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Wes Yoakam

Caramie Schnell
Matt Inden
ALL |

It’s been about four weeks since Wes Yoakam moved to Vail from Atlanta, Ga. to do what he’s passionate about: play music. And he’s quickly getting accustomed to living in the mountains.

“It’s going really well, it’s been packed a lot of nights (at The Club),” Wes says. “People are really cool, locals have been cool, which is more important to me than anything else- if they appreciate you, they’ll bring everyone else.”

Wes is playing exclusively at The Club in Vail, and while you’ll probably find him singing a lot of cover songs, you might be lucky enough to hear some original tunes as well.

The love of music is in his roots, after all. Wes’s father is a musician and played in a band. His uncle is the well-known Dwight Yoakam.

“My uncle – he’s who got me to play the piano,” Wes remembers. “I have a picture of me at 3 years old, and I’m sitting with him at the piano, looking up at him and he’s playing. It always intrigued me.”

Wes was born in Indiana and moved to Georgia when he was 6 years old. His passion for music started at the early age of 5, when he wrote his first song on the flutaphone. He began playing the viola around the same age and was inspired to try the piano after watching his uncle.

During high school, Wes participated in musical theatre and school plays, but it wasn’t until college at the University of Georgia in Athens that he tried his hand at acoustic guitar.

“I got to college and I saw this buddy of mine who was playing acoustic guitar and singing and I thought, that’s really cool. I played everyday until my joints swelled up and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to play.”

Not long after, Wes started his first band, called Catfish Jenkins. The group was signed with Kudzu Records during Wes’s senior year in college.

“I left school and we went out on the road and toured 250 dates a year,” Wes says. “We had a really good group of guys. We were really young and we were doing tours with bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Blues Traveler and Verve Pipe, before they were huge.”

When Kudzu Records went out of business, Wes decided to return to business school at UGA.

“That’s what I figured I needed to learn so I didn’t feel so helpless,” Wes says. “You need to know the lines that they’re feeding you because it’s a pretty rough business if you’re not educated.”

It wasn’t long before Wes had started a new band, called Big Atomic. The band was doing pretty well until the drummer and the bass player, who were married at the time, started to have problems.

“When the rhythm section of your band is divorcing, it’s hard to keep things together.”

In 2000 Wes moved to Atlanta and began searching out new band members for Big Atomic. He found what he was looking for when he met Marcus Petruska, who plays the drums, and Todd Weaver, a bass player.

“The chemistry has been undeniable, and we have played with Cowboy Mouth, CAKE and have released a self produced EP.”

Nearly three years ago Wes came to Vail for the first time, filling in for a friend and playing a gig at The Club. Things went well and he was invited back.

“It was the middle of October and there weren’t many people in town, it was just really beautiful here.”

This past winter, Wes played many nights at The Club, spending nearly two weeks out of every month in Vail. When owners, Zach Povey and Patrick O’Neill approached him about moving to Vail full time to be The Club’s mainstay entertainment, he accepted.

“I still travel,” Wes says. “I play in five cities; here, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Charlotte, and Chicago, but I’m based out of Vail now.”

Wes, who attributes his main musical influences as Neil Finn from Crowded House, Sting, Peter Gabriel and The Who, says that as far as taste in music goes, people in Vail seem to right in line with his own musical preferences.

“The stuff I play up here is the stuff I like to play – Zeppelin, Coldplay, U2, Brown Eyed Girl only every once in awhile. People here have reasonable taste. A lot of places if you tried to do what I’m doing here, it wouldn’t be fun.”

Wes has set up a small studio and is hoping to have a solo album out come spring.

“I needed a break and it’s nice to play solo for a while, it takes the complexity out of things.”

And Wes is looking forward to selling himself as a songwriter and solo artist for awhile, all while enjoying the mountains and all that Vail has to offer him.

“In Atlanta there are a lot of city things to do, but not many options geographically,” Wes says. “Here there’s so much to do, I’ll definitely be a little more well-rounded. I’m looking forward to doing some of the things out here that I can’t do at home.”

” Caramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vailtrail.com.


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