Rooted in the tradition of bluegrass, the music of Head for the Hills is a vibrant mixture of homegrown compositions, traditional harmonies, and an innovative approach to improvisation. The group’s lyrical nature and songwriting seems to evoke reminiscent feelings of inspiration. In the live setting, Head for the Hills can venture into a myriad of musical styles and sonic landscapes that caters to a boundless array of listeners.
Head for the Hills is poised to announce the release of their sophomore studio effort, aptly entitled "Head for the Hills." This endearing release captures the true essence of the consistently evolving group. Nestled deep in the mountains of Colorado, in Bill Nershi's Sleeping Giant Studios, the quartet began a musical journey.
What transpired was a thoughtful and dynamic time-piece that captures the essence of their awe-inspiring live performance. Head for the Hills continues to garner increased attention all across the country. There is no telling what successes lay ahead for these talented musicians.
To get a sense of Head for the Hills’ snowballing momentum, look no further than the surrounding talent on their self-titled sophomore release, Head for the Hills. The six-year old pickers attracted heavyweights like longtime jamband and bluegrass vet, Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon) as their producer who took them up to Bill Nershi’s Sleeping Giant studio to record -- where he and Emmitt recently laid down their own release, New Country Blues. Studio engineer Gus Skinas worked the knobs, who boasts a particularly intriguing CV having digitally remastered Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; helped Sony develop the early iterations digital audio; and invented an innovative multi-tracker called Sonoma that combines the warmth of analog with the ease and efficiency of digital. In addition, Vance Powell -- who adorns his mantle with a Grammy for his work on the Raconteurs wildly successful Consolers of the Lonely album -- mixed the record. Finally, the recent studio release benefits not only from guest picking and vocals from Nershi and Emmitt, but also Anders Beck of another group of burgeoning picksmiths, Greensky Bluegrass . In addition Kyle James Hauser (Gregory Allan Isakov) and James Thomas supply their talnts on banjo and Keyboards.
The new self titled, release is now available via H4TH’s website. The band is poised to begin the next chapter of their youthful existence.
2008 and 2009 have seen the band touring heavily. The band embarked on a massive national tour of theaters, amphitheatres, and high profile music festivals, including: Wakarusa Music Festival, Northwest String Summit, Green Apple Music Festival, Telluride Bluegrass Festival (Night Grass Series), Mulberry Mountain Harvest Festival, Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival, Yarmony Grass Music Festival, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and many more.
The band is also heavily interfaced in charitable efforts. Head for the Hills is proud to partner with Conscious Alliance, a Boulder, CO based non-profit group, and their mission to fight hunger in Native America. A limited edition “Head for the Hills 2009 Commemorative Poster” by Rob Marx will be available at all 2009 performances while supplies last. Proceeds from the poster will go to benefit Conscious Alliance and their valuable efforts.
The shared vision amongst the members of Head for the Hills is not only to carry on the spirit of bluegrass, but also to expand the general definition as we venture through the post-traditional bluegrass era. Head for the Hills draws significant inspiration from the sounds of the bluegrass forefathers such as John Hartford, David Grisman, or Bill Monroe, but also appeals to anybody who enjoys experiencing the excitement, innovation, or element of youth that is incorporated into each and every performance.
After several career defining sold out performances in Fort Collins, CO, performing to capacity crowds in Colorado & beyond, consistent national touring, and appearances at music festivals around the country, this quartet is emerging as a mainstay in the roots music community.
The foundation of Head for the Hills stretches back several years to the mountain town of Golden, Colorado, but the current lineup prefers to call Fort Collins, Colorado their home. In their short but prosperous career, Head for the Hills has performed, supported, & shared programming with such notable acts as: David Grisman, Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, The Flaming Lips, Bruce Hornsby, Yonder Mountain String Band, Emmylou Harris Nickel Creek, Tim O’Brien, Peter Rowan, Doc Watson, and Railroad Earth among many others.
2007 was a huge year for the quartet as they were the named winners of Yonder Mt. String Band’s 2007 Northwest String Summit Band Completion held at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, OR. In addition they completed their debut album, Robber’s Roost, produced by Grammy Award Winning musician/producer Sally Van Meter (Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Yonder Mountain String Band).
For their debut studio effort entitled, “Robber’s Roost,” Head for the Hills joined forces with the talented and revered producer/performer Sally Van Meter. Ms. Van Meter, among her impressive list of accomplishments, is credited for her 1994 Grammy Award Winning work on The Great
Dobro Sessions as well as her work with Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, and David Grisman on The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers- A Tribute. In addition, she has produced albums and recordings for several artists including Yonder Mountain String Band and Open Road Bluegrass.
David Glasser (Airshow Mastering) joined Head for the Hills in the mastering process of “Robber’s Roost.” Glasser’s credits include two Grammy’s for his work on the culturally significant: Anthology of American Folk Music (1997), and Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton (2002). Glasser has also mastered over 60 Grammy nominated records.
On “Robber’s Roost”, one can expect a collection of organic compositions ranging from traditional stylings to the progressive sound that has come to define these young musicians.
Many respected avenues have sighted Head for the Hills as the next breath of fresh air to emerge from the acoustic realm. With direction from a Grammy award winning musician and an ever-evolving approach to progressive acoustic music, there is no telling what successes lay ahead for this group of talented musicians.
*Head for the Hills Websites*
*Live Performance Video Footage*
*Album Preview Video (HD)*
"Their sundry blend of ancestral bluegrass, moving harmonies, & original composition, creates a sound nothing short of exceptional."
-Stray Pickers Magazine (February 2008)
"Decorated with a modern, melodic vibe....endearing"
- Ben Salmon, The Bulletin (July 2009)
"Head for the Hills is a youthful bright spot in acoustic music"
- Mike Bookey, The Source Weekly (July 2009)
"Not bound by any societal standards regarding bluegrass music, they pick and strum their way through many different styles with equal mastery of all."
