Oct 152008
Authors: Elyse Jarvis

In the middle of his own college experience, Joe Lessard, fiddler for bluegrass ensemble Head for the Hills, was struck in all the right ways upon discovering that he’d been significant in someone else’s.

Finishing out the group’s show last month at the Aggie Theatre on South College Ave., “some girl was like ‘God, you guys have, like, shaped my experience in school,'” he said.

“To know that we’ve been present for someone’s four-year journey in college is actually kind of cool. The fact that she (connected) her entire college experience with Head for the Hills . I thought, ‘Wow.'”

Head for the Hills is largely the product of similarity and circumstance.

With an affinity for acoustic-rooted bluegrass and two CSU dorms, Westfall and Edwards, in common for three of the four members, it seemed to only be a matter of time before the four — Lessard, along with guitarist and banjo player Adam Kinghorn, bassist Matt Loewen and, then-UNC freshman and old friend, mandolin player Mike Chappell — developed a desire to play together.

Or, Loewen said, it’s more than likely that upon meeting, “I think I probably had a String Cheese Incident band T-shirt on, and I’m sure Adam was like, ‘Cool shirt, man.'”

Whatever the happenstance, the band – formed and dubbed Head for the Hills — has taken its recent signing with booking agent In the Pocket and even-more-recent completion of CSU degrees (for all but Lessard, who is still finishing his own after transferring to CU-Denver) as license to expand their music.

An undertaking three years in progress, the band has started playing shows in the Midwest, primarily, and hopes to eventually take their sounds to an international level.

“We’ve got good crowds in Lawrence, Kans.; Chicago somewhat; and in Midwest college towns,” Loewen said. “But lately, we’ve been branching out more to the West — Montana and the Pacific Northwest and stuff.”

With the extension away from playing solely college towns also comes the notion of professionalism, Chappell said, and it’s one that the guys embrace — for the most part.

“Big cities are cool, it’s sweet to play in Chicago, Portland and Seattle and places like that,” Loewen said. “But it’s nice to get the whole down-home, drunk college kid, PBR thing, too.”

Goals beyond the home-front, though, are vast and stretch past the states.

After Kinghorn and Lessard recently had the opportunity to play in the Virgin Islands, the band’s desire to “bring (its) form of Americana, bluegrass music to people who are hungry for it” has increased tenfold.

“(The experience) kind of opened up my eyes,” Lessard said. “It would really be cool to bring this kind of music to a lot of different people around the world.”

Head for the Hills is in pre-production for their second album, set for next spring, and before touring can resume, is on limited-show basis and stationed at home, which, band members agree, will always be Fort Collins.

“We would never abandon Fort Collins or anything, and that’s what, if anything, people’s concerns would be,” Lessard said.

“But I think that anybody that was a true supporter of us is happy to see us expanding beyond.”

And while outside observers may think the allure of such travel to be undeniable, the band members would say otherwise.

“At the level we’re at, it’s so, so, so not glamorous,” Loewen said.

“For the most part, it’s bussing it out, driving six hours to get to the next gig in a shitty van that smells and leaks water and the air conditioning doesn’t work in or whatever.”

With that said, the benefits are still apparent to the group.

“This is the lifestyle that I know I want to lead,” Loewen said. “Once you’re on stage, and all your equipment’s set up and . there’s several people in front of you watching — to me there’s nothing better than doing that.”

Still working part-time jobs and internships for now, the band members agree that they’re well on their way making playing music a full-time gig.

“In that sense, it’s like, ‘Finally, I’m doing this.’ Finally we’re here. We’re doing it, at least for a minute. For as long as it lasts,” Loewen said.

News Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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