Nestled high in the foot hills of the Poudre Canyon, the legendary Mishawaka Amphitheatre rests on the rocky banks of the Cache de la Poudre River. For the past 8 years, the Mish has served as the spring stopping ground for Ft. Collins’ favorite sons. And once again, this Saturday, May 12th, opening weekend arrived. It was time to Head for the Hills. One by one, the chartered buses bandy about, climbing and twisting up the winding corridor. Anticipation waxed and waned around each bend. Until suddenly, the rich brown wood of the Mishawaka, darkened by the evening rain, revealed itself in thick fog. The drivers down shifted and rolled to a stop. Eager faces filed out into the damp air and gathered in front of the single stage amphitheater originally known as The Mishawaka Dance Hall (circa1919).
While the attendees entered, they were welcomed by local friends, Finnders & Youngberg. This veteran group is known and respected for their song-writing prowess and former Rockygrass Fiddle Champ, Ryan Drickey. Kansas trio, Split lip Rayfield, followed with their signature “mix of bluegrass and country with an accent of metal.” Music aside, the most noticeable instrument on stage was the one string, homemade gas-tank bass played by Jeff Eaton.
Night had fallen, the stage was set, and Head for the Hills were rocking Adidas tracksuits in honor of the recently deceased Adam "MCA" Yauch of the Beastie Boys. The Colorado acoustic quartet composed of Adam Kinghorn (Guitar), Michael Chappell (Mandolin), Joe Lessard (Fiddle), and Matt Loewen (Bass) known for their homegrown, symbiotic improvisation played an assortment of studio stand outs that were anything but standard. Head for the Hills have an innate chemistry, and their live performances pulsate and peak with the musical momentum rarely seen in any genre. Opening night at the Mish is a homecoming of sorts, and this intimate venue provides Head for the Hills an opportunity to rollick in free-spirited jamming.
By intermission, the Poudre Valley landscape had transformed into an obscure western silhouette. With the stage filled with smoke and mist dissected by strobe lighting, Head for the Hills emerged to the applause of an energetic crowd. The second set was a whirlwind of crowd favorites and extended improvisation with Michael Chappell unleashing a torrent of solos on his red electric mandolin. Highlights of the show were covers of Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”. And of course, an appearance by Mike Finders on harmonica.
Opening night at the Mishawaka Amphitheater is always a special event, marking the beginning of amazing summer shows. But if you couldn’t make it this year, let Head for the Hills console you with their first official Live release “Head for the Hills – Live,” available on May 29th. Culled from 5 great nights in Colorado, including sets at the Aggie and Mishawaka Amphitheater, this Live album showcases the improvisation and energy that has made Head for the Hills an emerging Bluegrass powerhouse.
If “Head for the Hills – Live” doesn’t give you the H4TH fix you need, you can find them on tour starting June 1st. For more detail check out their website.