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
2:30pm Sunday, July 12. Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin Hixon Dr. Free. 8pm Sunday, July 12. Silver Moon Brewing Co. 24 NW Greenwood Ave. $5.