Denver band kicks off the Mountain Music Series this weekend
If You Go...
What: Mountain Music Series presents: Oakhurst
When: 7 p.m. Friday, June 12
Where: Base of Steamboat Ski area in Gondola Square
Steamboat Springs — Take bluegrass in its most traditional form of raw front porch stomping strings and add some drums.
What the result? A driving force of rock and roll and progressive bluegrass. Otherwise known as Oakhurst, the urban edge quintet from Denver.
And this weekend, they will be the first act of the Mountain Music Series, held at the Base of the Steamboat Ski area in Gondola Square starting at 7 p.m. The show is free.
Founded in 1999 by bassist Johnny James Qualley and singer Adam Hill, the group became a full-time, nationally touring act in 2004, producing five records. After a change in membership over the years, the essence of Oakhurst is still there, but is now focused in a different direction. The current lineup is comprised of Hill, Qualley, Max Paley on mandolin and vocals and Michael Colón on drums.
The group calls Denver home and even owns the Appaloosa Grill & Wright Room. http://appaloosagrill.com. For now, the group continues to perform in Denver and other venues around Colorado. They have also had time now to participate in the artistic experience and develop more songs.
Prior to their concert this weekend, Explore had the opportunity to chat with Qualley about pushing the boundaries within music genres and what Oakhurst has learned over the years.
Explore Steamboat: You guys have a distinct sound within the realm of bluegrass. Where does that urban edge come from?
Johnny James Qualley: The drums add a whole new thunder to that traditional bluegrass form. Each person in the group has unique training and experience for how they were first exposed to music. We also have a lot of commonalities and are able to work together really well. We bring a lot of energy to a show, or that swagger, for lack of a better word. When we show up, we want to have a good time and like to bring everyone with us. We work hard and practice hard, and I think some of the most entertaining bands are those who really look like they too are having a good time.
ES: How is Oakhurst stretching those so-called bluegrass boundaries?
JJQ: It’s not that unusual, but it really causes people to wonder what we are. In Denver, we’ve been nominated for the best band in various categories, from bluegrass to alternative country, rock and even in the jam band category. I think that, because we have a drummer, it makes it harder for people to peg us as a certain kind of band. But, we just like to call it rock and roll bluegrass, really. We have that rock and roll attitude, but also have some standards. We’ve really evolved and changed over time. The band 10 years ago is very different from now, but it keeps things interesting.
ES: What was it like to get your start in Denver, and what has changed since then?
JJQ: When we started, the scene there was barren. There were only a few pockets where you could find good music. But now, it’s just out of control the number of bands with national success hailing from Denver. It’s astounding. But it’s fun to watch the progression and be in the middle of it all and watch it grow and see the people you know from when they first started become big acts. It’s an interesting ebb and flow, but the scene in general is amazing.
ES: Looking back, what are some of things you’ve learned over the years with touring? What about recording?
JJQ: It all really goes back to fun-having. If you’re not having fun, you need to be doing something else, no matter who you are. We were on the road for a decade and had a core lineup for seven year. Keeping it together on the road away from family, with little sleep, drinking lots of beer, driving on a bus — it’s a marathon, and it takes endurance. But it takes the visceral joy of music and to have a good time with your team, out there, living it (the dream) every day is super rewarding, but difficult.
ES: How do you think you Oakhurst’s sound has evolved?
JJQ: It’s been all over the place. We’ve had lots of different players. At times, it could be more electric or more influenced by fiddle, or we’ve had the electric guitar instead of a banjo. At the core, we have always been and will be Oakhurst, but there have definitely been some different shifts and changes as we’ve matured. We’ve played with some of the best bands in the business and have learned from them how to handle things professionally on and off the stage and to take time to hone in on our sound.
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