Daring Escape

Chris and Andy Daring left a life of luxury for the old-time music they love.

In 1989, Andy Daring was a successful mortgage banker with a six-figure income and a lifestyle to match. But he was also a guitarist who played alongside his wife, Chris, a gifted fiddler whom he had married five years earlier--and when he resolved to quit his day job in part because he wanted to support Chris's music more actively, his friends "thought we were out of our minds," he says. "A number of them drifted away from us real fast. We frightened them somehow."

The decision doesn't look quite so crazy now. Seven years after Andy turned his back on a profitable career, Chris became the first woman in history to win the National Old-Time Fiddle Championship--and a few months ago, her band, Chris Daring and the Whole Nine Yards, featuring Andy and their three children (bassist Erick, 15, fiddler Noel, 17, and guitarist Sarah, 18), wowed the dignitaries at the G-8 Summit. Furthermore, the Darings believe that the group's just-released first CD, Chris Daring and the Whole Nine Yards, will introduce many more listeners to an act Chris refers to as "the Texas fiddle Partridge Family."

At the Darings' Arvada home, music is the defining motif. On walls near a framed needlepoint that reads "This Home Is Owned and Operated by Divine Love and Cannot Fail" are photos of the clan's musicians at several stages of their development, as well as a slew of trophies and mementos from many of Chris's award-winning violin students. (She recently left her position as a music instructor at a local private school in order to teach her eighty pupils at home.) Likewise, music tends to dominate most conversations. For instance, a discussion between Erick and Chris about troubles he encountered in registering at Arvada West High School quickly leads to the subject of the school's pops band, in which Noel and Erick hold membership, and the hazing the teens have taken over the years with regard to the old-fashioned music they play.

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"My kids have been getting teased from day one, because it's a dorky thing to play the fiddle," Chris says. "They got a lot of crap for that from kids at school. But Sarah used to tell me, 'You know, Mom, the loser group--they're still losers.'" Sarah, meanwhile, has been gigging regularly with the Whole Nine Yards in addition to appearing live with an area ska outfit.

Erick concedes that he, too, once caught flack from classmates about the project but reports that this is no longer the case. "Now," he claims, his fist raised, "they say, 'You're making money!'"

They are, indeed--and the fact that parents and children are doing it together makes for some unique dynamics. At one point Chris reveals that several songs in the band's set will be dropped soon because of Erick's changing voice. Erick reacts defensively to this announcement, asserting, "Well, we wouldn't have to if you guys could transpose."

After taking a deep breath, Chris sternly advises Erick to go upstairs. As soon as he's gone, she declares, "What a dorky thing to say. He's playing all of four notes, while Noel and I are playing 32--and twin fiddles." She adds, more gently, "The way we do things around here is that if any one of the kids, from a parent/child standpoint, does anything dumb, you've got to climb on them. But ten minutes later, you're fine. You take care of it when it happens and then it's over with, so you don't have to deal with a kid feeling like everybody's mad at him for two weeks. That's counterproductive."

As for the Whole Nine Yards, Chris feels that it has been an undeniably positive influence on her kin. "The music is sort of a celebration of our life. We have a good time together, and it's been really wonderful for our kids and all of the students. We've been able to provide a really good, constructive thing for them to be involved in. These teenagers are not going to get in trouble, and they're not drinking or smoking dope--because they know what that'll do to their fiddle playing."

That the Darings' offspring are so devoted to their craft is a bit ironic. After all, when Chris was a child, she had no interest in the sounds she later learned to love. "My dad was always sticking me in front of the TV and Hee Haw and saying, 'Don't you want to play these hillbilly tunes?'" she remembers. "And I'd say, 'No, Dad, I don't want to be Roy Clark when I grow up.' He even took me to Nashville when I was twelve, stood me out in front of the Ryman and asked, 'Don't you want to play here when you get big?' And I'd say, 'No, Dad, I'm going to play Carnegie Hall.'"

It took many years for her to alter her thinking. As an adult, she continued to be interested in the violin, but her first husband objected to this diversion in no uncertain terms. "He forbade me to play," she recalls with contempt. Rather than going into detail about the reasons that she ultimately left him, she holds out her delicate arms and rotates her hands, causing her wrists to grind like a pair of worn-out gears. "That's from him," she says simply. "It didn't take me long to figure out that was not the way I wanted to live."

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