Thursday, November 4, 2004
Tony Counts, also known as Kat in tha Hat, held court last week at the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant. With a microphone in hand, he rhymed to the rhythm of DJ Founder's beats.
Kat in tha Hat's set was a mix of freestyle and pre-written rhymes designed to make those present laugh or dance or in some other way feel engaged.
DJ Founder and Kat in tha Hat perform from 10 p.m. to midnight Fridays at the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, 628 Lincoln Ave. Free. Call 871-6277.
Kat in tha Hat has stage presence that makes people feel comfortable.
"I want to preach a little bit," he said. "But I don't do the gangsta thing or break people down with my rhymes. I like telling stories and making people laugh."
He raps about everything from going to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs to working two jobs.
"I try to keep it clean," he said. "I told my mom I wouldn't swear, and I was taught to always enunciate.
"My favorite thing is when some guy in a cowboy hat comes up to me and says he's never seen someone rap before, but he liked what I did and wants to give it a chance. I like to see people open up their minds."
At age 34, Counts didn't start rhyming in public until three years ago. He was at a show at The Tugboat Grill & Pub, he said, when someone invited him on stage. Those present recognized talent.
Since then, there haven't been many hip-hop shows that Kat in tha Hat hasn't opened.
People who have seen Counts on stage in the past at Levelz or Slopeside Grill -- opening for acts such as Digital Underground, DJ Logic, Papa Grows Funk or KRS1 -- probably saw him performing with DJ Cocheze. Cocheze graduated from Steamboat Springs High School last spring and went away to college.
When Doug Mouton, manager of the Rio Grande, approached Counts about doing some kind of weekly performance, he wanted to jump at the opportunity but didn't have a DJ to fill in the background.
One man rhyming in the quiet of an empty stage does not draw an audience.
Just days after Mouton's call, Counts went house shopping. He walked into Dave Thomas' condo (Thomas wasn't there) and saw a set of turntables and a wall of vinyl. Counts went home, called Thomas' real estate agent and asked for his phone number.
He was more interested in the turntables than he was in buying Thomas' condo.
Thomas had DJ'd at house parties and weddings but never in a club or with someone else. He didn't hesitate to accept Kat in tha Hat's invitation to perform together.
"It has been awesome," Counts said. "DJ Founder is a little older, and he plays music that all different generations of people can identify with."
Dave Thomas, aka DJ Founder, started spinning vinyl in 2000 when his brother died and left him a large collection of hard house and Chicago underground hip-hop records. Thomas' brother was known in the Denver area as DJ Tramp. He died of cancer at 24.
"I do it for him," Thomas said. Thomas combined his brother's record collection with his own. "It was a real healing process, organizing all his music. I really got to know him that way."
Kat in tha Hat and DJ Founder have been performing together every Friday for four weeks. They plan to continue appearing at the Rio every Friday through the winter.
"I think a lot of people see me and don't think I live here. They think I'm just passing through doing a show," Counts said. "I've lived in Steamboat for four years. I've done the Steamboat two and three job thing. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."