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Pair of musicians helps redefine ‘troubadour’

Ryan Graff

Kris Delmhorst and Melissa Crabtree have taken the scenic road. One is a vagabond river guide, the other, a hitchhiking fiddle player. Both are folky singer-songwriters. This Friday, the two will rendezvous for a show in at Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale. Delmhorst was a New York City kid, raised on equal parts of classical cello, piano and four-part harmonies with her sister and parents in the car. She left the city for college in western Massachusetts, where she picked up farming, and continued to study classical music until she discovered that, “I really love music more than anything else, but the classical world was not for me.”Out went classical, but the farming stuck. And after college she moved to Maine to be an organic farmer. “It was an entirely different world,” she said. “I milked the cows, grew the stuff and killed the chickens.”Then, as luck would have it, she broke her ankle. Laid-up, she decided to pick up a fiddle. Before too long, she’d traveled to Ireland and farmed on and off for just enough money to get by. When she had enough, she’d stick out her thumb. “I had a backpack and a fiddle,” she said. “I’d hitch into a town and play with all the old-timers in a pub.”Over the next few years Delmhorst worked on a seagoing schooner and led an outdoor education program on Cape Cod. Through it all though, she was playing music. “Next thing you know, ‘I think I’m a musician,'” she said. “It was kind of a surprise.”Delmhorst’s story isn’t dissimilar to that of Crabtree, who will open for Delmhorst at Steve’s.Crabtree is a traveling river guide. She hasn’t really had a home for most of the last 17 years, but she has run rivers from Alaska to Arizona. She’s run the Grand Canyon “twice officially” but apparently knows some secrets for getting on the river unofficially. Luckily for her clients on the river, she learned to play the guitar when she started guiding.”It just seemed like all the river guides know how to play,” she said in a phone interview from Durango. “(Learning to play) just seemed like the cool thing to do.” She released her first of two albums four years ago, but continued to guide in the summers. Then, last summer, she was hired specifically to guide the river and to play guitar on music river trips on the Rogue and Salmon rivers. Not surprisingly, Crabtree’s life has made it into her music. Her first album’s title track, “Off the Beaten Path,” chronicles her life as a river runner: “She’s swirlin’ in an eddy, getting caught in the cane/She gets stuck in that eddy, and swirls around again/She spends her days out on a river raft/She walks off the beaten path.” “The wilderness has been my muse. I can easily get into a state of mind to write songs (in the wilderness),” she said. “I can find a lot of inner peace and that helps me write.”With the similarities in their lifestyles, it isn’t surprising that both placed in the top five at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s Troubadour Songwriter Competition.”Troubadour,” incidentally, means “strolling minstrel.” A name may have never fit better. What: Kris Delmhorst and Melissa Crabtree showWhen: 8:30 p.m. FridayWhere: Steve’s Guitars in CarbondaleTickets: at the door


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