San Francisco band brings back honesty and soul
Steamboat Springs — What started as something to do to pass the time evolved into a nuanced element that helped define a familial group known as Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers.
Setting up a camera at the front of their van, Bluhm took the wheel and began the opening notes to the folksy rock melody by Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That.”
This spirited yet vintage-sounding group dubbed these videos “Van Sessions.” After the release of that particular Hall & Oates video, Bluhm said their popularity skyrocketed.
“I think people like seeing that it’s something that feels familiar, it’s such a real sound and the honesty of it appeals to people,” Bluhm said about the Van Sessions as she was out for a stroll in Salt Lake City on Wednesday afternoon. “I think people like knowing that what they are hearing is real and not altered.”
With a mellow, West Coast demeanor, Bluhm stands as the frontwoman of the group known for its four-part harmonies and funky lyrics brimming with soulful rock undertones. Never having any formal lessons, she was drawn to the life as a musician in organic way.
“The first true performance I remember was an open mic night, and I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it,” she said with a hint of embarrassment in her voice. “It was horrible. Once I could remember the words, I was fine, but there was a moment when everything drained from my brain. Luckily, it flooded back in the nick of time, but it was a stressful first experience.”
Bluhm met her husband and fellow band member/musical director, Tim Bluhm, at a house party when someone passed a guitar her way. Never before had she sung in front of a crowd, but she mustered up the courage for an impromptu blues tune. It caught the attention of Tim, and shortly afterward, he helped mentor her into a career as a singer-songwriter.
Similar to the natural progression of timing and talent, the formation of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers formed when her childhood friend, Deren Ney, was asked to play lead guitar. Dave Mulligan also was recruited by Bluhm to join the Gramblers on guitar and vocals while the two were out on a hike. Bass player Steve Adams and drummer Mike Curry were asked to join their talents with the other members based on Bluhm’s request. Tim also plays on guitar, keyboard and vocals when he’s not playing with his own band, the Mother Hips.
Shortly after receiving positive acclaim from fans everywhere, the group logged more than 200 tour dates in 2012 and more than 250 in the past year. The tight-knit group also has released about 27 Van Session recordings and hopes to create another one in the near future.
“Don’t you sing and drive at the same time?” Bluhm asked as she explained that recording and singing while driving wasn’t as hard as some may think. “It’s like singing a song you know with the radio.”
Bringing their quirky lyrics and catchy notes of timeless charm to Steamboat Springs for the third time, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers have a new variety of tunes to expose for the audience at Howelsen on Saturday night.
“We hope people are enthusiastic to be there because we are definitely pleased to be on the receiving end of their energy,” she said. “Colorado definitely brings it.”
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