People and performances in Arts and Entertainment. ■ September 14, 2011
a r ss g e
By Rebecca Wallace
ohnny Campbell comes from a long line of fiddlers. There’s his dad, his grandpa, his great-grandpa. So naturally, he moved from Tennessee to the Bay Area to join a bluegrass band. No, we didn’t get that backward. He fiddles here, for the local band Windy Hill. The group is named after the Portola Valley landmark and was started by a couple of Menlo-Atherton High School graduates. Though the Bay Area is known more for redwoods than bluegrass, the five musicians seem to be ambling happily along their creatively rootsy paths. They perform from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, revere the bluegrass icon Bill Monroe, and recently put out their first album, “Let’s Go To The Fair.” “There’s not many young, traditional bluegrass bands,” says banjo player Ryan Breen, who can see Windy Hill from his On the cover: Thomas Wille, left, and Ryan Breen performing on stage at Cafe Du Nord.
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s d n i f l il nit H k y e by d s ene lo in c c W s e d s h t as an n r b i g e e e c h u l a T its pl ay Area b B Photos by Michelle Le Portola Valley backyard. “We take it really seriously. We love it, and I think people recognize that.” While at Colorado State University in 2008, Mr. Breen started the band with fellow M-A graduate Henry Warde, a mandolinist. The two returned home after college in 2009 and reconnected with bass player Kyle McCabe, who had been in their class at M-A. Guitarist Thomas Wille joined later, as did Mr. Campbell. Mr. Breen met Mr. Campbell at a music festival and invited him into the band. The fiddler, who was just visiting California, decided to stay. “It’s a close-knit bluegrass community in the Bay Area,” Mr. Breen says. “It’s easy to make new friends.” The atmosphere is decidedly down-home
on a recent afternoon at Mr. McCabe’s West Menlo Park family home, where he’s lived since graduating from U.C. Berkeley. Their bandmates weren’t able to make it today, but McCabe, Breen and Campbell contentedly mix bass, banjo and fiddle into a few spirited tunes full of fast picking. A dachshund and a wire-haired terrier scamper around the patio, and there’s a fresh, spicy smell of tomato plants growing in a box. Mr. Campbell takes a pull from a bottle of beer and looks satisfied. “Handsome Molly,” Mr. Breen sings, “wherever she may be.” The musicians try some harmonies, reaching for what Bill Monroe famously described as bluegrass’ “high, lonesome sound.” Some don’t quite gel yet, but the guys freely admit they’re all working See ARTSCENE, page 23
Clockwise from top: the Windy Hill musicians performing on stage at Cafe Du Nord. From left, they are: Johnny Campbell, Henry Warde, Thomas Wille, Ryan Breen and Kyle McCabe. Inset: Breen picking on the banjo; Henry Warde, left, and Ryan Breen perform at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco; Kyle McCabe plays his bass backstage. September 14, 2011 N The Almanac N 21
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TOWN OF PORTOLA VALLEY NOTICE OF APPLICATION FOR LOT LINE ADJUSTMENT
A R T S C E N E
This is to notify you that an application for Lot Line Adjustment X6D-212 has been submitted for review by the Town of Portola Valley Planning Commission. The property is owned by Crawford Pratt at 0 Alpine, and is identified as APN: 080-040-040 and 080-040-060. Planning Commission public hearing has been scheduled to review this application on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Council Chambers, Historic School House, Portola Valley Town Center, 765 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA. Information pertaining to the proposal may be viewed at Town Hall Building & Planning Department, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. All interested persons are invited to appear before the Planning Commission to be heard at the time and place herein above mentioned. From top: The Windy Hill band rehearses one last song before taking the stage at the Amnesia bar in San Francisco; Johnny Ca m p b e l l pract icing backstage at Cafe Du Nord; Johnny heads backstage for rehearsal at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco just before a set; Johnny Campbell, left, and Henry Warde, right, jam backstage at Cafe Du Nord; Banjo player Ryan Breen and guitarist Thomas Wille joke between songs during band practice; Backstage, guitarist Thomas Wille, left, looks over lyrics while hanging out with mandolin player Henry Warde, right, before show at bar Amnesia.
September 2, 2011
Leslie A. Lambert Planning Manager
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ARTSCENE continued from page 21
together on being stronger players. “It’s not like I’m a bass scholar,” Mr. McCabe says. “I’m learning.” That’s been happening since high school, when the M-A friends used to hang out at events like the High Sierra Music Festival, soaking in every note. Now Windy Hill has been playing its own venues, including the Little Fox Theatre in Redwood City, and Palo Alto’s Dragon Theatre. The band plays some original tunes, including “Highway 84,” which Mr. Warde wrote about that lonely drive home from band practice to the Coastside. “Our new goal is to play 10 gigs a month,” Mr. Breen says. By day, he works at a law firm, while Mr. Campbell is a welder. As for Mr. McCabe, joining the band also helped him get hired in this economy. When the Old Port Lobster Shack opened a few months back in Ladera, he asked the management if they needed a band for the grand opening. “They said, ‘That’s cool, but can you cook?’” he says, laughing. Now he’s got a job and a band. “Bluegrass kind of took me in its lifeboat.” A