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From the Ground Up: Harley Bourbon's fast track DIY path to making great acoustic rock music 

Harley Bourbon making great music from the ground up.

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Sitting outside of a downtown Bend coffee shop, the four members of Harley Bourbon are talking about the name of their band, which also happens to be the name of one of their favorite drinks. The band, you see, is a raucous indie-folk-meets-punk-rock quartet and the drink is a seemingly weird mix of orange juice and Jim Beam that these four young local musicians insist is delicious.

Orange juice and Jim Beam? Really? Let's get back to that band name.

"Motorcycles and bourbon. What's more American than those two things? Remember when you were a kid and you wanted to be a cowboy? This is my way of doing that, I guess," says guitarist and songwriter John Forrest, getting a laugh from longtime friend and fellow guitarist Collin Rhoton, with whom he's been collaborating since they were bored 14 year olds growing up in the coastal town of Ocean Shores, Washington.

Now, at age 22, Forrest has no aspirations of becoming a cowboy, but has quickly made Harley Bourbon into one of the more engaging young live acts on the Central Oregon music scene. And all of this has happened quite quickly. While at first it was just Forrest and Rhoton, Boxcar String Band bassist Casey Cathcart soon joined the band, cementing the strong friendship between the two bands. With the sound growing, Forrest and Rhoton figured they should add some percussion, and they didn't have to look far to find it. Both Forrest and Rhoton are cooks at Flatbread Community Oven and when they heard that one of the servers, Maxine Roach, played the drums, they soon had a rootsy, but raging, acoustic rock band.

With only a limited number of rehearsals under their collective belt, Harley Bourbon hit the pavement hard this past summer, playing anywhere and everywhere, quickly appealing to fans of other acoustic rock bands.

"We played at Summer Fest and a couple people came up and asked if we were Larry and His Flask," says Roach with a smile.

Harley Bourbon is not Larry and His Flask, nor does it aim to be, but that band, along with Boxcar String Band and other bands has opened some doors for young Americana-rock acts like this. They don't necessarily enjoy the "Americana" tag, but they let it slide.

"I guess that makes sense. This is definitely American music," says Cathcart, prompting Rhoton to sing the chorus to the Team America: World Police theme.

Although a fan of punk rock, Forrest says the band's influences tend to meander back to one common thread, and one you might not expect from a band whose oldest member, Cathcart, is only 26 years old.

"I like to kind of pay tribute wherever I can to old music. We're all fans of the outlaw country guys, but I'm not trying to be Hank Williams, ya know?" says Forrest, stressing the band's desire to lay their own streak of originality throughout their tunes. The aim comes through excellently, and like at an August show at the Horned Hand, Harley Bourbon provides the soundtrack to a wild dance party that's got the down-home feel of a backyard jam with the edginess of a punk rock show. You could call it throwback, but still, what they're doing is quite innovative.

Harley Bourbon, in its current incarnation, is still very much in its infancy, yet the quartet is making headway, already playing out-of-town gigs, including a recent well-received gig with Boxcar String Band over in Eugene. But on the other hand, they don't have any CDs (or really any recorded music at all) or any other promotional materials. You'll just have to see them live on November 26 when they play the Jubelale art party at the Horned Hand to get a taste.

Forrest and company don't seem worried about any of this, though. It's almost like the sort of ramshackle approach is what he's aiming for.

"We're not really as organized as some other bands," says Forrest, "But I know that when we get together in the garage we'll make some damn good music."

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