They say you can’t keep a good musician down. Well, maybe they don’t say that, but don’t tell Kip Yager.
The North Shore solo artist is entering his 10th year playing music in the Lake Tahoe Basin, and he is having as much fun as ever.
Not long ago, Yager was not having fun, not by any stretch of the imagination. Memorial Day weekend of 2014, Yager abruptly found himself splayed out on the ground in front of his house, battered and injured almost beyond belief.
“I was cleaning out my gutters and fell off the roof and landed in the driveway,” he said. “I broke seven ribs, four of them were multiple fractures, punctured a lung; broke my pelvis in two places and had a separated shoulder.”
After a week in critical condition and a month of intensive recovery, the guitarist had his sights set firmly back on the stage, appearing at West Shore Pizza in December 2014 and Schaffer’s Mill Golf Club in January 2015.
“It was kind of a ‘Back from the Dead’ tour,” he recalled with a wry chuckle.
Less than a year removed from his catastrophic accident, Yager is looking forward to a packed summer of entertaining North Shore visitors and residents with his vast repertoire of rock and pop tunes. Beginning June 19, he can be found every Friday and Saturday in Tahoma at Chambers Landing, and will be playing the Fourth of July celebration at Commons Beach in Tahoe City, among a number of other appearances.
Yager grew up playing piano and guitar in upstate New York, and moved to Colorado in the 1990s, joining family who had moved west earlier. In 2005, he and wife Brenda visited some friends in Tahoe for a skiing trip. While in the area, he dropped in at a number of restaurants and bars around North Shore, leaving business cards and demo CDs for managers and promoters.
“By the time we got back (from the trip), the phone was ringing off the hook,” Yager said.
The couple decided to relocate to Tahoe City, found jobs in the area, and Yager took off on his Tahoe music career.
“I was starting off pretty much playing Jakes (on the Lake) and the Cottonwood, those were the two places that were biggest for me,” he said.
Bookings on South Shore followed, and Yager’s demand gradually spread.
“It started picking up from there,” he said. “Word of mouth would get around. It seemed like the music scene really took to it and supported me right away.”
“I try to play to the crowd,” he said. “I usually don’t use any kind of a song list, just because I have so many songs I’ve been through.”
While generally sticking to cover tunes for the benefit of his audience, Yager also works on a variety of original music.
“I tend to focus on covers because it sells better for crowds,” he said. “But I do have a quiver full of songs that I have written myself.”
Yager specializes in intimate musical settings, usually lake or river-side patios at North Shore restaurants.
“I like a crowd that’s kind of smaller, where it’s kind of like sitting around the campfire,” he said. “I don’t like to use a lot of effects; I don’t use a drummer, just a six-string or 12-string (guitar).
“It’s really, from my point of view, if I don’t bring the crowds then I don’t get hired back.”
After a decade performing live in the area, he has grown to appreciate the diversity and inclusivity of Tahoe’s music community.
“I’d say for the Tahoe scene there are a lot of musicians out here,” he said. “A lot of ‘em are good, a lot of ‘em aren’t so good, but they’re trying. The music scene is really healthy around here, you can always find a jam somewhere around here.”
Yager is looking forward to jamming with some of his fellow musicians in August at Jason’s Beachside Grille, where he will be joined by upright bassist Abby Groman of Wild Mountain Honey and by guitarist Joel Morsberger.
“It’s great. I like playing with those guys because no one’s bashful; they’ll step right up and sing,” Yager said.
Yager hopes to record some more original tracks with Morsberger later this year, intending to get a broader selection of his music into a digital format. Mostly, he’s looking forward to a summer of music.
“It’s a thrill for me to play (at) Chambers at the Boathouse,” the musician said. “I really love playing at that place, it’s got good crowds; everyone seems happy, happy at the beach.”
At the end of the day, for Yager, performing music is a simple pleasure.
“I love to get people smiling, get them to forget about everything else and get a big crack of a smile,” he said. “Remind them of an old song, or just get them into the music.”