Steamboat Springs The last time local musician Eric Delaney saw his brother Chris was from the stage at the Tugboat Grill & Pub.
That was more than a decade ago, before Chris died in a kayaking accident in Gore Canyon.
So it was fitting that on that same stage Thursday night, Delaney won the Steamboat preliminary round of the Aspen Songwriters Competition, using the emotion and the stories from that painful time in his life as the fuel for both his writing and performing.
“Most of the music I play around here, it was written about Steamboat and about him,” said Delaney, an eight-year Steamboat resident.
With the win under his belt, Delaney will now travel to Aspen in late March to perform with five other finalists from preliminary rounds around the state. If chosen as Colorado’s top songwriter, he’ll get the chance to open the festival’s closing night concert.
“It feels really good to win something,” he said.
It was a rowdy crowd Thursday night at the Tugboat. Nineteen performers filed on and off the stage well into the early Friday morning hours, leaving judges Todd Leestma, Justin Glaza and Amy Kaiser with a tough decision when it came to picking the winner.
Kaiser, who works for the Wheeler Opera House that co-produces the festival with famed songwriter John Oates, said the inaugural competition began three nights ago in Breckenridge, and the talent search will continue in Vail, Boulder, Aspen and Winter Park.
“The response has been really great,” she said. “There’s a lot of talent.”
Early on in the Steamboat competition, the crowded bar was treated to a big surprise in a little package.
Jaden Carlson, a 10-year-old guitar prodigy from Boulder, surfaced again in Steamboat, where she sometimes travels for Nordic skiing races.
She blew nearly everyone away with the maturity of her songwriting and guitar skills that surpass those of many musicians four times her age. Listen to some of her music at www.JadenSound.com.
Several familiar names took the stage, including members of Missed the Boat, the John Wayne Band and the Yampa Valley Boys, as well as several singer-songwriters who play on the local circuit.
But ultimately, the judges decided to send Delaney, with his powerful rock chords and raspy, soulful voice, on to represent Ski Town USA in Aspen.
Delaney is more than the stage personality he exuded to crowded bar late Thursday night.
He’s a part owner of Saketumi, a father, a husband and possibly part-Energizer bunny, because somewhere among the madness he finds the time to play with three bands and pen his own songs in the late-night hours.
Songwriting is a pastime he’s indulged in since the age of 16, and Delaney, now 40, is only gaining momentum.
“This has inspired and I’ll be writing a lot more songs in the next few months before I go out there,” he said.