It’s “Americana” for Steve and Kristi Nebel

It’s “Americana” for Steve and Kristi Nebel

Steve and Kristi Nebel Photo courtesy of the artists

The year was 1971 and Oct. 4 was the first day of classes for the then-new college, The Evergreen State College.  The opening was a bit premature as there was no campus.  In fact some classes were held in an Olympia tavern where a young, short woman with red shoes met a tall Army veteran. She came to Evergreen as a transfer student with a background that included being an actress and participating in events like talent shows.  She knew how to play a guitar as she sang.  He had no musical background but had an intense desire to write a certain kind of song and was determined to learn whatever was necessary to be able to share his songs with others.  He found a good deal in the Little Nickel want ads and for $25 bought a bass guitar that he realized he didn’t know how to play so he gave it to her.   In 1973 these two, Steve Nebel and Kristi Esvelt, exchanged wedding vows and began their long career as a dynamic musical duo.

As is true for most beginning musicians, they faced a big learning curve.  In order to do what they loved, making music, they had to find daytime jobs.  Both found work at the Bremerton shipyards, Steve as a pipe installation inspector and Kristi as a secretary and then as a draftsperson.   To hone their musical talents, they spent their weekends playing anywhere and everywhere.  Along the way they were also learning the hard stuff:  how to find gigs, how to promote their music, how to develop meaningful contacts.  In 1985, their professional and personal lives took a dramatic turn that would influence the rest of their careers.

Their agent booked them for a five-month stint in Nome, Alaska.  The only problem was that they had to leave right away.  Seeing this as an outstanding opportunity for adventure and professional development, they accepted the offer.  Steve had already left the job at the shipyards so he could devote his time to song writing, and they even found a friend who could box up all their belongings in their Seattle rental and store them, so they were free to go.

The Nebels found Alaska to be a mother lode of stories, ideas and characters that Steve turned into songs.  They played at taverns and little watering holes, soaking in the local idiom. Kristi found it easy to hop up on a bar stool and in essence say to the person sitting next to her, “Tell me your story.”

It was hard work but good work.  They used local phone directories, making cold calls, selling themselves and their music to total strangers.  They got the hang of it, and when they were done in Nome, they moved on to other venues, going from Nome to Ketchikan, and from Dawson City to Prince George.  All the while Steve was writing songs and a 1990 album was the product of that effort.

Their music was not easy to pigeon hole.  They would take a little bit of country, stir in some bluegrass sounds, sprinkle in some rock and roll, give it a dance beat all the while singing a personal narrative that sounded like a folksong.  It was a crossover of two or three genres at any given time.  Whatever it was, it was something their audiences liked.  It was not until around 1995 that the term “Americana” was officially established by the AMA (American Music Association) as its own genre.  To Steve, the song writer, this was good.  “I didn’t know who I was until they invented the term.”

Their dream was to eventually travel to the United Kingdom, bringing their original music to a place that celebrated original music.  But it was a matter of finances – that is until they found an old world atlas in an estate sale.  They bought the atlas for $2 and sold it for enough to travel to Europe.  (It happened that during their first trip to the UK in 2001 they were in London during the Twin Towers disaster.)  Since that time they have made six more trips to the UK, the last having been just this last September and the next will be in January 2013.

The Nebels are versatile musicians, but for Steve, Americana music allows him to do what he really loves doing, and it has been featured in those dream trips to the UK.  For Kristi, the joy is using the music to make connections, to see in audience faces that they are moved by the music or really understanding it.  She is also hoping for success for her newly-formed band, Cowgirl’s Dream, which backed her up on her solo album, Detour.   Their recent CD is Tandem and they are planning a release party soon at Rhapsody in Bloom. For samples of their music and more information, go to  and

Not only is their music rooted in American soil but Steve and Kristi Nebel are also rooted in the American ethos with their contributions of time and money to various social justice and peace organizations.