The last time that the perpetually underrated California rock ’n’ roll band the Mother Hips were scheduled to play in western Colorado, someone burned the place down.
That was way back in June 2007, when a real son of a bitch of a thief robbed all of Colorado of far more than the meager purse that he stole from the State Bridge Lodge when he torched the place to cover up his dirty work. The fool completely wiped out a historic, treasured icon, since rebuilt. But he also left a riverside Mother Hips performance in the ashes of his destruction.
As any fan of live music will tell you, for best effect, certain bands are meant to be seen in particular settings. For the Mother Hips, the optimal concert experience is surely set with a range of steep mountains looming behind the band, a moonlit river winding lazily by and a westbound train whistling somewhere off in a distant canyon.
It’s taken seven years, the addition of former Zappa bassist Scott Thunes, several excellent records and the formulation of a successful side project (singer Tim Bluhm’s wife’s band, in which he also plays — Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers) for the Mother Hips to make it back to Colorado, but this week fans of their trademark fuzz-drenched, dual-guitar interplay, intelligent lyrics and golden-toned vocal harmonies will finally get a chance to see the band when it returns to the State Bridge area to play this weekend’s Campout for the Cause at nearby Rancho Del Rio River Camp.
Once upon a time, the Mother Hips toured Colorado regularly, stopping to ski, hike and ride the rivers along the way in mountain towns like Aspen, Crested Butte, Telluride, Breckenridge and Boulder. Nowadays, for a variety of reasons, the Hips tend to tour mainly in their native California, with the occasional swing to Austin, Texas, or New York City.
But the mountains have always held strong sway over co-frontman Tim Bluhm, and he seems thrilled to get back to Colorado, especially to play alongside the Colorado River. A lifelong, accomplished adventurer who was once named by Outside magazine as one of the top 25 coolest humans on earth thanks to his then-nomadic, intersecting rock ’n’ roll, surfing, climbing and mountaineering lifestyles, Bluhm is something of a modern Mark Twain.
For many summers, Bluhm has led a group of aspiring songwriters into the John Muir Wilderness on a backpacking, pack-mule-led songwriting journey. He is well-versed in the great California authors — John Robinson Jeffers, John Steinbeck, Twain, Jack London, Joaquin Miller. Rooted to the core in the old stories of the Golden State, modern society tends to confound and bedevil him to the point of regular escapes into whatever wilderness he can flee to.
“I was just on Angel Island, in the middle of the San Francisco Bay,” Bluhm said. “A friend and I kayaked out there and camped. There was nobody else on the island. Here we are, literally surrounded by this sprawling metropolis, and we have our own island, like a Robert Louis Stevenson setting. And here we are sitting and drinking a beer, watching the sun go down, and you could just hear this broad groan all around you. It was the city — the freeways, the trucks, the airplanes and the ferry board. The groaning of the empire,” said the soft-spoken, thoughtful Bluhm, before adding a hearty chuckle. “It was an interesting experience.”
It is only fitting that the Mother Hips will play the sixth annual Campout for the Cause. The band has dedicated more wax to the romance, danger and loss of the wild and lonely places on earth than most any other band. The festival directly benefits the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving open spaces, a cause that Bluhm emotes strongly for.
“I certainly regard wilderness as a place to go to and reset your brain back a couple hundred years. But little pockets of open spaces are arguably more important than wilderness, because more people can access them more quickly,” Bluhm said.
Joining the Mother Hips on stage for the family-oriented three-day, three-night music and river-floating fest are festival headliners Paper Birds, the jamgrass act Elephant Revival, Head for the Hills, Mark Farina, guitarist extraordinaire Scott Law (a frequent Bluhm/Hips collaborator who will take a turn with the band at the festival) and rising Colorado bands Grant Farm and The Congress. Organizers have included yoga sessions, stand-up paddleboarding demos, workshops and more, all set along the meandering bends of the mighty Colorado River.
Festival producer Scotty Stoughton doesn’t bother to hide his excitement about booking the elusive Hips.
“The Mother Hips were welcomed to the Campout because, basically, they rock. The event is all about diversity in music, so they fill that space. Tim is an incredible talent and always brings a fresh edge to a festival. The fact that they are supporting the Eagle Valley Land Trust and open spaces seems a perfect fit.”