After seven years of hard work and a relentless tour schedule, Chicago’s The Henhouse Prowlers have gained a growing reputation for their highly original, tradition-inspired bluegrass built around intricate harmonies and electrifying stage energy. In 2010, while balancing time on the road and in the studio in Colorado, the Prowlers placed third in the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition and took top honors in the RockyGrass Band Competition.
During this time, the band entered the studio with visionary producer and dobro player extraordinaire, Sally Van Meter, completing its third album. The product, thirteen-track “Verses, Chapters and Rhymes,” features original tales of life’s trials and tribulations laid over vocal and instrumental work as refined as it is danceable. With the guidance and vision of Sally’s truly professional production work, “Verses” offers a mature statement from Chicago’s hardest working bluegrass band that is as clean, crisp and deliberate as it is hard-driving and loaded with the raw passion and energy the boys have made their trademark.
The year 2011 has been filled with exciting opportunities for the band. After releasing “Verses” and performing at Wintergrass in February, the Prowlers embarked on their first ever European tour. The international debut was a stunning success and the band is returning to Europe in April 2012.
Dedicated equally to tradition and innovation, The Henhouse Prowlers center their sound on that of the formative years of bluegrass, while keeping their pulse on today by covering contemporary topics in a largely original repertoire. The group’s prolific songwriting provides entree to twenty-first century topics not typically tackled by traditional bluegrass groups. At the same time, the Prowlers wear the Bill Monroe mantle with spit and polish, performing in suit-and-tie in a tightly choreographed, one-mic stage setting. Combining passion, confidence and flair with instrumental and vocal prowess, the Prowlers deliver dynamic bluegrass with an edge.
Original members Ben Wright, five-string banjo, and Jon Goldfine on upright bass, are joined by Starr Moss on guitar, Grant Ziolkowski on mandolin, and Dan Andree on fiddle. All five bring to the table diverse musical palettes, having pursued music in a variety of settings, ensembles, and genres prior to jelling as The Henhouse Prowlers.
Their eclectic musical backgrounds were the perfect fit when called upon by NBC Today Show correspondent Mike Leonard to compose the soundtrack for his PBS documentary series. Based on the best-selling book, “The Ride Of Our Lives” follows Leonard’s family on a cross-country motor home trip with the backdrop of tradition-inspired music composed and performed (off-camera) by The Henhouse Prowlers.
The Chicago-based Henhouse Prowlers are adeptly positioning themselves for nothing less than success. Each member does double duty within the group, holding a business as well as musical post, making it a total collaborative effort. Currently on the road at least two-thirds of the year, the band straddles a unique spot in the current nationwide bluegrass explosion. The Prowlers look, sing and play the part with passion and prowess, attracting audiences both young and old, from the traditional festival circuit to dance-friendly night clubs and beyond.
The Prowlers in School
While not on stage performing or on the road touring, the Henhouse Prowlers have long been avid instructors on their respective instruments in the Chicago area. Recently, the Prowlers have found a way to simultaneously merge these two key components of their careers as musicians.
In April 2011, the quartet debuted its comprehensive bluegrass curriculum to elementary and intermediate schools throughout Evanston, Illinois. Through four weeks of hour-length assemblies and performances in the schools, they perfected their group instruction of the core bluegrass instruments – banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, and fiddle – and the importance of this music in American cultural history.
The presentation introduces basic concepts of music theory, the Americana approach to telling stories through songs, and the history of bluegrass as a narrative of different cultures sharing and evolving in the southeastern United States. Each assembly is very interactive, inviting the students to sing along and ask questions as they arise.
The Prowlers recently took their presentation on the road to schools in upstate New York. Their dynamic blend of music education, bluegrass performance and the ability to share their passion for the profession with the next generation is a perfect daytime supplement in the classroom to their cross-country evening performance schedule.
If your school or music department is interested in this opportunity, contact the band for references and availability.
Hailing from just west of Chicago, Dan has spent the last six years in Champaign-Urbana, earning a degree in Ethnomusicology from the University in December of 2011. His musical education began with nine years of Suzuki method and classical violin lessons with the head of the Northern Illinois University string program, Ann Montzka-Smelser. The ear and sight-reading training Dan received provided a solid platform from which to delve into fiddle genres such as bluegrass, old-time, and contemporary country. Joining with the Corn Desert Ramblers bluegrass group in Urbana, IL proved to be the start of a wonderful adventure of performance music including live shows with them and other groups in town for over five years. Dan is excited beyond expression to join the Henhouse Prowlers and is embracing with open arms the start of another great bluegrass adventure!
Grant is the youngest member of the band. A Milwaukee native, Grant is a newly minted Chicagoan, having made stops along the way in Madrid, Madison, Buenos Aires, and the California Bay Area. He has had the pleasure of playing mandolin with Nora Jane Struthers, 49 Special, and String ‘Em Up (with the Prowlers’ own Starr Moss). Brazilian choro, classical, jazz, old-time, and a respect for the founding fathers influence his playing, but his loyalties lay with hard-driving bluegrass.
As a founding member of the Henhouse Prowlers, Jon has been supplying the bottom end and sharing vocal duties in the band since its formation in 2004. Born in Chicago to a trombone playing father and an opera singing mother, Jon first learned the stand up bass in his Jr. High School orchestra. Since reviving his bass chops in 2000, he has performed in jazz, rock, and funk ensembles including MWC, and folk and bluegrass ensembles such as The Back Porch Ramblers. Jon is also adept on the electric bass, tuba and harmonica. He has guested on several recordings including Brian Walker’s Lookin’ For Light.
Starr is 26 years old and from Milwaukee. He originally played mostly electric guitar but switched to acoustic after discovering celtic and bluegrass music in high school. Before joining the Henhouse Prowlers, Starr played in several local bands (O’Shytte’s – Celtic rock) and String ‘Em Up (bluegrass), both in collaboration with Prowlers’ Grant. Starr is influenced primarily by the bluegrass genre, but also celtic and old-time styles. He has had the opportunity to learn from great musicians from music festivals across the country and he recently relocated back to Chicago after spending time abroad and on the West Coast working in Latino Advocacy. Starr plays a James Goodall acoustic guitar and his excited to be playing with the Prowlers.
Ben Wright is a founding member and banjo player of the Prowlers. At 23 he bought a banjo on a whim in 1999 at the legendary Old Town School of Folk Music. Within weeks he fell under its spell and spent several years making up for not discovering it sooner. Ben played in several bands before forming the Prowlers including the popular Chicago Americana outfit, Outlaw Family Band. He plays a Rock Built banjo with a Huber tone ring.