Can an affinity for the outdoors positively affect creative people? Oh, yeah, and in multiple ways, say some up-and-coming musicians I met at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee last month.
• Colin Brooks, songwriter/guitarist/vocalist in Band of Heathens, an Austin, Tex.-based Americana-rock group whose music elicits comparisons to The Band, the Allman Bros. and the Black Crowes.
• Kelsey Kopecky (keyboardist/vocalist) and David Krohn (drummer), part of the 6-member Kopecky Family Band, a genre-defying indie rock group out of Nashville that includes a classically trained cellist in its lineup and, just to be adventurous, sometimes tosses in trombone or glockenspiel.
Colin Brooks, Band of Heathens
What shifted his music career into high gear? Camping.
No joke. A native of Mio, Mich. (in one of Michigan's least-populated counties, Oscoda), Brooks believed to advance his career he needed to establish himself in the Austin music scene. But how do you do that when you're poor? "I went straight to the Kerrville (Tex.) Folk Festival where I could volunteer, get 2 meals a day and camp for free," he says. "I definitely got my start in Austin by meeting lots of musicians and songwriters there. I got gigs playing guitar for other people and playing my own stuff, too. I stayed out there 3 weeks, made lots of contacts and camped the whole time."
His toughest hike? Getting stranded overnight at high elevation without the right gear.
"I almost died in New Mexico in a snowstorm in May one time," Brooks says. "I was on the top of a mountain up above Red River (160 miles northeast of Albuquerque, near the Colorado line). I wanted to fish those high-mountain trout lakes, but the snow caught me unawares. I didn't have enough of the right gear and all my clothes got soaked. I was just freezing up there. Luckily I had a dog with me and that kept me warm. I was able to come down the next day. I should have gone to REI before I went up there."
A good fringe benefit of being in an on-the-rise band? Driving the van between live gigs.
"Many are the days that I sit looking out the window of the van, just marveling at the planet," says Brooks, 40. "I see so much beauty everywhere we go. Glacier National Park is just astounding. Then there's Craters of the Moon (a national monument in Idaho). We drove through it early one morning to going from Ketcham to Moscow. I didn't expect it. Everyone in the van was asleep and I kept saying, 'Hey, guys, guys, wake up. Look at this. You've got to see this. It's really amazing to see.' One of the guys said, 'Oh, yeah. Cool,' and went back to sleep. This planet is a beautiful, beautiful place. It's astounding that we're here."
Other items of interest:
• Band of Heathens has been together for 5 years, has 3 albums in circulation (the latest: Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster's Son) and is performing in Texas in early July, the Midwest in late July.
• Brooks once sold bicycles in a Taos, N.M. bike shop.
• Brooks is building a rammed-earth house. "I'm very interested in sustainable housing and energy-efficient ways to live," he says. "In Taos I met a guy named Michael Reynolds who builds houses called earthships. I was extremely inspired to learn you can actually have a hone that doesn't require anything to be plugged in. There are earth structures on the planet that have lasted thousands of years. They're very cool in the summer and really warm in the winter."
Kelsey Kopecky and David Krohn, Kopecky Family Band
David, the drummer, climbs; Kelsey, keyboardist/vocalist, climbs, runs half-marathons and practices yoga. Being active makes them better musicians?
David, age 22: "Climbing really helps with my grip and my forearm strength when I'm drumming. It gives me a little more finesse as I drum. I definitely noticed a correlation between when I'm at my peak in climbing and at my best drumming,"
Kelsey, age 24: "I bring my yoga mat on the road so I can stretch and keep up my flexibility and breathing, which can help my singing. With running, it helps me feel more disciplined in every area of life. Even when we're on the road I try to do 3 or 4 miles every other day. I think it's a lifestyle. Being active makes every other part of your life work well and have balance."
What are their personal bests?
David (a native of Denver who, when not touring or recording with the band, works in a climbing gym: The Crag, in the south Nashville suburb of Franklin, near REI Brentwood): "My resolution for 2011 is to get a 5.12 by the end of this year. And trad climbing; that's a goal for me. I like to top-rope, but I'm starting to get into more technical stuff that I'm not really used to – weird, crunched up angles that just aren't as easy for a tall person. (Krohn is almost 6-foot-4.) I set routes at the climbing gym, so it's cool to get to create something and not really know how I'm going to solve it. I'll normally stick around after I close, have the gym all to myself and pick it apart myself.
Kelsey: "I'm by no means competitive, but my best time in a half-marathon is 2 hours and 2 minutes. That was last fall. It was right after I had fallen down some stairs in St. Louis, too. It was really rainy, my boots slipped and I took a bad fall. That was on a Wednesday, and on Saturday I ran my best time. Who knows how to explain that? I love to run 4 to 7 miles every day if I can. Running and yoga both have this contagious quality to them. The more I've practiced yoga and become comfortable with everything it involves, it's just so exciting and challenging to feel comfortable in a pose that I couldn't hold before. Or to be able to breathe and feel relaxed in something I couldn't previously attain. I just want to go further."
Other items of interest:
• No one in the Kopecky Family Band is actually related. "We're all like family," Kelsey says. "Some of us started writing songs together (Kelsey was David's RA in the dorms at Nashville's Belmont University), then decided to have all our best friends come and play the instruments and all of a sudden we had a band." David: "We all have different backgrounds, different musical instincts, and that's how it works for us. I've hardly had any lessons ever, but we have a cellist who's classically trained."
• The Kopecky Family Band formed in 2007, has released 2 EPs (the latest: Of Epic Proportions), was the focus of a recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert and had one of its songs ("Lucky") featured in one installment of a video documentary of an Everest climb produced by The North Face.
• Kelsey and David bypassed hotels while at Bonnaroo; they camped. Kelsey: "We're not hard-core, but we like being outdoors."