Early on, members of local bluegrass band High Country Hustle weren’t that down with competitive music scenes, nor did they see bluegrass as a soundtrack for a party.
They were students at Fort Lewis College getting exposed to bluegrass music and its tight-knit scene of musicians and fans, a lesson in the genre’s social norms that goes right alongside with learning the music itself.
The music being your score for a party and its subsequent good times, along with competing in a contest that ranks bands seemed foreign. But it was all part of learning about this style of music, and now five years in as a band, they’re reveling in the scene, ready to drop their sophomore release and looking ahead to attending festivals both as fans and musicians competing in those competitions.
“When I first heard bluegrass music I was like, ‘wow, this old-time sound, it’s crazy that people party to this.’ But getting into the scene, and these guys bringing bluegrass into my life in a way that it had never been before was a super-enriching experience,” said High Country Hustle bass player Charlie Henry. “Being involved with the scene, I love the genre and I really love the people and all of our friends who are involved in it.”
Along with Henry, High Country Hustle are Andy Gallen on guitar, Seth Yokel on mandolin, and Dennon Jones on fiddle; all four band members contribute vocals.
They’ve already got one record and one band competition under their belt; their self-titled debut dropped in 2019, and they took first place at the Winter Wondergrass Band Contest in Steamboat Springs in 2020.
“Having ‘bluegrass’ and ‘competition’ in the same word is a little weird, but it was great, we got to go play the festival that year, and it was huge for us,” Gallen said.
That first record was a self-funded and self-produced effort. The sophomore record is not, as the band is currently hosting a Kickstarter campaign to help with recording, mixing, mastering and manufacturing costs.
It’s a regional effort, with eight of the 10-track album recorded outside Fort Collins at Swingfingers Recording Studios, a studio owned and operated by Aaron Youngberg of the band FY5. The other two cuts were recorded locally at Scooter’s Place.
They pulled in a producer for these recording sessions; quarantine time led fiddle player Jones to take Zoom-based lessons with Jake Simpson, who plays fiddle in Montana-based bluegrass band The Lil’ Smokies. Simpson also knows his way around record production, and because of those fiddle lessons, Jones was brought on to produce the record. He quickly became an essential fifth member.
“Having someone of his caliber and of his musicianship, he kind of became a member of the band there for a second. He identified with the project, and really got into it,” Henry said. “Just having him there was really cool. He told us some things about our songs from a third-party perspective that we might not have come up with on our own, and we probably wouldn’t have come up with. That was really great.”
“When criticism is coming from someone as talented as Jake it’s a lot easier to take” Gallen said. “He had some incredible ideas and gave us a lot of insight, so it was a real pleasure.”
Bluegrass is a supportive scene, likely because of its social nature. Fans mingle with musicians, musicians mingle with fans, and that social and supportive setting lends itself to money-raising movements like the band’s current Kickstarter campaign. It’s another avenue to support bands you love while supporting your own music scene.
“You do want to make a difference and help your favorite local musicians keep putting out music and make this a lifestyle for them,” Henry said.
Their Kickstarter campaign, found at www.helphch.com, wraps up in mid-March. The band plans to release the record this summer.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.