Folk singer Cheryl Wheeler brings her music and message to Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs — Folk singer Cheryl Wheeler has been a social humorist for most of her life. Her first stage appearance was at age 12, and she has been singing and joking for over a half century.
“Humor has always been a part of my life,” said Wheeler, who will be performing Sunday at the Chief Theater in Steamboat Springs. “My father was really funny, and laughing was a big part of our family. I started talking at gigs to relax. I didn’t want a sense of otherness between myself and the audience.
“I talked to establish a relationship,” Wheeler explained. “When a singer doesn’t talk to the audience, I think, ‘Well, the record is better than this.’ I like to be as relaxed and un-different as I can be.”
One running joke for most of Wheeler’s career has been that she became a folk singer so she wouldn’t have to have a “real” job. As she crisscrosses the country playing her beautiful music, interspersed with her poignant lyrics and her hilarious commentary, she continues the line, “I’m older. I’m secretly happy. I still have no job. I don’t want to retire but I don’t know if I’ll still be traveling around at 75.”
Sidekick Kenny White often travels with Wheeler, opening the show with a set of his own music and then accompanying her through her set.
“It’s easy with Kenny,” Wheeler said. “He’s younger than me in the way he approaches his life. He’s a big sweetheart.”
Throughout her career, Wheeler has used her humor to poke fun at political and social systems in our society. One target has been churches. As she’s gotten older, her viewpoint has shifted.
“I work in churches,” Wheeler said. “There are two centers of a church, the sanctuary and the kitchen. I loved church suppers. I always liked the vibe better in the kitchen. Good things happen in church kitchens.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less disrespectful. All things are possible. You can’t prove that God is or isn’t. When someone’s God belief interferes with others’ lives, then there’s a problem.”
Gun control has been another issue for Wheeler. The gunning down of innocent children particularly upset her.
“Newtown is the worst event in my life,” Wheeler said. “It was unspeakably horrible. I’m anti-gun when it comes down to guns in the hands of children and the insane. There needs to be some serious laws about guns. We have more regulations about our cars than we do about guns.
“I’ve seen some rabid hate from the right. There’s this attitude of ‘My way or the highway’. Terrorists think the same way. I hope I don’t hate what I don’t understand.”
Wheeler sometimes sparks reactions to her songs and her opinions.
“I’ve gotten some backlash,” Wheeler said. “One guy walked out of a show. I think the rest of the crowd was glad to see him go.”
Wheeler also has another side, a gentler, more playful side. Her most recent CD, “Pointing At the Sun,” ends with a trio of songs about cats.
“I loved writing about cats. I had so much fun making that record,” Wheeler said. “I was so glad that Kenny (White) produced it. He really captured what I was trying to do.”
She also finds joy in her two dogs and in the wildlife that surrounds her home.
“We have lots of feeders around the house. Conglomerates (rocks) make great feeders. There are all kinds of creatures out there. I love creatures. If an ant falls into the hummingbird feeder, I’ll get a twig to save him from drowning. If I find a spider in the house in the winter, I’ll put him down in the cellar.”
Wheeler’s political passions have been stirred recently. She particularly connected to the worldwide Women’s Marches the day after the presidential inauguration.
“We went to the march in Providence. It was a great feeling, good to be there,” Wheeler said.
Though this will be her first visit to Steamboat, Wheeler travels extensively in Colorado. “I love coming to Colorado,” Wheeler said. “It has a great folk music audience and I have a group of friends in Colorado.”
She is a frequent featured singer at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons and at other folk festivals around the country. Having her play in the intimate surroundings of the Chief Theater will be a rare treat.
As for the future, Wheeler may be seeing retirement in the not-too-distant future. “I hope I make one more record. If I do, it will be my last.”
In the meantime, Wheeler will continue to tour through the heartland of America, making people cry both from her beautiful lyrics and from the raucous laughter that results from her unique view of life.
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