- Rocky Mt. Music Resource (December 2007)
"Head for the Hills takes Pickin' to New Places"
-Steamboat Pilot and Today (May 2007)
“Another force in bluegrass music has found it’s way out of the backyard and in to our front yard here in Colorado! HEAD FOR THE HILLS is a high energy group of young musicians on a collision course with success!”
-Jammed Online (May 2008)
"Head for the Hills are leading the way in defining a new world of both
new and traditional bluegrass in Colorado. The buzz around this band is growing at an
amazing rate and people from coast to coast are taking notice."
-Jammed Online (May 2008)
"With their fresh, lively mix of traditional bluegrass laced with blazing hot improvisational forays, Head for the Hills is packing venues and wowing crowds in their ever-increasing fan base."
In the Pocket Artists
Fax: 617-996-9078 or 617-249-0382
Sean Mac Askill
Live Mountain Music
Mike Chappell- Mandolin
Adam Kinghorn- Guitar
Joe Lessard- Fiddle
Matt Loewen- Bass
"HEAD FOR THE HILLS (Self Titled)"
Released December 2009
"ROBBER'S ROOST"- Released February 2007
-Produced by Sally Van Meter
Special Guests Include: Todd Livingston, Sally Van Meter, and Ali Reppetti
Head For The Hills gears up to roll out Emmitt-produced sophomore album
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At the dawn of their sixth year as a band, Head For The Hills has climbed up through the ranks to be...At the dawn of their sixth year as a band, Head For The Hills has climbed up through the ranks to become one of the most notable success stories in the Colorado bluegrass scene.
The quartet is putting the final touches on their second album, and if their momentum continues, the band will end up having a superior view from their position on top of the bluegrass hill.
For this new album, produced by Leftover Salmon’s Drew Emmitt, the band members took a different direction than their debut release, Robber’s Roost. “We definitely made a conscious effort to get away from the Pro Tools, isolation booth and headphone model, which pretty much dominates. There is nothing wrong with that, but after that first album of being in different rooms with no sight lines, we wanted to take a new approach,” said mandolin player Mike Chappell. “ Some of the tracks were recorded completely live,” he added.
But, while the band is shunning one type of technology and method of recording, they’re embracing another, and it’s one that some say could bring recordings back to what they were before the digital age.
Bassist Matt Loewen explained, “Our engineer Jake Wargo met this guy Gus Skinas and he works with this DSD (Direct Stream Digital) technology which is a different format of recording than on analog tape or recording onto Pro Tools on a computer like most people do. It’s higher fidelity and has a high sample rate. Sort of hard to explain but it just sounds a lot better,” he summed up.
What his summation glossed over, however, is the fact that Skinas (who helped Sony originally develop and pioneer digital audio) has created a multi-track recorder/editor, known as the Sonoma System, which restores the warmth of analog that is typically lost in digital recordings. The sound isn’t just a little better, but is a remarkable difference that even untrained ears can easily pick up on.
But, in addition to recording processes and Skinas and his technology, the group has also assembled an all-star cast to perfect the album. “Using this format of recording — to have multi tracks to do it live — there hasn’t been a lot of that done,” Loewen explained. “The engineer that we are bringing in to mix the record is this guy Vance Powell who just won a Grammy for best engineered record for the Racounteurs. He just mixed that album, he did not record it. Vince has the Grammy and Gus is the guy that has remastered some of the world’s best albums for Super Audio?CD.”
With all of the knob turners in place, the next step was getting the musicians rounded up and Chappell explained that the album was recorded under the careful watch of some local jamgrass heroes. “We did it at Billy Nershi’s studio. Billy ended up being more involved and gave us some guest vocals and a background guitar part out of him,” Chappell said. “Drew (Emmitt) played on the album too.”
In fact, there is a slew of notable special guests and friends who appear on the album. “James Thomas did a grand piano solo and we had Anders Beck from Greensky Bluegrass play dobro and lap steel,” said fiddle player “Sloppy” Joe Lessard. “There is some good diversification in the instrumentation.”
Lessard went on to explain that every part of the album, even songs not written by the band, have the Head For The Hills style stamped on them. “I would say that we still focus on having pretty much entirely originals and we make sure that if it is someone else’s tune on our record that we are going to do the arrangement and we are going to put our spin on it and make it ours,” Lessard said.
As the band continues to grow their name locally, they have also set their sights outside of Colorado and this summer they did some of their most extensive touring. “We traveled a bunch this summer. With the exception of a trip to Bristol, Tennessee, we haven’t really gotten east of the Mississippi. But this summer we did a big loop around the West through Montana, California, and Utah,” Loewen said.
This month the band will be hosting their own festival near Fort Collins. “Imagine Harvest and Festival just mashed together!” Loewen said. “Harvestival at Grant Family Farms is going to happen on October 10. Otis Taylor is also playing, as is David Grisman, and then we close out the night.”
Chappell concluded, “It is just so cool what we are doing now and I think that we are all really excited about it. We are doing something new and I like that — raising the bar from the level we were at, even maybe three months ago.”
Fort Collins-based band brings youthful, progressive bluegrass
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VAIL, Colorado — For most college freshmen, dorm life means little sleep, cramped living quarters a... VAIL, Colorado — For most college freshmen, dorm life means little sleep, cramped living quarters and creepy roommates. But for four freshmen at Colorado State University in the fall of 2003, the dorms wove together a fateful network of musicians and friends, which eventually grew into the progressive bluegrass act Head for the Hills.
“It was destiny the way it worked out,” said mandolin player Mike Chappell. “We could have been living next door to anybody.”
The group started out jamming together in thei rooms and kept the connection going even when some memberes transferred schools or moved. The jam sessions moved from the dorms to the stage, morphing into Head for the Hills: Adam Kinghorn (guitar, banjo, vocals), Joe Lessard (fiddle, beatbox, vocals), Matt Loewen (bass, clarinet, vocals) and Mike Chappell (mandolin, vocals). Sean MacAskill, who lived next door to Lessard in the dorms, always had an interest in the business side of things and has been the band’s publicist from day one. Loewen calls him the fifth member of the band.
