At the end of a powder day, the Vail Valley’s bars can be riotous—great places for hookups and right hooks, roundhouses and free rounds. Hardly ideal habitat, in other words, for a lounge singer, because amid that cacophony a single voice tends to get as lost as a New Jersey snowboarder leaving the Belle’s Camp backcountry gate.
Unless you’re Andy Cyphert. On a particularly rowdy Monday evening at Pepi’s on Bridge Street, he steps up to the mic, looking like your average mainstream guy; after all, he’s from Ohio, the mainest of streams. But Cyphert’s voice, now singing “On the Road Again,” cuts—no, slides—through the unvarnished symphony of high-decibel, alcohol-fueled chatter. A woman with an iPhone texts along with the beat of percussionist Mike Bahr, while Packers and Cardinals fans monitoring the game on a big screen put aside their rivalries and sing along.
“I think musicians have a lot more power on stage than they realize,” says Cyphert, one of a very small cadre of professional musicians in the valley whose voices can rise like helium through the thick atmospheres of ski bars. Vail has some great places to warm your weary feet after hours in plastic boots, but voices like Cyphert’s, like anything that elevates, can make the best bars even better, creating an updraft that lifts whatever is below it—sometimes even a whole crowd.
“There’s a tremendous amount of talent in the valley, probably more so than there’s ever been,” says Shannon Tanner, an après veteran who has been gigging in the Vail Valley for three decades, headlining at McCoy’s in Beaver Creek Village (a concrete bunker of a hotel ballroom that last season was reincarnated as Powder 8) for a quarter-century alone. After rubberizing their legs in the Back Bowls, locals loyal to Vail journey to Avon just to decompress with his shows.
Tanner grew up on the South Carolina coast and found his voice working on his stepdad’s shrimp boat. When Tanner’s chores on deck were done, he’d sit astern and strum guitar. As the boat docked near a seafood restaurant to unload its shrimp, Tanner played. And so many customers drifted toward the boy that the owner decided it would make economic sense just to pay Tanner to bring those customers back inside. That was his first restaurant gig. He says that at age 16 he was making $40 a night, plus $80 in tips—about $350 in today’s money. Over the years, tips put his kid through college. He learned to remember names and honor requests and even buy oblivious loudmouths shots if that’s what it took to get their attention, learning what he calls “the science of taking the most difficult room and weaving [everybody] together and having them all be in accord by the end.”
Gigging at après-ski joints is not always magical; a bad performance can be difficult to watch, particularly from the business end of the mic. “Some rooms, it’s just like, ‘Wheeew, that was tough,’” explains Nick Steingart, who sings après at Blu’s and Moe’s BBQ, among other locales. “You’ve got to be able to feel the room, see what it’s like, and adapt—be kind of like a chameleon.”
Or a siren from the Odyssey.
Later that night at Pepi’s, Cyphert has half the crowd up and dancing, including a horde of female Brazilian tourists who boo whenever he tries to take his break. So the après singer plays on. And on. And as his voice fills the room, bills do the same in his tip jar.