Notes From the Hoot: Kim Virant, Kristen Ward, and Victoria Wimer Contreras

Duff McKagan's column appears on Reverb every Monday and Thursday.

Last week, as we were running down the songs at the rehearsal night before The Hootenanny for a Healthy Gulf at the Moore Theater, it suddenly dawned on me that I had written or otherwise talked about everyone who participated, except for three--Kim Virant, Kristen Ward, and Victoria Wimer Contreras.

If you read my column, then you already know how highly I regard the other Hoot musicians, like Star Anna, Mark Pickerel, Shawn Smith, Rachel Flotard, etc. As a matter of fact, it is just plain odd, if you are me, to play with some of the most talented musicians on this planet, and see that some of them are still trying to "break" themselves on a larger scale, while my career broke many years ago. I am in no way a better player or more of a personality than the rest of these folks. There is just no rhyme or reason in the music industry. To try to at least do this industry a little justice, then, I would like to tell those of you who don't know about these three ladies in a bit more detail and color.

Kristen Ward has put out a couple of rock-flavored records in the last few years, but it is her latest alt-country record Charles that may best suit her amazing talent. She has a voice that is sweet and gentle and can seem like it just drips around you, or wraps you in a warm coat. Kristen doesn't need all the ruckus and noise of loud rock to hide her voice behind, and I think perhaps the song "Maybe" off Charles best exemplifies what I am trying to get across. Check it out.

Kristen and her musical partner, the great and mighty Gary Westlake, have just started to venture out of the Northwest, playing some shows down in Los Angeles. I would recommend trying to see a show now . . . something you can store in your "I saw her when" file. No bullshit.

Next up, Kim Virant. If you are anywhere near Seattle, then of course you have probably seen a KV show. For those of you who haven't, well, it may be a bit simplistic for me to try to describe and compare Kim to say, Stevie Nicks . . . but that IS the ballpark and high-water mark that Kim lives in. She is comfortable singing in about any format, from hard rock to country murder ballad, but her CD from last year, Songs From a Small House, pretty much nailed her comfort zone, the place where she flourishes most . . . her own music! Check out "Love Ain't for the Weak" off this record. It's a really nice song featuring beautiful song-craftsmanship.

Kim's musical partner just happens to be the Hoot's drummer and general man-behind-the-scenes, Chris Friel . . . a killer all-around dude if it's me you are askin'.

Victoria Wimer Contreras is by no means last on this list, for any reason other than that I knew she would be the hardest to write about. She has the most "legitimate" musical background of ANYONE who was on that stage that night. She has studied with Maestro David Kyle (vocal coach to Ann Wilson, Liza Minnelli, and Geoff Tate, just to name a very few). Victoria studied music and vocal jazz in the esteemed Central Washington University music program. Her leanings have been more toward jazz until recently (thank God for us rock and country fans). Her duet of Oasis' "Wonderwall" with Jeff Rouse at the Hootenanny was a stunning jaw-dropper. She doesn't have anything up on iTunes yet, but check out "This Is Not Goodbye" on her MySpace page for at least a tiny example of what she is capable of. If the world were right all of the time, Victoria would be a huge star right now.

It is very fortunate for all you locals that you will be able to catch Star, Kim, Kristen, Victoria, AND Rachel Flotard at their tribute to Patsy Cline this Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at The Triple Door in downtown Seattle. This is an absolute don't-miss!

A couple of asides: If you get a chance to see Tim Dijulio, the guitar player for the Hootenanny band, do it. For now, you can see him shred on the YouTube clip of Shawn Smith's version of "Purple Rain" from that Hoot-Moore show.

Also, Paul Hutzler made his pedal-steel debut at the Hoot. He only started playing this instrument one year ago, and with eight hours a day of practice, made himself world-class on this hardest of all instruments!

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