By Kyle Eustice
The Loveland-based singer/guitarist was born in New York City, but grew up in Boulder where her parents —Bataan and Jane Faigao— co-founded the world-renowned Naropa Institute. Visitors to her childhood home often included famous Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. Needless to say, her childhood was anything but typical.
“Any given weekend, our house was a hangout for the Beat Poets who taught with them,” Woo explains. “We may have Allen Ginsberg in our hot tub, while William Burroughs, Jr., and Anne Waldman talked shop in the kitchen. Gregory Corso taught my sister and me to play poker, and lived on our sofa for what seemed like ages. I find myself emulating Anne’s rhythmic hand gestures when I sing.”
Her colorful upbringing was enough to inspire anyone to pursue a creative path and she reveals it truly began with her parents’ love of music.
“My parents and my home life were the greatest influence on what I listened to,” she says. “I was listening to the Grateful Dead in the ’90s when my friends were listening to Nirvana. My father always had Paul Simon or the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan on when I was growing up.”
When Woo was 16, the headstrong teenager ran away to follow the Grateful Dead. At every tour stop, it was a ritual to sit in a circle with other people who were also following the band and just jam. Eventually, she started to play around Boulder and gained the confidence to pursue music as a career. But it all started at the infamous Fox Theatre, where she worked on the business side.
“Everyone has to create,” she says. “If you aren’t creating in some way, you’re not really living. I had been playing coffee shops in Boulder and I was walking down the street. Some guy recognized me and crossed the street to tell me he enjoyed my music. That was the first time that happened to me and I said, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”
She adds, “The Fox was great because it provided an environment where I could learn about the business wing-to-wing, whether it was what a venue is looking for in a press kit to the production side.”
In 2017, Woo was recognized as the “Queen of the Denver Scene.” While she plays both acoustic and electric guitar, she also uses her guitar as a percussion instrument. She’s earned five Westword Music Awards and is on her way to the Westword Hall of Fame. From folk and jazz to funk and rock, her catalog of music transcends categorization. Coupled with her gender, she believes it’s easy to stand out in the music industry although that also comes with its own set of challenges.
“There’s maybe five male-dominant bands for every one female-fronted band,” she says. “I’m usually only disappointed when venues stick me on something like a ‘Ladies Night in Music’ lineup. I’d prefer to simply be on a music lineup with good bands, but they’re taking a marketing approach and I get that. It’s part of the deal.”
As her career continues to evolve, she’s also learned to adjust to all of the changes in the music industry. The most negative and impactful was the death of CD sales. However, technology has also opened up artists to a wider audience.
“Streaming services have made it even worse,” she explains. “People don’t buy a lot of downloads since the streaming services came out.
“On a positive note, the internet created this whole middle class of musicians, I call us an industry of ‘thousandaires,’” she continues. “The internet allowed us to reach new audiences we never had access to before. Where I used to spend the day putting up posters for a show, I can reach a larger target audience with a couple of mouse clicks.”
But her road to notoriety wasn’t easy. In 2013, Woo had to have surgery after developing cysts on her vocal chords, although it didn’t keep her down for long.
“I had to cancel 12 shows following my surgery, so that was maybe four weeks of shows,” she says. “Imagine going to belt out a note and having nothing come out…I knew I had to see the doctor.”
Woo is currently touring with her band in support of “Tipping Point,” their most recent album. Released in 2015, it marks Woo’s 12th full-length project. She’s been committed to releasing an album every two years, so she’s due for another one. For now, she’s simply grateful to have the career she does, and that includes her bandmates and dedicated fans.
“The thing about the music scene is that they are always trying to push out the older acts in favor of newer acts, however fans are what gives an artist their longevity,” she says. “If you can entertain and keep people engaged, they’ll keep coming back. Without an audience, the best musician in the world won’t get booked.
“I was named ‘Best of Boulder‘ when I was on that scene, so I moved to Denver where I was honored with a string of ‘Best Of’ awards,” she adds. “I’ve now received a ‘Best Of Style’ for the Northern Colorado scene. It’s very humbling and I don’t take for granted that not many people have accomplished this. That support comes from the folks who take the time to vote in these surveys. I’ve been blessed to have the shelf life that I have.”
Kyle Eustice is a Fort Collins-based writer. To comment on this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.