Music changed his life |

Music changed his life

Autumn Phillips

When James Clark steps on the stage, he becomes a different person. He becomes James Clay.

James Clay is much different than the James Clark who works at Safeway bagging groceries.

“(James Clay) is outgoing. He’s not sitting around the house, and he has all these ladies around him,” Clark said.

Picking up the guitar for the first time four years ago was the best thing that ever happened for Clark, he said. “I’m more upbeat. I go out and meet people.”

Music changed his life.

“I was watching other people play music, and it inspired me,” he said. Clark performed in Steamboat Springs for the first time in 2002, when he walked into an open mic night at Geek’s Garage.

Recommended Stories For You

“I was nervous,” he said. Since then, rarely a week passes when he doesn’t perform. After Geek’s Garage canceled its open mic night, Clark started performing at Mahogany Ridge Brewery and Grill’s Monday night open mic. He catches the bus and arrives at about 7:30 p.m. to make sure he gets on the list.

Clark’s performances are a mix of spoken word and acoustic guitar. His lyrics are written on crumpled pieces of notebook paper. Even if you know the words to a James Clay song you’ve heard before, it’s impossible to sing along. He’s always adding lines depending on what’s on his mind at the moment.

He strums along with his poetry, telling the stories of the people he sees during the day at the grocery store, but mostly writing about “heartbreak, women and beer,” he said. “That’s what everyone likes.”

Most nights, he stays up late writing music.

“When I’m not at work, that’s what I do almost all the time,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to sleep because I get a song in my head, and it keeps me awake.”

Clark came to Colorado as a child on family vacations. When he turned 22, he asked his parents to let him stay.

Clark has cerebral palsy, and his family worried about his ability to live on his own. They found him a condo on the mountain and arranged for Horizons Specialized Services to help him live on his own while they stayed in Philadelphia.

In almost every song, Clark mentions his “life in Colorado.”

“I really like it here,” he said.