It's not what you think

Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams don't play your typical country


Modern, top-40 country music is as appealing to me as the social ills it glorifies, which is why I was skeptical when I put "country band" Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams in the CD player.

But what came over the speakers wasn't the whine I expected. It was the sound of early country -- of Hank Williams and Bob Wills -- when singers told stories and their music reflected life outside of the Nashville music machine.

"That's what the whole band is really interested in," lead singer Wofford said. "And in Denver, there's this enthusiasm for that music from these old punk rock guys who got to be 30 years old and realized it was too hard to still be punk rock. Someone like Hank Williams Sr. has a real similar vibe. He's a guy with a guitar and no (bull)."

Though Wofford is playing an afternoon gig at Soda Creek Western Mercantile and playing at the Hilltop Bar and Grill as part of a two-month country music lineup, he and the band don't usually do well in country bars.

"If they are expecting to hear a cover of the latest Garth Brooks tune, we don't do that," Wofford said. "We encountered resistance at the country bars, so we usually play the rockabilly scene."

The band is an advocate of what they call "real country" music, and the band's upright bass player, Ben O'Connor, is the Webmaster of a site, which promotes Denver's growing number of "real country" bands.

"For us, 'real' is firmly rooted in tradition -- honky-tonk style. Top-40 country music sounds more like Celine Dion," Wofford said. "We like more hard-core traditional sounds."

The Hi-Beams draw inspiration from Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash and Wayne Hancock.

"Hank Williams Sr. was playing to post-war America," Wofford said. "It was an amazingly interesting time. All these people were returning from the second World War. They've been to Europe. For some, their wives had left them. Some of them were kind of messed up or had the wanderlust. There was real unrest.

"That's when the honky tonks really flourished and there was this weird existential crisis in music. That's where those sounds come from -- lonesome-sounding cheating and drinking songs."

When they aren't touring, the Hi-Beams play regular gigs at a rockabilly hangout on Broadway in Denver called the Skylark Lounge.

They started playing outside of Denver last summer and this will be their first time in Steamboat Springs.


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