Short's Brewing & Old Forester Concert Series
Head For The Hills
Old Salt Union
345 E Nine Mile Road
Ferndale, MI, 48220
Doors 8:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
Head For The Hills
Potions and Poisons is the fourth album of original music from Head for the Hills, the Colorado based
post-modern bluegrass outfit of Adam Kinghorn, Joe Lessard, Matt Loewen and Sam Parks. There’s no
reinvention of the wheel here-- no computer programmed banjo rolls or digitally arpeggiated fiddle lines.
Instead we find Head for the Hills at the peak of their powers of musical alchemy, building little worlds of
sound from the detritus of bluegrass, jazz, hip hop, folk and soul. Potions and Poisons is a look at the
darker side of love, lust, and life; an examination of our affinity for and aversion to the things that make us
fragile but human. Recorded at home in Colorado with the band’s go-to engineer, Aaron Youngberg
(Cahalen and Eli, Martha Scanlan, Grant Gordy and Ross Martin), the record features appearances from
Bonnie Paine (Elephant Revival) on vocals and washboard, Erin Youngberg (Uncle Earl, FY5) on vocals,
and a lush string section. Potions and Poisons is the most Head for the Hills record yet, and in the great
tradition of bluegrass (and soul and folk and old time music), it delivers some bitter pills, but the ten new
original songs are more than a survey of the human condition. This is reflective but buoyant music,
restorative and full of vibrancy.
Head for the Hills prides itself on defying expectation, turning neophytes into converts and genre purists
exploratory listeners. Remaining true to the roots of bluegrass while simultaneously looking to it’s future
prospects, the band makes music that reaches into jazz, indie rock, hip hop, soul, world and folk to stitch
together cutting edge songs that bridge the divide between past and future acoustic music. More than a
decade in and after thousands of miles, hundreds of performances, a handful of independently released
records, 4 times awarded Best Bluegrass in Colorado, and one new mandolin player-- Head for the Hills is
at their absolute peak, firing on all cylinders and winning the hearts and minds of audiences everywhere
Head for the Hills have been bringing their music to audiences from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival to
South by Southwest and a multitude of stages in between--including Summer Camp Music Festival, High
Sierra Music Festival, RockyGrass, DelFest, Northwest String Summit, Blue Ox Music Festival FloydFest,
Strawberry Music Festival and many more. The band has been featured on NPR Ideastream and eTown,
co-released beers with Odell Brewing Company and Sanitas Brewing, charted on the CMJ Top 200 (Blue
Ruin, 2013 and Head for the Hills, 2010), and was featured by CMT – Edge, who said; “Head for the Hills’
Blue Ruin effortlessly matches integrity against innovation.”
“On top of modern string music” (Bluegrass Today)
“Cutting edge” (Drew Emmitt - Leftover Salmon)
The quartet recently released their third studio album, ‘Blue Ruin’, which has received positive praise. The
album has charted in the CMJ Top 200 and the band was featured by CMT – Edge mentioning – ‘Head
for the Hills’ Blue Ruin effortlessly matches integrity against innovation’. Renowned artist Timothy Doyle
(Muse, The Black Keys, Lucas Films, NASA) created the stunning cover art for ‘Blue Ruin.’
Head for the Hills has performed and appeared at many premier festivals and radio programs: Telluride
Bluegrass Festival, Wakarusa Music Festival, Summer Camp Music Festival, SxSW, NPR-Ideastream, eTown, High Sierra Music Festival, RockyGrass, DelFest, FloydFest and several more.
Old Salt Union
Old Crow folk and Yonder Mountain jam --
not a bad place to be for a band about to break.”— No Depression
A great band is more than the proverbial sum of its parts, and in the pursuit of becoming something that can cut through the clutter of YouTube stars and contest show runner-ups, a great roots music band must become a way of life. Less likely to rely on production or image, they’ve got to connect with their audience only through the craftsmanship of their songs, the energy they channel on the stage and the story that brings them together.
Old Salt Union is a string band founded by a horticulturist, cultivated by classically trained musicians, and fueled by a vocalist/bass player who is also a hip-hop producer with a fondness for the Four Freshmen. It is this collision of styles and musical vocabularies that informs their fresh approach to bluegrass and gives them an electric live performance vibe that seems to pull more from Vaudeville than the front porch.
