Blue Water Highway Band finding new ways to entertain on the road
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
LIfe in a van, rolling from city to city, seven people stacked inside: It can't always be pretty.
But Texas-based Americana act Blue Water Highway Band, which will play Friday at Hoot's Pub, has found one way to alleviate the tedium: Covering classic songs for web videos.
First came "Build Me Up, Buttercup":
"Build Me Up, Buttercup," Blue Water Highway Band
Then, on May 31, came "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," selected by the band's fans:
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough," Blue Water Highway Band
The most recent video plays best to the band's strengths — facility on multiple instruments and world-class harmonies. And not for nothing, there's an upright bass somehow crammed into the back seat.
"That's really the big secret," lead singer Zack Kibodeaux said when he called me this week. "If I give it away, everybody would be putting an upright bass in their van."
The shoot "was fun — oh man, super fun," Kibodeaux said.
Bass player Kyle Smith somehow crammed that bass into the van (maybe his side gig as a physics teacher helped), keyboardist Zach Landrenau learned the song's signature xylophone part, guitarist Greg Essington harmonized from the back, and singer Catherine Clarke used an unusual mallet to strike a tambourine — her makeup brush.
"That's true to her personality," Kibodeaux said. "We call her the queen of the van."
If that's true, she rules an otherwise all-male realm, which also includes percussionist Chris Walker and a sound guy.
"We all love the road, being out there and seeing new things, but Catherine is the one you have to ask," Kibodeaux said. "She's the one putting up with all of those smelly, smelly dudes."
The band formed about three years ago, expanding from Kibodeaux and Essington's duo, formed after a friendship dating back to high school.
"He's one of the guys who inspired me to play this type of music in the first place. He came into our choir class i high school and did Billy Joel's 'Piano Man,' playing and singing at the same time," Kibodeaux said. "I had to go and take piano lessons the day after. He hooked me."
But when Kibodeaux started studying at the music school at Texas State University, he took another path entirely — opera. That's where he met Clarke, Smith and the others. And though he has left opera behind, Kibodeaux said he thinks those years are crucial to the band's success now.
"We're all classically trained singers. That's truly the focus of our band," Kibodeaux said. "That's somethign a little more uniq that we have to offer — classically trained harmonies. I wouldn't say it sounds like opera, but the experience of singing in choir together certainly made the harmony thing inevitable."
Those vocal skills are evident in the band's debut album, Things We Carry, and will be in full force when the band returns to Amarillo for a 10 p.m. Friday show at Hoot's, 2424 Hobbs Road. Cover is $10.
They'll be even more present on the band's follow-up album, Kibodeaux said.
"Making that first album really did help us narrow some things down," he said. "We're learning how to play together, and the things that we found that we do live well together and the things the crowd responds to definitely inform the kind of things we're writing now.
"It's definitely more of a full-band effort, which is really cool because we've gotten it to where six people can get in on the creative process," Kibodeaux continued. "We've fond a good rhythm on that. The stuff we make with everybody's input is really exciting."
"Medicine Man," Blue Water Highway Band