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Beer on a champagne budget

Cassie Pence
Special to the DailyChris Stefanetti, bass player for the Chris Hammer Smith Band, which plays at The Ritz five nights a week until March 9, transcends styles from funk/slap to straight ahead jazz and rock, but his favorite genres are R&B and funk.
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BACHELOR GULCH Why would three hip L.A. musicians all with impressive resumes be playing in a small corner at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch?The skiing, of course.My first love is harmonica, my second love is skiing, said Chris Smith, who also plays guitar and sings.

Smith, whos played other ski resorts like Telluride and Lake Tahoe, sought after the Ritz gig and rounded up bassist Chris Stefanetti and drummer Joey Finger to join him on the ride.We all like to ski. It was one of the prerequisites, said Smith of how he chose Finger and Stefanetti.Skiing is a standard line on my contract, Stefanetti added in jest.Smith had played the resort once before, and the power-people liked his energetic sound so much, it was an easy sell to invite him back. But instead of the one-night gigs Smiths used to, The Ritz set the trio up in a condo for a three-week winter residency. The Chris Hammer Smith Band jams at the Buffalo Bar from 8 p.m.-midnight Monday-Saturday until March 9. The small wooded corner that the trio has been calling its stage, with cigars cased in glass and New York Times on racks looming in the distant, belies the players large sound and individual talent. Each musician has a distinguished career of his own back home in California.Big-name tours and recording sessionsSmith played the harp solo on Say, Say, Say with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson and has recorded with a ton of high-caliber musicians including Rickie Lee Jones, Sammy Hagar, Smokey Robinson, Dolly Parton, Julio Iglesias, John Hiatt and Walter Becker of Steely Dan.Stefanetti toured with Queen Ida and won the honors of Californias best bass player. Hes played on NBCs Saturday Night Live and at the San Francisco Blues Festival, and hes currently producing his own CD, Wires and Wood.Finger toured with Lee Ann Rimes for four years playing drums in huge arenas with the country pop star. He is also tour manager for country musician Bryan White.But the winter timing of the Ritz gig works out perfectly for the musicians whose careers are based in Los Angeles.L.A. falls asleep from Jan. 1 until March, Finger said. The record industry is tallying up last years budget and studio work really slows down.From blues to rock to R&BSo for now, theyre having fun entertaining tourists and practicing volume restraint in the small space. Traditionally playing very loud, the trio tones it down a bit with an acoustic set punctuated by electric tunes in between. And occasionally, the group will stir up a late-night dance party.The set list is eclectic, a nod toward the musicians diverse influences. The band moves seamlessly from Georgia by Hoagie Carmichael to Midnight Rider by the Allman Brothers to a funked up version of Summertime and into All Along the Watch Tower by Bob Dylan. But gritty blues, Smiths passion, often dominates, along with his expressive harmonica playing. Its beer on a champagne budget, said Finger with a smile about playing down-home blues at The Ritz-Carlton. Finger also teaches skiing at Sunlight in Glenwood Springs a couple days a week and has done it for the past seven winters.Life during daylightIn addition to skiing, the musicians occupy their days working on individual projects back at the condo. Stefanetti toted his portable studio with him to work on his latest album. Finger sits online running his own business, http://www.sessionplayers.com, a network of musicians that record in their home studios and then send the music over the Internet to be used on albums. Smith spends more time on his passion the harmonica. If you goThe Buffalo Bar is open to the public and the Chris Hammer Smith Band is worth checking out. Parking at The Ritz is $5 an hour, or catch the free Village to Village shuttle at the base of Beaver Creek Mountain by the covered bridge. For more information, call 845-9090.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail Colorado


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