Steamboat Springs Loves Free Music
Steamboat’s Free Summer Concert Series at the base of Howelsen hill is one of those things that just keeps getting better as the years go on. This year is no exception to that rule, as the music lineup is better than ever.
Before digging in to this year’s lineup, and why it makes for the music lovers perfect excuse to plan an escape to Steamboat Springs, let’s explore a brief history of the “keeping it free” concert series (but who are we to stop you from scrolling straight to the music).
The Steamboat Springs Free Summer Concert Series (SSFSCS) started in 1993 outside the courthouse downtown with just a few hundred people in attendance. Its humble beginnings were the product of a community rich in creativity, outdoor spirit, and, of course, love for great music. Among the first shows was a performance by Robben Ford, an American Jazz, blues and rock guitarist who’d previously played with the likes of Miles Davis, George Harrison, and Kiss. Since then shows have gotten progressively bigger each year, eventually forcing performers and crowds to move across the Yampa River to the base of the local ski jumping area, Howelsen hill. With a wider draw and growing participation rates by locals and visitors alike, the shows have begun to include nationally and internationally touring musicians. A brief list of notable performers includes G. Love and Special Sauce, Bela Fleck, Steel Pulse, The Avett Brothers, Hot Tuna, Ziggy Marley, North Mississippi All Stars, and String Cheese Incident. That’s right, they all played here with no charge for admission.
In order to keep the music free, sponsorship is always needed, which is where Steamboat seems to thrive. The focus on community and locality in Steamboat Springs are unparalleled, as local businesses are always looking for ways to bring in the best for their town’s visitors and locals. Perhaps one of the biggest perks of living here is the commitment to keep the community’s culture thriving. To attest to its success, expect to see crowds at this year’s shows ranging anywhere from 3,500-7,500 people, maybe even higher. Amenities at the shows also continue to progress every year, most recently including a “Local’s Lounge” for music lovers looking for a higher end experience. The $200 “season pass” includes access to an exclusive viewing area, full bar, two complimentary drinks per show, and private bathrooms (not to mention you’re helping keep the concerts free for the more budget conscious music lovers out there). So pack your bags, put on your dancing shoes and join the locals for this year’s Free Summer Concert Series. Its one of the best reasons to get out of your town, and come checkout the mountain music scene going on here in Steamboat Springs.
Summer 2016 Music Lineup
Friday, June 24 – Booker T. Jones
It can be argued that it was Booker T. Jones who set the cast for modern soul music and is largely responsible for its rise and enduring popularity. On classic Stax hits like “Green Onions,” “Hang ‘Em High,” “Time Is Tight,” and “Melting Pot” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Musicians Hall of Fame inductee and GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award recipient pushed the music’s boundaries, refined it to its essence and then injected it into the nation’s bloodstream. Sound the Alarm, the new album from Booker T, finds the Hammond B3 organ master looking ahead yet again, laying down his distinctive bedrock grooves amid a succession of sparkling collaborations with some of contemporary R&B’s most gifted young voices. Booker T. Jones Site
Saturday, July 2 – Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
Fresh off The Rolling Stones Ole’ Tour, which had the iconic group performing in numerous stadiums throughout Central and South America culminating in a historic free concert in Cuba, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is back in action. In anticipation of his upcoming release in late 2016, Karl and his band The Tiny Universe, embark on a Nationwide run that will give new and old fans the chance to experience what is highly regarded as one of the best live bands on the planet. The current touring lineup is comprised of Richmond guitarist DJ Williams, Soulive drummer Alan Evans, Greyboy Allstars bassist Chris Stillwell, Crush Effects David Veith on the keys, Seattle’s Chris Littlefield on trumpet and ace slide and lap steel guitarist Seth Freeman. Karl Denson Site
Saturday, July 16 – Hot Rize
It didn’t take long after Tim O’Brien, Pete Wernick, Nick Forster, and Charles Sawtelle first appeared onstage together in 1978 for the bluegrass music world to realize that the Colorado band, Hot Rize, was something special. And by the time they bowed off the stage as a full-time act in 1990, they’d not only climbed to the top of that world as the International Bluegrass Music Association’s very first Entertainers of the Year, but their stature was recognized across the board, with a nomination for a then-new bluegrass Grammy, a four-star album review in Rolling Stone, tours across four continents, and a legion of up-and-coming, broad-minded young musicians ranging from String Cheese Incident to mando monster Chris Thile learning their songs and singing their praises.
The reasons for the acclaim were, and remain, obvious. Steeped in bluegrass tradition through long hours on the road spent listening to the genre’s giants—their very name was a knowing nod to Flatt & Scruggs’ long-time flour mill sponsor—Hot Rize’s music was and is equally informed by a taste for the music of Leadbelly and Freddie King, swing, old-time Appalachia and more in ways that mirror the broad sweep of Bill Monroe’s influences. And while their respect for tradition was easy to hear (and, thanks to their suits and vintage neckties, easy to see), the fresh elements they brought, whether in Sawtelle’s guitar eccentricities or Wernick’s deployment of an effects pedal on his banjo, were enough to earn them the suspicion of some audience members—and the devotion of many more. Hot Rize Site
Saturday, July 30 – Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Robert Randolph & The Family Band first gained national attention with the release of the album Live at the Wetlands in 2002. The band followed with three studio recordings over the next eight years—Unclassified, Colorblind, and We Walk This Road—which, together with tireless touring and unforgettable performances at such festivals as Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, won them an expanding and passionate fan base. Randolph’s unprecedented prowess on his instrument garnered him a spot on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list, and also attracted the attention of such giants as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana, who have collaborated with him on stage and in the studio.
Most recently, Randolph has attempted to amplify the tradition from which he came by executive producing the Robert Randolph Presents the Slide Brothers album, a recording which features some of the older “sacred steel” players from the House of God church who inspired him to pick up an instrument. “This is part of my whole story, which a lot of people don’t understand,” he says. “In our church organization, playing lap steel in church has been going on since the 1920s. These guys were my mentors, my Muddy Waters and B.B. Kings. Thinking that I started this style is like saying Stevie Ray Vaughan was the first guy to play the blues. I wanted to do this record so that everybody could understand the story and start connecting the dots.” Robert Randolph Site
Sunday, August 7 – Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers
Possessed of a breezy, nonchalant style that belies his technical gifts, pianist Bruce Hornsby writes powerful songs from the heart that touch on several distinctly American traditions: pop, jazz, bluegrass, and ’60s soul. He worked for a while as a studio player and songwriter, and had his first hit in 1986 with the stirring and philosophical “The Way It Is.” After that, he continued to release albums that honored his own muse rather than the marketplace, and put together various backing bands to suit the mood and style of the genres he works in. Hornsby has also maintained a close musical relationship with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, having toured as a temporary member in the early ’90s and collaborated on offshoot recordings and live shows. Bruce Hornsby Site
As always, feel free to contact simply steamboat for any questions about local events going on in steamboat. Also, be sure to check out the “keepin’ it free website” for frequently updated information about shows this summer.