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Horseshoes & Hand Grenades at Madison Live

“How did you survive that Wisconsin winter?” I was asked that question often after moving from Mississippi to Wisconsin after graduating college. I gave basically the same answer: Wisconsinites are winter people. It permeates their being. In the same way that the beach surroundings compel Floridians to be people that wear goofy shirts and flip-flops and listen to Jimmy Buffet, Wisconsin’s climate drives folks to embrace all of nature, pushing them to rely on their rootsy demeanor and necessity to layer up on beer, cheese, and flannel starting in early October. This is what makes a Wisconsinite who they are. And as sure the moisture will freeze inside your noise on a Wisconsin January morning, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades have found a way to package that existence in song and deliver it as pure Americana goodness.

You could describe Horseshoes & Hand Grenades as drinking music (disclaimer: you may find yourself hootin’ and hollerin’ and singing along with an Irish-sounding drinking song with a beer can on your head at Madison Live! on March 21st). And sure, their songs remind you of singing around a campfire with buddies... but with a major distinction: they can play the hell out of their instruments.

The youthfulness and joy that Horseshoes & Hand Grenades brings to the stage doesn’t take away from what is a surprising amount of songwriting maturity for group of guys in their mid-20s. Deliberately-written and meticulously-executed instrumental passages from the quintet of guitar, openback banjo, fiddle, bass and harmonica (and occasionally an accordion) are woven in and out of tight harmonies and raucous melodies. The result is a progressive-yet-throwback bluegrass jamboree that has earned them spots sharing the stage with all the heavy hitters on the scene, from the Infamous Stringdusters to Yonder Mountain String Band and Railroad Earth. They are on just about every bluegrass and jamband festival line up this summer, and just this week Rolling Stone has “The Ode”, the title track off their latest album, as one of the 10 best Americana/Country songs of the week.

And let’s don’t forget their crowning achievement and figurative Gold Medal for many a true Wisconite, a delicious beer named just for them, the HHG American Pale Ale from Central Waters Brewery in Amherst, WI.

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades just kicked off their spring tour on Thursday and they’ll be picking up the good-timing Colorado bluegrass quartet Head for the Hills on the way to Kentucky. So, let’s all get together and give the first full day of spring the party it deserves!

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