Head for the Hills


Head for the Hills :: Table Mountain Inn :: December 29

Fort Collins born bluegrassers Head for the Hills, branch out across Front Range


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.”


Head for the Hills :: Table Mountain Inn :: December 29


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