Tom Ross: Free concerts affirm life is good in Steamboat Springs



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Steamboat's Free Summer Concert Series isn't free, but it sure is great, writes columnist Tom Ross. He promises not to take any more of the concerts for granted.

— Any guy who was in the audience at the Susan Tedeschi show at Howelsen Hill on Tuesday probably was tempted to return the next morning to look for little pieces of his broken heart in the tall grass.

I found a chunk of my own on the embankment over by the Poma lift. It was still smoking.

What can you say about Tedeschi? She plays guitar like Buddy Guy and sings like Bonnie Raitt channeling Janis Joplin. Oh yeah, she's attractive, too.

But that's not all. Tuesday's concert was free!

Over the years, some of us have grown to take the Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series for granted. If you're an old-timer, you can recall attending the concerts when they were staged on the Routt County Courthouse lawn. Back then, we watched artists like Leon Russell and Maceo Parker tear it up.

John Waldman reminded me that Sheryl Crow once was scheduled to perform on the courthouse lawn but canceled at the last moment. The rumor was that she accepted a last-minute booking on Late Night with David Letterman. Who could blame her?

Waldman is the owner of Great Knight Productions and a veteran concert promoter. He's still at the core of a committee of hard-working volunteers and paid staffers who make Steamboat's summer of free concerts happen.

Joining Waldman on the concert committee are Nancy Kramer and Joe Kboudi of All That Jazz.

The truth is, the concerts aren't really free - the artists still claim fees that range from $5,000 to $25,000.

The committee receives about $30,000 annually from the city of Steamboat Springs to help fund the series. The other main source of revenue is beer sales at the events.

Jolene Esswein is the paid event coordinator. She's in charge of everything from making sure sponsor banners are properly hung to supervising the "employees" who serve the beer. That hard-working crew is compensated only with the tips people leave in the pitcher on the counter.

Chris Kaminski and Hobey Early of B&K Distributing sell the beer to the concert committee for a discounted rate and work hard throughout the shows, tapping fresh kegs.

Esswein said city employee Jeff Nelson is an invaluable ally for Howelsen concerts, as is Lance Hatfield of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. for the shows held at Headwall. The ski area's Kent Kirkpatrick even volunteers to measure precipitation in case a deluge cancels a concert and compels the committee to invoke its insurance policy.

Morgan Riddell of Morgan Systems works closely with Esswein while putting up the stage and sound system. On the day of a show, they toil from 9 a.m. to as late as 11 p.m.

The city's community service officers keep everyone safe without being intrusive. Other Steamboat locals put on official T-shirts and maintain security backstage.

So, you'd think Esswein would at least get to meet the musicians.

"I don't talk to them. I don't meet them. I could, but I don't want to take their time. I'm fortunate to hear them do their sound checks," she said. "The concert is definitely a blur in the background. I'm running from side to side, emptying trash cans and all those other glamorous tasks."

I'll wager that a high percentage of Steamboat residents would list the free summer concert series as one of their favorite things about the community. Sitting on a grassy hillside on a perfect summer evening and listening to a major artist - for free - seems to send the nonverbal message that life in Steamboat is good.

Waldman has many great memories over the past 14 years or so from performances by Bela Fleck, Little Feat, Delbert McClinton, Jimmie Vaughan and last summer's amazing show by Big Head Todd and the Monsters.

He almost was as thrilled as I was with the Tedeschi show.

"That night showcased what the summer concert series has become," Waldman said. "We had a great artist and a diverse crowd of people of all ages having a great time."

Tedeschi and her band are scheduled to open for Los Lonely Boys tonight in Concord, Calif. I'll be in the basement with my Stratocaster plugged in, riffing along with one of her CDs.

I don't know about you, but I'm already looking forward to next summer. Maybe Sheryl Crow will make a swing through Colorado and experience remorse about that canceled date more than a decade ago. I promise not to take the show for granted.


angelina_jelly 10 years, 8 months ago

Free concerts are disgusting. I would never attend a "free" anything. The only thing worse about summer in Steamboat Springs than the free concerts are those low class triple crown teams.

Do those triple crown families own Wendy's stock? One would think by the way their GMC Yukons are lined up in the drive through.

If I was not so busy reading my September issue of Vogue I would start a petition to ban these events--triple crown AND free concerts.

Free events attract bums, sluts, germs and disease.

Keg beer? That is revolting. The thought of it makes me want to puke.

Public restrooms that are used by people who attend "free" events? No thanks.

I would rather die than have to attend a free concert. Unlesss, of coarse there is a V.I.P. booth and a private restroom to suit my delicate sensibilities.

Luckily I can flee to Aspen when the riff raff invade.


angelina_jelly 10 years, 8 months ago

Numbers, dear, I have a confession....I AGREE with you far more than I ever reveal.

Thank you for recognizing the sarcasm. You are a smart women!

However, I am serious in that I think that the free concerts have become sort of a "pick up" place where people slut around, get drunk "hook up" and make drug connections.

If I had children, I would not take them to a "free concert" where they would be exposed to women who slut around, I mean strut around, showing their belly rings, people getting drunk on cheap beer and look for a one night stand.

Are these free concerts really events that are suitable for families? Or are they really, in fact, becoming what I think they are: a mating pen for tatooed dirty pierced bone smokin' keg beer drinking dregs-- a place for 40- something and up divorcees prowl for sex?and drugs? It disgusts me. You people know who you are..... Beware. Do NOT sit on any toilet seat in the vicinity of a free concert. Run away before that toilet seat jumps out and infects you with some yet unnamed disease!


angelina_jelly 10 years, 8 months ago

Numbers, I have to tell you that my blood is BOILING right now after reading about the ferret that was abused at the Rainbow Event.

I have not made a lot of comments in the past few months. But I agree with everything you have ever posted about the Rainbow people.

I am sickened by the damaged to the forest. Abuse toward animals sickens me more than I could ever put into words. Many animals and children were neglected and abused at that event. This DISGUSTS me.

Do not free concerts attract the same element as these Rainbow events? I submit that they do. The free concert attendees are not as far down the spectrum as the Rainbow attendees, I admit. But they are, to some extent, falling toward the same point on the spectrum.


not_in_my_boat 10 years, 8 months ago

Has anyone else noticed how elitest this thread sounds?


not_in_my_boat 10 years, 8 months ago

dang about an edit previous post button?


cforevereyez 10 years, 8 months ago

I noticed.

Susan Tedeschi was fantastic. Michael Franti and Spearhead rocked. In fact, I think this was the best summer of free music EVER in Steamboat. The beer was good and the crowd even better. Thanks to the people who work hard to put these concerts on.

How these 2 ladies can complain about free events they don't attend, is beyond me. There's a difference between sarcasm and cynicism, and these 2 are as cynical as they come. I'm glad they stayed home. Makes for a better time for the rest of us.

Tedeschi is playing Jazz/Aspen Sept. 1 with LeAnn Rimes.

Franti heads the "Power to the Peaceful" gathering in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Sept 9th. 5 bands and FREE admission. 50,000 expected to show up. I'll be there.

Thanks for a great summer Steamboat!!!!!


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