Having a relaxing drink interrupted by clashing cymbals and blaring trumpets may be too abrasive on a casual night out. But for Snowdown, it’s a tradition. The Hill Stompers marching band out of Los Alamos, New Mexico, have been disrupting Main Avenue bars with their impromptu pub crawl “blitzes” since 2004. They perform all weekend long, march in the parade and entertain at the chili cook-off. The band has become as much a fixture to Snowdown as the flamboyant costumes and free-flowing beer.
The group started in 2000 by Jeff Favorite, a snare drum player, and his wife, Kandice Favorite. The Hill Stompers are a spin-off of Seed and Feed Marching Abominable out of Atlanta, where the Favorites were members. After moving to Los Alamos in 1998, the two really missed playing in the marching band.
“We completely ripped off their whole schtick, and they’re very proud of us for that, actually,” Jeff Favorite said.
The Snowdown tradition started after a few Hill Stomper bandmates were in Durango during the 2003 event. They had so much fun they went back to New Mexico and convinced the band to play the next year, but that’s as much as Favorite can recall.
“To be honest, I can’t remember how it all got started,” he said.
Greg Yucha, a homebuilder and owner of Veracity Construction, has organized the chili cookoff for the past 10 years. The Hill Stompers have played the cook-off since they started playing Snowdown in 2004. Yucha doesn’t recollect how that tradition started, either.
“They have been a staple of Snowdown for so long that I don’t remember them not being there,” Yuca said.
Luckily, Jeff keeps records of all the band’s old gigs. An email from Jan. 28, 2004, shows the Hill Stomper’s weekend itinerary for Yabba-Dabba Durango. The schedule did not include a performance at the Abbey Theatre (now the Animas City Theatre), which they’ve done every year since 2005.
“But we did play the pancake breakfast on Sunday morning (the first two years),” Jeff said. “We found out that is one event not well suited for a marching band – the pancake breakfast at 7 o’clock on Sunday morning.”
The Hill Stompers are better suited pre-hangover. The band crams each clarinet, tuba and trombone into every cozy bar or restaurant. Jeff said they’ll peer into Ken and Sue’s and no matter how many people are eating, they will pop in for a couple of tunes. Crowd-pleasers include: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which they learned for Safari Snowdown and “Safety Dance,” which they added to their repertoire for geek-themed Snowdown.
“There is typically a range of reactions. Some people are thrilled and some people are ... less thrilled,” Jeff said.
Carver Brewing Co. and BREW have been a couple of the most welcoming establishments. The band now plays sets at each brewery each year. Yucha used to be the manager at Carver’s in the early days of the Hill Stomper shows. One notorious night, a few band members ended up on the tables in order to fit.
That is one of the major restrictions the band deals with today – its size. While always changing, there are currently upwards of 40 members. The afternoon chili cook-off has become better suited for the group than the pub crawls. Plus, playing in the daytime gives families an opportunity to hear the music.
Jeff said the Hill Stompers are not a symphony. People are not supposed to sit quietly and watch. That’s why he said he likes playing kid gigs because their younger fans are more willing to dance and participate with the band’s enthusiasm, or off-the-cuff hula-hoop contests or games of musical chairs.
“The Hill Stompers embrace the spontaneity of what may or may not happen,” Yucha said. “That is the spirit of Snowdown, doing something you normally wouldn’t do.”