One Pub at a Time: Musicians in Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com
YOUR AD HERE »

One Pub at a Time: Musicians in Steamboat

Local muscian Andrew Henry supplements his band gigs with a job at the Old Town Hot Springs. Henry is currently playing with Missed the Boat and Sage & Friends.
John F. Russell

What it takes to be a musician in Steamboat Springs

❱❱ Tom Schwall

Loose Change

■ “In a good band, there are not a lot of individual egos. Everyone pulls together to create the best collective sound.”

■ “You have to have a decent sound. You can have the best musicians in the world, but if your sound is marginal, you will only come across as average musicians.”

❱❱ Pat Waters

■ “It takes talent. There are quite a few musicians in town, and you need to be able to stand out. You have to have some level of musicianship. If your vocals are not very good, the average person won’t like it.”

❱❱ Jay Roemer

Old Town Pickers

■ “It takes a lot of work to be a musician, and you have to be in the right place at the right time. It’s all about who you know.”

❱❱ Micheal Abalos

Sandrock Sound

■ “Whether or not you think it will be beneficial, you have to try and put yourself out there and network as much as you can.”

❱❱ Brent Rowan

Producer and longtime performer

■ “In my opinion, there is always room for greatness. It may take awhile, but if you are really that good and have something different to offer, there is room for it.”

❱❱ Randy Kelley

Sundog, Caliente

■ “To be a successful musician, you have to separate that from being financially successful. The best reason to play is for the love of the music, and you better not be measuring that success in dolars or cents.”

■ “You have to be smart enough to play music but dumb enough not to quit. It takes an amazing amount of dedication. I wouldn’t recommend it to make a living. I didn’t decide to be a musician, I just was one.”

¤

— For an aspiring musician, Steamboat Spr­ings may not be the first choice to make a living in. But for the eclectic mix of musicians who do move here, there is more to the lifestyle than just fame and fortune.

Some want the backdrop of a picturesque landscape as a source of inspiration. Others have said it’s the influx of visitors from around the world with the potential to garner a following of fans. Perhaps it’s the ski town lifestyle: skiing on Champagne powder during the day and then playing a few après ski events in the evening. Or maybe it’s a town small enough to allow musical artists to build momentum, gain confidence and master new skills along the way.

Whatever the initial reason, musicians who migrate to Steamboat share a common ambition to make a name for themselves.



No matter how big and out of reach a musician’s dreams may be, they have to start somewhere. And that in itself, comes with sacrifice and a price.

“It took me many tries to finally quit my job in the restaurant business and not have to go back after a few months,” said Jay Roemer, who has been the guitar player for the Old Town Pickers the past four years. “Basically, you have to pay to play sometimes in order to make it at first.”



Since moving to Steamboat in 2003, Roemer has been part of the local music scene. Wanting to offer new musicians a chance to work on their stage presence and talent, he brought his own sound equipment to what used to be The Boathouse in 2009 every Monday night. Now, he hosts the open mic event at 8 p.m. Mondays at the Old Town Pub.

Another accomplishment of Roemer’s is the inception of Bluegrass Wednesday, a weekly event that started in 2011 at Carl’s Tavern. Even through the off-season he is actively involved in these two events that have become staples in the local Steamboat nightlife and music scene.

Throughout the years, Steamboat has attracted notable bands and performers, including Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Rusted Root, The Avett Brothers, 7 Walkers, G. Love and Special Sauce, WAR and Trampled Turtles.

The Boat also is known for its many music events including the Free Summer Concert Series at Howelsen Hill, Steamboat Ski Area’s Friday Night Free Series, the Strings Music Festival summer series, the Bud Light Rocks the Boat Free Concert Series and MusicFest.

During a weekend in late February 2012, there were as many as 28 music performances or venues in town hosting a variety of musicians from across Colorado and the U.S., which is mildly consistent during the past four years based on event listings during those dates. The summertime performances, however, had more outdoor concerts and about 22 music events on any given weekend, especially in July.

From a promoter’s perspective, John Waldman has seen his fair share of national and local acts while organizing shows and events throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and South Dakota on his own or through partnerships with other independent promotion companies.

Depending on a musician’s aspirations, it can’t always be about the money for those wishing to make a career out of it, Waldman said.

