Tom Ross: Steamboat folk singer cranks up electric energy

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The music always comes first, of course. But for me, the difference between a great live show and just a plain old good concert has a lot to do with whether the performers genuinely seem to be having a good time. If they seem bored and slightly indifferent, I always take it personally. If they're genuinely excited, well, so am I.

There were Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1977 at the Chicago Auditorium; Joe Walsh on the shores of Lake Michigan at the Milwaukee County Fairgrounds; The Grateful Dead in Des Moines, Iowa; the Boss, performing on the shoulders of a fan in the crowd at the old McNichols Arena in Denver; the Rolling Stones at Folsom Field; Bonnie Raitt at the old Capitol Theater in Madison, Wis.; Muddy Waters in the UW field house, Susan Tedeschi laying down some smoldering blues at Howelsen Hill; and most recently, Carrie Elkin and the Loose Men making believers out of a packed house in the Depot Art Center in Steamboat Springs. Carrie Elkin and the Loose Men? You'd better believe it.

Rarely have I witnessed an artist bare her soul as completely as Elkin did Saturday night before a sometimes rowdy audience that was heavily salted with friends, family and even a few strangers. Nobody paid a cent to get in the door. Was she excited to release her new CD "the Waltz," in front of a live audience? If human auras were visible, Elkin would have had a blue buzz of electricity surrounding her body, and sparks would have been flying. If she hadn't been anchored to some veteran side men such as Tom Schwall, Willie Samuelson, Mark Walker, Scott Singer, Randy Kelley and Paul Potyen, her feet might have left the ground. Elkin could have floated away, she was so excited. However, she wasn't nervous, at least I don't think so -- otherwise, her pure voice could never have conveyed the power it did Saturday night.

Elkin, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, who resides in Steamboat by way of Taos, N.M., confessed she'd had a sleepless night Friday out of anxiety that no one would show up at her free show. She even told the audience that she dreamed her head fell off and her teeth fell out. Yikes! She needn't have worried.

Elkin's band Saturday night was a hybrid -- the result of joining members of two local bands, Loose Change and Worried Men. They could have called themselves Worried Change, but that name doesn't have the same symbolism as Loose Men. So, it was an easy choice, and the band was smokin'. Elkin deliberately attempted to horrify her mother (who was tending bar during the concert) by announcing that she was perspiring heavily (I think she might actually have used the word sweat) and could use a towel to wipe her armpits. The audience laughed its approval.

Then, Elkin announced that she is a chronic fingernail biter and was about to perform a song about fingernail biting (she mentioned that she has yet to begin biting her toe nails). It was as though she was sharing personal secrets with her therapist, only she was standing in front of hot stage lights and at least 150 noisy fans.

When the band swung into the nail biting song, it turned out to be a rocker rather than an introverted folk song, and clearly, the music is all the analysis Elkin needs.

I've given you the false impression that her music is about bad habits. In fact, most of Elkin's poetic lyrics are about love and its tendency to go haywire.

If Elkin can come across with the kind of stage presence she showed Saturday night on a regular basis, she's going to achieve widespread acclaim. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that in November 2004, Elkin's artistry is on a par with that of Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt. Not yet, anyway. But she is a serious songwriter and a gifted vocalist. And with a veteran band behind her, Elkin is going places. Just wait and see. Or better yet, don't wait. Plan to see her next public performance. But because her next local date hasn't been booked, you could trot over to All that Jazz and pick up a copy of "the Waltz."

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