Aspen hatter Chris Roberts is also a promising country singer
Chris Roberts was not looking for a touring and recording career when he performed a series of small shows at the Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar during the winter of 2018-19. His music was mostly a private and personal pursuit, something the Austin native did when he wasn’t making cowboy hats in his shop in Aspen.
But among the few people who caught him playing his original songs in Hooch was music director Cory Lashever, who convinced Roberts to launch out as a rock star. Roberts now has a growing national profile in the country and jam scenes, and will release his second EP of the year on Friday.
Entitled “Lost and Found”, her main single, “Chevy Van”, is a cover of Sammy Johns’ famous 1975 song about a one night stand, here transformed into bar vocals.
Growing up in Texas in the 1990s, Roberts listened to everything from Beastie Boys and Marilyn Manson to Johnny Cash. But the sound that changed his life was the one he heard on his first trip to Aspen in 1999, Roberts said. He accompanied a group of friends who traveled from Austin to the mountains to see Widespread Panic perform the (short-lived) Aspen Harmony Festival at the Buttermilk. He had mostly been an athlete until then, playing baseball at the University of Texas.
âThey said, ‘Come on, we’re going to Aspen for this festival and see this band Widespread Panic,’â Roberts recalled recently in an interview at his shop in Aspen. âI said, ‘Who? I do not know them.
Listening to Widespread on the player here was eye-opening, but the concert experience itself was life-changing.
âI’ve never seen so many people having fun,â said Roberts. âAnd I dug the music, and it was all party. That’s when I put down my baseball glove and bought a guitar.
He played a gig in college, he recalls, but otherwise he just wrote and performed songs for himself in the years that followed.
Roberts returned to Aspen in 2013, settling there and opening his Aspen Hatter store on Mill Street. It quickly became a successful business – successful enough that Roberts could hire employees and eventually open a second location in Austin. This meant he spent less time making hats or behind the counter and more time sitting in the corner of the shop, strumming his six strings and quietly singing his songs.
Unsuspecting customers, locals and friends became his first audience and his first fans, enough of them encouraging him to do something public with the music that eventually, after a few years, he began to fall for himself. reluctantly turn to the performing arts. This took him to Hooch.
âI don’t have to do that,â Roberts said of sharing his music publicly. âBut I guess deep in my heart I have to do it. This is where I express my feelings. My songs are true and I tell a true story in each song.
Lashever was semi-retired in Aspen after a successful career in music management in Los Angeles, now mainly representing estates of deceased artists like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. Hearing Roberts in Hooch convinced Lashever to return to the game.
After watching Roberts perform, Lashever introduced himself and said, âI’m going to go back to the music business if you want to do that. “
Roberts, happy to make hats in the mountains, was obviously not on a career path in the industrial centers of Nashville or Los Angeles trying to be successful. He was playing a show for a few people at a basement bar in Aspen. But, he said, he was ready to find an audience and Lashever was inspired to help him do it. As Roberts said, âI was no longer ready to be hidden.
The first of his two 2021 EPs, “Red Feather”, was released in February. He immediately gained national attention, landing gigs at the Roberts Festival, a profile in American Songwriter magazine, and in June, Relix magazine named him an “On the Verge” artist in a laudatory article.
But the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the momentum for the launch of the late bloomer, which already has streaks of gray in its shaggy beard.
Roberts began his first nationwide tour in March 2020, performing six club warm-up concerts with a new backing band leading up to a concert event in the spotlight at SXSW in Austin. When the festival was canceled and the world stopped, rather than returning to their home in Aspen, Roberts and his team began recording.
âWe decided to move to Joshua Tree in the California desert and found a studio,â Lashever explained. âAt that point Chris and the band got to record together for the first time. He turned lemons into lemonade. We weren’t going to stop working. â¦ I think it was a total blessing for the band. They found their sound that way.
That sound, as captured on the new EP, sits somewhere on the spectrum of roots between American folk and country Red Dirt, with rough vocals and raw emotions, but with hummable melodies and rhythms. breathtaking. Roberts himself describes the sound as “the magic of hippie country rock ‘n’ roll”
The first song they recorded was “Get Down,” which came together as the band scrambled and Roberts ruffled his vocals while gazing at the desert horizon from the cabin at Skylab Studios, thinking about his career. interrupted and chanting “I have to keep this train a ‘move / I can’t slow it down.”
âI was just looking out the window and we were all like, ‘What are we going to do?’,â He recalls.
But Roberts is now bursting with music. Like he says, he can’t record fast enough.
âYou should hear the new songs,â he said. âI have a whole other album ready. â¦ The new stuff is even better in my opinion, but I’m still moving forward. I write a song pretty much every day.
Roberts is impatient and wants to bring the music out – âI’m like ‘Let’s go,’ Let’s make this deal! ‘â – but Lashever is more aiming to get the music out, develop Roberts’ radio and streaming presence, then aim for the Big New Year’s tour, maybe try again for SXSW’s booming launch when public health restrictions allow.
For now, Roberts has a concert in Los Angeles on Friday at the Hotel CafÃ© in Hollywood, followed by an October residency in Austin at the iconic blues club Antone.
âThere is a plan, but it’s day to day,â Lashever explained. “Every day there is a new protocol, like Live Nation says this and Texas says that.”
Roberts hasn’t performed much live around Aspen, not since the Hooch Race and a few rare with bands at the local pre-pandemic Belly Up music showcase. He’s ready to play more here, but has also been frustrated with the local scene, he said, especially not playing his music in his hometown stations like KSPN and KDNK even as ” Chevy Van “and the songs of” Red Feather “started hitting national radio and making rankings in Texas.
âThe radio stations, a lot of them around the country and especially some really big ones, play my song, but you know who doesn’t? Guys in my backyard, âhe said.
The pandemic’s stop-and-start effect on the live music industry has placed this late blooming newcomer in frustrating limbo. He just got a tantalizing taste of rock star life on stage, seeing his music embraced by the masses.
While the live music industry briefly came back to life this summer, Roberts landed on stage at the Allman Brothers Band’s Peach Music Festival in Pennsylvania, sharing a bill with the royalty of the jam group, whose Warren Haynes, Umphrey’s McGee and String Cheese Incident. He was in his element playing in front of 15,000 spectators and can’t wait to get back in front of such large crowds.
âI was having a hell of a time, so I want to come back to it,â he said. âI’m like, ‘Let’s do this. Can’t we just do that, like, every night? ‘ “