Born in Eagle, local band Hardscrabble brings traditional stringed sounds to the valley.
By Jenna Stecker
Photo special to SneakPEAK
Originally meeting up in Eagle for weekly jam sessions, the members of Hardscrabble never really intended to become a band. But when someone asked them to get together and play a show for the Eagle Ranch Block Party in 2008, they thought, “Why not?”
As they had no official name, the event creator dubbed them the “Hardscrabble Mountain String Band,” a moniker created as a tribute to Hardscrabble Mountain that lies between Eagle and Gypsum. The members enjoyed their first impromptu show so much that they decided to continue and try to play shows on a regular basis. First things first, they shortened the band name to just Hardscrabble.
“I wasn't a big fan of the name at first,” says Jena Skinner (vocals, harmonica). “But at the time all the members were from Eagle and Gypsum, so it seemed an appropriate fit.”
The band is currently a five-piece outfit, with Skinner taking the helm for the majority of the vocals alongside Scott Loss, who also plays standup bass and fiddle. Rounding out their lineup is Robbie Brown on lead guitar and vocals, Eric Lovgren on banjo and vocals and Steve DeGroat playing the mandolin and vocals.
Skinner credits each member of Hardscrabble for making it into what it has become.
“(Over the years) we really have come together as a band. Every week seem to be more and more in sync with each other,” she says.
Loss, who originally played the mandolin, picked up the standup bass when he joined the band.
The brand of music the band has gravitated to could be called pure bluegrass. The High Country is a place that screams for a banjo and a fiddle. Some bands in the area offer those instruments in their lineup and give their music the bluegrass label. However, they also may salt their sound with style variations dubbed “newgrass” and “jamgrass,” and also rock and country.
Hardscrabble is a band that leans to the traditional and the classic. Along with the original songs that are written and crafted by every member of the band, a listener is bound to hear covers by some of the greats like Bill Monroe, Marshall Tucker and Tony Rice, as well as Flatt and Scruggs. Each member has different musical influences and tastes, and those influences change the band's sound, but Hardscrabble finds its way back to the traditional roots of each song and gives the audience what no other band in the area can really do -- a down-home, classic bluegrass show.
Like any other group, Hardscrabble has gone through some lineup changes over the years. Skinner jokingly says they are playing with “Hardscrabble 6.0” these days. All of these changes only serve to make the band stronger. Skinner says her voice has evolved. Men dominate bluegrass music, and many songs were written for a male voice.
“Some songs I didn't have the range for before, and now I can wail. Those are the songs I love to sing, the ones I can just wail on,” she says.
Loss' standup bass playing has grown leaps and bounds. For not having played the instrument until four years ago, he seems to have adapted very well and shown his exceptional diversity. Brown enjoyed the flat-picking style of Tony Rice so much that he taught himself how to do it and developed the classic bluegrass sound of the band even more. Even though each member of Hardscrabble has a full-time day job, they are a dedicated group, coming together to practice at least one night each week on top of the gigs they already have booked – that’s more than some full-time musicians do.
The overall focus of the band is to create and give music to the people.
“(Sharing music with someone) is really the biggest gift you can give,” Skinner says.
Hardscrabble's shows are lively and upbeat, as well as fun and appropriate for all age ranges. The band's only fear is that people aren't going out as much anymore to support their local businesses and local musicians. Needless to say, it just isn't as much fun to play when there is no one to play for.
So head out and support your local musical community. You can find Hardscrabble playing next at the Bonfire Brewery on Dec. 1. Call Bonfire at 970-306-7113 for more details.