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Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog

70-something songs later: Kicking-off the season and catching up with Cripple Hop

By JIM DRAKE Hood River News

I remember the first gig I played for one traumatic reason. But can I tell you the year it happened? No, not without research. The day? Probably a Saturday, but I’d have to check. Anything about the setlist? Ummm, it had songs on it, yes.

The main memory is this: On the first note, of the first song, I managed to break a mandolin string. Normally, this is not a huge deal to fix, but on my instrument, I’ve got this special tailpiece (the thing that strings are mounted on) that requires about 45 minutes of surgical precision work to get the string back on. It was a memorable gig. And everytime I change strings, I think about that gig.

And then I think about changing that tailpiece.

Hopefully you know that the Springhouse Tuesday music series is coming back online this week and locals Cripple Hop are kicking things off on March 15. The other day I caught up with guitarist and founding band member Max Reitz, who answered my first question without any hesitation whatsoever, namely, how long has Cripple Hop been in existence?

“Cripple Hop played its first gig on November 11, 2011. Prior to that, a few of us had been getting together for a year or two and just playing informally, so it’s been over five years,” Reitz said.

That’s a decent number of years for a band, and I wondered if the musical style had stayed consistent during that time.

“Our sound has definitely evolved, we started out as a four-piece, with just acoustic instruments — a mandolin player, two acoustic guitars and we asked another buddy to join us, and he also had a guitar. All of us were just learning our instruments, really for the first time. We were in our late thirties, early forties, and we were just trying to make it through a song, which was a struggle for us. We realized the new guy liked to play rhythm, so the mandolin player and I went on Amazon.com and bought a $99 acoustic bass, and we said, ‘Here, you’re the bass player now’ ... and he turned into a great bass player for us,” Reitz said.

Cripple Hop started playing the Naked Winery open mic nights and, in order to get experience, they spearheaded events at places like 10 Speed Coffee where friends and family would come out and support the band.

“We tried to play a bluegrass style, and covered a lot of music in a bluegrass way, and we realized that we weren’t that proficient at bluegrass style. We decided to recruit some friends from Portland, a drummer and (ironically) a banjo player, in order to steer the music into a bigger rock and roll type sound. We still play bluegrass music every time we play, and we totally enjoy it, but our sound has definitely evolved.”

Over the last five years Ryan Brevard (mandolin/vocals), Dom DeGiovanni (drums), John Hunter (guitar/vocals), Jesse King (banjo), Reitz (guitar/vocals) and Andy Roof (bass/vocals) have been practicing together and supporting each other in their musical inspirations — with the goal of making sure an audience is having fun.

“We were all learning together, on how this band works, and we still are, and that’s part of the fun. We’ve always been there to push each other and we’ve been growing together, from playing three chords to writing together. In fact, we’ve got a lot of original songs, about 70 — so we feel we’ve come a long way and we’ve had a great time doing it,” Reitz said.

Along with music, all the band members are avid participants in the Gorge outdoor lifestyle, not to mention jobs and family lives.

“Oh yes, Cripple Hop is our hobby and we’re proud that we continue to get better, and we fit this into our work lives and family lives. We’re Gorge area residents in that respect — whether it’s kiteboarding or mountain biking or skiing, we kind of squeeze it into the mix. It’s unique to get six guys who can get along and have the commitment to make something like this happen, because it comes at the expense of sleep,” Reitz said. (Note: we’re both laughing here.)

Right now, Cripple Hop’s music exists on their Facebook page, Soundcloud and their ReverbNation page, but making a CD recording of original songs is “on the list.”

“Making a CD is something that we’ve kicked around a lot. We’ve done a lot of live recording of ourselves — it’s the same theory as a golfer videotaping his golf swing, and figuring out how to do it better. We would like to try and do some original songs soon and see where we are. Recording is a bit intimidating for us. We need to figure out how to record ourselves and have it reflect what we’re doing. But the band really wants to do it so I’m sure it will eventually happen.”

The commitment to community involvement by Cripple Hop is evident in the band’s willingness to play and participate in fundraising activities. In fact, a major music festival happened at the waterfront park last year due to an idea floated to music friend Damon Klegg, and the first Music Festival of the Gorge raised $7,500 for music in schools programs.

“One of our unique features is that we’re fearless about taking on cool ideas and projects. We’ve played fundraisers, like all bands do, and more than that, we’ve been willing to try and create special events, like the annual Spring Wig-Out.

“The Music Festival of the Gorge was an idea hatched around the campfire so to speak, but it was myself bringing that idea to Damon Klegg, who was looking for an idea as a fundraiser to raise money for school music programs. We’re planning that again and it’s going to be even bigger this year,” Reitz said.

“Sometimes playing in the Gorge is so inspirational, good ideas just seem to appear out of the simplicity of it being a nice day.

“Two years ago we played for the opening of waterfront park with the Toy Gun Conspiracy (a high school band). It was a beautiful September day and we were looking around at this jewel of a location, and we were just thinking that there should be a multi-band all day festival here, for sure,” Reitz said. It’s Cripple Hop’s way of thinking outside of the box that leads to these types of events, and they believe this is a benefit for their audiences.

“We always play with a lot of enthusiasm, and if we can project that to our audience, we’ll be happy about that. We truly believe that music is to be enjoyed when you play it, and be playing to the best of your ability. It’s not about who is better at this or who is better at that, that’s not the purpose of music. If you can hook up with guys that feel the same, and trust each other, it can come out collectively as a nice sound and a fun event, and I think we try to create a fun environment when we play,” Reitz said.

It turns out the band name and tendencies to play unexpected songs add to the mix of that fun environment.

“The band name is one of those stories that is kind of vague in our history, and part of that irony in that name is that we started with a bluegrass sound, so the classic bluegrass song Cripple Creek partly led to Cripple Hop. We have two ER doctors and a physical therapist in our band, and the whole idea of crippled or being injured resonated to us on that level. We’re certainly not ashamed to say that we’ll drink a few IPAs when we’re practicing, so the hops from the beer gets together with the cripple reference and that name came out of the blue during an open mic gig.

It was our third time playing out, and you have to sign up, and we jokingly referred to ourselves as the Full Moon Ramblers. That didn’t stick because we were just too diverse in what we were listening to and what we wanted to focus on, so when we thought about Cripple Hop it was just too funny not to use it as our name.

“In terms of the cover songs, I think one of the surprising ones we do is ‘When Doves Cry,’ from Prince. Another one that we do consistently is a String Cheese Incident song called ‘Joyful Sound,’ and that evolves into the Beastie Boys’ rap song ‘Paul Revere.’ We like to relate to our bluegrass background, so we call it rap-grass or funk-grass, or you-name-it grass, you can always spin off of that,” Reitz said.

Reitz summed up his musical journey thus far with enthusiasm about continuing the process.

“I don’t think anyone expected us to be playing out like we do now. We just played at the Capitol Theater in Bend to a really nice crowd, we play in Portland now. It just wasn’t on our checklist to do this, but we’re having a great time,” Reitz said.

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