“It was the path that was set,” MacAskill said of the band’s formation. “We ended up lucky, I guess.”
Loewen said that the band didn’t get together with the intention of playing serious gigs. “We wanted to hang out and play music and have a good time,” he said.
But since the fall of 2003, Head for the Hills has gone from “jamming and hanging” to extensive touring, a studio album and the opportunity to share the stage with bluegrass legends like Sam Bush, Emmitt Nershi and David Grisman. This past year they were invited to play in at a late-night jam session at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, as well as at the Wakarusa Festival in Kansas.
Head for the Hills starts their spring tour with a series of Colorado mountain town shows, including a show at the Sandbar in West Vail on Saturday.
“Doing the ski town thing is cool in Colorado because the towns are nice and we like to ski,” Loewen said. “But it also provides good exposure because you have a new set of people from all over the place.”
During school, the group’s young age (they’re only 23 now) and busy college schedules proved slightly restrictive when it came to the band. But with three of the band members out of school, MacAskill said music will soon be their number one priority. For now, the band hits the road often during the summer, and plays during the winter when Lessard is on break from CU-Denver where he’s pursuing a Masters degree in business.
“Once Joe finishes school, it’s wide open,” MacAskill said. “We hope to transition into it nicely as it becomes a full time thing. Even if they are working days, they focus on playing and touring as number one and take it as far as they can.”
The youthful dynamic of Head for the Hills, however, is also what brings a fresh and progressive take on the bluegrass genre. MacAskill said that the music is not just limited to traditional bluegrass, but incorporates blues, jazz and folk rock.
“They’ve really been able to sink their teeth into the progressive side of bluegrass music like (Sam) Bush and (Bela) Fleck, while still staying true to the roots,” MacAskill said.
Not so traditional
Aside from their devotion to studying bluegrass heroes like Bill Monroe and Sam Bush, each band member has a drastically different musical background.
Lessard was classically trained to play the violin using the Suzuki method, which teaches musicians to play by ear. He also plays in several hip hop groups.
Kinghorn and Chappell were childhood friends, and both experimented with semi-successful punk rock bands in high school. As they started to attend more and more shows at Red Rocks Ampitheatre, they realized the Colorado music culture embraced acoustic music in all its forms, having given birth to jam-grass legends like String Cheese Incident and Yonder Mountain String Band.
“We were all so new to playing the music,” Chappell said. “We all started as beginners at bluegrass but we’ve grown since then. We’ve learned a lot about it because we started from square one.”
Loewen said that the project is ever-evolving and building on itself.
“There’s been a musical progression of us as individuals and us as a group,” Loewen said. “We’re all pretty young and have learned a lot. We’ve always been growing and never really looked back.”
As for what the future holds, the band is looking forward to getting back on the road and putting a few more miles on their van. It may even be time for a van upgrade, said MacAskill, as the band prepares for their spring tour, studio sessions in May and the summer festival season.
Perhaps most of all, the band members are looking forward to spending more time together writing and playing different styles of music.
“At the core of it, we’re all great friends,” MacAskill said. “We’re growing together and taking on new experiences. I’m happy to be working with these guys and taking it one step at a time.”
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There was probably at least one band that formed in your freshman dorm, if, that is, you ever had th...There was probably at least one band that formed in your freshman dorm, if, that is, you ever had the pleasure of living in the strangely scented and often concrete confines of a freshman dorm. And that band probably didn't make it through that first year of collegiate life. Inner-band turmoil, conflicting class schedules or maybe "artistic differences" brought these bands to an end all too often.
But Fort Collins' Head for the Hills is an exception to the freshman dorm band curse. What was once a group of musicians that coincidentally wound up housed on the same floor of a Colorado State University dormatory, is now one of the brightest young acts on the acoustic music landscape. A strange sidenote: in 2003 a friend of mine lived in this dorm with Head for the Hills and told me all about them. I promptly forgot about them - until I noticed their name listed as the winners of the Northwest String Summit band competition in 2007. Clearly, they'd broken the curse, and maybe that's because they started as an almost reluctant bluegrass outfit.
"We all had played instruments for the majority of our lives, but I don't think that any of us had really played bluegrass," says guitarist Adam Kinghorn, discussing the band's collegiate genesis.
In many ways, Head for the Hills is a byproduct of a Colorado music scene that was, and still partially is, dominated by Yonder Mountain String Band, an ostensibly bluegrassy band that has made a name for itself by sidestepping bluegrass conventions while pushing the boundaries of acoustic music. Head for the Hills is not a Yonder knock off, however, even if HFTH does rely on a similar fan base and has collaborated with some of the same characters. But all that said, HFTH - which consists of an all 24-year-old members - is a youthful bright spot in acoustic music and could be the band that pushes the genre beyond the point that Yonder has already taken it.
Expectedly, given that the guys are 24 and playing bluegrass music has given critics an easy hook when writing about the band.
"People write about us and they call us 'young guns' or 'these young pickers' and I guess you could call that a competitive edge, in a way, but that will go away soon when we're all fat old men," says Kinghorn.
The youthful edge might be what attracts some fans to its shows, but HFTH's music stands on its own. It's not simply bluegrass given that it has an almost rock undertone at times, but it's not as varied as something like Leftover Salmon, either. HFTH is, in a word, fresh - a nice break from the traditional sounds that still dominate the genre. The band plays almost exclusively original music, largely steering away from the old-time standards that many of their peers rely on during live shows.
"We're writing a lot of music. Our first album that we put out was all original tunes. It's hard to say that we're going for this style or that style, but it is all original," says Kinghorn.
And the band is hardly traditional in its make up. For example, try this on for size: fiddler Joe Lessard is also an MC in two different Colorado-based hip-hop acts.
"You should see him, he's awesome. He writes all these rhymes and he's a great entertainer," says Kinghorn of Lessard and his work in the groups Whiskey Blanket and Audible Audities.
