The songs of Yampa Valley

'Dangerous' David Moran sings about life in the mountains

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When David Moran was in the fifth grade, he got his first real gig entertaining people.

In his one-man show, he played the banjo and performed sing-along songs after school three or four times a week at a pizza joint in his hometown in Ohio.

He found himself stuck on the entertainment business and eventually was enticed by the Western skyline to leave his family's dairy farm after college. He drove through the Yampa Valley one day and couldn't keep going.

Now, one of his CDs is filled with songs inspired by the Yampa Valley. There's "The Flattops' Song (I am the Yampa)," which is told from the Yampa River's perspective, starting with thick layers of snow on the mountains and ending with a river trip to Mexico.

Another, called "The Ballad of the State Bridge Line," describes coal trains moving through the valley. Moran said he got the idea after he kept waking up in the middle of the night hearing trains go past his house.

His "Stuck on Steamboat" is an upbeat tribute to Steamboat and its ability to pull people in to stay, whether or not they can afford the town.

"I'm in love with the area," he said. "Just like everybody else."

Now that he's "39 again, 39 and holding," Moran entertains mostly at guest ranches and other clubs in the Steamboat and South Routt County area.

Moran knows thousands of jokes and stories and can play a range of instruments, including guitar, harmonica and bass pedals, which he plays at the same time. He is working on his third CD.

He's at the tail end of a summer job at Pisa's Pizza and Pasta in Oak Creek, where he'll perform at 7 p.m. Sundays until the end of August.

When Moran moved to Steamboat in the 1980s, he had shows booked around the clock and across the county, from the ski mountain to nighttime sleigh rides.

"We played every place there was to play in Steamboat," he said.

He then left the valley and spent a few years in the early 1990s working on the Grand Canyon railway as a turn-of-the-century banjo player. From that character, Moran got the show name he uses today: "Dangerous" Dave Moran.

"He's a wisecrack," Moran said about the character. "Kind of a kid-provoking, grandma-joking guy."

After that stint, he moved back to Steamboat. He found the area had changed too much for his tastes and budget, so he moved to Yampa.

Moran picked up the banjo and guitar at age 8 by watching his friends and doing a lot of back-porch picking. Neither of his parents were musicians, but they always made sure he had an instrument in his hands.

Moran had a lot of guidance from Ray Harrington, a piano player and "consummate entertainer" who encouraged Moran to back him up for several years.

From Harrington, Moran learned a lot about entertaining people -- a different skill than just playing music, Moran said.

"He was a clown and a jokester and would mess with people in the audience," Moran said. "He put everything into it."

It's the entertainer's job to play to the crowd, but he can only get the type of response he wants by fully engaging his heart in what's he's doing. Entertainers have to be flexible and versatile, Moran said.

If there are kids in the audience, Moran pulls out silly children's songs; for older adults, he'll use sing-alongs from the 1920s and '30s; for a 20-something crowd, he'll tell more jokes and stories.

"I package about five different one-man shows. Depending on where I am and who I'm playing for, I switch it up," Moran said. "I play to the crowd. I'm more of an entertainer than anything else."

From Harrington, Moran also learned how to play an F sharp, a key that Moran said Harrington loved to play in and that is extremely difficult on the banjo.

"You know the difference between a banjo and a trampoline?" he said, telling yet another of his jokes. "You take your shoes off before you jump up and down on the trampoline."

At Pisa's Pizza and Pasta, Moran's jokes and songs have been successful.

"We get a lot of people calling, asking if he's playing or not," said Joel Johnson, the restaurant's general manager. "We get a lot of people who come in and say, 'Oh, we had no idea he was playing, but this is really nice,' so they'll stay a little longer."

At the restaurant, Moran doesn't play his songs too loudly, so people have a chance to enjoy their conversations as they eat.

Moran doesn't seem to mind not always being the center of attention -- that's just part of being an entertainer. And, it means more time for people to dance and enjoy themselves.

"We've had nights where the end of the night comes and we shove the tables aside and get to boogeying," Moran said.

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