Freedom of having nothing to prove

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Kip Strean was packing up his equipment after a DJ gig at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel when he stopped to watch Paul Potyen playing the piano. Potyen moved to Steamboat Springs after a long music career in California and is starting a new life, free of name recognition and expectations.

"I just sat and watched him," Strean said. "He is finding himself again, the same as me. He was not really concerned with what others were thinking about him. He was just having a good time."

What: Kip Strean When: 8 to 11 p.m. Fridays Where: Geeks Garage, 730 Lincoln Ave. Cost: $5

Strean was inspired. He moved to Steamboat Springs in 2000 after a long music career in Chicago. After decades playing in the same city, it was an eye-opener to be in a place where no one knew who he was, he said.

But there was freedom in it. His music could move in whatever direction he chose.

"I don't have to prove myself anymore," he said. "I'm not chasing the dragon anymore."

For the past four years, Strean has played at and hosted a weekly open mic night at Geeks Garage, and last year, he played in the band The Lone Survivors. But it wasn't until he saw Potyen play that he realized it was time to take a big step forward by scheduling a regular Friday night gig -- a solo gig.

Since his first paid performance as a 19-year-old, Strean always has played with other musicians. He started in Chicago playing the coffeehouse circuit on Lincoln Avenue and in Old Town as part of a trio called Three Penny Opera.

"We were playing original songs that sounded a little like Frank Zappa and Pentangle," Strean said. "It was real experimental -- whether those experiments worked is another question."

One of the members of the band left for college and the remaining two, Strean and Russ Daughtry, hit the road. They were booked by the same agency as REO Speedwagon, a popular band at the time, and Strean's band toured with them. Strean and Daughtry opened for other big names including Blood, Sweat and Tears; Jeff Beck and Survivor.

The duo got their break when Jim Peterick of Survivor asked them to play on his album.

"We were in the studio, meeting all these great people, and it opened a lot of doors for us."

The duet eventually became a band called Simply Vintage that played across Chicago for more than a decade. They played the Taste of Chicago and in Wrigley Field before the Cubs played. They played until 1998 when Daughtry was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease.

"In 1998, I had to make some decisions," Strean said. "I'd always wanted to come to Colorado. My favorite musicians had places here -- Steve Stills, Graham Nash, Dan Fogelberg -- and I'd been hearing them sing about it for years."

In 1999, he came Steamboat to visit his daughter and fell in love with the town.

"I went back to Chicago feeling like a stranger. All I wanted to do was pack it in and start over in Steamboat."

A week before Strean left Chicago, Daughtry passed away. They stayed up one night drinking wine and listening to the albums they had just recorded. Daughtry died the next day.

His death marked the end of an era.

Friday night marks the beginning of a new one.

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