By Bob Hemenger
Special to The PREVIEW
On Tuesday, Dec. 4, The Americana Project concert series will feature Elder Grown as its special guests.
Elder Grown is a five-piece band that currently resides in Durango. Four of the five members graduated from Pagosa Springs High School (PSHS). It is with great pleasure that we welcome them back to the stage at PSHS.
The concert starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are only $10 (12 and under are free). Selected students from the Americana Project class will open the show. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are only available at the door. Bring your dancing shoes.
Family and community are the roots of the band Elder Grown. Their music has been described as when funk meets pop, rock meets hip hop, jazz meets reggae. Elder Grown uses the freedom of improvisational jams as their foundation to create their captivating, soul-inspired sound. From the set opener to the fourth hour, Elder Grown encourages you to break down your ideas of genre with your hips and heartbeat.
The band takes listeners on a genre-bending roller coaster through rule-breaking sound, often switching instruments mid-song. Start with groovy, funk inspired bass lines reminiscent of Motown meeting the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then, add screaming lead guitar and bossy sax lines reflective of Pink Floyd and Maceo Parker. Finish it off with inspiration from Rage Against the Machine, Atmosphere and Sublime and you are beginning to understand the sound that is Elder Grown.
They have produced two albums to date. One full-length album, “Fire On The Way,” is the group’s debut album featuring a variety of original works by the band. The second album is an EP, “The Motorhome Mixes,” which features three songs that are still in the group’s set today. The EP starts off with “Stay Groove,” a light funky tune followed by “Clarence,” one of the groups hip-hop tunes featuring our drummer, Paul, on vocals. The third and final song on the EP, “Loves Ten,” features Josh Hoffman on vocals and piano and is a story-driven soul pop tune.
The band is currently working on their next full-length, self-produced and self-recorded album that should be dropping in the spring. It will feature an array of songs that, if listened to in full, will truly give listeners an honest representation of the group’s authentic sound. The group is versed in such a variety of genres, so finally with this album people will get to experience the true Elder Grown sound.
In the early 1990s, brothers Joshua, John and Paul Hoffman grew up watching their father perform as a singer-songwriter in Albuquerque, N.M., with family and friends gathered around the proverbial table of art, musical composition and performance. Bearing witness to these artistic gatherings soon had the boys witnessing the art inside of the themselves and themselves inside of the art. Once this door opened, there was no turning back.
For the Hoffman brothers, music became time travel, teleportation, the ship that could carry them away into the beauty of life in seconds. By the time the brothers moved to southwest Colorado in 1999, the sparks were flames and their own movement had begun.
Over the next few years, the boys each developed an interest in guitar, becoming closet singer-songwriters. As they each picked up the guitar, their father reminded them, “You are not a guitar player, you are not a bass player, you are not a drummer … What you are is a musician.”
Taking their father’s words to heart, one brother would compose a new song on guitar and the other two would support him by picking up the accompaniment instruments. Soon all three were playing bass, drums and keyboards, free of the personified nouns that instruments can impose on a musician. It was in these moments when Elder Grown was born. Deep in their uncle’s jam room at roughly 3 a.m. after Thanksgiving dinner, the family torch was passed.
The role of family in Elder Grown’s development cannot be over-appreciated. There is no better environment in which to cultivate authentic, self-expression and begin a search for freedom in life through music than in the arms of supportive family. Met with such support from their loved ones, they fell in love with songwriting and musical performance.
Over time, this love grew beyond the songs, shaping their philosophy as performers and making their performance an act of service to their listeners. Their grandmother, Marion Elder, was the matriarch of the family and the driving force behind this spirit of service and love in their music.
Growing from this, naming the band was easy: Elder Grown. It seems by no coincidence that the name “Elder” is closely related to ancient Scandinavian words for flame or fire. The name was passed through the family from the ancestry of their grandmother and is the name of their matriarchal lineage. This untraditional passing of names is something these guys are proud of, as they each are just as untraditional.
While studying liberal arts at Fort Lewis College, the Hoffman boys met the unfathomably talented Sam Kelly at a local band competition. Little did they know at the time that Kelly’s love for grooving funk, classical and improvisational saxophone would change Elder Grown’s sound forever.
Kelly first discovered his love for saxophone in elementary school within the grooves of his mother’s smooth jazz albums. In his sophomore year of high school, his dad taught him guitar, which sparked a whole new passion. Within a year, Kelly formed his first band, Playing in Traffic, in which he was the primary songwriter. Influenced by the Caribbean calypso fused with American jazz, rhythm and blues of ska music, he started composing his first horn lines.
Kelly’s passion for playing saxophone deepened when he joined a local group out of Cortez, Blue Coyote. It was in this rockabilly-blues band where Kelly really started to develop his unique sax sound, which is now an integral part of Elder Grown.
After graduating from high school in Dolores, he attended Fort Lewis College, where he received a music business degree with emphasis in both jazz performance and marketing. Kelly now is an instructor at the iAM Music Institute in Durango, giving private lessons on a variety of instruments such as guitar, piano, clarinet, flute, voice and saxophone. Being very involved in the Durango music scene, he also plays in other bands such as Pants Party, Durango Funk Allstars, Afro Beatniks and Niceness and is also the principle saxophonist for the Southwest Civic Winds, as if one band weren’t enough.
Soon after Kelly joined Elder Grown, Brandon Clark, the youngest of the group, brought his raw, unbound talent to the group. Since the Hoffman brothers switch instruments frequently, Brandon, primarily a guitarist at the time, learned to play the bass and keyboard as well to keep the instrument trading alive.
Clark started playing music during his freshman year of high school when his older brother, Andrew, a former member of Elder Grown, got a guitar for Christmas and they learned to play together. The Hoffmans’ infectious way of sharing art and creativity ultimately lead Brandon to hone his musicianship and later join the band.
Brandon grew up in Pagosa Springs, where he was fortunate to have participated in a class throughout his tenure called the Americana Project. In this class, he learned a lot about American roots music and its evolution over time. The curriculum included songwriting classes, giving Clark the chance to perform his original tunes at school concerts.
Clark listened to a lot of classic rock growing up with his brothers. He loves fast-paced, guitar-driven songs, but also appreciates a soulful, slow, melodic tune. Much of his original music is being brought to the table these days, and the group is excited to see how his added creativity further molds and reshapes their sound. Clark, aka Branch, is not only excited to be a part of the music of Elder Grown, but a part of the extended family.
Once again, the show is 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, in the PSHS auditorium.
By Bob Hemenger