Closing out the first of its two sets with "Goin Down," Head for the Hills exited the stage after an hour of pickin' and pluckin' to give the Ballroom at Cervantes' a slight break from the bluegrass workout. After a brief intermission, the members of the foursome reappeared in their now signature Adidas track suits and offered a small disclaimer: "We figured we might get a little sweaty in this next set, so we put on our track suits." A little sweaty was one way to put it. A full on cardio workout might better way to describe what the outfit delivered, however.
Head for the Hills wasted no time at all getting after it once it hit the stage. The Cervantes' crowd, packed shoulder to shoulder from the stage to the back bar, eagerly awaited the group following an opening set from the Iron Horse. Hills opened with some originals and then switched things up with a cover of Yes's "Owner of a Lonely Heart." To cover a song is one thing, but when Head for the Hills does it, the outfit makes it entirely its own. Michael Chappell's mandolin work really shined on the track, as did the fiddle work of Joe Lessard. When the two came together, which happened several times throughout the night, the guitar and stand-up bass took a backseat, and the masterful string work filled the air.
The vibe really came down after "One Foot in the Grave," a song that Lessard lends his voice on. With a deceptively wiry frame, Lessard adds vocal warmth to the songs that is deep and whole. "One Foot" started out with an a capella harmony before meeting the instruments and winding into the bridge of a somewhat depressing song.
"Scribe's Eye" really toned the set down, and since it's challenging to go hard like that for two straight hours, it was nice to be able to appreciate the talent and precision that went into each song performed. At the close of the first set, Head for the Hills closed with "Goin' Down," which starts off strong on the fiddle, and invited the crowd to sing along: "I'm goin' down, down, down to the place I gotta be -- in that Colorado back country."
After the brief intermission (maybe thirty minutes), the group returned to the stage and kicked off its second set with "Solar Bowling Shoes," and, much like the first set, the quartet turned up the energy. By this time, the venue had cleared out towards the back, and despite being a sold out show, the place felt pretty thinned out. "Hornet's Nest" kept the party going steadily through the final five songs of what had been a great night of music.
Personal Bias: Head for the Hills earned a nod at this year's Showcase awards in the bluegrass category, and the set at Cervantes' made it very obvious why.
Random Detail: The sleeper on stage was bassist Matt Loewen, whose understated rhythms really helped carry the songs. He carefully drew his bow across the strings when not using just his fingers. Loewen's stoic expressions were occasionally interrupted by a slight smile of satisfaction that crept across his bearded face.
By the Way: The show sold out at the door, and Cervantes had the longest ticket line I've seen in a long time. Congratulations are in order to Head for the Hills.