Hip-hop and bluegrass colliding together? Jeez, I haven't heard that happen since I was, well, walking down the hall of my freshman dorm.
"Head for the Hills Branch Out Across the Front Range" December 2005
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By Kathy Foster-Patton It’s not often that a band that hasn’t even made a CD fills up venues li...By Kathy Foster-Patton
It’s not often that a band that hasn’t even made a CD fills up venues like the Mishawaka Amphitheatre, or shares the stage with such luminaries of bluegrass as Pete Wernick and David Grisman. But the college boys from Head For The Hills have the recipe that pulls in the crowds. By spicing up some bluegrass standards, which they mix in with their own homebrew, some hip-hop influence and sometimes even a clarinet, the band takes a different approach to the jamgrass scene.
The band members recently took time out from songwriting, performing and studying for finals to speak with The Marquee about their music and where school ranks in the mix of things.
Head For The Hills formed at Colorado State University in 2003 when the guys met jamming at their dorm and realized they had a common love for music and performing. Guitarist/banjoist Adam Kinghorn and mandolinist Mike Chappell hooked up with Matt Loewen on bass and Joe Lessard on fiddle to put together a band that refocuses bluegrass basics with the ingredients necessary for extended high energy dancing and jamming.
Every band member sings and writes music and each started playing an instrument at a young age. After an initial foray on the bass in fourth grade, Loewen switched to the clarinet, which he still uses for some selected songs. Mostly, though, he holds down the bass guitar spot or he takes on the low end with a portable upright. Chappell started his musical career on a 12-string guitar, switching off to the mandolin a few years ago, influenced by Kinghorn. Lessard is also a member of a hip-hop band, hence the “grass hop” tunes that are part of their repertoire.
Well on their way in the songwriting arena, Head For The Hills have original work posted on their website and are putting together the music for their debut CD. Kinghorn explained that a lot goes into producing the band’s songs. “My creative process involves being inspired and turning that inspiration into something unique that I create. I try to capture the essence or feel of other songs that inspire me and then I try to put my own spin on it,” he said. Chappell chimed in, “The creative process that we use is interesting. Usually how it works out is one of us comes forward with a concept — be it words, an interesting lick, chord structure, etc. After that we all basically add our two cents’ into the song writing process. It gets interesting because we all have very different creative likes and dislikes, so compromising is something that will happen when we have songs.”
At a recent show at the D-Note in Arvada, Head For The Hills teamed up with Dr. Banjo himself, Pete Wernick, and they played together for two sets to a standing room crowd. The band had not met Wernick prior to the show; introductions took place fifteen minutes before the first song. Kinghorn was intimidated enough that he left his own banjo at home. They changed their style, playing more traditional bluegrass such as the opener, “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” rather than cutting loose with their normal jamming routine. Loewen said that while it was cool just being on a stage with some of the greats they had the opportunity to encounter, the real treat is the education it provides. “I feel both honored and lucky that we’ve been able to share the stage with greats like David Grisman, and playing with Pete Wernick was both a privilege and a great learning experience,” said Loewen. Lessard agreed, “Supporting and performing with some of our strongest influences is both humbling and incredibly inspiring for us as growing musicians.”
In terms of the future, the guys recognize that it is open-ended. Loewen shares, “Looking forward, I want to become a better bluegrass band first — working on timing, melody in solos, stuff like that — and then never look back and see where things take us.” Chappell continued, “If you would have asked me this a year ago I would have predicted everything wrong! I do think I can say that in the future our goal is to get much better at playing bluegrass and focusing on musicianship.”
Balancing music and school is their ongoing challenge. “This is by far the most difficult thing. We basically practice every day when it works for us all. It just gets really hard during test weeks and playing a huge show on that weekend,” said Chappell. “Sometimes it gets stressful, but most of the time it is not too bad.” Loewen continued, “We are all dedicated to graduating, so school is something that is taken seriously.” Lessard laid out the bottom line. “I think we’re all the kind of people who are happy being way too busy. So it’s healthy.”
Kick Off To 36th Bluegrass Festival
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It's all about bluegrass at the Moon, with the post-Yonder party featuring the astonishing Head for ...It's all about bluegrass at the Moon, with the post-Yonder party featuring the astonishing Head for the Hills. The band is on the fast track, having won Yonder's Northwest String Summit band competition three years ago. Sally Van Meter produced their debut album, and the young guns out of Ft. Collins found themselves hitting a bunch of major festivals last year.
Mandolin player Mike Chappell says the band has been back in the studio, where they've been getting some help from another familiar bluegrass friend. “We just got out of the studio up in Nederland. We have Drew Emmitt producing. He's the man! Being a mandolin player it's been really cool to work one on one with him and check out his style. I always held him in high regard, but being able to hang out with him as just been amazing.”
Head for the Hills was born out of their love of bluegrass – and the Telluride festival, in particular. “We're so psyched. I've been looking forward to this since July! It's always the best time of year. Adam, our guitar player, and I have been coming to the festival for seven years. Once the band formed, we tried the band competition, but we find that competitions are difficult. So we decided to play the Moon on Wednesday night, which is becoming a tradition after the Yonder show.”
Indeed, it's a wild tradition, as Head for the Hills rips, and who knows who may drop in for a jam. The band will be joined by opening act The Pete Kartsounes Band, and the Moon may just burst.
Bluegrass and Beyond: Head for the Hills Takes Pickin' to New Places
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Friday May 25, 2007 This ain’t no ordinary pickin’ band. Head for the Hills, a Fort Collins qu...Friday May 25, 2007
This ain’t no ordinary pickin’ band.
Head for the Hills, a Fort Collins quartet of string-instrument acrobats who will sizzle a Steamboat stage Saturday night, plays bluegrass like third-graders play at recess — with energy, enthusiasm and a flair for experimentation that often takes things in unexpected directions.
