Eighth-grader Travis Walsh strode onto the dark Moffat County High School auditorium stage Saturday night.
He emerged under a soft spotlight, his face barely visible beneath a black cowboy hat.
As he plugged his guitar into an amplifier, a gaggle of girls in the back row screamed, “Go, Travis.”
He began to play the opening notes of Gary Allan’s “Smoke Rings in the Dark,” a melancholy ballad about a lost love. When he sang, his voice was even-toned and his comfort on stage showed maturity beyond his years.
But, there were many emotions in his mind underneath the calm surface.
“I was excited and nervous right before I started playing,” he said after the Craig Concert Association’s annual Local Talent Show had come to a close. “I thought, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people out there.’”
Walsh has been performing at area events for about three years.
“It’s a rush,” he said.
And he wasn’t the only one to feel the hush before the music began, and the wave of applause that cascaded down the rows of seats when the song came to an end.
Saturday’s talent concert was a two-and-a-half hour showcase of unique local acts. Eighteen performances lit up the auditorium stage, ranging from computer-generated instruments to vocal solos and classical violin.
Mary Lynne James, a former Moffat County court judge, acted as the master of ceremonies for the event, a role she’s filled for 13 years.
She said it was a pleasure for her to introduce the acts before they walked on stage because the talent deserves their time in the spotlight.
“There’s a lot of talented people in this town,” she said. “But, there’s very few places to show that talent. I mean, if you’re a talented singer in Craig, you sing at funerals. And nobody claps at funerals.”
She said the performers needed to hear the positive reinforcement of the applause whether they are new to performing or veterans of the stage.
“Especially those little kids that are 8, 11 or 13,” she said. “The nerve they have to have to get up there…it’s wonderful.”
The young performers were scattered throughout the program, punctuating more polished adult acts.
But their youth and energy lifted the crowd.
Fifth grade students Elizabeth Weis and Pearl Wyman sang the Grateful Dead song, “Ripple,” while accompanying themselves on the guitars.
Elizabeth said it was the largest crowd they had ever played for.
“It was scary,” she said, packing up her guitar after the show. “But, it felt good when everyone clapped.”
But, young children weren’t the only ones to surprise the audience with their unique abilities.
Joyce Cattoor showed off her talent of playing the marimba, an instrument like a xylophone but with wooden bars.
The distortion of Brian Ghirardelli’s electric guitar sizzled, while his father Stephen’s folk voice soothed the audience.
Francisco Reina shared a flamenco gypsy story, and Irene Losolla belted a Martina McBride tune.
Concert Association board member Jim Simpson said everyone who is comfortable on stage is allowed to perform in the showcase.
“It always surprises us what comes in,” he said. “But, I think shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent are really inspiring people. They think, ‘Oh, he can do that, so I can, too.’”
For James, the intimate atmosphere was the perfect avenue for local performers to try their hand on stage.
She said she recently attended a concert at the Pepsi Center in Denver featuring Elton John and Billy Joel.
The Pepsi Center holds nearly 20,000 people.
“Was it a great performance?” she said. “Yes. But it was totally impersonal. It just doesn’t have that community feel. Here, these are your friends and neighbors and kids in school on that stage.
“It helps create a sense of community.”