Hal Ketchum sings about love and life
BEAVER CREEK – “Be free little birdie.” That’s what legendary country music singer-songwriter Hal Ketchum’s parents said when he wanted to try yet another instrument, artistic endeavor or occupation.
From early childhood on, Ketchum’s parents embraced his creative spirit and nurtured his imagination. They even let him live in, and captain, his own pirate ship (aka the dining room table) once. To their credit, Ketchum is now a true Renaissance man recognized for his skill as a musician, painter and master craftsman.
While all his talents deserve notice, it is Ketchum’s music that takes center stage Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek. After a six-month hiatus, Ketchum is eagerly back on tour “catching up with old friends.””I’m a real hambone,” Ketchum said. “I could sing every night. I am continually amazed that this is my job and I believe I am the luckiest person in the world.” Country music fans count themselves lucky, too, as Ketchum continues to produce hit after hit. Ketchum first garnered wide attention with his second album, 1991’s “Past the Point of Rescue.” The title song and “Small Town Saturday Night” both reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. Ketchum went on to sell more than 4 million CDs and scored 15 Top 15 hits. Concertgoers can expect to hear many of these favorites Wednesday night, along with some of his newer songs. “I don’t have a traditional set list,” Ketchum said. “I have a great band and together, we draw from about 50 songs. If the crowd wants to hear it, we’ll play it. Holler it out, and we’ll give it a try, even if it’s been five years since I last sang it. I like to say I have good health and a bad memory, though. If I can’t remember, I’ll ask the audience to sing me the second verse. Together, we’ll make something happen.”This take-it-as-it-comes, make-the-best-of-it-spirit, resonates in Ketchum. His craft invigorates and heals him. In 1998, a neurological disorder called Acute Transverse Myelitis interrupted Ketchum’s career and left him partially paralyzed. Doctors said he might never walk again or even play guitar. But just one year later, Ketchum was married and with his wife Gina’s support, walked back into the studio and created the critically and commercially acclaimed album “Lucky Man.” Released in 2001, the aptly titled record seemingly foreshadowed the rewarding and healthy life Ketchum and his wife lead together now, along with their three daughters, 7-year-old Fannie Rose (adopted from a Bulgarian orphanage), 4-year-old Ruby Joy and 8-month-old baby Sophia Grace.
“I’m singing from a good place these days,” Ketchum said. “I have to do it. It’s like breathing for me, natural and necessary. I’ll sing anywhere there is oxygen.” While there may be a little less oxygen in Beaver Creek’s high altitude venue, Ketchum’s show promises to be full of life. “My music is like snapshots of where I’ve been, headed to where I am now,” said Ketchum. “I make myself available to inspiration. There are guitars all over my home. I have a recording studio there, along with an art studio, and I can drift around my property creating whatever, whenever, the urge strikes.”For Ketchum, art does imitate life. He is known for emotive, vocal vignettes that capture the heart and mind of his listeners. Ketchum claims he looks for songs that he can climb inside of and own for three or four minutes. Perhaps that is why his extensive body of work hints at the chronicles of his own life journey. Fans will be happy for him then, with the release of his upcoming album. He says it is made up entirely of love songs.
“There is enough dark stuff in our world right now. I thought a record of love songs was a nice message. The tempos vary, but the theme is consistent throughout.”That is a good way to sum up Ketchum’s career too, varied but consistent – consistently good according to countless fans and the world of country music. Like his hit song says, after listening to Ketchum, many “can’t get the melody out of my head you see.” See for yourself at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. To buy tickets, call 845-TIXS (8497) or go to vilarcenter.org.Down-home musicHal Ketchum7:30 p.m. WednesdayVilar Center for the Arts in Beaver CreekVail, Colorado