Fort Collins four-piece bluegrass outfit Head for the Hills came to the State Room on Friday, which was an enticing treat before folks would be going door to door a few days later, looking for tricks, by comparison.
This was the first stop on their trek to Oregon before heading back to work on their third full-length studio release. They performed some of the songs for the first time. Songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Adam Kinghorn knows what the band needs to do. “We’re trying to pay our dues ... albums aren’t cheap,” he said.
These guys have little to worry about, though, considering that at their last appearance in SLC a year ago, attendance was about half, or a third, of what it reached this time around. To boot, the tipsy crowd responded eagerly to the music, hollering the lyrics to some of H4TH’s early material and covers . It seems that this hard-working, road-dwelling group’s strategy for navigating the bluegrass/jam-grass circuit has proven effective. I asked Kinghorn if, in fact, the majority of their last five years have been spent traveling. He laughed and replied, “Yeah, I guess”; he appeared never to have considered it. “We’ve pretty much been touring ever since we got serious.”
The show started promptly on time. In the opening 20 minutes or so, energy from the band and the audience lulled slightly. The unusual punctuality at a concert venue could have caught some fans off guard. After they had played the first few numbers, the band was looking out on the biggest audience they have played for in Salt Lake City and began picking with their typical zeal.
Head for the Hills’ albums have always contained finely crafted alterations of traditional bluegrass and folk songwriting. A prime example is “Goin’ Down,” which offers poignant lyrics that pine for home in the Colorado high country and a flighty fiddle melody; this tune makes its way into their set lists regularly with considerable success.
Without exception, whether they’re playing new or old material, or even covering The Talking Heads, H4TH’s musicianship remains on a consistent "A-game" level. Covers like their instrumental bluegrass take on “Sweet Child of Mine,” by Guns N’ Roses, and Ray Charles’s “Unchain My Heart” proved that string bands can, indeed, make a room full of people wild and ecstatic.
Regardless of the song’s origin, the show proved to be an encouraging jumping-off point for the road ahead. Kinghorn and violinist and vocalist Joe Dunlap’s harmonies hit all the right high notes. Soloing from the two singers, as well as Mike Chappell’s electric and acoustic mandolin, satisfyingly led the instrumental sections. Finally, sly standup-bass lines played by Matt Lowen rounded out the quartet’s sound. This is a group that fans of contemporary bluegrass are, or should be, taking note of.