“It’s not really like a traditional bluegrass show,” guitarist and vocalist Adam Kinghorn, 22, said about the band’s live shows. “I would say it’s very high energy. As young pickers right now, we’re really excited to play fast all the time — we do a lot of segues from one song right into the next.”
Those segues often lead into improvisations and “pickin’ instrumentals” that revive traditional melodies into new interpretations of the bluegrass theme, Kinghorn said.
“These are melodies that have lived on since being played in Appalachia a hundred years ago,” Kinghorn said. “I love it when we can bring those back in a new way.”
In addition to Kinghorn, Head for the Hills includes Mike Chappell on mandolin, Matt Loewen on bass and clarinet and Joe Lessard on the fiddle. All four supply vocals. After meeting each other in a Colorado State University dorm in 2003, the band has opened for such bluegrass giants as David Grisman, Yonder Mountain String Band, Pete Wernick of Hot Rize, and Hot Buttered Rum. They’ll take the stage Saturday night at Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill, at Fifth Street and Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs, starting at about 10 p.m. The cost is $5.
The Steamboat show will be Head for the Hill’s second stop on a swing through western Colorado that will culminate at the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival, June 20 to 24.
The tour then will expand into Montana, Wyoming and the Midwest in a summerlong celebration of the band’s debut album, “Robber’s Roost.”
In addition to original songs, Head for the Hills — like any self-respecting bluegrass band — plays a variety of covers.
“We love to feature a few Bill Monroe songs in every set, like ‘Uncle Pen’ or ‘My Little Georgia Rose,’” Kinghorn said. “We’ve also done some Paul Simon — ‘Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover’ and ‘Me and Julio.’ Paul Simon has probably been the most influential songwriter for me. And we always like to pull out a weird cover at the end of the night to get people going — we like to change up our show quite a bit.”
Like with “grasshop.”
Lessard, the band’s fiddler, also plays in two Boulder-based hip hop bands, and will often bust out the vocal beatbox on stage during a bluegrass show.
“We’ll do a little beatbox and fiddle instrumental,” Kinghorn said. “We call it grasshop … I think we kind of look at bluegrass music as our vehicle, but I wouldn’t say we’re confined to it by any means. As far as songwriting goes, there are no limitations.”
Colorado Bluegrass Pushing the Limits: An Interview with Head for the Hills
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Head for the Hills, the Fort Collins Colorado-based bluegrass band, would rather not limit their mus...Head for the Hills, the Fort Collins Colorado-based bluegrass band, would rather not limit their musical style to just ‘bluegrass.’ They stay within the context of bluegrass—it’s hard to escape the sound when the band consists of a mandolin (Mike Chappell), fiddle (Joe Lessard), bass (Matt Loewen), and guitar or occasionally banjo (Adam Kinghorn). Regardless, their spectrum of tastes and styles is very broad. “We write a lot of songs,” Kinghorn claims, “so it’s original music in that sense.” I sat down with Head for the Hills just an hour before their private show celebrating Chicago’s South Side Irish Parade on March 11th. It was for this reason that we were all smiling, a little buzzed, and wearing silly green leprechaun hats.
This was their 3rd year playing the St. Patrick’s Day party for the parents of their manager Eric Farnan, and they have grown a considerable amount since their debut—which happens to have been my first ‘H4TH’ show. I asked Adam how the band had progressed so much—learned so many new songs and styles and garnered the impressive force I saw on stage in Carbondale, IL three nights before. He seemed a little stumped by the inquiry at first. “This is original song-written acoustic music,” he told me, “Every time [we] write a song, it’s something people haven’t heard before, so in that sense, it’s all new.” This didn’t quite answer my question though, so I decided to break it down. I pursued the topic further, over plenty of beer of course—it was a celebration. I wanted to figure out how (and why) Head for the Hills challenged the conventions of bluegrass and created such an innovative live experience—one that combines exuberant crowd participation with superb musicianship and a plethora of musical genres.
At least that’s how the experience has been so far. Their March 8th show at Carbondale’s Hangar 9 was packed before the second set, and the crowd danced so furiously it was hard to know who to watch. The magic was obviously instigated by H4TH though, who fed the crowd with seemingly flawless bluegrass, rock, and obscure cover songs. The audience voiced their appreciation, too, with excited hoots and whistles between songs and sets. One listener, Charley Foxx said, “This is great. It’s what bluegrass is supposed to be, plus so much more.”
Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way. Head for the Hills not only packs shows like Carbondale and Chicago, but is notorious for selling out the Mishawaka Amphitheatre in Fort Collins—the first time the band did this was just two months after their formation in September 2004. They have also produced and headlined their own multi-day Colorado music and camping festival called “Pickin’ on the Poudre” which attracted more than 1,200 concert goers. Now, with the completion of their first full-length studio album, “Robber’s Roost,” H4TH is on the road, packing venues in the Midwest and mountain areas and sharing their art with more music fans than ever before.
I asked the band how they were able to gather such large crowds, especially in cities like Carbondale and Benton Harbor, MI—places so far away from home. “Word of mouth,” said bassist Matt Loewen. “‘Colorado Bluegrass’ helps too,” he added, referring to the caption advertised on many of their promotion posters. “People read [that] and they also think ‘Colorado Music’ or ‘Colorado Acoustic Music,’ and a lot of them know that bands like us have a different way of doing things.”
It’s true—I’m thinking, for example, of The String Cheese Incident, who have been so bold as to combine techno with Irish jig music. Head for the Hills, likewise, stretches their music far beyond traditional bluegrass. I asked Matt about some of his musical influences. “Tony Rice, bluegrass-wise. Hot Rize. The way [to Chicago], we’re listening to my iPod. It starts with like… Turkish rock music. Then Thievery Corporation, King Crimson, Paul Simon.” All this music – techno, jazz, classic rock – has influenced them. I nodded and he went on: “But you can’t forget Phish. The influence of Phish is undeniable.”
