If you go
What: Ultraviolet Hippopotamus
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Tugboat Grill & Pub
Cost: $5 at the door
Steamboat Springs Ultraviolet Hippopotamus is teetering on the brink of comfort as a touring jam band.
The six-piece group has found niches of success across the country, beginning in its hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Members still hold down day jobs, but jobs that are flexible enough to allow them to tour for months at a time. They play big-time festivals, like Summercamp, but still find themselves occasionally playing the role of struggling musicians.
“We’re confident in some cities, and other ones we know it’s kind of going to be a wash,” said bassist and band founder Brian Samuels. “It’s a lot harder to go to the East Coast. There are so many bands and so many cities so close together.”
The band, affectionately known as UV Hippo, will return to Steamboat Springs for the second time Saturday when it plays The Tugboat Gill & Pub. Tickets are $5 at the door, and the show starts at about 9:30 p.m.
Todd Leestma, Tugboat booking agent and sound engineer, said he first saw UV Hippo several years ago in Michigan and is looking forward to the band’s return to Steamboat.
“They are one of the funkiest things to come out of the Grand Rapids, Mich., area,” Leestma said. “You can expect everything from funky jams to bluegrass to awesome Pink Floyd covers.”
Colorado is one of those places where Hippo doesn’t have to worry about filling venues with a jam-friendly, dance-heavy crowd.
Enthusiasm for the robust, high-energy jam rock sound still runs rampant through the mountains even as many jam acts evolve into electronic forms, Samuels said.
Call them a throwback, call them organic, Hippo’s sound is decidedly jammy but still progressive with its combination of influences.
Hippo songs are supported by rich keyboard sounds and the distortion of two rock guitars. The occasional tune will pick on a bluegrass theme or incorporate a heavy funk beat from the two percussionists.
The band comprises Samuels on bass, vocals, guitar and mandolin; Sam Guidry on guitar, vocals and bass; Joe Phillion on drums; Dave Sanders on keyboards and vocals; Casey Jones on percussion and vocals; and Russell James on guitar and vocals.
Although the band does look up to jam acts such as Phish, String Cheese Incident and Umphrey’s McGee, Samuels said James and Guidry grew up away from the scene.
“Our two guitar players didn’t grow up listening to Jerry (Garcia) and Trey (Anastasio),” he said. “And our drummer likes some metal. We’ve tried to bring in that element, as well.”
The two guitarists also bring another element to the group. Both are experienced luthiers, or stringed-instrument builders, and build in their spare time. The two teach classes, make their own acoustic guitars and even made the bass Samuels plays on stage.
“It’s great having these two guys around,” Samuels said. “If anything goes wrong, it’s like, ‘Here, fix this.’”
With six members, it’s not easy — or cheap — to tour. They usually require more than one hotel room for their entire crew.
In addition, the process of developing songs and jams is more convoluted with a large band.
“It’s a delicate process,” Samuels said. “The hardest part is really with the guitars. Both are really talented guys and have a lot of ideas. It’s hard to not stand on each other’s toes.”
Hippo is hoping to release a full-length album in the next few months and has been incorporating more of a progressive jazz sound, akin to Frank Zappa, Samuels said.
But whatever style they’re playing in, a Hippo show is bound to be a journey.
“We take you throughout the world with a couple of songs or jams,” he said.