Greg Schochet’s exploration of the guitar continues to be a life-long pursuit. It’s a quest to enhance and expand his ability to understand and play the many styles that make up what is now called roots music, or Americana, or country or rock.
A long-time member of the Front Range music scene, the Boulder resident started playing in bluegrass and newgrass bands in the 1990s. Country music came soon after when he joined Denver’s Halden Wofford and his band the Hi-Beams. They’ll be in town Friday performing at the Durango Arts Center.
Schochet has been around Durango and the festival circuit in his day. His newgrass band Runaway Truck Ramp played the old San Juan Room a time or two back in the late ’90s, and he’s played the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown and other regional festivals with various bands in his career. He had been in the Hi-Beams for three weeks when they played Durango for the first time 12 years back at the old venue Storyville. He’s an absorbing student of the American roots music and its branches of bluegrass, blues, swing and rock.
The Hi-Beams are led by songwriter Wofford, a strong and funny frontman, whether crooning a country ballad or hollering out a swing or honky-tonk tune. They also feature bass player Ben O’Connor and drummer Damon Smith, along with Bret Billings on steel guitar, and Schochet, the band’s more-than-capable picker. Fans of Danny Gatton or Clarence White will – and should – stand in awe of his talent.
They’re at times a dark country band, and at others an upbeat swing outfit as they wade back and forth between honky-tonk and western swing. They’re a gritty bunch; honky-tonk shouldn’t be a polished and over-produced endeavor.
It’s a perfect balance for fickle audiences; the band can do the acoustic-based show that appeases the lighter palette of festival-band fans, then to satisfy the Pabst Blue Ribbon crowd hungry for honky-tonk.
A dozen years with no line-up change is a rarity for bands. As of now, the Hi-Beams have hit a solid stride, both as a festival and dive-bar draw. “It’s the longest any of us have been in a band, by double for me. Most working musicians have experienced situations where it got frantic and it burned fast,” said Schochet. “We pushed harder in the early days, so we’ve hit a nice, steady stride as to how much ‘where and when,’ and being sensitive as to who can’t and doesn’t want to do certain things. That’s pretty key.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.