Hot Buttered Rum’s big ol’ Earth-friendly tour bus will be back in Bend on Saturday for a show at the Domino Room (see “If You Go”).
Well, that’s not quite right. The bus won’t be playing the show. Hot Buttered Rum will be. The Bay Area-based quintet of progressive, jammy bluegrassers do quite well in Bend, fiddle/mandolin player Aaron Redner said in a telephone interview last week.
“We’ve had some great shows there,” he said. “Touring is funny. You never know where your good markets are going to be. Oregon in general is good for us, and Bend has really embraced us. We’re happy to be coming back.”
The band was last in the region in August to headline the first day of the 4 Peaks Music Festival in Tumalo. Before that, they played the Domino Room last December. And if you go to HBR’s Web site, www.hotbutteredrum.net, and click on “News,” you’ll begin to wonder if these five guys ever get to sleep in their own beds; it’s show announcement after show announcement, for California, Denver, Hawaii, the Midwest and points in between.
In other words, HBR is a band of road warriors, with 170 dates played last year and about 150 this year, Redner said.
“It’s our job. We don’t have other jobs, and we feel grateful that that’s the case and we love playing music and we love traveling,” he said.
“It just feels like if you want to make (music) your life, then you need to be doing it,” Redner said. “And as long as we’re having a great time and getting our music out there and writing songs … we need to be together, and to do that we might as well be playing gigs.”
HBR formed in 1999 on a backpacking trip, and the current lineup solidified in the summer of 2002. Since then, the band has gained a national following — particularly with those in the large and active jam-band community — with its groovy blend of, well, Redner can explain.
“We call our music these days ‘progressive Americana.’ Americana meaning … American roots music, which is jazz, bluegrass, rock ’n’ roll, psychedelic rock, singer-songwriter, blues, old-time string-band music, fusion. We take from all those things.”
The “progressive” part of that description has two meanings, though. The music is certainly non-traditional; despite the band’s guitar/bass/fiddle/mandolin/banjo lineup, it tends to sound more like the Grateful Dead and Phish than Bill Monroe. And HBR has become known for its support of progressive causes as well as its music, particularly the environment and sustainable fuels.
The band’s 40-foot Greyhound tour bus runs on biodiesel. The bus before that ran on recycled vegetable oil (collected from restaurant Dumpsters, Redner says) and biodiesel. It’s an effort HBR has been making since before going green was in.
“We run on biodiesel because we don’t think there’s a lot of wars being fought over veggie oil, and we want to leave as small an ecological footprint as possible while we’re touring,” Redner said. “We’re a very green band, and yet we have to do this very unhealthy thing of driving around all the time.
“Our band would love to be the soundtrack of the green movement,” he said.
Being vocal about certain political causes comes naturally to these five guys, Redner said, and they make an effort not to polarize, but to build bridges.
“We don’t hesitate to speak about important causes to us politically and environmentally, and we seek to educate and inspire but not alienate,” he said. “We seek causes that reach across the political aisle, that conservative and liberals will say, ‘Yes, that’s a good idea and that should be supported.’ It’s good to support the environment. It’s good to support each other. It’s good to be conscious of the ills of the world.
“We try to bring light into situations and see healing happening more efficiently through those means,” he said. “There needs to be purpose behind it. We’re not out there seeking the party every night. We need to feel like there’s a good moral conscience behind what we’re doing.”
A noble goal. And a lofty one, perhaps. Sometimes, maybe, it’s OK to just play your music, make people dance and have a good time.
“Hot Buttered Rum is a lot of ingredients that mix together in a pot and smell good and taste good.” Redner said, referencing the warm, sweet cocktail from which the band takes its name, “That’s what we hope our music is like.”