not just a jukebox
Dave Hahn studies his audiences.
He looks for the table that sings along, he listens in on their conversations to hear what kind of bands they might be talking about.
Feeling out a crowd helps him decide what songs to play from the over 300 cover tunes that he performs. He has originals too, but it's his renditions of James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Jimmy Buffet classics that people in the area know him for. Those are the songs that pay the bills.
Hahn stays busy during the ski season nine gigs a week isn't out of the ordinary. He plays mostly to diners at Park City restaurants, to bleary-eyed apres-ski listeners who have ski-goggle tans and at private functions. However, he admits that during the spring and fall, he often has to scrape to find a stage.
Hahn makes it through the off season, though, and he tries not to let the occasional unresponsive crowd bother him. Like a lot of musicians, he sometimes dreams of hearing himself on the radio or playing alongside big-time bands, but at 42 years old Hahn says he is happy with what he does. It's all worth it if he can make a crowd clap in time with a rhythm, sing along to a favorite tune, or join him on stage for a number.
Hahn, who wears a hoop earring, keeps his head shaved bald and has a full goatee, wasn't always a solo act. After he moved to Salt Lake City in 1974, he joined or helped form a number of bands that played at clubs and bars in the Intermountain West. He was the lead guitarist in bands that he says most people probably won't remember like "As Is" and "Outcry."
Hahn's last group effort was with "Justus Bros.," a band that he played bass guitar for in the late 1980s. In the early 90s, he made the transition to solo performance.
"I realized then that the stuff I was playing when I was a teenager was popular with the apres-ski crowd," he says.
Hahn started to play the guitar when he was 8 years old in Phoenix, Arizona where he grew up. A self-taught guitarist, he says he used to sit by the radio and play along with Stevens, Taylor and Gordon Lightfoot, honing in on their signature riffs and musical styles.
His first solo Park City gig was at the Grub Steak in 1993. Since then, he has played regularly at restaurants and ski area venues around Park City and Deer Valley. Although he still lives in Salt Lake, Hahn says he sings and strums almost exclusively in Park City.
He admits that he was nervous beyond words before climbing onto a stage by himself for the first time.
"There is a different energy when you're playing by yourself," Hahn says.
He estimates that it probably took him three years to get comfortable performing alone. But, after 10 years, he says his cover-tune routine is polished these days.
Hahn almost never plays his original songs when he performs live. He says that at the venues where he performs, people feel more of connectivity with a wide variety of songs with which they are familiar.
"The apres-ski and dinner crowd like the variety," he says, "they don't want to be drilled with one style."
Hahn saves his original songs for his recordings. He has released three CDs so far, the most recent of which "Second Generation ReMasters," he describes as a greatest hits album. All the songs on the album, which is available at Moose's at Park City Mountain Resort, relate to his personal experiences. The more romantic songs on he album, he says, were written for his wife, Teri.
He finished recording the CD last summer, but he says it won't be released on a large scale until he cleans up the art production of the album.
Always a perfectionist, Hahn's attention to detail spills over into his cover songs.
"I want people to look around for the CD player," says Hahn about how he tries to sound exactly like whomever he is covering.
Sometimes, he says crowds ignore him for the first hour or so of a performance.
"Then they realize that they can interact with me and that I'm not just a jukebox," says Hahn.
Hahn says that apathetic crowds, the random heckler and the fact that it is sometimes hard to find a gig are the downsides to his job. He even tried to persuade his 21-year-old son Jojo, not to go into the business.
"It didn't work though, he's just too good at it," says Hahn about his son who also has an established solo act in Park City.
Although Hahn says he may one day take his music on a college tour or play to corporate parties at a national level, for now he says he will continue to perform around Park City.
If he senses a "biker crowd" he'll whip out some Doobie Brother classics, and if a crowd goes quiet he can always play some of his "catch songs." He says "Southern Cross" by Crosby, Stills and Nash works well to draw in an audience and there is always Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl."
Dave Hahn plays Thursday through Sunday at the Prime Steak House in Park City during the winter. He can also be heard this Friday and Saturday in conjunction with the NASTAR National's award ceremonies at the Legacy Lodge at Park City Mountain Resort.