“You have to be willing to play whenever or wherever because you have to love to play more than anything else,” said Waldman, who has been a promoter in Steamboat since 1984.

Local musician Pat Waters, who hails from Iowa City, Iowa, has been playing music since the fifth grade and has toured across the country with The Wailers, Rusted Root and Widespread Panic. After living in New York City, Pat Waters moved to Denver and got involved with a few bands there.

In winter 2008, Waters landed in Steamboat, where he met the original members of Missed the Boat and formed that band. In addition, he is the drummer for Wish You Were Pink, a Pink Floyd tribute band, and a co-owner of Schmiggity’s, a local live music venue.

With his experience performing at gigs in local venues, at special events and on tour, Waters said the money a musician can make in Steamboat is comparably better than what they can make in bigger cities. At Schmiggity’s, performers could earn anywhere from $300 to $3,000 per appearance.

Although there may be bountiful opportunities for a musician to make money in Steamboat, talent always will be the deciding factor.

“There are quite a few musicians in town, and you need to be able to stand out,” Waters said. “You have to have some level of musicianship. If your vocals are not very good, the average person won’t like it.”

In order to succeed, musicians also must develop a thick skin, said Brent Rowan, a Nashville music producer, session guitarist and two-time Academy of Country Music Guitarist of the Year who now lives in Steamboat Springs.

According to his discography, Rowan has worked on more than 10,000 recording sessions representing more than 100 million records sold by leading country and pop artists of the past two decades including George Strait, Shania Twain, Sting, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, LeAnn Rimes, Kenny Chesney, Joe Nichols, Neil Diamond and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Musicians need to be different and never give up,” Rowan said. “Because you are dealing with art and people’s opinions, it will get you down if you let it. But never give up if this is what you are really called to do.”

“In my opinion, there is always room for greatness,” he added. “It may take awhile, but if you are really that good and have something different to offer, there is room for it.”

Sandrock Sound, a group that moved to Steamboat in October, is so adamant about playing music that even hitting bottom hasn’t stopped the band members from following their dreams.

“The struggles that we dealt with at first were pretty tough,” said Michael Abalos, who performs vocals and guitar for the band.

Arriving to Northwest Colorado from Toledo, Ohio, the group was determined to make their mark as musicians, and the progressive acoustic rock band started performing in Craig in March 2013.

“We had a lot of challenges at first,” bass player Tyler Crane said, “like lack of a vehicle, slim job opportunities, lack of money, etc. So yeah, the starving artist? It’s a real thing.”

When the band’s three members moved to Steamboat a few months ago, they began to get their foot in the door by networking with local musicians and owners of venues in town.

“Slowly but surely, it’s getting easier by the day,” Abalos said. “We are trying to do what we love to do, and this is actually the perfect place to start out.”

Sandrock Sound has earned weekend gigs as the house band for McKnight’s Irish Pub and Loft and has fostered a following of fans.

“It takes awhile for people to build a trust with a band and for their reputation to build,” Waters said. “Sandrock Sound has very real and original songs. I think they have become really good musicians. They have a great energy on stage together.”

Small towns are known as a place where all the locals know one another, and Steamboat is no different.

“You can get to know the owners of the music venues here and can make a connection with them,” said Andrew Henry, member of Missed the Boat and Sage & Friends. “Steamboat has been a great home base and training ground.”

What it takes to be a musician in Steamboat Springs

❱❱ Tom Schwall

Loose Change

■ “In a good band, there are not a lot of individual egos. Everyone pulls together to create the best collective sound.”

■ “You have to have a decent sound. You can have the best musicians in the world, but if your sound is marginal, you will only come across as average musicians.”

❱❱ Pat Waters

■ “It takes talent. There are quite a few musicians in town, and you need to be able to stand out. You have to have some level of musicianship. If your vocals are not very good, the average person won’t like it.”

❱❱ Jay Roemer

Old Town Pickers

■ “It takes a lot of work to be a musician, and you have to be in the right place at the right time. It’s all about who you know.”

❱❱ Micheal Abalos

Sandrock Sound

■ “Whether or not you think it will be beneficial, you have to try and put yourself out there and network as much as you can.”

