The Midwest has these pockets of life were left unfettered, a scene can develop. It might be around a band or a venue, but deep in the tomato soup you can find the occasional blueberry. Both The Henhouse Prowlers and Pert Near Sandstone have developed a following in their respective corners of God’s country. Both have toured relentlessly over the course of the last two decades while producing some of the most authentic modern bluegrass available today. The parallels between both cannot be overlooked, which is why seeing them on a bill together was not the least bit surprising. In the year plus since Hodi’s Half Note transitioned to a comedy club Fort Collins has had to come up with several makeshift venues to accommodate the smaller nationally touring acts. 830 North aka Chipper’s Lanes is a bowling alley owned by Dani Grant who also runs The Mishawaka. It’s our own version of the Brooklyn Bowl without very much ado. A basic alley layout with a few lanes commandeered by the stage. It definitely has a vibe.
Pert Near Sandstone and The Henhouse Prowlers are both fresh off the release of new recordings. Pert Near in their twenty years as a group have produced a massive tome of work. Their eighth studio album Waiting Days is a truly collaborative work with all the members of the band contributing. Thematically the album has a preoccupation with time. As a band that has been touring nonstop for so long it’s easy to understand why. During the set guitarist J Lenz commented on their longstanding relationship with The Prowlers to the chagrin of his bandmates. “What did I blow our cover? We’ve been up and coming for 20 years running.” The boys in the band were verbally giving out free stickers every time someone tossed a strike or a gutter ball. They took us on a musical journey with elegant tracks like “Bloom Again” and “His Island.” The band really was enamored with the bowling vibe with each member getting a nickname before it was over. I appreciated Kevin “Gutter Balls” Kniebel almost as much as Nate “7-10 Split” Sipe. Their song craft was on full display with dance-centric numbers like “Hell I’d Pay” and “20 Cups of Coffee.” This band shreds plain and simple. The small but attentive crowd, 2 stepped their way though an amazing set of music. They wrapped up with a ripping rendition of “Rattlesnake.”
The Henhouse Prowlers have always made it a point to swing through Colorado on their travels. For years we could count on a spring show at The Swing Station, but in more recently 830 North has been the stop. They got the night slamming early with a powerful rendition of the civil rights tune “Uncle Bubba.” They welcomed Jake Howard on mandolin as the ‘new guy,’ but he’s been in the band for 4 years so perhaps some of the lineup turbulence from their past is behind them now. Jake wrote “Dawg Eat Dawg World” in honor of David Grisman. It was a mandolin-centric bluegrass bonfire. Jon treated us to “Subscription to Loneliness” off the new album Lead And Iron. They don’t slow down. With over 17 years on the road and too many lineups to count, The Henhouse Prowlers are an international institution. Speaking of international the boys performed a wide array of music they’ve collected from their globetrotting. This included a bouncy rendition of the Ugandan pop song “Sitya Loss” originally written by Eddy Kenzo. “Why Is The Night So Long” is yet another example of the great songwriting from The Prowlers. They stay in the bluegrass lane, but don’t hesitate to push the genre with every new tune. Guitarist Chris Dollar took the mic on the John Hartford-esque “Passenger Train Boogie.” Dollar also did the heavy lifting on “Santiano” which was sung completely in French.
Jake Howard finally got another chance on “My Little Flower” which he wrote for the new album. As we approached the end of the show The Prowlers invited Pert Near back up to jam. The pickers congealed on the floor in a semi-circle for a few songs that included another international track “Chop My Money.” It was a fun way to end a stellar night of music. The Henhouse Prowlers are performing around 175 shows a year spreading the gospel of American bluegrass to the far reaches of the globe. Pert Near Sandstone is the literal continuation of the acoustic scene started in Minnesota by the likes of Charlie Parr and Trampled By Turtles. Musically both groups are modernizing bluegrass one song at a time, and neither band shows any sign of slowing down. Give the new music a listen and maybe even buy an actual record. You won’t be disappointed.