It’s not rare for informal jam sessions to give rise to a band.
You have a loose configuration of people who get together to play music in a no-pressure environment with no concrete plans to form a band. There’s no starry-eyed, unrealistic ambitions, just a large group of people getting together to make music for the sake of making music. Yet on more than one occasion, those sessions can yield a band, as was the case for local acoustic country-rock, jam and bluegrass outfit People We Know.
The story begins in 2017. Local rock band The Outskirts called it a day, and some of its members found themselves playing music with a larger group of local musicians with no intent on forming a band – they just wanted to play. Ultimately, that large number of musicians was whittled down to five, and an event called Lobsterfest solidified People We Know, which will celebrate the release of “Hard Times and Joy Rides,” their new record, Dec. 20 at Animas City Theatre. Opening the show will be local musician P.J. Moon.
“I wanted to play with as many people as possible, so I started throwing the idea around of getting as many folks involved,” said guitar player and vocalist Alex Forsthoff. “We had multiple banjo players, multiple fiddle players, multiple mandolin players, people singing and all that. The same people kept showing up, which included Jeff (Berman) on bass. We kind of connected and linked this up. I thought maybe the idea of a rotating band – it’s a fun idea, but it sounded good with just a certain group of people.”
In addition to Forsthoff and Berman, that “certain group of people” is Craig Feigenbaum on banjo, Aaron Cooklin on mandolin and vocals, and Mark Walser on fiddle.
“Hard Times and Joy Rides” has been in the making pretty much since the band took flight. Like many bands – not only in Southwest Colorado but everywhere – members need to do what it takes to make a living, so bands eke out some time to make a record when they can. Weekends and late nights, the band laid this record down at Scooters Place when they could make the time. It was put together as organically as possible, as the band views the songs to be a forever work in process; songs are always developing and there’s always room for new parts. They recorded the album with that in mind, laying it down live.
“We did some overdubs, the harmony overdubs and some solo overdubs and stuff, but the meat and bones is all live recorded,” Forsthoff said.
On paper, they’d be considered a bluegrass band, but the term “bluegrass” gets tossed around these days like the word “alternative” was used to describe any band with an electric guitar and a slight hint of angst. They’ll be a bluegrass band when you want them to, but a tune like “Red Eyed Train” pushes the band into the realm of 1970s-era country rock, while “We Are the Closers” has a shuffle-and jug-band bounce. Its good-time music primarily rooted in acoustic roots rock and Americana-jam with subtle hints of twang.
“The instrumentation makes us a string band. There’s no drums, there’s no electric instruments,” Forsthoff said. “We choose a lot of interesting covers, but its not a straight bluegrass band by any means.”
“I think half our tunes, you might consider them in the genre of bluegrass,” Berman said. “But the other half? I’m not sure what you’re going to call them. If somebody has a good idea, I’m all ears.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.