In the summer of 2014, Portland Oregon’s premier Grateul Dead tribute, the Garcia Birthday Band, had a crazy idea to host a mid size multi-day Festival for their friends and family. A brand new Bluegrass band from Portland, The Hillwilliams, was invited to keep the party going with a fireside set after the show on Friday night. Over the years, GBB FEST went on to become a great annual weekend gathering and The Hillwilliams have been there every year to continue the Friday night fun, typically playing until about 2:00 or 3:00 AM. Our story starts in that magical late night, post set time, when anything can and sometimes does happen.
Shortly after the official fireside entertainment ended, a slightly rested Justin John, lead guitarist for GBB, would arrive at the bonfire with his acoustic guitar and play on through the night with Hillwilliams mandolinist Rich Landar, often joined by other pickers and insomniacs. Justin and Rich quickly found a musical common ground, where folk, bluegrass, 60’s and 70’s classic rock, and Dead tunes blended into some fine Fireside gatherings and sing alongs. Things went so well at these jams that before long Rich asked Justin if he could book some shows as a duo, and how about calling the new “act” The Campfire Boys!
...Fast forward to early 2020. The Campfire Boys have been gigging regularly for over three years, and have developed an instinctual feel of where the music is headed at any particular moment as their vocal and instrumental blend has continued to deepen. Their repertoire has continued to grow, with a steady stream of regularly played material, as well as a willingness to try new songs, often on the spur of the moment. Somewhere in the midst of all that, Justin and Rich started to call some of their own original tunes, which added another new facet to the material; discussions began focusing on recording an original album. Then about Mid March everything stopped while the World dealt with the COVID19 Pandemic.
Fortunately, Justin and Rich both had home recording studios available where they had each made solo albums previously. A plan quickly came together for each of them to start tracking five original songs, and then send the tracks to the other Campfire Boy, and continue sending them back and forth until they were finished. It was quickly agreed that although the Campfire Boys had always performed as an acoustic guitar and mandolin duo, the album would be as fleshed out instrumentally with other instruments as needed. Because Justin played drums and Rich played bass, it was possible to create full band arrangements also utilizing Rich on keys, a variety of mandolins and percussion, and Justin handling all the guitars, and some other percussion and keys. Oddly enough, the 11th song and somewhat biographical album opening “The Campfire Boys” was the last written and came to be the only song to keep a close proximity to the Campfire Boys live sound.
Other songs highlight a bit of Deadhead-ish influences (Nothing Never Changes, Say Go, and King of Contradiction), New Orleans and early rock influences (Ground Kontrol and Caribou Susie) some gorgeous ballads (Mr. No, I Can See, and I Disappear) a Folky jazz waltz (State of the Union) and finally a return to a Bluegrassy feel for the album’s closer Task at Hand.
“The Campfire Boys” debut album is due for release on September 25th, available here on our website, on CD from CDBABY, and anywhere digital music is available.