McCain returns to the mountains
A career that began in a “liftie bar” in Gold Peak comes full circle when one-time valley resident Edwin McCain plays the Vilar Center Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Eleven years and several best-selling albums later, McCain still reflects fondly on his days as a struggling – and starving – young musician looking for a gig on Bridge Street.
“I remember charging out as a 21-year-old, trying to find a place to live, trying to find a gig,” McCain said. “I was on the last straw, selling my gear for food, practically helpless.”
He said he made one last, desperate plea to managers at Resort Entertainment, who finally found him a spot in a local’s bar in Gold Peak.
“It was a little place, mostly locals and ski-school guys, not really any tourists, but it was great, and I got to play what I wanted,” McCain said. “I didn’t really know all the big covers that I was supposed to know, so I got to play all my weird stuff – my own songs, and covers I liked – Seal, Taylor, that stuff.”
As he worked his way into the music scene of Vail, McCain became close with others who still hold the fort on Bridge Street.
“I played with Rod Powell, Phil Long, Shannon Tanner,” McCain said. “They’re all close friends of mine. Rod lets me stay at his house. He’s the consummate host, and I don’t think I’ve ever walked into Pepi’s and not sat in on Rod’s show.”
And the fond feelings are reciprocal.
“He’s like a brother to me,” said Powell. “He covered for me at Pepi’s all those years ago, when I had a night off. I kept telling him to go back to school and finish, and then he left and became a rock star. It’s still a joke between us.”
Much has changed since the days of apres shows played to half-filled bars. McCain has put out six albums, and been behind number-one, smash hits like 1997’s “I’ll Be” and 1999’s “I Could Not Ask For More.”
Despite widespread mainstream success, McCain has stuck to his intimate, singer-songwriter performance style and roots.
On his latest release, 2002’s “The Austin Session,” McCain stripped his sound to a bare acoustic style, allowing his sensational voice and outstanding guitar talents to take precedent over the more polished tone of his former releases.
“It’s sort of a psuedo-live CD,” McCain said of his latest endeavor. “People wanted to hear the sound they heard in concerts. It ended up produced mostly in the studio, but it’s still totally genuine. We didn’t spend any time tartin’ it up. Almost everything you hear on there is how it was recorded the first time.”
The album was met with rave reviews, as fans and critics alike praised the genuine, raw sound.
For many who had devoutly followed McCain’s career, “The Austin Session” was the most representative of his diverse talents as a musician.
“I wanted to do a record that’s representative of how people will hear me in concert, at my acoustic shows,” McCain said.
So, is the album a good preview of what one can expect to hear Thursday at the Vilar?
“Yes, it’s an entirely acoustic show, in the same style as the record,” McCain said. “But the show pulls music from all six albums.”
And, what can the audience expect from such a small and intimate venue as the Vilar?
“We do big rock shows, outdoor festivals with big bands, but we also do seated, intimate singer-songwriter shows,” McCain said. “Those are the venues where we get to tell stories, where we get into the singer/songwriter mode. Those are my favorites. Those are the shows where it really feels more like just hangin’ out.”
Powell, who has played with McCain and “hooked up with him on tour from time to time,” emphasizes how special it is to catch a small show.
“He’s totally unpretentious,” Powell said. “He really connects with his audience. And he’s a great storyteller – it’ll be a great show.”
It will also be a new experience for a performer who has worked his way down Bridge Street, but never taken stage in the Beav.
“I’ve always wanted to play the Vilar, it’s a really neat venue,” McCain said.
For McCain fans and first-timers alike, there’s no better time to catch a show. He heads back into the studio in January to record his seventh album, which he says will be a return to the styles of old.
“It’ll be a full-band approach,” McCain said. “It’ll be more like Messenger – it’s going to have the same engineer, the same producer.”
But in the meantime, McCain is looking forward to a very special stop on his tour.
“It’s a pseudo-homecoming, since I called Vail home for a time,” McCain said. “And I have so many friends still living there, to get to see them, and to be in the valley, and feel a part of the valley, it’s something I’ve really been looking forward to.”
And it’s a trip long overdue.
“I try to make a yearly trek to hang out for a week, but that hasn’t happened in a few years,” McCain said with a pause. “So, I’m really excited”
So are we, Edwin.
Our former apres star takes the stage at the Vilar Center Dec. 9 at 7:30. Tickets are $20.
Sarah Dixon is a freelance writer based in Vail.
Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Vilar Center, Beaver Creek