❱❱ Brent Rowan

Producer and longtime performer

■ “In my opinion, there is always room for greatness. It may take awhile, but if you are really that good and have something different to offer, there is room for it.”

❱❱ Randy Kelley

Sundog, Caliente

■ “To be a successful musician, you have to separate that from being financially successful. The best reason to play is for the love of the music, and you better not be measuring that success in dolars or cents.”

■ “You have to be smart enough to play music but dumb enough not to quit. It takes an amazing amount of dedication. I wouldn’t recommend it to make a living. I didn’t decide to be a musician, I just was one.”

¤

Beyond the Yampa Valley

Unlike the music meccas such as New York City, Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, Denver and Chicago, a small town like Steamboat often presents more opportunities for musicians compared with larger cities. There is less competition, more money to be made at gigs or special events and easier connections made between locals and musicians through networking.

“I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond, not that we are a big fish by any means, but perhaps it’s easier to garner a local following here because there is more loyalty among fans,” said Tom Schwall, a member of local band Loose Change that has been performing in town since 1991.

Waters said musicians usually make more money by playing at gigs and special events in a small town than they would in larger cities. Living in Denver for a few years, he said there are not as many places to play compared to the number of musicians on the Front Range. Even if the musician is talented, he said they usually can’t make much money.

“There are so many more gig opportunities here,” Waters said. “It’s a smaller community, so once you meet a couple of people in the music business here you are pretty much tied in.”

But it also takes persistence, talent and hard work.

“It takes a lot of work to be a musician, and you have to be in the right place at the right time,” Roemer said. “It’s all about who you know.”

Although it’s a good starting point for bands, Waldman said most won’t be able to get very far unless they go beyond the valley.

“To really grow into a national-level act, you would have to leave Steamboat eventually,” Waldman said. “People stay here for the lifestyle if they are not aspiring to go onto the national level.”

“There is a different mentality here, and few people are hungry for success in my opinion,” Roemer added.

Even longtime Steamboat musician Randy Kelley, who has performed in about 20 bands during the past few years, said he discovered he had no interest in chasing stardom. He got a glimpse of what it was like to be a musician on the road by traveling around the world. However, the Yampa Valley Curse grabbed him and he returned home to make a suitable living as a performer and teacher.

“The musician community here is autonomous,” Kelley said. “We are not on an interstate where we can import talent, so there is a lot of homegrown talent here. It’s not intimidating to get your start here.”

Finding a sense of place in Ski Town USA

Around the time of his first gig in 1976, Kelley said the local music scene was divided between the “rancher-country crowd” and the “hippie crowd.” Now, those divisions have seemed to slip away and been replaced with a variety of musical tastes.

Recently, the bluegrass genre has gained popularity throughout Colorado. There is even a blend of acoustic and electric thrown into the mix, as well. Kelley said there also are a lot of audiences to play to.

“As a musician, you have to listen to what people want to hear and give them what they think they want to hear,” Kelley said. “You have to give them something they didn’t know they wanted but are delighted to hear it.”

In ski towns, the audience is constantly changing, especially in the winter and summer. Kelley now plays with Sundog and Caliente, and he said new audiences keep musicians on their toes, forcing them to learn more songs and educate themselves about current music trends.

According to Schwall, musical diversity is a vital element to making it in Steamboat’s music scene. If musicians pigeonhole themselves too much into one music genre, it’s harder for them to survive or have any longevity, he said.

“If it weren’t for the change in audience, people would burn out on the local bands,” he said. “We are fortunate here to have a revolving audience of tourists who come and go so you don’t wear out your market. We can be fresh for each new group that comes to town.”

The influx of visitors to town allows musicians to adapt to new audiences and what they want to hear. It even has the potential to spread a group’s popularity to other places.

“When you start to play here, you realize who you are actually playing for,” Abalos said. “It’s those visitors from California, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Boston, even outside the U.S. This is the perfect spot to be a musician, really.”

Hitting bottom or facing harsh criticism hasn’t stopped this group of local musicians. They came to Steamboat Springs for a lifestyle and to pursue a dream, one pub at a time.

“You just have to keep going no matter what, you just have to,” Abalos said. “It’s a super efficient way of becoming a musician if you ever want to be one.” ¤


Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.

For tax deductible donations, click here.
 

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User


Explore Steamboat


See more