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There's no shortage of sweet-voiced, guitar-wielding women in Boulder these days. Toss a quarter on Pearl Street and it'll more than likely land in a female singer-songwriter's guitar case. Audiences, however, are harder to come by, and renown more difficult to achieve than that. So it's fortunate that Wendy Woo is versatile. She's a performer, a studio engineer, a producer, a promoter--and a bartender at the Fox Theatre, where she's gotten many of her breaks thus far.
"I played my first real show at the Fox's Christmas party," Woo recalls. "I just jumped up on stage and did my little thing. And two weeks later they gave me a headlining gig, and I got Brian Nevins from Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Yoshi Aono from Acoustic Junction, Brian McRae, who plays with Sherri Jackson, and Paul Armstrong to play with me. I taught them two sets of songs in a week's time, we put on the show, and it was probably one of the best I've ever done at the Fox." The theater's management agreed: Shortly thereafter, Woo was invited to open for Sheryl Crow. "It all started kind of fast," she admits.
Woo first picked up a guitar when she was eighteen. "I liked to sing a lot, so after high school I hit the road and went traveling," she says. "I brought a tiny, half-sized guitar with me and learned to play from there. Then, when I was nineteen, I took it up seriously and started playing classical." Woo subsequently studied music theory at the University of New Mexico and the University of Colorado, and everything from guitar improvisation to gospel vocals on her own.
After college, Woo picked up another skill--the ability to mix drinks for fun and profit. Since being hired at the Fox, she says she's been busy "socializing hard and promoting myself. All of my jobs go kind of hand in hand." She's made so many friends among musicians who frequent the theater that she hasn't bothered to form a permanent group. "As the gigs came up, I would field a band that would fit the gig," she explains. "I have enough players to play just about anywhere." She estimates that she's performed with nearly forty other musicians over the course of her brief career.
While Woo's ability to juggle bandmates is impressive, she's at her best as a solo performer. Her voice, which ranges from a sultry purr to a sexy growl, is outstanding, and her guitar work is even more impressive. She delivers her folk material with subtlety and tasteful restraint, but she's equally adept at rocking out. Her material, highlighted by the twangy, punchy blues of "I'd Rather Be Lonely" and "Freeze Tag" and the gentle "Doctor, Doctor," is just as eclectic.
Among those taken by the quality of Woo's work is area guitarist Michael Reese, whom she met two years ago. "As it turns out, I needed a good player for shows, and he needed someone with more material," Woo points out. "I had the material and he had the licks, and we just started doing shows together."
It was Reese who encouraged Woo to venture into studio work. She took his advice and has now converted a portion of a Boulder Heights home owned by artist Doug West into Skyline Productions, lately the studio of choice for such area regulars as Zestfinger, Band du Jour, Wicked Jest, Phunkiphino and Woo herself. "I just got lucky having an in-home studio," she says. "The house and the studio provide a really creative atmosphere. You look at Doug West's artwork and you can see where his inspiration comes from."
West isn't the only one who's inspired these days. Woo, too, has been busily completing her first CD, slated for release late this year. The project, which she's engineering herself, mirrors her live shows when it comes to accompanists; she notes that she's been "bringing in all sorts of different artists to play on it." She concedes, "It's trial and error, and I'm learning as I go. But people are always embellishing my stuff for me, so for me to be in the studio engineering other people's stuff is exciting."
She insists, though, that she has no intention of putting live performance on the back burner. "I want to play as many places as I can: bars, coffeeshops and anything else. There are enough players who are psyched to play gigs and psyched to be out there that it isn't too difficult to round up a band.
"I hope that someday I can support myself through music, whether it be through my CDs and performances--which is ideally what I'd like--or through studio engineering." She pauses before adding, "I just hope I'm not bartending when I'm thirty.