This weekend, members of Windy Hill will pile into their 1996 Ford Club Wagon and set out on their biggest tour to date — seven states in seven weeks.
Fortunately, banjoist Ryan Breen, guitarist Thomas Wille and upright bassist Kyle McCabe have a shared sense of humor and a temperamental tape deck to keep them company on the long road ahead.
Who: Windy Hill and Eight Dollar Mountain
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 16
Where: Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland
The San Francisco bluegrass trio, accompanied by mandolin player Phil Johnson of Eight Dollar Mountain, will perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 16, at Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland, but first Eight Dollar Mountain will serve up a hearty helping of newgrass, old-time country and blues. The cover is $5.
Windy Hill got its name from Breen's childhood home in Portola Valley, Calif., which overlooked the 1,335-acre Windy Hill preserve on the peninsula between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Breen and former Windy Hill mandolin player Henry Warde attended Menlo Park High School. At the time, bluegrass music had a firm hold on the student body.
“There is something inherently appealing about bluegrass, how it's all acoustic and doesn't require plug-ins or amps,” Breen says.
“We had four friends in high school who played banjo. I thought it was so cool that I started playing it, too. Eventually, Henry said, 'If everyone is playing banjo, then I'm going to switch instruments,' and he started learning mandolin.”
For college, Warde headed to Arcata, Calif., and Breen to Fort Collins, Colo., but the friends continued to jam on breaks. In 2008, after Warde moved to Colorado, their ambitions of forming their own band, Windy Hill, finally came to fruition, and a year later, they moved the project home to San Francisco and picked up McCabe, a fellow MPHS graduate.
Wille joined the band in the summer of 2011 in time for the Northwest String Summit Music Festival in Oregon and the RockyGrass Festival in Colorado. Windy Hill won the first competition, and took second place at RockyGrass.
“A lot of people peg us as a traditional band because we're a bunch of young guys that wear hats, white shirts and ties,” Breen says. “We like the traditional sound. We all listen to old bluegrass, and we dress that way because we respect the tradition of bluegrass.”
Windy Hill is particularly noted for its strong vocal harmonies, which are the centerpiece of its original, banjo-driven music.
In May, the band released its sophomore album, titled “Lonesome Garbage Man,” after one of the 16 original tracks featured on the CD.
The band's 2011 debut, “Let's Go to the Fair,” was recorded in L.A. with a renowned sound engineer, whereas “Lonesome Garbage Man” was recorded live at a studio in Oakland, Calif, on an analog, rather than digital, system.
“It's almost like we're moving backward,” Breen joked. “But really the analog recording system gave the CD a unique sound, an authentic bluegrass sound.”
The new CD is available on iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon, as well as at all the band's shows.