Top Shelf

Acoustic Eddie, Big Fish and The Wiyos

by Chris Aaland

Call it bluegrass, newgrass, jamgrass or polyethnic Cajun slamgrass, jam-based acoustic music that’s centered in Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers has always had a firm root in Colorado. Ever since Sam Bush and his New Grass Revival bandmates played the second annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1975, hippie kids across the Centennial State have fused bluegrass with rock, folk, jazz and worldlier genres like reggae and Cajun.

Fast forward through Hot Rize, Leftover Salmon, the String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band and scores of others — including a strong local continent including the Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, Wayword Sons and Waiting on Trial (Robin Davis, anyone?) — and you’ll arrive at Head for the Hills. The Fort Collins-based quartet plays the Abbey Theatre at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. New Orleans’ The Revivalists open.

I recently spoke with H4TH bassist Matt Loewen about the Fort Collins music scene, recruiting some Colorado music heavyweights to produce their records and the influence of “Acoustic Eddie.”

Fort Collins-based Head for the Hills takes the Abbey Stage this Saturday night

“One thing that worked to our advantage is that it’s harder to break into Boulder,” Loewen said in contrasting northern Colorado’s two music capitals that lie just an hour apart. “They’ve got such high-quality venues in the Fox and the Boulder Theatre that attract a high level of talent. It can be a little bit tougher. In Fort Collins, we’ve been lucky from the beginning.”

Head for the Hills formed less than a decade ago when they were all students at Colorado State University. Rather than rush into the band thing, they focused on graduating while gradually building a big following around Larimer County.

“By the time people were graduating, it wasn’t even a question of, ‘Do we keep this going?’” said Loewen. “It became, ‘How do we build the rest of our lives around making Head for the Hills work?’ In a lot of ways we were lucky to be held back by the fact we were going to class at the time. We had to incubate and write the material.”

Dobro legend Sally Van Meter, who lives in Lyons, jumped on board to produce “Robber’s Roost,” H4TH’s debut album. “Sally was the perfect thing for us at that time,” he said. “We wanted someone who wasn’t afraid to crack the whip, and Sally did that.”

For their eponymous, sophomore release in 2010, H4TH recruited Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon as producer. “He’s got a different style than Sally,” said Loewen. “He’s kind of the yin to (Sally’s) yang. It’s interesting to get the full spectrum of different ways (to produce a record).”
Now, fresh off their first-ever mainstage appearance at the 2012 Telluride Bluegrass Festival and back-to-back Westword magazine “Best Bluegrass Band” accolades, they’ve put out their first-ever live album … one that includes a cover of Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills,” a song that newbie fans often get confused with H4TH’s own band name.

“I can’t remember the first time somebody came up and asked if we played that song,” said Loewen. “We’re all pretty eclectic music listeners.”
I gave Loewen the dirt on the “Acoustic Eddie” rumors of nearly a decade ago — bald-faced lies started by a couple of ornery KDUR personalities who shall remain nameless. It seems these jokesters posted some content on Yonder’s blog that Jeff Austin was leaving the band to join Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris in Acoustic Eddie, named for Maiden’s monstrous mascot, and play a new wave of British heavy metal in the bluegrass style. Austin slammed the posters a few days later on the blog, relieving countless kinfolk.

Loewen seemed mildly amused at the online antics.

Highlighting Durango Beer Week is Ska’s 17th Anniversary Party and Brewer’s Invitational, slated for 4 p.m. Saturday at Ska’s World Headquarters. The show-stopper is legendary ska band Reel Big Fish, which joins Denver’s Nuns of Brixton and local ska outfit Buster’s Ghost in playing grooves to drink to. Attendees will also get a souvenir pint glass in which they can sample suds from a long list of breweries, including our four local sudsmakers, plus Avery, Boulevard, Breckenridge, Bristol, Great Divide, Lefthand, Lumberyard, Marble, New Belgium, Odell, Oskar Blues, Ouray, San Luis Valley, San Tan, Santa Fe, Steamworks, Stone, Telluride, Three Barrel and Wynkoop.

If you like pairing fine food and craft beer, head to Carver’s Beer Dinner at 6 p.m. Friday, where Chef Dave Cuntz and head brewer Jeff Albarella pair a six-course meal with Carver’s brews, such as a lemon honey vinaigrette alongside a Belgian IPA and an almond meringue with chocolate parfait. Only 25 seats are available.

Steamworks taps its Firkin Friday cask of Peaches & Cream Brew at 3 p.m. Friday. Ale Diablo served as the base with fresh Palisade peaches, vanilla beans and milk sugar added to the mix. “As the classic duo Peaches and Herb sang, ‘reunited and it feels so good,’ our firkin should taste good, too,” said Steamworks head brewer Ken Martin. “The Ale Diablo is very smooth but is one of our highest ABV beers (9.5 percent). So this firkin will be very tasty and truly should make you feel so good.”

The week’s most intriguing event happens at the Dolores River Brewery on Tuesday night when the highly-acclaimed New York trio The Wiyos play. These guys opened for Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp during their 2009 tour of minor league baseball parks. It’s Americana with reference points in Tin Pan Alley and Spike Jonez. Or, as one music rag noted, “‘Big Pink’ meets Pink Floyd.”

If African dance is your thing, don’t miss the Saakumu Dance Troupe from Ghana at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Community Concert Hall.
There are plenty of local musicians plying their craft this week, but not enough room in Top Shelf to list them all. Check out the Telegraph’s “On the Town” for a full listing.
This week’s Top Shelf list recalls my three favorite Colorado newgrass bands:
1. Hot Rize – the founding fathers.
2. Leftover Salmon – Their four-day stints at Farquahrts 20 years ago introduced me to the genre.
3. Yonder Mountain String Band – Often pooh-poohed by critics, their songwriting and live show are first rate.

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