Head For The Hills with Paper Bird & Caribou Mountain Collective 5.13.17

Mishawaka Amphitheatre
Bellvue, Colorado

Words & Photos by Nicholas Stock (Fat Guerilla Productions)

For the 13th consecutive year, Head For The Hills took part in opening up Mishawaka Amphitheatre for their summer concert season. And in its 101st year in existence, Mishawaka continues to be a vibrant and diverse meeting hall in the hills. This string-filled, folk-centric lineup included support from Colorado locals Caribou Mountain Collective and Paper Bird. This concert doubled as an album release party for Head For The Hills’ Potions and Poisons which dropped just a few days prior. For those of you that don’t know, Mishawaka is a small, but unbelievably picturesque venue, tucked deep in the Cache La Poudre. It’s worth your attention.

Just prior to the start of show time a man near the front of the stage had a seizure. Security and medical personnel were quick to respond and by all reports the man was in stable condition by set break. Always be aware that Mishawaka sits at just about 6,000 feet above sea level so it can affect people in crazy ways. The Caribou Mountain Collective were a man down, but mandolinist Dave Pullins filled in nicely with his fast picking and idiosyncratic singing style. CMC got the crowd engaged early with a spot-on rendition of Merle Haggard’s “Old Man From The Mountain.” The vocals of Miles Perry ooze with authenticity as seen in the brooding moonshine ballad “Up In Them Hills.” The slack jawed fiddle tune “Dirt” was a stark juxtaposition to the tragically magnificent “Fire Of 53.” After Pullins took a turn with the enigmatic “Neil Diamond’s Dress,” CMC closed with the bluegrass traditional “Reuben’s Train.” Caribou Mountain Collective continues to breathe new life into the classic songs of yesteryear, while innovating bluegrass with distinctive picking and powerful lyrics. They were a great addition to the lineup.

Paper Bird is no stranger to Mishawaka having performed there regularly over the years. They took the stage with the newly minted lineup sans Genevieve Patterson. Their sound is tighter overall with less focus on the massive harmonies that made them a Colorado institution. With the self-titled album comes a reinvention of sorts. They still treated us to beautifully blended vocals like in the set opening “Sleepwalker,” but their protest love song “As I Am” took on a more streamlined approach than previous renditions. The highlight of their hour long set was a rowdy and rocking version of “To The Light.” With a stacked summer tour, Paper Bird is committed to bringing the powerfully alluring vocals of Carleigh Aikins and Sarah Anderson to festivals and audiences across the country.

Head For The Hills is simply put the best musical endeavor to emerge from Fort Collins in recent memory. Focusing on many of the tracks off of Potions and Poisons, Head For The Hills treated local fans to a powerful pair of sets. They opened with the feisty “Afraid Of The Dark” featuring violinist Joe Lessard’s gritty vocals. Their version of the Merle Haggard classic “Mama Tried” was received well, they segued beautifully into the instrumental “Wild Horse.” It was around this time they were joined by local legend Boots Jaffee on harmonica. He would sit in again during set two. If the legend is correct, Boots has sat in with H4TH at every one of their Mishawaka shows. (As of press time I was unable to confirm.) Head For The Hills regularly includes composed instrumentals which almost act like various bridges for the set. Sam Parks has taken on many new roles with the band including singer and songwriter. His talents were obvious on the unabashedly catchy “Sit And Whittle.” They continued with their now classic version of Mickey Newbury’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” before another instrumental in the form of “Tipsy Gypsy.” After performing “Kill Your Mama” into “Banish Misfortune” Lessard declared, “That was an Alicia Keys song into an Irish traditional because here at Head For The Hills we don’t give a fuck… wait I’m being corrected it’s because we do give a fuck.” They closed with a celebratory “Fire” sung by Adam Kinghorn.

The second set featured several Head For The Hills standards starting with their love letter to the snow “Goin Down.” They didn’t wait long before treating us to a smoking version of Bill Monroe’s “East Tennessee Blues.” After an intoxicating “Suit And Tie” that featured Matt Loewen holding it down marvelously on the bass, they proceeded with the Grateful Dead’s “Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad.” That was two "Goin's" for those keeping track. Additional second set highlights included the title track off the new album Potions And Poisons and the orient-inspired instrumental “Japan” into Ryan Adams’ “Let It Ride.” The tight “Light The Way” was a nice throwback for old fans before the shred-fest “Bucker.” H4TH closed the set with a perfect “Time To Spare.”

The band returned for a quick one-two punch in the form of “Solar Bowling Shoes” into Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” Jubilant fans streamed out of the Mish towards the busses and towards home. Each year this concert marks the beginning of summer music for many Fort Collins natives. It’s a chance to reconnect with friends, the personnel at the Mish and to make plans for the summer. The story of Head For The Hills is intimately intertwined with that of Mishawaka. I for one am grateful for this tradition. Things change, but some things never do. I hope Mishawaka is one of those that never does.

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