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Band on the move

Stewart Oksenhorn

Beneath the sweet Virginia accent and the unabashed enthusiasm for bluegrass, something else can be heard under Rebecca Hoggans voice: determination.When I had a lemonade stand, it wasnt just for one day. It was for the whole summer, said the 27-year-old lead singer and guitarist for Hit & Run Bluegrass, which performs Saturday, May 8, at Steves Guitars in Carbondale. Ive always been a go-getter type.Traces of that ambitious nature surround the band. Hoggan who handles booking, promotion and management for Hit & Run has the Front Range quintet booked into April of next year, when the band plays the Durango Meltdown. Formed by Hoggan and dobroist Todd Livingston in 2002, Hit & Run hasnt played outside the Rocky Mountains yet. But their debut CD, Beauty Fades, released last month, has earned favorable reviews from Australia to California.Hoggan declines to call herself the band leader, settling instead on the label band organizer. And she says her band mates Livingston, bassist Erin Coats, mandolinist John Frazier and banjoist Aaron Youngberg share her dedication to succeeding, to getting things right.The whole bands kind of that way, said Hoggan, whose father is a retired investment banker and whose mother is an art professor-turned-travel agency owner. Thats how we get so much done. [Since last July], weve recorded an album, bought a van and in-ear monitors, and a rack burner so we can make CDs of all our shows.Lest one think that Hoggan and her mates are more CEOs than pickers, however, she adds that the organization and ambition are evidenced nowhere better than in their approach to music. Theres a sound that everyone in the band likes, said Hoggan. And everyone is so focused on getting to that sound. Were not married. We dont have kids and careers. We want to sit in the room all day and pick on our instruments.New groove, old genreThe sound that Hit & Run is chasing is one Hoggan refers to as contemporary bluegrass. There is a modern groove the band is after, says Hoggan. Hit & Runs model is Alison Krauss + Union Station, which has become bluegrass best-selling act by combining traditional sounds all acoustic instruments, bluegrass standards with virtuoso playing and pop-leaning original songs.On Beauty Fades, Hit & Run finds that balance of old and new. There are themes the Southern-fried Goin Back to Georgia; Cold Iron Door, inspired by Fraziers visit to the Boulder County Jail; the instrumental Coachs Stomp that go back to the days of Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys. Hit & Run would fit in comfortably at the most traditional of the Southeasts many bluegrass festivals, where bands are supposed to sound and even dress a certain way. (Onstage, Hoggan and Coats wear dresses; the men, button-down shirts and ties.) They would likewise not be out of place at a gathering of jam bands. In fact, Hit & Runs schedule is filled with both bluegrass festivals (the Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival in Tennessee, the International Bluegrass Music Associations Fanfest & Convention) and jam-filled events (Californias High Sierra Music Festival, Georgias Blue Ridge Harvest Fest).Hit & Run exhibits a willingness to break somewhat loose of stylistic confines. Beauty Fades features Hoggan singing an exquisite cover of Rowland Salleys folky Killing the Blues. Hit & Run never crosses the border into being a hybrid band la Bla Fleck & the Flecktones or the David Grisman Quintet. Hoggan, however, came to bluegrass through the hybrid sounds especially those of Jerry Garcia & David Grisman and Strength in Numbers and even has a hybrid album, the 2001 solo recording Born in East Virginia, to her credit. Hit & Run may be a bluegrass band, but one willing to allow the idea of bluegrass to develop.Hoggan began playing piano at age 5, turned to folk guitar at 12 by playing Simon & Garfunkel and the Carpenters, then took up flat-picking at 19, while studying comparative literature and music at the University of Michigan.When people complain that so-and-so is not bluegrass, I think they should look further where they get their fans from, she said. Because I got into bluegrass through musicians who werent really bluegrass. Garcia & Grisman had their own type of groove, their own form of music. Thats what I love about bluegrass. You can create your own groove.Easy trajectoryIn some ways, Hit & Run has been a quick success. They won the 2002 Rockygrass band competition after having played just two public gigs. They followed with a victory at last years Telluride Bluegrass Festival band competition, becoming the first group to win both titles. But for a band with such clear career vision, Hit & Runs trajectory has been slow. Their performances have been limited almost entirely to Colorado, with a few Wyoming gigs thrown in. Until last month, they had no CD to sell to fans. But given the bands methodical approach, the slow pace has a purpose. Hit & Run wanted to bypass the bar-band stage of their career and the burnout that often comes with it and jump right to the more prestigious and comfortable festival existence. This summer the band jumps into its newly purchased (but not new) 15-passenger Ford Club Wagon and heads to top-shelf festivals from Washington state to South Dakota to North Carolina. Theyll play the main stage at Telluride in June and headline next years Durango Meltdown. The few non-festival dates on their schedule are at listening rooms like Steves and Nederlands Acoustic Cafe, rather than noisy bars.That was the goal, to play festivals, said Hoggan. They promote you, they feed you, they put you up in hotels and they put you on their Web site. And the people there buy your CDs and become your fans.Hit & Run showed a similar patience with their debut CD. Instead of quickly booking a local studio and throwing together a recording after their Rockygrass win, they saved their money and waited for the right opportunity.For Beauty Fades, Hit & Run traveled to Doobie Shea Studios in Boones Mill, Va. They enlisted Tim Austin, a seasoned bluegrass producer and player, to produce the album. Prior to recording, the band rehearsed in Hoggans parents basement in Richmond, Va., before setting up camp in a Roanoke apartment. For three weeks, the quintet would make the 20-mile drive from Roanoke to Boones Mill to record.It was bluegrass country all the way, said Hoggan. Really bucolic Appalachian hillside. There were all these bluegrass landmarks, like the Blue Ridge Mountains, we got to see for the first time. It was like driving through a bluegrass song all the time.The preparation, location and patience seem to have worked. Featuring seven original tunes, Beauty Fades is a gem of a debut. The band sent out nearly 500 copies and Hoggan is pleased with the response. A fan in Australia has offered to set up a tour for the band, based solely on his reaction to the album. About the only negative review was from the Colorado Daily, whose reviewer called the album slick. Which suits Hoggan fine.Thats our sound, she said. Were not going for a rough sound. Our favorite band is Alison Krauss and theyre the slickest sound there is. We like that tight, hard-core groove that makes you want to bounce.Beauty Fades was an important piece of the Hit & Run plan. Making the album allowed them to tighten their songs and work on their chops; completing an album they are proud of gives the band momentum, credibility, a radio presence, and something to distribute to promoters and fans. Now comes the next stage: the road. After the Carbondale date, the band makes its first real road trip, heading to the May in Missouri Festival in Kirksville (Rhonda Vincents hometown, notes the Hit & Run Web site, http://www.hitandrunbluegrass.com). Then its back to Colorado and on to Utah, South Dakota, California, New Mexico and so on. After two years, Hit & Run is about to witness what their hard work has accomplished. Now we want to get out on the road and see if people like our music, said Hoggan.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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