In 2015 they won the FreshGrass Band contest and found the perfect collaborator in Compass Records co-founder and GRAMMY winning banjoist and composer, Alison Brown, whose attention to detail and high standards pushed the group to develop their influences from beyond a vocabulary to pull from during improvisation and into the foundation of something truly compelling in the roots music landscape.
Violinist John Brighton mentions some names familiar to the Compass roster as key influences, musicians like Darol Anger, Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall and Mark O’Connor, all of whom have collaborated with Brown in the past. Primary vocalist and bassist, Jesse Farrar (for the indie rock heads - yes, he’s related – Son Volt front man Jay Farrar is Jesse’s uncle) brings an alternative rock spirit as well as his unique formative experiences as a hip hop producer and bass player for a national tour of The Four Freshmen. The band’s self-titled Compass debut combines these instrumental proclivities with pop melodies and harmonies into a coherent piece of work that carves out a road-less-travelled for the band in the now crowded roots music genre.
The album kicks off with a nod to alternative rock sensibilities – a deconstructed symphonic drone creeps in slowly, while Farrar emerges through the atmospherics to deliver the first lines “Stranded on a lonely road/Trying to find my way back home/A dollar and a broken heart/Didn’t seem to get me very far”. His words are followed by a dramatic moment of silence (a trick often used in hip hop) that quickly launches into “Where I Stand”, a hard-driving bluegrass track that gets moving so powerfully you almost don’t notice the layer of angelic harmonies flowing consistently underneath.
Mandolinist Justin Wallace takes over lead vocal duties for the second track “Feel My Love” as well as a version of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”. He pops up again on his composition “On My Way” and his no-frills, approachable voice is the perfect complement to Farrar’s more gymnastic style. The two work together beautifully on the Wallace-penned, “Hard Line”. Wallace is further showcased on the disc’s lone instrumental “Flatt Baroque”, composed by Brighton, who joins him in some twin mandolin, and it’s this more contemplative moment on the album where the listener hears him reaching to be in perfect sync with his bandmate, that best reflects Wallace’s role in the evolution story of the band. If Farrar has emerged as the heartbeat, then Wallace is the soul.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the band was founded by banjoist Ryan Murphey, the aforementioned horticulturist who came to bluegrass music and the banjo later in life. Finding a kindred spirit in Dustin Eiskant, the band’s former guitarist and Farrar’s cousin, the pair started the band in 2012 and Murphey played the banjo and led the band’s business through its early incarnations, including the recruitment of Farrar in 2014.
When Eiskant quit in 2016, just as the band’s already impressive trajectory seemed to be taking a significant step forward, Murphey and the band were able to reset, adding guitarist Rob Kindle to the lineup. Kindle brings a bluegrass foundation from his early exposure to the music as a child in family settings, as well as a degree in jazz performance to the mix.
Though the band had established themselves as a growing festival act with performances at LouFest, Stagecoach Festival, Bluegrass Underground, Winter Wondergrass, Freshgrass, Wakarusa, Yonder Mountain String Band's Harvest Festival, and the 2014 Daytona 500, it was their breakout track on Spotify, “Madam Plum” that seemed to amplify awareness of the band beyond the bluegrass bubble.
Of working with the band in the studio, producer Brown says, “These post modern bluegrassers are true renegades. While they look like a bluegrass band, their musical sensibilities run much deeper and broader, borrowing as much from indie rock and jazz fusion as from Bill Monroe. And, even more exciting to me, they know no fear! They are wide open musical adventurers and we had a great time experimenting in the studio at the crossroads of these disparate influences.”
The most unexpected but possibly most fascinating song on the album is a ballad entitled “Bought and Sold”. Its earnest beauty is balanced with a youthful inventiveness that leaves a solemn mark on the listener who might wake up at the end of it thinking, “What just happened?”.
At this point, the future of the band seems marvelously unclear. The album closes with “Here and Off My Mind” which seems like the bluegrass song that Conor Oberst never wrote featuring a lyric that ends with the promise of “a better life” though from the all-hands-on-deck jam session that breaks out in the middle (is that a kazoo?) one gets the sense that the band can’t imagine a better one than they have in the beat up Winnebago they currently call home.