Earlier this year, Celeste Krenz and her husband, Bob Tyler, surrendered their spot as one of Colorado's country-music power couples and moved to Nashville -- the revered as well as derided epicenter of the twang-centric universe. Now they're part of a community that's powered almost entirely by the music-minded, from the suits on Music Row to the loan officers at the local bank.
"Music is taken so seriously here," Tyler says. "Like, if you're trying to get some money for a car or something, if you're a musician, you can actually put that down on your application. It makes you feel like there's a huge chance you can make a living at this.
"It also makes you feel less crazy, like you're not nuts," he adds, laughing. "In Denver, most of your friends are telecommers or dot-commers or whatever, pulling in these huge salaries. And they love you, but they think you're crazy because you're always just squeaking by."
Creatively, Krenz and Tyler did more than squeak by when they still claimed a Denver address. They ran their own record label, and through it released four Krenz albums, including 2000's triumphant Celeste. They were often found in the company of regional luminaries like Tim and Mollie O'Brien, Sally Van Meter, John Magnie and the Yonder Mountain String Band, artists who share their talent for contemporary folk, country and roots-inspired sounds. But the couple felt they'd topped out their Front Range opportunities, so they moved to Music City, where Tyler had spent a decade before coming to Colorado in 1990.
"We started to feel that we were unable to grow in Denver," Tyler says. "No one was really feeding us, and we couldn't find anyone who could teach us what we needed. Colorado has a lot of wonderful musicians, but Nashville attracts the best from all over; everyone is trying to excel in an art. It's like a continuous school."
Krenz's motivation for the move was slightly more practical. The mother of a two-year-old, she welcomed the Tennessee town's laid-back lifestyle -- as well as its proximity to like-minded players.
"It's such a cute little town," she says. "Everywhere you go, you can hear really great music. And it's given me about 80 percent more time to focus. My writing has grown so much since I've been out here. I'm taking on other instruments -- the keyboards and the dobro and mandolin -- and getting a lot more solid in my guitar playing. On the album I'm working on, my guitar and vocals are really the main thing. So Nashville has really been wonderful in that respect."
Krenz is still writing material for her new album, which she expects to release next spring. In the meantime, she's seeking inspiration during a ten-city tour with Texas songwriter Gary Morris. Krenz's upcoming show at Swallow Hill on Friday, November 29, is sandwiched between those dates; Tyler opens the evening before his wife takes the stage.
"I'm only going to be in Denver for eighteen hours," Krenz says. "I can say hello to the mountains, and then I have to say goodbye."
You gotta have a gimmick, or so some learned strippers once advised Gypsy Rose Lee. And in the current brouhaha over burlesque, that wisdom has proved more sage than ever.
Over the last few years, burlesque -- until recently an art form thought to have gone the way of the threepenny opera and the Puttin' on the Hits television series -- has grown from a grassroots, community-theater-style movement, as represented by amateur troupes like Denver's Burlesque As It Was, to a bona fide performance phenomenon, slinking its way out of smoky clubs and into legitimate theaters across the country. Next year, in fact, the first full-blown burlesque tour -- organized by local promoter Jerri Theil, of Nobody in Particular Presents -- will grind its way through ten American cities and two in Canada.
As a result, many of the girls involved in burlesque now enjoy a kinder, gentler, classier version of porn-star celebrity. Dita Von Teese, who headlines Burlesque XXX (Mas) at the Gothic Theatre on Friday, November 29, and Saturday, November 20, is on the cover of the current Playboy, sucked into a tiny lace corset and demurely covering her bare chest with lace gloves. The Howard Stern Show has also been, er, aroused by all of this furious shim-shamming, as have VH1 and MTV.
What accounts for such rampant revivalism? Maybe it's the marriage of nostalgia, performance art and fetishism, a permissibly naughty indulgence for a crowd more likely to patronize Navajo Street galleries than Shotgun Willie's. Maybe people are just so bored with contemporary culture that they have to look back in wonder from time to time, making room for dusty forms like swing and rockabilly to thwart the course of pop culture's forward march. Or maybe it's just that people like to see beautiful women writhe around in next to nothing.
Inevitably, as burlesque grows, its innocence fades a little. While many of the early retro performances -- including Burlesque As It Was's seasonal productions -- featured female dancers of every conceivable shape and size, from pear-shaped and flabby to statuesque and Xena-like, the more professional troupes are likely to enlist actual stripper-type strippers. Von Teese's Web site is flush with her image, both nude and nearly nude, at times bound with rope, tied to chairs or frolicking with fellow femme fatales. Before burlesque's popularity swelled, a fan dance was about the most blush-inducing thing you were likely to see at a show, at least on a Denver stage. But as its title suggests, Burlesque XXX (Mas) -- which reprises a NIPP-produced show that played at the Ogden earlier this year -- promises to be a slightly more skintastic affair.
Still, Theil promises that less-than-perfect specimens will see plenty of stage time.
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"At the last show we did, there were people in the audience who were like, 'Ooh, I can't believe there are, like, fat girls on stage,'" she remembers. "But that was the whole point of burlesque. Women were not perfect back then. It was something that was open to all different kinds. We didn't screen anyone based on how their girls looked. There isn't a requirement that they be skinny or anything. I like it that you're going to see all kinds of women, just doing their thing and being free."
Ladies, start your pasties.
Department of Oops: "That's the Spirit," David Hill's November 14 profile of the Honky Tonk Hangovers, incorrectly stated that the band's new album, Every Little Honky Tonk, was released on Railbender Records. The actual label was Big Bender, an arm of the Loveland-based indie Hapi Skratch. We sincerely hope that no one sends a big bender after us.