One Pub at a Time: Musicians in Steamboat

Steamboat Springs — For an aspiring musician, Steamboat Spr­ings may not be the first choice to make a living in. But for the eclectic mix of musicians who do move here, there is more to the lifestyle than just fame and fortune.
Some want the backdrop of a picturesque landscape as a source of inspiration. Others have said it’s the influx of visitors from around the world with the potential to garner a following of fans. Perhaps it’s the ski town lifestyle: skiing on Champagne powder during the day and then playing a few après ski events in the evening. Or maybe it’s a town small enough to allow musical artists to build momentum, gain confidence and master new skills along the way.
Whatever the initial reason, musicians who migrate to Steamboat share a common ambition to make a name for themselves.
No matter how big and out of reach a musician’s dreams may be, they have to start somewhere. And that in itself, comes with sacrifice and a price.
“It took me many tries to finally quit my job in the restaurant business and not have to go back after a few months,” said Jay Roemer, who has been the guitar player for the Old Town Pickers the past four years. “Basically, you have to pay to play sometimes in order to make it at first.”
Since moving to Steamboat in 2003, Roemer has been part of the local music scene. Wanting to offer new musicians a chance to work on their stage presence and talent, he brought his own sound equipment to what used to be The Boathouse in 2009 every Monday night. Now, he hosts the open mic event at 8 p.m. Mondays at the Old Town Pub.
Another accomplishment of Roemer’s is the inception of Bluegrass Wednesday, a weekly event that started in 2011 at Carl’s Tavern. Even through the off-season he is actively involved in these two events that have become staples in the local Steamboat nightlife and music scene.
Throughout the years, Steamboat has attracted notable bands and performers, including Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Rusted Root, The Avett Brothers, 7 Walkers, G. Love and Special Sauce, WAR and Trampled Turtles.
The Boat also is known for its many music events including the Free Summer Concert Series at Howelsen Hill, Steamboat Ski Area’s Friday Night Free Series, the Strings Music Festival summer series, the Bud Light Rocks the Boat Free Concert Series and MusicFest.
During a weekend in late February 2012, there were as many as 28 music performances or venues in town hosting a variety of musicians from across Colorado and the U.S., which is mildly consistent during the past four years based on event listings during those dates. The summertime performances, however, had more outdoor concerts and about 22 music events on any given weekend, especially in July.
From a promoter’s perspective, John Waldman has seen his fair share of national and local acts while organizing shows and events throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and South Dakota on his own or through partnerships with other independent promotion companies.
Depending on a musician’s aspirations, it can’t always be about the money for those wishing to make a career out of it, Waldman said.
“You have to be willing to play whenever or wherever because you have to love to play more than anything else,” said Waldman, who has been a promoter in Steamboat since 1984.
Local musician Pat Waters, who hails from Iowa City, Iowa, has been playing music since the fifth grade and has toured across the country with The Wailers, Rusted Root and Widespread Panic. After living in New York City, Pat Waters moved to Denver and got involved with a few bands there.
In winter 2008, Waters landed in Steamboat, where he met the original members of Missed the Boat and formed that band. In addition, he is the drummer for Wish You Were Pink, a Pink Floyd tribute band, and a co-owner of Schmiggity’s, a local live music venue.
With his experience performing at gigs in local venues, at special events and on tour, Waters said the money a musician can make in Steamboat is comparably better than what they can make in bigger cities. At Schmiggity’s, performers could earn anywhere from $300 to $3,000 per appearance.
Although there may be bountiful opportunities for a musician to make money in Steamboat, talent always will be the deciding factor.
“There are quite a few musicians in town, and you need to be able to stand out,” Waters said. “You have to have some level of musicianship. If your vocals are not very good, the average person won’t like it.”
In order to succeed, musicians also must develop a thick skin, said Brent Rowan, a Nashville music producer, session guitarist and two-time Academy of Country Music Guitarist of the Year who now lives in Steamboat Springs.
According to his discography, Rowan has worked on more than 10,000 recording sessions representing more than 100 million records sold by leading country and pop artists of the past two decades including George Strait, Shania Twain, Sting, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, LeAnn Rimes, Kenny Chesney, Joe Nichols, Neil Diamond and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Musicians need to be different and never give up,” Rowan said. “Because you are dealing with art and people’s opinions, it will get you down if you let it. But never give up if this is what you are really called to do.”
“In my opinion, there is always room for greatness,” he added. “It may take awhile, but if you are really that good and have something different to offer, there is room for it.”
Sandrock Sound, a group that moved to Steamboat in October, is so adamant about playing music that even hitting bottom hasn’t stopped the band members from following their dreams.
“The struggles that we dealt with at first were pretty tough,” said Michael Abalos, who performs vocals and guitar for the band.
Arriving to Northwest Colorado from Toledo, Ohio, the group was determined to make their mark as musicians, and the progressive acoustic rock band started performing in Craig in March 2013.
“We had a lot of challenges at first,” bass player Tyler Crane said, “like lack of a vehicle, slim job opportunities, lack of money, etc. So yeah, the starving artist? It’s a real thing.”
When the band’s three members moved to Steamboat a few months ago, they began to get their foot in the door by networking with local musicians and owners of venues in town.
“Slowly but surely, it’s getting easier by the day,” Abalos said. “We are trying to do what we love to do, and this is actually the perfect place to start out.”
Sandrock Sound has earned weekend gigs as the house band for McKnight’s Irish Pub and Loft and has fostered a following of fans.
“It takes awhile for people to build a trust with a band and for their reputation to build,” Waters said. “Sandrock Sound has very real and original songs. I think they have become really good musicians. They have a great energy on stage together.”
Small towns are known as a place where all the locals know one another, and Steamboat is no different.
“You can get to know the owners of the music venues here and can make a connection with them,” said Andrew Henry, member of Missed the Boat and Sage & Friends. “Steamboat has been a great home base and training ground.”