Tom Ross: A magical night in the tent |

Tom Ross: A magical night in the tent

Master picker fits 540 friends into room

Brent Rowan might have the biggest living room in Steamboat Springs. It’s called the Strings in the Mountains Performing Arts Tent.

Rowan, the Nashville music producer, session guitarist and two-time Academy of Country Music guitarist of the year, has a home in Steamboat. He claims there’s nothing on the planet that beats a moonrise on Buffalo Pass. He just might be right about that. But on July 1, an evening when the moon was just beginning to wane, there was no better place to be than Rowan’s big living room. About 540 of his friends and acquaintances showed up to clap and sing and laugh.

Rowan walked on stage, strapped on his acoustic guitar and tapped an automated drum loop with his booted toe.

He had his audience “from hello.”

Rowan paused to announce the birth of his fourth child in March and got such an ovation I thought for sure he would fish his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans and pass baby pictures across the aisle.

Next he poked fun at the wardrobe of Steamboat landlord Curt Weiss and claimed to have purchased his own tropical shirt from LIFT-UP.

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Rowan even asked Verne Lundquist to remain seated while the whole house rose to congratulate Steamboat’s best-known voice on his induction into the National Sportscasters’ and Sportswriters’ Hall of Fame.

Rowan was back in town to catch a moonrise and entertain a couple of Nashville songwriting pards by exposing them to his favorite Steamboat audience.

People in Steamboat aren’t in awe of Rowan, just in awe of his musicianship. The familiarity breeds an unusual level of rapport among musicians and audience.

Doyennes of Strings Kay Clagett and Betse Grassby (did I just pay them a compliment or are they going to resent that label?) have always said the strength of their summer music festival is the friendly buzz performing artists sense coming from the audience.

That vibe seems to be the difference between a good concert and a magical evening.

After a string of summers hosting Nashville in the mountains, Rowan has elevated this group hug at the Strings Tent to new heights.

If you missed Sunday night’s performance by Rowan, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Skip Ewing, you didn’t just miss a concert, you missed an emotionally charged night of musical sharing.

Rowan warmed the audience up with his startlingly fluid fingerpicking style of guitar and even sang a few songs.

Chapman, who has penned mega hits for Willie Nelson and Faith Hill (“This Kiss”), is a very different musician in her personal career, recording intensely personal songs sometimes in many languages to celebrate world faith.

She knocked the audience in Rowan’s living room for a loop with the purity of her singing voice.

Ewing, like Chapman, performs sensitive songs and lives to see country stars “cut” his songs and turn them into number-one hits.

The Strings audience Sunday night didn’t immediately recognize all of his number ones, but they certainly recognized Kenny Chesney’s “You Had Me at Hello,” and Collin Raye’s “Love Me” (If you get there before I do: Don’t give up on me).

When an audience member unabashedly called out, “Play something up tempo,” Ewing’s sense of humor came out. Fresh from a horseback riding vacation on a Wyoming ranch, he recited a recently composed cowboy poem, “Ode to the Death of a Tick.”

It was about an unfortunate cowpoke who found one of the bloodsucking little boogers attached to his keel.

Ewing’s recitation and the uproarious laughter it produced won the audience over completely. So, he was just piling on when he brought his young daughter Rebecca Lynn out to sing a complicated duet.

Then, with the audience on its feet and Rowan leading a sing-along version of “Amazing Grace,” Ewing flashed his brilliance, first, forgetting the verse, then composing a new lyric in mid song.

It was a magical night at the tent. And the next time Mr. Rowan invites you over to his “living room,” you ought to take him up on it.