As Music City haunt The High Watt began to fill with attendees eager to experience Wisconsin-based bluegrass band Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, the lights above shone down onto the empty stage and illuminated a lone microphone in the center. The five-piece took their positions around the center, tuned up, and jumped right in with a quick-pacing bluegrass rhythm and energy that seemed to flow from the performers to those of us in attendance. The band exchanged positions around the mic, dodging headstocks and bodies as each member took their turn in the center mic spotlight, precisely delivering each line of every song. The band members seemed to have a cohesive understanding amongst themselves of strategic placement and sonic flow, as each instrument had its turn in the lead position.
Whether it was singing, instrumental solos, or full band rip-roaring jams, the gathering around the shared microphone created a fun-laid back atmosphere that invited us all into the experience. Agile fiddle licks, barreling banjo rolls, fingerpicking guitar, and chugging harmonica comprised the wonderfully intricate instrumentation. Three members exchanged lead vocals, as the others created lushness and depth with soaring, twangy harmonies and wild, bluegrass spirit. There were no weaknesses to be seen or heard, each tune felt fresh and full of life, with memorable melodies and refreshing words perfectly woven into the mix of driving strings, displaying a unity that can only be achieved through years of playing together. Each member donned an ear-to-ear smile, showing their satisfaction with the performance, and their palpable joy continually transferred to the sea of smiling faces in the audience.
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, with their honest and poignant lyrics, adept musicality, and tangible chemistry take the fiery soul of bluegrass music to new heights, and set the bar high for any touring group. The sky is the limit for this band.
[These lovely photographs were provided by the illustrious Nathan Pirkle. Check out more of his work at nathanpirklephotography.pixieset.com.]