Phish, one of the most successful touring bands of the 1990’s, is considered by many to be on top of the ‘jamband’ food chain. Following in the footsteps of the Grateful Dead, Phish relies heavily on live improvisation, a new set-list every show, a blending of musical genres, and unrivalled musical talent. They created a cult musical phenomenon, gaining popularity through extensive year-round tours and word of mouth. The technique has paved the way for many more performance-based groups, such as Head for the Hills.
Sean MacAskill, the band’s booking manager, will admit to adopting Phish’s management style. He has the band to tour constantly and considers shows “events” where they are “free to bend and have their own style.” He believes that Phish has mastered the art of connecting everyone at a concert – the band, the crowd, and the technical staff – and created a model for Head for the Hills. “We want a constant evolution of new experiences,” he told me, “We’re always trying to keep it fresh.”
But Head for the Hills should definetly not be called a ‘jamband.’ “The term ‘jamband’ has connotations. We’re not doing 20 minute power-jams,” (something typical of Phish and other bands like Widespread Panic and Umphrey’s McGee) said mandolin player Mike Chappell, “We all have so many different musical styles, but because of the boundaries we have, I guess you could call us ‘progressive bluegrass.’”
MacAskill agreed; “It’s four different guys who all enjoy their own musical niche. [Fiddle player] Joe has the hip-hop influence.” Joe Lessard, who hails from Knoxville, TN, is currently involved in two hip-hop side-projects, and is known to beatbox or rap over some of the H4TH’s funkier grooves, such as “Scribes Eye.” If you think that sounds odd, note that he is also a classically trained Suzuki violinist and has been playing in orchestra recitals for as long as he can remember. This varied musical history provides him incredible with talent and structure upon which to base many of his bluegrass ambitions, and his contribution to Head for the Hills is undeniable; his fiddle gracefully soars over the audience during any of his amazing solos.
Adam Kinghorn, who plays guitar and banjo, also has a unique musical background. Before performing bluegrass, he was in a punk band called Short Changed. “In high school, it was the cool thing to do—go see Adam’s punk rock band,” Chappell reminisced, and he chuckled at how much things have changed. Indeed, the switch from loud and distorted punk music to the highly technical sound of H4TH may seem like a considerable leap. However, Adam’s history of playing fast guitar is evident in his incredibly accurate flat-picking, and his long history with music allows him to write the majority of H4TH’s songs.
Mike Chappell and Matt Loewen were never in serious bands before Head for the Hills, but they have always had a great interest in music. Matt, as a clarinet or bass player, was always a part of school bands and symphonies, and like Mike, he made a point to go to as many concerts as possible.
Considering the amount of time and energy each band member puts into Head for the Hills, they don’t make it to as many live shows as they used to. However, when they do make it out, they find that they pay attention to different things than before—such as a band’s technique or tempo. It’s important for H4TH see how performers will keep the audience interested, or solve certain problems on-stage, such as a broken string. “When [we’re] watching a band on stage,” Adam said, “[we] really notice what they’re doing and take that to heart.”
It seems like the band takes notes. At the Carbondale and Chicago shows, there was hardly a person in the audience sitting still or withholding attention from the stage. Some songs – presumably improvisations – got so intense that one or more of the band members dropped to his knees to maximize his connection with his instrument—ensuring that he never miss a note.
They kept the audience mesmerized by playing one song after another, and they rarely slowed their pace. They sometimes moved so fast they combined songs, and once threw the lyrics of Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” over a bluegrass rendition of Phish’s “First Tube,” all of which was sandwiched between many H4TH originals.
The originals, which consist mostly of fast-paced and upbeat bluegrass, are often “rooted from growing up around natural areas” and “framed from a perspective of being in the mountains—the Colorado back-country,” Mike told me. Mike and Adam are from Golden, Colorado, but now all four boys now live in Fort Collins.
A lot of the songs are available on Head for the Hills’ new CD, “Robber’s Roost,” which was also very influential for the bands. “The completion of the new album, the whole process,” said Matt, “the people we’ve met… it’s made us grow as musicians—individually and together.” The CD definitely seems like a success story. It was produced by Sally Van Meter, who won a Grammy for her work on “The Great Dobro Sessions” (1994) and has worked with stars like Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and the Yonder Mountain String Band. David Glasser helped to master “Robber’s Roost;” he is known for his Grammy-award winning “Anthology of American Folk Music” (1997) and “Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton” (2002), as well as over 60 other Grammy-nominated records. The band also collaborated with Ali Repetti, vocalist for Arthur Lee Band, and seminal Colorado folk musician Todd Livingston. All of this helped, as Matt told me, “to cement us with talented people, as well as cement us musically.”
The band added that the album has helped to book them gigs and to meet other musicians; it provides them with a sort of validation. For example, they were afraid they were “going out on a limb” with their hip-hop influences, but after recording it, they got a lot of positive feedback. “Just to have something tangible like an album builds confidence for us and helps us feel like we have a more cohesive product—a way to present ourselves other than some cheap live recording,” said Joe.
The confidence shows—H4TH is more energetic and youthful than most bluegrass I’ve ever seen, and I’m counting big stars like David Grisman and Dave Johnston (both of whom, incidentally, have shared bills with H4TH). Live, they not only display their breathtaking musical talent, but their varied influences as well—Joe rhymes over a couple of Matt’s funky basslines, and there are covers from the likes of Guns ‘n’ Roses, The Drifters, and even Mozart. The crowd eats it up, and I feel as if I can actually see the energy bouncing between the audience and band. Head for the Hills and their attendees amplify each others’ excitement.
Everyone’s happy and laughing at a H4TH show. The band I were doing the same when Eric Farnan came to tell us it was showtime in Chicago. Mike put out his cigarette, Matt adjusted his hat, and Adam and Joe grabbed their instruments. As we walked to the outdoor stage, the crowd roared. All around us, Farnan family members and neighborhood friends laughed and drank in their green attire—this was an annual celebration. However, when I looked around, I didn’t see much of a difference between the private concert and the one at Carbondale’s Hangar 9. People were happy and unreserved, and when the music started, everyone danced. Head for the Hills brings one and all together, which allows for a fun and good-humored ambiance. Any audience will feel like they are at something as moving and intimate as a family event.
