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Blues, Buckets, Repeat: Making sense of Bend's love for Hillstomp 

click to enlarge Prepare to be stomped...again.
  • Prepare to be stomped...again.
Prepare to be stomped...again.
You can overstay your welcome here in Bend. And I'm not talking about your ski bum cousin who slept on your couch for three months last winter. Rather, I'm referring to out-of-town bands that reappear in town over and over, eventually losing their appeal after that new band smell wears off. We've seen it with reggae bands from Eugene and jam bands from the Bay area.

But there are a few bands that we don't mind letting lounge around the figurative couch that is our music scene. Perfect example: Portland's gritty blues rock duo Hillstomp. By this publication's count, the band's show at the Domino Room on Saturday is its fourth appearance in the last year. One might expect the numbers to dwindle with each show, but that isn't the case - these guys are gathering larger crowds each time they cross over the Cascades.

The last few Hillstomp shows in Bend have seen the duo of slide guitarist Henry Kammerer and drummer John Johnson at their best-Johnson ripping away at his junkyard assortment of buckets and tin can lids that pass as his drum kit and Kammerer providing both the moaning guitar and gritty vocals that define the band's North Mississippi blues vs. punk rock sound. It's a fast-paced show that works a mixed bag of punks and hippies (one of the only shows in Bend that manages to bring those camps together) into a boot stomping, knee-slappin' frenzy. While driving southward toward San Francisco last week Johnson took a stab at explaining the band's appeal.

"I guess I don't really know for sure why we draw the people we do, except for the fact that I know when we're playing, people feel really good and just seem to end up with a lot of excitement. That sort of thing spreads without a lot of money or promotion or any other industry wheel," he says.

Hillstomp has won over Bend, as well as a long list of other towns and big cities, but some of the places the duo is most well received is a little on the surprising side. They draw large and raucous crowds in places like Davis, Calif.; Missoula; Manhattan, Kan. and, strangely enough, Richland, Wash.

"In Richland, there's one of the coolest things ever. It's a Mongolian barbecue and punk rock dive, and it's really cool," Johnson says, laughing at the juxtaposition of the establishment's two business ventures and reminding me instantly of the now defunct Shanghai Joe's on Division Street.

It's common for a hard-touring band like Hillstomp to become the darlings of smaller towns, and it makes sense that the duo does well in a weird array of places, because this is a band that's probably best described as a "weird array." And conveniently, they bring in a weird array of fans. Hillstomp is one of only a handful of bands that could fit fine onto a punk bill, or fill a slot on a roots festival.

"Normally, we get punks and hippies together in the same room and bring them together to have a good time," Johnson says.

Hillstomp, Empty Space Orchestra

8:30pm doors, 9pm show. Saturday, November 29. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $9. All ages.

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