Tune in, turn up for Tunes for Toys in Steamboat

Buffalo Commons guitarist and lead singer and Tunes for Toys organizer Tyree Woods plays at Gondola Square at the base of Steamboat Resort during the 2019 WinterWonderGrass Festival.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Local singer-songwriter Tyree Woods had been tinkering with the idea of organizing a singer-songwriter showcase at The Press for a while, but he wanted it to be something special. 

“I was thinking, ‘How can we make this something Christmassy, more of an event than a show — something that people would truly benefit from,” Woods said, “not just get wasted and have a good time.” 

Woods batted some ideas around his network of local musicians, artists and friends and was connected to Routt County United Way, which has been working since 1982 to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of the community and helping local partners succeed in impact areas, including early childhood education, youth success, financial stability and health and crisis services, according to their website. 

United Way’s annual Holiday Exchange Market is set for Saturday, Dec. 14, so for Woods to collect toys for the market at a musician showcase the evening before would work out perfectly. 

“Tyree contacted us and said, ‘We want to do this — can you use the toys?’” said Routt County United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak. “And we said, ‘Yes, absolutely!’”

Woods got right to work on Tunes for Toys. Years ago, he’d tried his hand at fundraising for victims of Hurricane Katrina, but this was his first go at throwing a full-on supplies drive event.

Here’s the idea: people interested in attending the musician showcase at The Press should bring an unopened, unwrapped, nonweapon children’s toy to the Friday, Dec. 13, event. For every toy an attendee donates, they’ll receive a raffle ticket for the chance to win items — all donated, most by local businesses — ranging from WinterWonderGrass tickets to three dozen oysters shipped from Washington directly to their door. 

If you go

What: Tunes for Toys
When: 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13
Where: The Press, 1009 Lincoln Ave.
Information: Bring one or more unwrapped, unopened, nonweapon gifts to donate to Routt County United Way’s Holiday Exchange Market collection

None of the musicians for the evening will keep a cent earned for themselves; the several hundred dollars of performance wages from The Press will be donated to United Way or go toward purchasing more gifts for the market.

“I myself plan on going on a shopping spree,” Woods said. “It’s so fun thinking about whose hands (the presents) are going to end up in.” 

Even without the incentive of financial gain, Woods had no trouble wrangling together a band of Steamboat’s favorite musicians. Playing alongside Woods, who represents Buffalo Commons, will be JR Adams, of Yer State Birds, and John Fog, as well as several special guests. 

Real-life elves unload toys for Routt County United Way’s 2018 Holiday Exchange Market.

“The music community really showed up,” Woods said. 

Event sponsors include Old Town Pub, Butcherknife Brewing Co., WinterWonderGrass, Kozmic Roots, Hala, Hama Hama Co., Powder Tools, Little Lambs Daycare and Routt County United Way.

After Friday’s showcase, the donated toys will be brought to the exchange market, where they’ll join the other toys, clothes, grocery store gift cards and other items. Next, people living in Routt County who’ve been identified and invited to participate in the market by one of several local agencies, shop at the market for their families’ specific needs. Those who attend the market will pay for their attendance by either volunteering for two hours in the community or paying $10. 

“(This model) gives people more dignity,” Nowak said. “They get to choose what they need for their family, instead of writing down a request and hoping they get it.” 

The fact that this market operates by providing gift cards to local grocery stores, rather than an assortment of already-purchased food, continues this idea.

“We don’t want to tell people what food to eat. With gift cards, people can choose their own holiday meal,” Nowak said. 

In 2018, more than 197 families — 840 individuals — participated in the Holiday Exchange Market. This year, Nowak said more than 140 families — more than 550 individuals — were signed up to participate, as of Wednesday. 

The market’s mission is one Woods relates to on a personal level.

“As a kid, I came up in poverty, and there were times when my parents relied on things like this for us,” he said. “We live in a very privileged area, but at the same time, there are a lot of kids who come from lower-income families who get overlooked. They deserve to feel Christmas, or whatever holiday they believe in. They need a little magic, too.

“We have to look out for each other,” he said. 

In taking stock of the market’s items so far, Nowak reports that there are plenty of baby toys, but the market could use more gifts for teenagers. 

“A lot of people like to buy for babies, but anything a teenager might want — nail polish, anything music-related, handheld computer games — we need that,” she said. Nowak notes that many teenagers are playing adult roles in their families by taking care of siblings. “We really want them to have a great Christmas, too,” she said. 

People who can’t attend this year’s Tunes for Toys but who are interested in contributing to the Holiday Market can find more information about donating items and volunteer opportunities at

Woods looks forward to continuing Tunes for Toys as an annual event, and building it up over the next several years.

“The community usually turns out,” Woods said. “I’d like to think that this is going to be great.”

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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