Winter Park / Live Music: Hunker Down " Fans are family to down-home musicians |

Winter Park / Live Music: Hunker Down " Fans are family to down-home musicians

After a brief hiatus to work on new material for a new album, the down-to-earth, hard-driving bluegrass band Hunker Down is back playing before Grand County fans.

“We all love this place and know how cool it is to be a musician in Grand County,” said Andy Straus, mandolin player for the band. “It’s where other musicians, venues, and fans and friends are like family.”

Members who make up the core of the band include Straus, Greg Travis, Bobby Krech, Matty Brown and Branon Barrett; and many others have been known to sit in for a song or two. This can be said for local musician Yaniv Salzberg, long-time on again, off again member of the band who plays bass for the band and will be joining Hunker Down for the show on Saturday.

Travis, who is called the heart and soul of the band, plays washboard and drums for the group. Krech, who is also an expert luthier (builds and works on instruments), is said to bring Hunker Down’s sound to another level with his fiddle style, original tunes, and “blazing licks.” He grew up in a Arizona with a family of musicians to encourage him, and played with bands the Jambusters and Raised on Rhubarb before becoming a key member of Hunker Down.

Brown, a founding member of the Slightly Stewed String Band, is a strong songwriter behind Hunker Down’s creative originals and plays guitar for the group. A big influence for him is Ron Curran, teacher and mentor who taught him and Straus a lot of the history of certain songs and instruments.

Another former member of the Slightly Stewed String Band, Straus lends not only his mandolin playing, but energy to each performance. His studies of music in Ghana, India and Brazil and of ethnomusicology at Miami University have helped him become a voice for “the old-timey repertoire.” “Some haven’t heard anything like it,” he said. “Others might know more of the history and like our interpretations.”

Barrett, who joined Hunker Down at least a year ago playing banjo, hails from Alabama and Chicago (where he played the blues with Vida Blues). He said his world was turned upside down after he heard Leftover Salmon and Marc Van on banjo and he immediately began to learn the banjo and the bluegrass style.

It is no surprise that Straus, too, has been appreciating the sounds of Vince Herman (of Leftover Salmon and Great American Taxi) for quite some time and had “always dreamed of playing with him.”

Straus, whose dream has come true many time in these last few years, said it has been really cool to hang out with Herman.

“I love Vince’s energy and ability to make people have fun,” he said.

Together, Hunker Down’s signature sound is a “spicy blend” of bluegrass and acoustic rock they call “stewed rompgrass” and fans have come to know the band for its high-energy shows. The “stewed” part, Straus explained, comes from his and Brown’s band The Slightly Stewed String Band.

“And, like any good stew, we had a great mix of guys that had studied all over the world and created a unique musical flavor. Either that or it was because we love our whiskey,” he said.

He also said people have such a “romping good time” listening to Hunker Down that their bodies are sore from dancing for days after a show. “So, sometimes its stewedgrass, sometimes rompgrass, sometimes bluegrass, and sometimes boozegrass.”

Although they joke that their influences include “peer pressure and parents” on their MySpace page, Straus said their “biggest influences are probably each other because we’re into so many different types of music, and we’ve also traveled a lot and a lot of us are multi-lingual and we’re drawn to American roots … old bluegrass songs are kind of something that can bring us all together in a common influence. We really love Irish music and blues … and it’s kind of funny because the instrumentation we use is in a bluegrass genre but we try to extend from that so our music isn’t reflected strictly from our instrumentation.”

With many new songs not yet recorded the band overdue for another album, but Straus promises audience members can expect to enjoy classic favorites such as “Beer and Snow” at the show. And, as a special feature, the band has confirmed it will be opening for Great American Taxi Wednesday at the Winter Park Pub.

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