Vail musician finds success in songwriting |

Vail musician finds success in songwriting

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyBrendan McKinney, center, performs at the Vail Jam, held in March at the Marriott in Vail.

VAIL, Colorado –In the winter, Brendan McKinney spends many of his nights singing and strumming around Colorado’s Vail Valley – at The Red Lion, Mezzaluna, the Park Hyatt and more – but like some locals, when the snow starts to melt, he skips town. This April and May, McKinney will be traveling between Vail and Nashville, where he’ll be writing, recording and performing a few shows.

Though McKinney is probably best known around town for his apres gigs, he’s much more than just a cover artist. Last month his song “Just Like Z’s Blues” played on a new show on FX called “Justified,” which airs on the station Tuesdays at 8 p.m. McKinney’s wife, Diana, DVR’d the show because McKinney was working. A few other songs from the same 2006 album, “My Dad’s Car,” have made it onto national television shows through an L.A. company called RipTide Music.

So what was it like to hear his own voice come through the television’s speakers?

“I felt a little strange but it’s great to have something I wrote be a part of a show I really like,” McKinney said. “I DVR the show every week now – it’s a cool show and I’m a fan.”

The show’s producers have a few other songs they’re considering for future episodes as well, he said.

McKinney, who’s been performing in the valley for eight years, also scored a record deal with Adroit, an independent label in Nashville.

“Brendan has worked incredibly hard and he is seeing some payoff,” said Phil Long, who owns The Red Lion in Vail where McKinney plays the three nights a week when Long himself isn’t entertaining the after-ski crowd.

“He is a raw, honest songwriter,” Long said. “I would say that is key in respect to the notability he has received in Nashville. Nashville is a spiritual, kind of organic place where integrity is everything and if you’re not honest in your songwriting, you are found out.”

McKinney will be back on stage this summer. Look for him on Friday afternoons at the Park Hyatt in Beaver Creek, at Pepi’s in Vail on Sundays and Mondays, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Red Lion.

Wherever you catch him, one thing is certain, McKinney said, No two shows are ever the same,

“Well, I love that every day and night is different from the last,” he said. “People come here from all over the country, and the world, as well as right up the road. A new group comes in every four or five days and keeps it fresh. That’s what energizes you – and people come back year after year to see you.”

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

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