If the John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" is what comes to mind when someone mentions country music and Colorado, then you haven't been paying attention to the Mile High State's music scene.

For country music in Colorado, many will argue there's the Railbenders and then there's everyone else.

Formed in 2000, the Railbenders and their blend of "hard country" have been named the state's best country band from 2002 to 2006 by either the Rocky Mountain News or Westword Music Showcase.

"I'm not even sure who came up with ('hard country')," said guitarist Tony Nascar during a recent phone interview from Denver. "It's country music that has more of an edge to it than a lot of modern country."

Formed by singer Jim Dalton and bassist Tyson Murray, the Railbenders' sound comes from a wide variety of musical influences. For country, Nascar said the band was inspired by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck.

But The Railbenders also grew up listening to a lot of rock influences, including AC/DC, ZZ Top and the Ramones. The mix of the two music genres resulted in that hard country sound today. The band has even recorded its country-influenced versions of Ozzy's "Crazy Train" and "Sweet Caroline."

"We were all into punk rock pretty heavy (growing up)," Nascar said. "That's what gives our music a little bit of edge."

Many of the RailBenders songs include common themes of whiskey, women and Colorado, such as the gems "I-70 Westbound," "Hellbound Party Train" and "Whiskey Rain."

During Halloween each year, the Railbenders show some of that rock side by playing tribute shows. This year the band performed as the Ramones and Nascar pulled extra duty by sitting in on a Green Day cover band.

The Railbenders have earned praised from other musicians, some of whom have collaborated with members of the band such as Eddie Spaghetti of the the Supersuckers, Jesse Dayton and fellow Colorado resident Johnny Hickman of Cracker fame who ended up doing a well-received side-project with Dalton, called the Hickman-Dalton Gang.

Despite the critical acclaim, the Railbenders aren't full-time rock stars. All of the members still have day jobs. Nascar has had a long-time job at a Boulder-based company that makes prosthetic hands for amputees. There have been times that Nascar has played a gig, gone home to sleep for and an hour and then went to work.

"Fortunately, my boss is really accommodating to me," he said.

For the next two weeks, Nascar and the rest of the Railbenders will take some time off work to tour around the West.

"We just keeping plugging away. We go out and have as much fun as we possibly can," he said. "It's loose and loud and reckless and fun. None of us have any illusions of becoming the Rolling Stones. We'll see what happens. We work our hardest, but we're not setting any unrealistic goals."

If you go ...

What: Railbenders

Where: Bar Deluxe, 666 S. State St.

When: today, 8 p.m.

How much: $10

Phone: 467-8499, 800-888-8499

E-mail: [email protected]