Mile High Makeout: Leaving the Nest

Sometimes, all that stands between a mundane, quotidian existence and an ecstatic assumption into the heavens is a sneeze guard. Such was the case for Hearts of Palm’s set at Artopia last Saturday night. Though it was probably the only space large enough to hold the band – normally nine people, but only eight strong that night – the dingy, ill-equipped stage in the basement of Vinyl was the least likely place you’d expect to catch one of Denver’s best, brightest and biggest bands. But there it was.

In spite of the shitty setup, some minor technical difficulties, and annoying televisions broadcasting the fashion show that was going on at the same time on Vinyl’s rooftop, the group played with its characteristic and customary joy, enthusiasm and abandon. Every time I see Hearts of Palm – who will be releasing its second EP, The Bridge, for free this Saturday at Illegal Pete’s in LoDo – I feel like we’ve all banded together into an unstoppable force for good and crushed all demons, dust bunnies and doubts under the weight of an enormous, omnipotent smiley face. Saturday night’s show was only slightly hampered by the barrier that muffled the sound slightly and resembled the thick Plexiglas that protects Subway’s food from its patrons’ moist, chunky sneezes.

After the Hearts’ triumphant set, I milled about, chatting with various folks who were as glad as I was that they’d left behind the fashion show on the rooftop and the pole dancing (that’s right) on the main floor to catch Nathan and Stephen’s 100% Natural Good Time Family Band Solution. My friend, Lori, who had never seen the group live, couldn’t stop smiling. After a few moments, Dan Rutherford – whose Morning After Records brought us the band’s debut and will also release the new EP – proudly handed me a button emblazoned with the outfit’s new logo and said, “They bought a van.”

“What?” I shouted as the DJ began to spin Notorious B.I.G., a favorite of mine, but an odd contrast to the hope-filled performance we’d just witnessed.

“[Hearts of Palm guitarist and founder] Stephen called me the other day and told me they’d bought a 15-passenger van,” he explained.

Normally, conversations about cars bore the hell out of me, but this bit of news was music – ha ha – to my ears. This means that Hearts of Palm has made a major commitment to leaving the nest, spreading the word and helping the rest of our continent, at least, experience that joy, enthusiasm and abandon. It also means that – in spite of all the headaches of keeping a group this size together – the band plans to keep playing for a little while longer.

Many of the members of Hearts of Palm have already logged more than their share of hours in a van. Stephen Till and drummer Jared Black licked asphalt with the phenomenal Black Black Ocean, while Till’s wife, Leanor, did the same during her lengthy tenure with Five Iron Frenzy.

But putting nine people in a van and hitting the road takes a tremendous amount of faith, commitment and deodorant. There are families, friends and loved ones to leave behind, day jobs to tangle with, and ridiculous amounts of gear to haul. In the case of bassist Jonathan Till, there are also other active artistic and musical projects – like Japan Implosion, asizetoosmall, d. biddle and Porlolo – that will have to wait. Add to all of that the fact that Stephen and Leanor have a toddler and a six-week-old infant at home and the unwieldy ensemble has plenty of excuses not to tour. In fact, it’s a remarkable feat that the nonet manages to keep playing together at all.

After Rutherford moved on, I thought of all the bands who’ve been unable to overcome fewer and smaller obstacles. I thought about all the bands who have broken up while touring. I even thought about the bands who have encountered various vehicle-related calamities out there on the human highway.

And then, in my usual narcissistic way, I thought about myself. I wondered, do I have the kind of faith and commitment that Hearts of Palm has? Do I have the focus and the drive? Do I have the chutzpah and strength of character to push past all the obstacles – real, imagined or self-imposed – and just do the things that matter?

While Leanor informed me that she’ll be staying home with the niños while the rest of the Hearts break the van in on the road to South-By-Southwest, her husband was visibly giddy about the future. “The time has come,” he told me with his usual boyish grin.

Indeed, the time has come – for Hearts of Palm and for me. As that van – packed to the gills – pulls out of Denver and heads south on its maiden voyage, a part of me wants to ride on the rooftop, wearing that same boyish grin and cheering for the battle that has already been won, against staggering odds. Barring that rather unsafe act, I want to stand in the dust the van leaves behind, waving a flag and shouting a lyric from the band’s debut:

“We’re all gonna fall on the beat of our dancing feet, and we’re all gonna stand back up together!” -- Eryc Eyl

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Sean Cronin