Elder Grown Rises in Colorado's Jam Band Scene

Colorado's Elder Grown.
Colorado's Elder Grown. Photo by Sam Stevens
Durango's Elder Grown takes its name from a couple of things: It includes the last name of Marian Elder, the grandmother of three of its founding members, and it draws on the influence of earlier generations of musical "elders," including the bandmates' father, uncles, older cousins and family friends, all of whom had groups that influenced brothers Josh, John and Paul Hoffman to continue the tradition of making joyous noise.

"The three Hoffman brothers started the band," says sax player Sam Kelly, who joined the five-piece in 2011. "They're our main songwriters, but overall, it's a group process when we create our tunes. I help arrange and I do the horn lines, but it all comes together collaboratively."

The Hoffmans grew up in Pagosa Springs, though they recruited other bandmembers while attending Fort Lewis College in Durango. Kelly says he first jammed with the brothers when they invited him to a rehearsal, and he never left. The musically eclectic ensemble, which resists classification, blends elements of funk, jazz, rock and hip-hop, and Kelly says the group, whose members range in age from 22 to 31, has found a home in the jam-band community.

"We add the jam element because we like to keep things open-ended," explains Kelly, who is from the small town of Dolores. "We write tight songs, but we also have sections that we build into them that allow us to get highly improvisational. Our songs are well composed, so we're somewhere in the middle of that."

Elder's video for "I Like You," a well-crafted tune from its most recent release, is a good example of what Kelly describes. The funk-tinged ditty explodes with energy; a gritty lead vocal line contrasts with a smoother chorus, synths and pleasing saxophone breaks.

"We play original music to a fault," Kelly says. "We might play a cover song once, and then it will disappear from our repertoire. Our drummer, Paul, writes funky hip-hop tunes. John, the middle brother, writes some rootsy reggae stuff, and Josh, our main guy, writes rock tunes. He has an interesting style. He wrote 'I Like You,' which is more like a pop-rock tune. He can write stuff like that as well as moody and epic rock tunes, which are awesome. We kind of do funk with rock undertones."

The band cut its teeth in the bars around Durango, but Kelly says the group now prefers to perform somewhat less frequently at home, aiming for bigger venues.

"We try not to saturate the local scene." he says. "We play the Animas City Theatre a lot. We've been selling out that venue for about five years now. We'd rather play every now and then for a big sold-out crowd as opposed to lots of smaller bar shows.  We're aiming to be more of a part of the Front Range music scene. We opened for a sold-out show with the Talking Heads cover band Stop Making Sense at Cervantes' not too long ago, which was a blast."

The band teams up with other local jam-oriented acts when it can, and frequently plays in the ski town of Telluride, but Kelly says it hopes to extend its travel radius considerably in 2019.

"We've opened for bands like Euforquestra, and we've done shows with local bands including Liver Down the River," says Kelly. "We've played at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon in Telluride countless times, and we headlined the Sheridan Opera House last summer. We've opened for Dumpstafunk and Dopapod, among lots of other bands.

"Last spring we released a self-titled full-length with eight tunes on it," he adds. "It was kind of our first release, and it represents the band in its present incarnation. That album shows where we are now as a band. We're trying to ramp up for this summer, so we're looking to book us as much as we can and reach out to lots of places. We're hoping to make 2019 one of our biggest years yet."

Elder Grown, Your Mom's House, 7 p.m. Friday, January 25, 608 East 13th Avenue, $10 to $13.
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Nick Hutchinson writes about music for Westword and enjoys playing his guitar when not on deadline.
Contact: Nick Hutchinson