Head for the Hills w/Pete Wernick Dnote Arvada, CO 12-15-07
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Head for the Hills w/Pete Wernick (Little Liza Jane Opens) D-Note, Arvada Colorado 12/15/2007 ...Head for the Hills w/Pete Wernick (Little Liza Jane Opens)
D-Note, Arvada Colorado
On a crisp early-winter evening in Colorado, the bluegrass gods decided to shine their positive energy upon Olde Town Arvada...with a vengeance.
The D-Note was the gracious host for this event..I've had my eye on this place for the last year or so - and I've noticed many 'top-bar' Americana/Bluegrass/Folk artists from pretty much everywhere doing gigs here... I like the place more with each visit. Lots of freaky-cool art and a generally serene vibe make it a sweet place to listen to music - intimately.
On this particular Saturday night, Little Liza Jane was opening for Fort Collins-based Head for the Hills. Also, Pete Wernick, a living legend on the banjo, would be sitting in with Head for the Hills (H4TH) for two full sets(!) Truly a perfect combination, and surely enough to satisfy my 'bluegrass jones' nicely. I consider myself a huge fan of the Grass...however, I cut my teeth on Colorado-style jamgrass which sometimes offends the purists. I consider all of it to be within the extended family of bluegrass, and a sure way to heal that aching soul feeling that sometimes hangs in my chest like a wet rag. Bluegrass is my "fluff cycle".
Little Liza Jane opened right on time and settled right into the set with ease. I should mention they are an all-female band, which immediately caught my attention - along with the barbie dolls which hung from each of their microphones. I'd consider them as close to traditional bluegrass as I'd seen in a while, but with an obvious sense of humor and easygoing presence. They transitioned from song to song seamlessly...I'd call it "Front Porch Bluegrass" (probably not the exact technical term). It's the kind of bluegrass that takes you into the South, to a large veranda in the late spring. A place where you sit sipping mint juleps as the band plays, everyone sitting in rocking chairs in the moist warmth. Good times.
They played some songs I knew, what I might consider 'standards'...good, solid bluegrass. They didn't attack the music like some of the harder jamgrass bands these days, they just opened the door and let the music walk in on it's own. Everything about this band was easy and true. Still, they weren't locked in the closet with the standards...they played their original song 'Barbie Doll in a Gravy Boat' (apparently the source code for the hanging dolls), a lively, decidedly NON-standard tune. The acoustic guitarist Adrienne Yauk mixed things up by switching to a 'resophonic guitar' for several tunes (no clue what that means, but it looks like the bastard child of acoustic and steel guitars forced to mate)..great sound though, not twangy like I thought it would be. The gals from Boulder started the night off in grand fashion.
(but where's the gravy boat?)
As soon as H4TH took to the stage, I knew why I had come, and I remembered all over again why I love bluegrass in all of it's forms. These guys, simply put, 'blue' me away (please forgive that, but they did). I also have a rule, which says anytime you have a dreadlocked, bearded, eyeglass-wearing bass player in a bluegrass band - only good may come of it.
They played several songs by themselves, before Pete Wernick came out, and they lit up that damn stage as fine as any Yonder Mountain show I've seen. Not bound by any societal standards regarding bluegrass music, they picked and strummed their way through many different styles with equal mastery of all. They drifted into some absolutely haunting melodies right off the bat...playing songs I have never heard before. Staying true to their roots, they played some classic-style bluegrass as well, with a hint of raw power not normally found in the classics.
Then Pete Wernick came out. There was no 'break-in' period, they just got down to playin' bluegrass. They played a lot of what I call Getaway Car™ bluegrass (another copyrighted bogmonkey term). You know, like when Bo and Luke try to outrun Roscoe P. Coltrane and jump over the collapsed bridge? It's that kind of hot pursuit, moonshine-smuggling, batshit-crazy lightning-fire bluegrass. You can only achieve proper Getaway Car™ bluegrass with a smokin' banjo player, and Pete surely is that - and more. He was like the fifth finger in the glove, such a perfect fit! I truly felt much like in Wayne's World when they first met Alice Cooper and flung themselves prostate at his demonic feet...I too, was not worthy. But my Alice Cooper was a smooth-domed banjo genius who'd been playing and teaching for over forty years.
Towards the end of the first set, I heard a sound coming from behind me, vaguely like "Brawser! Brawser!" or something. I eventually turned and saw that a man was now sitting at the table behind me in a dark corner by the soundboard. He was calling to me with that weird barking sound, which I couldn't identify. I went over and I swear by Sam Bush that he looked exactly like Ted Turner, the CNN owner-guy. He was nursing what appeared, and smelled to be, straight gin with a lime.
He looked me dead in the eye, all serious like a Pentecostal minister, and asked me in a light southern drawl "Boy, who's this band playin' here tonight?" (He didn't actually SAY "boy", but it was implied in his tone) I told him it who it was and went on to talk about the bands for awhile. He didn't change a bit of his stony expression as he said "I guess tonight.....is my lucky night" (the pause in between was really noticable) I got the impression, just for a second, that he was going to take out a hidden billy club and split my skull open for some reason, he was just SO serious and solemn and reeking of gin. AND looking exactly like Ted Turner to boot...totally NOT cool. The band then went on setbreak, so I took down my taping gear to stop recording for the moment. When I turned around, I swear not three minutes had passed, but the Turner guy was GONE. All that was left was the empty glass of gin with a crushed lime in the bottom. And a faint presence of evil.
The second set started out as the first, with H4TH blasting out the heat alone till Pete came up to finish the night. They played a song that had a strong Celtic feel to it at the top of the set, totally taking me by surprise. You just don't expect that kind of thing at a bluegrass show - but with bands as diverse and talented as this, you get used to surprises.
