*Guest blog by Matt Loewen – Music District Artist-in-Residence May 2018 and bassist in Head for the Hills*
Head for the Hills has always had a bit of an identity crisis. Being a “bluegrass band” without a banjo is a strange place to start from, and no one in the band grew up with bluegrass. We’ve always approached the music from the outside, coming to it with a menagerie of influences and ideas that are decidedly not bluegrass, and our record collections reflect those influences. Touring for the better part of the last decade has brought us to tons of record stores, flea markets, and thrift stores, yielding some amazing finds and music that we might not have had access to here in Fort Collins. Dusty soul ‘45s, deep jazz LPs, southern gospel and outsider rock all have found their way into our ears and hearts–and we’re richer for it.
2018 marked our 14th consecutive year opening the Mishawaka Amphitheater concert season–something I find hard to believe, but here we are, and so grateful! As we looked to this year’s show, it seemed like a natural progression to weave in some of those threads of soul, R&B etc. in a more literal way, so we expanded the band. A bunch of our “classic” material got reworked with horns, drums, keys and additional vocalists and we selected cover songs culled from records found on the road.
On its face mashing together a bluegrass band with a soul revue doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I mean, Could Otis Redding and Bill Monroe be more different? Is there any commonality between Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough? I’m not a musicologist–just a bass player and a serious record nerd–but the reality is there’s a TON of commonality there, going back to the origins of Bluegrass music. Did you know the banjo is from Africa? Consider the innovative stylings of the Carolina Chocolate Drops who have been performing African American old-time folk music and educating since 2005, or Bela Fleck’s film, Throw Down Your Heart. From the mainstream, one might reference the 1962 Ray Charles record Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, or the Lou Rawls version of John Hartford’s Gentle on My Mind–which we covered at the Mishawaka–or even more recently, the career of Leon Bridges. The list goes on and on. It’s easy to see a divide between genres but one of the things this experience really drove home for us is that these barriers are imposed on the music, not of the music and that the voices telling us so have been here, we just need to elevate them. It’s always worth considering the ways systemic inequalities or biases might be holding the genre/industry as a whole back from the fruitful creative genesis that comes from broadening the spectrum of voices contributing to the sound, and bringing a whole array of artistic energies to the table.
None of this would have been possible without the wonderful and vibrant community in Fort Collins. Head for the Hills has always been privileged to have an incredibly supportive home here, fostering the growth of the band for almost fifteen years. From CSU dorm rehearsals to the main stage at Bohemian Nights, that support continues today with The Music District. Our residency there in the week leading up to the Mishawaka performance on May 12th was indispensable to our success, since top-notch facilities, equipment and staff made rehearsals go especially smooth–we couldn’t have had a better situation. When I walk around the campus I’m struck with the notion that this is the sort of place I want to be; there are all sorts of people working here, the atmosphere is inclusive and it doesn’t feel like a boys club. Crazy right? Here’s to recognizing that that didn’t happen accidentally, nor without a ton of hard work. It’s inspiring to see what Bohemian, The Music District, and all the other business owners, movers and shakers are cultivating in Fort Collins and we’re really excited to be a part of it. Much thanks to everyone at the Music District for being such gracious hosts and we look forward to future collaborations!
Head for the Hills