Head For The Hills with Wood & Wire 9.11.15

Aggie Theatre
Fort Collins, CO

Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)

“Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin’.” – Bob Dylan

Seems like you can’t blink your eyes these days without major shifts in the scene with far reaching repercussions felt by many. Even going to see hometown heroes Head For The Hills is not without a sense of transformation. Founding member Mike Chappell picked his final mandolin string with H4TH at YarmonyGrass this summer. Mike is settling down in Portland with his new wife after more than ten years with the band. Maybe he and Vince Herman will start an acoustic coffee house project for the people of that fine city. Who knows? I absolutely wish him the best in this new chapter. This particular show was billed as a Grand Reopening celebration as The Aggie Theater finds itself under new management. Co-owner of Cervantes, Scott Morrill, along with a cavalcade of fellow investors has taken over the famous Fort Collins institution. I caught up with Scott who said that the changes planned over the next few months include a new sound system, fresh paint, and live paintings on the walls from artists like Scramble Campbell and John Bukaty. Morrill has always been a huge supporter of the live painting scene around Denver. In fact Laurie Keener was on hand too for the festivities and painted an amazing visual collage to mark the occasion. Eventually, the plan is to rebuild the old balcony and increase the capacity of the room. If the renovation of Cervantes in the post Bianchi era is any indication, The Aggie is in good hands.

The night began with Austin, Texas favorites Wood & Wire. These highly accomplished front porch fire pickers mesmerize while putting you at ease. There is a certain comfortable attitude in their delivery. Lead by the most photogenic picker touring today, Tony Kamel; the band opened with a powerful version of Del McCoury’s “True Life Blues.” The banjo heavy “Brand New Day” was an early highlight from their hour-long set. Fans streamed into the new Aggie in small clumps and found a hostess handing out popcorn and snow cones. This was just a small nod to the occurrence, but a welcomed one by many attendees. Kamel’s vocals harmonized beautifully with his band mates on the “The Seawall.” “Dancin’ On My Grave” was a sizzling hot potato that was appropriately passed between each picker with grace. The room really got rocking on “Moonshine Boogie” penned by Coloradoan Jeff Union of Ragged Union fame. They asked the audience if they had any requests and an inebriated guests shouted, ‘Pink Floyd.’ The boys from Wood & Wire obliged with the Grateful Dead’s version of “Deep Elum Blues.” They closed a very solid set with their outlaw flavored “Mexico.” This band is touring prodigiously and their musical output is top notch. If you like old timey acoustic music, there are few bands of this caliber touring today.

Head For The Hills utilized local picker Sam Parks of The Lonesome Days to fill in the gap left by Mike’s departure. Sam is a multi-instrumentalist with a strong sense of timing and lightning fast fingers. This was only his second time playing with the band and the man didn’t miss a beat. Adam Kinghorn got the night going early with the now classic nostalgia trip “Take Me Back.” Despite calls from the audience for Joe Lessard to remove his vest, he maintained his fashion sense throughout a smoking “Never Does.” Adam treated us to a new song focused on food before they went into a perfect “Dependency Co.” The boys proceeded with an unexpected rendition of Mickey Newbury’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” followed by a twang-tastic version of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” The band sounded good overall, regardless of any reservations fans might have had about the first hometown show sans Chappell. They wrapped up the first set with “Lover’s Scorn” which was the inspiration for their Biere De Garde of the same name brewed as a collaboration between the band and Sanita’s Brewery.

The second set began as a clusterpluck with all of Wood & Wire joining Head For The Hills on stage. They opened with a rowdy and beautiful version of “Sittin’ On Top of the World.” The members of Wood & Wire left and H4TH got down to business as a newly formed foursome. I have to say they sounded solid. Now obviously you can’t replace the synchronicity attained after a full decade of performing together with a handful of rehearsals, but Head For The Hills played well. They focused on many of the old school originals and classic covers that made them formidable pickers in the first place. And honestly the rest is a blur of good times and warm feelings. I’ve always said that Head For The Hills is one of the best musical outputs Fort Collins has ever witnessed. Change is constant and if anything, this particular concert was an exhibition of a band transitioning live. Time will tell if Parks becomes a full-fledged member of the group. If their two sets at the newly christened Aggie are any hint, the possibilities for Head For The Hills are still very much limitless.

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