For Evan Sitchler, one thing leads to another. The Colorado-raised cover artist started out playing Beatles songs for appreciative audiences at a neighborhood bar in Denver in 2006, but soon found success interpreting the music of Pink Floyd and David Bowie and, more recently, impersonating Jim Morrison.
"Music is in my genes," says Sitchler, 47, who grew up in Greeley and works as a tech manager by day on the CU Denver campus. "Everyone in my family is a musician. My dad was a singer in a choir for most of his life. He did his last tour, traveling across the country against his doctor's wishes, right before he died. My daughter sang show tunes and opera arias while in high school. I started on piano when I was eight and worked my way up in the school band to where I was playing tuba. Eventually I quit playing music for a while and just started listening. But when I graduated from high school, my mom asked me what I wanted for a present, and I said a guitar. She gave me a Guild acoustic. I still have it. It's beat to hell, but I keep it as a memento."
While honing his guitar chops on his newly acquired ax, Sitchler studied music, English lit and a little acting as a student at CSU; he graduated in 1998.
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"As part of a required class in public speaking at CSU during my sophomore year, I wound up doing a speech about Frank Zappa, and when I quoted him, I used his voice and mannerisms," Sitchler recalls. "Some of the feedback I got after my speech was that I should consider acting. So I took a course in the theater department, and that class made me realize that I had a capacity for memorizing lines and retaining whopping loads of material, even complex Shakespearean stuff," Sitchler recalls. "I was good at getting into character, and I learned not to take it too far. It's just a character. For example, you don't have to be drunk, you just have to act drunk. Sometimes I'll slam fake whiskey on stage as part of being Jim. People are like, 'Oh, my God, he's going to be so inebriated,' but it's just an act. We've taken it to extremes, including some theatrics where I get arrested by the cops. The idea is you get the cops' attention by using profanity, or being lewd or whatever. It's a stage act. I did get arrested once by our fake cops. Most people get the gag, but some people just really want to believe it."
While it may be a put-on, Sitchler is convincing in his portrayal of the Lizard King. His band, Save Our City, recently filled up Ophelia's in LoDo with 500 fervent fans of the late Morrison and the music of the Doors. It's a role that brings together all of his training.
"Jim Morrison was a hero of mine for lots of reasons, including his great poetry and his tremendous confidence," explains Sitchler. "He was a lightning rod of a personality. I've been doing the Doors thing for four years now, which is about the length of time that the band was actually together. It's weird for me not to play an instrument, but it forces me to really focus on singing, and I have become a way better vocalist as a result. I've also become a better listener, and it's given me a deeper understanding of the band dynamic. I mean, you're nothing without a good band and people you can count on. These guys really nail it."
Sitchler and his group, which comprises Niek Velvis on bass, Zach West on drums, Jeph Kennedy on guitar and Evan Ballinger on keys, will perform the entire Morrison Hotel album at their upcoming show at Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple on May 12.
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"Morrison Hotel is our current project," he says. "We cover the album right off the top, the complete record. It's all pretty upbeat, it doesn't get too dark, and we play it spot-on. Now that we've done it a couple times, we know that people really respond to it. Its got tunes including 'Roadhouse Blues,' 'Peace Frog,' 'Land-Ho,' and 'Indian Summer.' The Doors were at their creative peak when they made it. They still had their own producer and all the support of their label."
Sitchler, who has a firm command of the six-string, still plays Beatles songs from time to time as a solo acoustic performer and continues to field a funkified impression of Pink Floyd via his band Disco Floyd. Yet his foray into character acting and frontman theatrics is perhaps best channeled through Save Our City.
"I wanted to challenge myself with something new," he says. "I'd played guitar for thirty years and enjoyed it, but I had never done a project where I had to just sing. When I go on stage, I exit and Jim enters the room."
Save Our City, 8 p.m. Saturday, May 12, Be On Key Psychedelic Ripple, 1700 Logan Street, $10.