming a symphony of sound from just one musician. He said he also has an electronic drum kit that he uses on some occasions that allows him to add even greater depth to his musical creations.
"The whole idea behind this project is I have a lot of trouble finding musicians that I can form a band with," said O'Malley, noting it is often an issue of dedication or lack of shared vision. "What I've developed this into is a way for a musician to sit in. I'll book the shows, I'll do everything and then someone shows up at one of my shows with a trumpet, and suddenly it's a 6-piece band with two people in it."
O'Malley sometimes takes Helicopterbearshark to West Pearl Street, just off the mall, and recently played at the Laughing Goat Coffeehouse.
But the place O'Malley can most commonly be found in the summer is the Boulder Flycasters Memorial Park parking lot, where he also welcomes the occasional impromptu collaborator.
The lot draws a fair amount of traffic. Cyclists, swimmers, and kayakers all pulled in to the lot at some point Thursday afternoon. While some directed smiles or quizzical looks O'Malley's way, few stopped by to say anything, except for some regular park visitors who greeted him and handed him a beer from their cooler.
Bob Long, a Prescott, Ariz., resident taking a "vacation from retirement" by riding his motorcycle across the American southwest, pulled into the lot and snapped a quick photograph of O'Malley.
"I had to stop and take a picture 'cause I've never seen anything like this," Long said. "It's pretty cool."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.