Nicole Inglis: Howelsen Hill the perfect concert series backdrop |

Nicole Inglis: Howelsen Hill the perfect concert series backdrop

Nicole Inglis

— In the dim parking lot lights, only a few volunteers were left at the base of Howelsen Hill, where they lugged recycling bins around the parking lot as they cleaned up after thousands of concertgoers who long since had streamed downtown.

Less than an hour after the legendary 1970s funk band WAR left the stage, I had to make a quick trip back to the Howelsen Hill Lodge to pick up my bike that I had left outside the amphitheater as I was lost in post-show chatter.

It was there that I stumbled upon a simple scene I won't forget.

From the bike rack, I glimpsed inside Howelsen Hill Lodge a group of men I recognized as the musicians of WAR, all gathered around one of the picnic tables eating sandwiches.

I felt a bit guilty knowing this group of musicians expected and deserved their privacy after a two-hour, high-energy show.

I lingered for just a moment before I rode off, unable to shake the serene image from my mind.

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What struck me was the significance of the small ski lodge and the hill itself. Did these musicians — or any of the greats who stop in Steamboat for the Free Summer Concert Series and use the lodge — ever look around and wonder about who else has sat on those benches, eating and making conversation?

Even if they're not aware, the parallels are clear.

In that lodge, where keyboard player Lonnie Jordan calmly relaxed after singing his band's 1975 hit "Low Rider," young skiing hopefuls have sat while their parents buckled their boots or their coaches pulled on their gloves. They drank hot chocolate there in the family-friendly environment, a place where some of them grew up to be world-class skiers and snowboarders.

Musicians similarly trained in their craft also have passed through.

Did Sam Bush make a pit stop at the lodge? Did any members of the String Cheese Incident or the Grateful Dead stretch their legs at the base of the Face, where Olympic medalists still strap on their skis?

And it's not just the lodge.

Howelsen Hill itself is the perfect stage for already huge as well as up-and-coming musical acts.

How fitting that today's musical greats like Grace Potter and Michael Franti play up against a backdrop of ski jumps where the Olympic greats train.

The Western hospitality of Steamboat and its rich history combine to make Howelsen Hill a venue at which the young skiers get a high-level ski education and the rising rock stars, a crowd of thousands of screaming fans.

But it's also a place where snowball fights reign in winter and children walk around with Hula hoops in summer.

Today, at the final installment of the 2012 series, you'll see a nearly 10-year-old Portland-based band complete with dance, acrobatics, funk music and a five-person percussion section.

MarchFourth is rising the ranks of the live music scene, and its Aspen show this weekend costs $25.

But in Steamboat, you get to see them for free at a place where heroes — athletic and musical — feel just as at home as we do.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

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