Steamboat Free Summer Concerts presents Shinyribs and Eric Tessmer
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Kevin Russell has always been a high-energy performer.
For 19 years of his career, Russell played with The Gourds, a five-piece alt-country group based in Austin, Texas. The Gourds’ work allowed each of its members to be a full-time musician; the band released 15 albums together and saw the country on tour. But for Russell, something was missing.
“What I experienced with The Gourds was that dancing was frowned upon,” Russell recalled. “It was ruffling a few feathers. I couldn’t be my true self on stage.”
In 2012, Russell formed Shinyribs as a side gig. By 2013, the new group had become so popular, and it was time for Russell to switch the focus of his career and creative energy there. The Gourds went on indefinite hiatus, and Shinyribs was taking off.
Instead of splitting lead vocals and songwriting duties the way he did in The Gourds, Russell had free reign over Shinyribs, with freedom to arrange the set list, to sing his heart out, and maybe, most importantly, to dance without a single speck of hesitance.
“With Shinyribs, I’ve gotten a new lease on life,” Russell said. “I’m not self-conscious or worried about offending someone in the group. In this entity, I’m totally free.”
Russell’s legendary stage presence — which includes not only dancing but also a long, pointy white beard, neon-colored suits, chattiness, jokes and anything else he might think of — can’t be disentangled from Russell’s singing, songwriting, band leading and arranging. It’s the sum of the parts that makes Shinyribs, Shinyribs.
What: Steamboat Free Summer Concerts presents Shinyribs and Eric Tessmer
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27
Where: Howelsen Hill Amphitheater, Howelsen Parkway
“It makes (the other band members) happy, it makes the audience happy. It creates a whole nice feedback loop of joy,” Russell said.
At a Shinyribs show, no two nights are ever the same.
“To me, that’s the fun part: the adventure of playing a new show every night, seeing all the ways you can rearrange a song and play it live,” Russell said. “It’s like a musical sandbox for new material.”
This nice feedback loop of joy within Russell’s musical sandbox is set to roll through Steamboat Springs on Saturday, when Russell leads Shinyribs onto the stage of the Steamboat Free Summer Concert. The show starts at 5:30 p.m. at Howelsen Hill Amphitheater with Austin-based guitarist Eric Tessmer also making a special guest appearance at the show.
Russell describes his music as Dr. Seuss meets James Joyce.
“I want (the audience at my show) to feel free, as free as I do,” Russell said. “I want people to feel that joy, the feeling that you don’t have to hold yourself back — you can express your body and your mind any way you want.
“A lot of men I know have problems with letting their bodies move. They’re afraid to move their bodies. I understand that fear,” Russell said. “But I want to make an example, as a 50-year-old white man with a beer belly. You can do that. Express your joy and happiness through dancing. Everybody is free to move and groove.”
“Swamp pop” comes from southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas and is performed by “roughnecks on the Gulf Coast,” Russell said. It grooves along in 6/8 time. There are always horns, and singing is in the crooner style, usually about lost love and heartache. It used to fetch lower production values, Russell said, but nowadays, not so much.
“It sounds like ’50s pop, but it’s a little rougher, a little more soulful, a little more real,” Russell said. “I always felt like I had some unconscious connection to it.”
Shinyribs began as a four-piece band, but when the groom whose wedding the band was scheduled to play requested they add a horn section, the band expanded.
“We started doing shows with the horns, and everything changed,” Russell said. “It was a dream come true.”
He noted that working with such a large group has made him better at arranging music and a better songwriter.
The eight-piece features Russell on lead vocals, uke and electric guitar; keyboardist Winfield Cheek; bassist Jeff Brown; drummer Keith Langford; the Tijuana Trainwreck Horns, with trumpet player Tiger Anaya and Mark Wilson on sax and flute; and the Shiny Soul Sisters, Alice Spencer and Kelley Mickwee. Shinyribs’ own dance troupe, the Riblets, make occasional appearances with the group, as well.
Shinyribs was named Best Austin Band for 2017 and 2018, and they won Album of the Year for “I Got Your Medicine” in 2017.
Russell never stops brainstorming new material. Earlier in the week, before starting the trek to Steamboat, Russell spent some time recording the sounds of cicadas around his Austin home and was working to build a track around it.
“Maybe I’ll make an album of music with bug sounds or animal sounds,” he mused.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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