River Rat Gang plays Pickin’ on the Poudre

Nothing flighty about these Colorado songbirds

By Steve Graham

Staci Foster jokingly nicknamed her trio the River Rat Gang for their shared compulsion to jump into natural bodies of water.

“We swam in every hole I could think of,” she said of their first tour as a trio. “Needless to say, we’re stoked to play Pickin’ on the Poudre. We will be jumping in the river.”

After cooling off in the canyon, they will open for Head for the Hills on May 11th for the 15thannual Pickin’ show, which unofficially launches the season at the Mishawaka Amphitheatre.

Foster and the other Whippoorwill players take their music at least as seriously as their rivers. Notably, at a time when anyone can throw a half-finished demo onto SoundCloud and call it an album, Whippoorwill has yet to release a full-length album.

That will finally change this fall with the arrival of a set of songs they recorded last November. After two years of local northern Colorado shows and tours through the American West, the trio spent 10 days at Shangri-La Studio in Lexington, Ky., to record the album with J. Tom Hnatow of Horse Feathers. The bands had toured together, and Hnatow sat in with Whippoorwill.

“He played pedal steel with us on a couple of gigs just for fun, and we just really connected with him musically,” said Foster, who sings and plays guitar, banjo, and harmonica in Whippoorwill.

Drummer and singer Tobias Bank said Hnatow contributed to the band.

“He would sit in on pedal steel on maybe two songs a night, and everything he did sound so good and added so much sonically to our sound,” he said. “He understands our style and what our vision is.”

Duane Lundy, who has worked with Ringo Starr, Jim James and Joe Pug, is mixing the album.

The record does not have an official release date, as the group is consulting with Music District experts and others on the optimal schedule and publicity effort for the album.

The process has been thoughtful and deliberate, but guitarist and singer Alysia Kraft said the songs are more stormy — in every sense.

“These songs were all birthed of storms — personal storms, the post-Trump political shit-storm, and then the literal storms we drove through almost everywhere we played over a period of eight months — Oklahoma tornadoes, Texas floods, Northwestern forest fires, Wyoming white-outs,” she said.

Foster comes from a musical family in the Texas hill country. In 2013, she was taking in the flood of music at her hometown festival, SXSW, and met Kraft at a porch picking party.

They were each touring musicians at the time, but they started corresponding and sharing music under the name Whippoorwill, a homage to the elusive Southern bird cooing in the trees near that serendipitous porch party.

Kraft is a Wyoming native, but she had moved to Fort Collins and was playing with the Patti Fiasco.

They worked together as ranch hands as they wrote and recorded a debut EP that was co-produced by Tallgrass.

Bank, previously of Von Stomper, rounded out the band in 2016. He jammed with the two women for the first time at a house party, then the trio toured New Mexico and Texas started three days later.

“He’s definitely made our sound bigger and more expansive with his drums but he’s also made it bigger and more expansive with his voice,” Foster said.

Whippoorwill’s three-part harmonies in a wide vocal range are fairly unique in the local folk-rock scene, even though Bank reluctantly shared his classical choir training with the band.

“At first when he started playing with us, he didn’t sing,” Foster said. “We didn’t even know he could sing until we heard him in practice one time.”

Now that they have been performing for a while, Bank said the three voices are blending well.

“I’ve never been able to harmonize with anybody the way that I can harmonize with these girls,” he said. “Our voices fit together like DNA.”

Whippoorwill plays the Mishawaka

Saturday, May 11Show at 8 PM (doors at 6 PM)Head for the Hills with Daniel Rodriguez (of Elephant Revival)and Whippoorwill 

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