The Scene: A near capacity crowd of avid bluegrass fans gathered at Mishawaka Amphitheatre Saturday evening to greet Fort Collins own, Head for the Hills. Despite heavy rain earlier in the day, the crowd of young and old bluegrass fans didn’t hesitate to line up ahead of time to catch Flat-Picker Tyler Grant and Banjo wiz Andy Thorn open the show as The Grant Farm. Being only 24 hours removed from a wild 4 + hour EOTO show at this same venue, I decided to take it easy and enjoy the show with a clear mind. It turns out I made the right decision as both The Grant Farm and Head For The Hills combined for a spectacular evening of bluegrass up the Poudre Canyon.
Opener: The Grant Farm. When I arrived around 830 PM, the line to get in was already snaking itself down Highway 14; quite the turnout for a chilly, late summer evening. The Grant Farm opened the show with an energetic set of Americana, rock and bluegrass. I’ve always admired Andy Thorn because he is truly one of the best banjo players in the business. His picking combined with Tyler Grant’s incredible flat-picking skills makes The Grant Farm a band worth seeing. The highlight was certainly the guest appearance of longtime bluegrass artist, Benny Galloway. Benny reminds me a lot of Willie Nelson with his signature playing style, appearance and guitar skills. He played several songs with Tyler and Andy as the crowd gradually grew larger and more festive. They exited the stage to a nearly full crowd, all waiting eagerly for the hometown boys to take the stage.
I took a quiet moment between sets to sit on the deck and reflect on an amazing summer of shows at Mishawaka. The best moment was definitely Leftover Salmon, but with that show a fading memory, I turned my gaze to the stage one last time as Sloppy Joe as the rest of the boys from Head The Hills began to take the stage.
Head For The Hills: I was lucky enough to catch Head for the Hills at Yarmony Grass and it was a terrific show. Showing their true acoustic roots, they opened with an instrumental piece that pierced the cool night air. I’ve always loved Head for the Hills because it seems like every time I see them play, a new element in their music appears sharper and more clarified. Tonight it was Matt Loewen on the stand up Bass. I don’t know whether it was the mountain setting or the feeling of being home again, but every note he played was amazing as they echoed and rippled eerily down the canyon.
The crowd really started grooving once they got into an enjoyable flow of covers and original songs. Highlights included a rousing rendition of “Mama Tried,” and the equally awesome “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads. There’s really nothing like a Head for the Hills show because their music possesses a special quality that can make you feel like a pirate on the high seas while at the same time make you dance your ass off. This would explain why they cut the music near the end of the first set to announce to everyone that they there going to play the “pirate song.” Off course this made the crowd even more excited as they exploded into 8 minutes of “Cold Walls” off their self-titled second album.
After a brief break, they returned with a bevy of original songs including “My Angelie,” and “Chupchik.” The second set was truly a work of art even as tiredness began to take over my body from the night before. They continued to blaze through a twisting maze of bluegrass jams and serenades before arriving at the end of the tunnel, where I stood in awe of their amazing bluegrass talents.
Accompanied by keyboardist James Thomas, this bands music has really taken off to new heights. It has added a jammy feel to their music that I really love. In terms of local, even Colorado based, bands, Head for the Hills ranks near the top. As the first note of “One Foot In The Grave” rang out across the Mish, it was clear they have developed a wonderful and loyal fan-base. Every single person was singing along and the Mishawaka felt alive once again. After the song, Sloppy Joe commented that he “didn’t know that this many people knew the words to our songs,” and it was an “incredible feeling.” It was certainly a wonderful homecoming for a band with a bright future ahead of them. You can check them out at the Fox Theater on October 7th. Hope to see you there!
Stage Presence: A
Set Lightshow: A-