Daring Escape

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

Andy's first marriage also ended under unhappy circumstances: His wife died of breast cancer at age 31. Because of these shared tragedies, Andy and Chris realize how lucky they were to have found each other. "We've both had to travel really rocky roads to get where we are," Chris admits. "I think that's part of the reason why we're so thankful, and why we've made choices about our lives that most people would probably think are nuts."

Shortly after the Daring wedding, Chris took up music again--and this time she moved in the direction her father had originally suggested. "I was 25 before I fiddled," she says. "I was home for the first time in my life, staying home with my babies, because I didn't like leaving them with somebody else. But after about eight or nine months of watching the kids, I started to lose it. I thought playing fiddle would be a nice little hobby and it wouldn't require nearly as much practice time as the violin. Boy, was I wrong."

At first the Darings had separate musical agendas. Chris and Andy joined forces with numerous country-flavored combos in the Denver area, while Sarah, Noel and Erick formed their own act, appropriately dubbed I.D. Required. The latter often opened for the elder Darings at casinos and private gigs and frequently upstaged them, much to the delight of their parents. As the kids and their playing matured, Chris and Andy called on them to fill in when members of their ensembles left the fold. Finally, in 1993, Chris says, "I got tired of trying to find other people to play with--especially when I could find great musicians right at home." Shortly thereafter, Chris Daring and the Whole Nine Yards was born.

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Many great performances followed, but the Darings speak most fondly of the G-8 Summit event that found them performing for Bill and Hillary Clinton and seven other world leaders at the Fort restaurant. As the brass entered the eatery's dining area, Andy says, "We were playing a song called 'Black & White Rag,' and the Clintons walked right over and stood about two feet in front of us and watched us play. Chris was playing, and she passed the lead on to Noel. Now, this kid doesn't get shook up at anything, but I could tell he was a little worried about blowing it in front of the president."

Later, the First Couple came over to introduce themselves and talk. "When they got to Erick," Andy reports, laughing, "they asked him how old he was--and he couldn't remember at first. He'd had a birthday a few weeks before, but suddenly he couldn't remember if he was fourteen or fifteen."

Noel made a big impression on another leader in attendance. According to Andy, "Any time [Russian president] Boris Yeltsin would walk by, he would stop and listen, especially if Noel was playing, and applaud him." Such enthusiasm didn't wane after he sat down to eat. According to Andy, "During dinner, they were having their conversation, and at one point Chris finished a song and Clinton interrupted the conversation to applaud. A little while later, Noel finished playing a song, and Yeltsin did the same thing." He would repeat this gesture a few more times before the night was through, adding luster to a once-in-a-lifetime memory. "I told the kids that one day you're going to be sitting around with a bunch of musicians and one of them will say, 'I played a gig for 18,000 people at Fiddler's Green once,'" Andy recounts. "And you'll get to say, 'I played this gig for eight guys and their wives. Beat this one!'"

Still, the Darings are not about to rest on their laurels. All of them practice incessantly, trying their best to improve their already impeccable techniques. On this day, Noel is in the kitchen preparing for the state fiddlers' tournament in Summit County (he went on to place third) in the company of Chris, Andy and a pair of family friends, Lisa Barrett and her 79-year-old husband Dick Barrett, a Montana resident who led Tex Ritter's band during the early Fifties. To Dick, the trick to old-time music "is learning to play for people who want to hear it."

As the others laugh, Lisa makes a more serious point: "If there's a rule, I guess it's that you should always be able to tell what tune you're playing at any given time. You can play these measures a variety of ways, but it still needs to be recognizable."

Within these guidelines, however, there's room for infinite permutations. The Whole Nine Yards specializes in progressive old-time, a blend of blues, Texan pre-swing and Appalachian mountain stomp. To illustrate the differences between the Daring approach and a more standard tack, Chris hammers out the familiar barnyard riff at the heart of a vintage traditional, "Boil That Cabbage Down." She turns up her nose as the song screeches to an end. "That's enough of that," she exclaims. "Doesn't that bug the hell out of you? I could teach you that in three minutes."

"And the sad thing," Lisa points out, "is that audiences in this country are so poorly educated about acoustic music that you could buy them with that one thing."

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