Pete came out and they lit into some baleful, classic Grass - several songs worth. Then they went off some more, kicking up the pace, staying pretty true to classic bluegrass - but with such authority and energy! The took the power right on up, and out, to close the show with a blast. It was the kind of ending that leaves you a bit stunned, like post-coital bliss for the ears and mind.
All my needs had been met this night.
Rooted in the Hills
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For local bluegrass impresarios Head for the Hills, roots are important. Their music is rooted in bl...For local bluegrass impresarios Head for the Hills, roots are important. Their music is rooted in bluegrass tradition, mountain living and the CSU and Fort Collins community, which has allowed them to grow, thrive and blossom into an influential and popular local band.
Head for the Hills' bluegrass sound started during Mike Chappell's and guitar/banjo player Adam Kinghorn's senior year in high school. Jamming together, they carried their music into college, where they met Joe Lessard (fiddle/beatbox) and Matt Loewen while playing in Westfall Hall.
"It all started in the dorms for the most part," Chappell said. Moving outside of Westfall, Head for the Hills "had our first real show at a house party," Chappell remembers. "People really liked what we were doing."
Mixing traditional bluegrass sounds with unique improvisations and a variety of different genres, the band's blend of traditional and original proved a hit with listeners.
Picking up both a following of students and other local Fort Collins fans, the band searched out gigs at places such as the Aggie Theatre and other spots around town, in particular Mishawaka Amphitheater, which Chappell notes was a major point in the history of the band.
"It had been like a dream of mine for years," he said of playing Mishawaka. Playing to a record crowd, the band has returned to Mishawaka with much success, even headlining the popular festival "Pickin' on the Poudre" in May 2005, a camping festival that featured music by some of the best-known bluegrass bands. Head for the Hills proved themselves an essential feature of not only local bluegrass music, but the local music scene in general.
Another major turning point for the band came as they opened for the David Grisman Quintet, a major innovator in the bluegrass scene for more than forty years. Performing on the same stage as the Grisman, a legendary mandolin player, was, Chappell noted, "one of the highlights of the band's history."
The band will continue to make its own history with more upcoming shows in a variety of new towns, including an appearance in Winter Park at Buckets Saloon on Friday.
After a Boulder show in March, the band plans to take off on a Midwest Tour. "We're doing the tour on our Spring Break," Chappell said.
Hitting music centers such as Kalamazoo, St. Louis, Chicago and Lawrence, Kansas (they're taking part in the "Jazz Haus St. Patty's Day Bluegrass Throwdown"), the band is sure to generate a broader fan base and spread their unique sound to even more listening ears.
Rooted in musical tradition and Colorado living, the band is likely to keep growing and innovating, proving themselves even more essential to both the local and national bluegrass scene, doing their roots proud.
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Steamboat Springs — Adam Kinghorn, who plays guitar and banjo for the progressive bluegrass band Hea...Steamboat Springs — Adam Kinghorn, who plays guitar and banjo for the progressive bluegrass band Head for the Hills, is quick to point out geographic differences.
Mostly, that the kind of bluegrass you run across in Colorado is different from the Appalachian sort that gave the style its name — it crosses genres and carries the kind of youthful zeal that has made acoustic music appeal to college crowds.
On Saturday, the Fort Collins-based four-piece will play Mahogany Ridge. Coming off a busy summer tour season, a first album (“Robber’s Roost”) and four years of playing together around Colorado State University, Kinghorn spoke to 4 Points about Rocky Mountain bluegrass, and how it isn’t Bill Monroe.
4 Points: How does your band’s style differ from traditional bluegrass?
Adam: We have bluegrass instruments, but we don’t play a whole lot of traditional bluegrass. We write a lot of our own songs. Sometimes I wonder if we should even be called a bluegrass band.
4 Points: OK, so I’m from North Carolina. When I think about bluegrass, I think about Doc Watson. How is bluegrass here different?
Adam: Colorado bluegrass in my mind is more up and coming. It spans bands like Yonder Mountain (String Band) that definitely are defining a sound that’s not the same as traditional Southern bluegrass.
The role of all the instruments is different.
For example, mandolin playing in traditional bluegrass music is supposed to sound like Bill Monroe, and our mandolin player Mike (Chappell) plays differently than that.
The same goes with all the instruments. With traditional bluegrass the guitar player would never really take a break like Doc Watson would, the role would be to just kind of strum and sing pretty.
I’d say that it’s progressing and hopefully in a great way. But I think there’s a lot of merit in being able to play traditional bluegrass.
4 Points: If bluegrass is progressing, where is it going?
Adam: OK, like the mandolin example from before. The Bill Monroe style was very recognizable and for folks in those bands that’s how you play the mandolin — it’s religious almost.
It’s neat to step away from that in certain points, and I think that allows you to experience more and, in a sense, use that bluegrass style as a way to take you to other styles of music. People like Chris Thile and David Grisman have done that.
If you asked them to, they could play exactly like Bill Monroe, but that’s not something you want to do with every song.
4 Points: What other styles of music does that take you to?
Adam: I don’t think we feel restricted to play any certain style, we’re all very willing to play whatever we’re feeling and whatever comes to us in the moment.
Our fiddle player (Joe Lessard) was a classically trained violin player for most of his life, so the stuff he writes as fiddle tunes embodies a little more classical sound. There’s a funkiness to our rhythm playing, because our bass player (Matt Loewen) — what’s the best way to say this? — can play some drop the funk and get into a groove.
When somebody writes a new song, it just kind of unfolds that way, and I don’t think any of us tries to sound a certain way.
Head for the Hill's repertoire consists of several original compositions as well as a list of traditional bluegrass compositions. Head for the Hills typically performs 2 set shows of progressive acoustic music. Their stylings and influences include traditional bluegrass, roots music, rock, folk, new grass, latin, and have been known to venture into hip-hop aka "Grass-Hop." The band is known for venturing into a multitude of eclectic covers that inspire audiences.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.