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Tom Ross: Free concerts affirm life is good in Steamboat Springs

Steamboat's Free Summer Concert Series isn't free, but it sure is great, writes columnist Tom Ross. He promises not to take any more of the concerts for granted.
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— Any guy who was in the audience at the Susan Tedeschi show at Howelsen Hill on Tuesday probably was tempted to return the next morning to look for little pieces of his broken heart in the tall grass.

I found a chunk of my own on the embankment over by the Poma lift. It was still smoking.

What can you say about Tedeschi? She plays guitar like Buddy Guy and sings like Bonnie Raitt channeling Janis Joplin. Oh yeah, she’s attractive, too.



But that’s not all. Tuesday’s concert was free!

Over the years, some of us have grown to take the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series for granted. If you’re an old-timer, you can recall attending the concerts when they were staged on the Routt County Courthouse lawn. Back then, we watched artists like Leon Russell and Maceo Parker tear it up.



John Waldman reminded me that Sheryl Crow once was scheduled to perform on the courthouse lawn but canceled at the last moment. The rumor was that she accepted a last-minute booking on Late Night with David Letterman. Who could blame her?

Waldman is the owner of Great Knight Productions and a veteran concert promoter. He’s still at the core of a committee of hard-working volunteers and paid staffers who make Steamboat’s summer of free concerts happen.

Joining Waldman on the concert committee are Nancy Kramer and Joe Kboudi of All That Jazz.

The truth is, the concerts aren’t really free – the artists still claim fees that range from $5,000 to $25,000.

The committee receives about $30,000 annually from the city of Steamboat Springs to help fund the series. The other main source of revenue is beer sales at the events.

Jolene Esswein is the paid event coordinator. She’s in charge of everything from making sure sponsor banners are properly hung to supervising the “employees” who serve the beer. That hard-working crew is compensated only with the tips people leave in the pitcher on the counter.

Chris Kaminski and Hobey Early of B&K Distributing sell the beer to the concert committee for a discounted rate and work hard throughout the shows, tapping fresh kegs.

Esswein said city employee Jeff Nelson is an invaluable ally for Howelsen concerts, as is Lance Hatfield of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. for the shows held at Headwall. The ski area’s Kent Kirkpatrick even volunteers to measure precipitation in case a deluge cancels a concert and compels the committee to invoke its insurance policy.

Morgan Riddell of Morgan Systems works closely with Esswein while putting up the stage and sound system. On the day of a show, they toil from 9 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m.

The city’s community service officers keep everyone safe without being intrusive. Other Steamboat locals put on official T-shirts and maintain security backstage.

So, you’d think Esswein would at least get to meet the musicians.

“I don’t talk to them. I don’t meet them. I could, but I don’t want to take their time. I’m fortunate to hear them do their sound checks,” she said. “The concert is definitely a blur in the background. I’m running from side to side, emptying trash cans and all those other glamorous tasks.”

I’ll wager that a high percentage of Steamboat residents would list the free summer concert series as one of their favorite things about the community. Sitting on a grassy hillside on a perfect summer evening and listening to a major artist – for free – seems to send the nonverbal message that life in Steamboat is good.

Waldman has many great memories over the past 14 years or so from performances by Bela Fleck, Little Feat, Delbert McClinton, Jimmie Vaughan and last summer’s amazing show by Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

He almost was as thrilled as I was with the Tedeschi show.

“That night showcased what the summer concert series has become,” Waldman said. “We had a great artist and a diverse crowd of people of all ages having a great time.”

Tedeschi and her band are scheduled to open for Los Lonely Boys tonight in Concord, Calif. I’ll be in the basement with my Stratocaster plugged in, riffing along with one of her CDs.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already looking forward to next summer. Maybe Sheryl Crow will make a swing through Colorado and experience remorse about that canceled date more than a decade ago. I promise not to take the show for granted.


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