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Hapa Hillbillies celebrate 14 years

Every now and then an email comes along that is so detailed and nicely written that it would seem a shame to try and re-write into a story, and well known guitarist Ben Bonham has done just that. I’d like to share it here because it shows something that I’ve known for a long time — there are plenty of bands that just like to get out and play music because that’s what really is in their soul — and the Hapa Hillbillies are in that category. Ben’s email is a great read into the inner workings of a band, and just as important is their thanks to the community that’s supported them. — Jim Drake

Hello Kirby and Jim — hope all is well.

On Monday, June 12, my band, The Hapa Hillbillies, is hosting our 1 year (14 years as a band) anniversary show at The Moth Lounge (owned by Jules Burton).

We have had a signature cocktail designed especially for the occasion — 'The Hapa Hillbilly' — a summer drink with Island overtones, delicious … and we’ll have a big old vat of it there to share, for free, with any and all who would like some — and a birthday cake to celebrate with after the show!

We'll play, as always, from 6-8 p.m. and we want to do something as a big thank you to all the fans who have shown up to our regular Monday show, week in, week out, come rain, snow, wind and high water. There are some really amazing people in this town and we are really feeling the love. We are also thanking Jules for making it work for us at her place, it feels very much like home there and we really look forward to our show every week — and hope we can keep doing it until we all croak or no one shows up anymore!

I started this band nearly 14 years ago — we played every Monday at The Baldwin Saloon in The Dalles for at least a year — that was me, Larry and Victor Johnson — they were the first two I indoctrinated with my passion for vintage Hawaiian Swing music and all the threads that lead from there. Since then, the band has played nearly every Monday night.

From The Baldwin, to a six year run at the Hood River Hotel, followed by a few years at Solstice in Bingen and experiments at almost every other possible place we could think of — then a bit of a pause whilst we mourned Rick’s passing — and now, home sweet home, at The Moth Lounge ... every Monday night for nearly 14 years.

Fourteen years!

I’m not sure that any other band has been going that long in the Gorge, let alone entertaining audiences every week — along with regular weekend shows, tours, special nights and the other stuff we have done.

This is making us think about what we are doing and;

• Larry Wyatt and his contribution to the local uke community thru the schools program, and his brilliant songwriting and fine ukulele and guitar playing with us.

• Dennis Williams and his infectious clarinet playing that really lifts us all from the mediocre into the “extra special zone” every time we play.

• Eight years ago when Ronnie Ontiveros joined with his massive enthusiasm and endless joy, and how he has gone from newbie on the upright bass to kicking swing jazz, blues master!

• Kerry Williams’s effervescent ‘Manjo’ playing — an instrument he built a new neck for — a cross between a mandolin and a banjo.

• The loss of the great Rick Hulett a few years ago.

• The recent addition of Tim Ortlieb on suitcase drum kit and how he brings a whole new level of excitement to our sound.

And through all this, I push them to play the old style of music I really like, and we haphazardly veer into country, jazz, blues, western swing and even a little bluegrass now and then — often showcasing virtuosic guests who happen to be passing through Hood River on a Monday night.

So I think its time to say a huge thank you to the community for keeping us alive for that long. We would not, could not do it, if people did not come out to see us again and again.

And it’s time to extend our thank you to our new hosts Jules Burton and Meighan Walker who have both made us feel so at home at The Moth Lounge.

We all hope we can keep doing this for at least another 14 years.

And finally thanks to you both for always supporting us local musicians in the Hood River News — we really appreciate it and we need and rely on you guys. — Ben Bonham

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