Going to a BrownChicken BrownCow Stringband show is like stepping into a bar in Appalachia, or listening to a midnight fireside serenade, or playing your dad’s old albums–often, all at once.
Curious about what that feels like? On Saturday, Mar. 2, you’ll get the chance. The boys of BrownChicken BrownCow will play on Maui once again, this time to record a live album. The talented, earnest boys of the band will be taking to the stage for the welcoming crowd at Charley’s, who has hosted the band yearly over the past decade.
“I’m super excited about this show because it’s going to be our first band recording in several years,” says fiddler Xander Hitzig. His brother Orion is also in the band (he plays the mandolin). Together, guitarist Justin Morris and the Hitzig brothers will take the stage with bassist Matthew Del Olmo, and John Michael Jelliffe will play bass for some of the show.
The band members blend their fiddle, bass, guitar and mandolin to create soulful, genre-defying music that is good through speakers and even better live. “People with a love for original, bluegrass, country, singer-songwriter, folk, jazz, funk, gypsy jazz and Irish music find a natural connection with us,” he says. Their instrumental and vocal songs, with names like “Arizona,” “Hillbilly Bubble” and “Cocaine Birds” take turns being playful and soulful, fun and real.
“We are grateful to be alive playing music and sharing this life with others,” says Morris. “That’s one reason this recording will be cool. It’s going to document a special night that we can all listen back on and share forever.”
Originally of West Virginia, the band started out on the sidewalks of Paia a decade ago and grew on back porches and around campfires. They’ve become beloved on Maui for their energetic, entertaining shows.
“When we first arrived on Island, we played on the sidewalk for months,” says Morris. “We met everyone on the street, locals and tourists, until our audience grew so big they began stopping traffic at the corner of Hana Highway and Baldwin.”
Something about the band clicked with many Maui residents, probably because the sounds fill an uncommon genre for the Maui music scene. “They find a natural connection with us because we inhabit all of these different styles blended together,” says Xander Hitzig, “and there’s not a lot on the island with these sorts of genres for them to connect with.”
And many embraced the band, who return each winter. “When we are on Maui I don’t feel like I’m on the road, I feel like I’m home,” says Morris. “The thing about playing on Maui for us is, we have not only a fanbase but a family base,” says Orion Hitzig.
The guys know how to put on a show; their concerts are a good time. Their bar shows are a down-home, high-energy experience that goes well with whiskey. Loyal fans dance and stomp and sing along. Guys with stately mustaches and PBRs hang out near the saloon doors, and ladies in sundresses and cowboy boots whirl across the dance floor. On the stage, the band, clad in suspenders, clutch their instruments, their fingers a blur and their hearts on their shirtsleeves.
In addition to lighting up Paia’s nightlife, the band tours and plays extensively. “We’ve played everywhere from the roof of a house at sunrise to a kitchen in a taqueria,” says Orion. Though they’ve played at private parties on secluded islands, they have a penchant for spontaneous concerts. “Some of my favorite memories are when we just pull out our instruments and our surroundings embrace it,” says Morris.
The band has crossed the continental US over a dozen times and appears in Hawai‘i yearly. They are completely independent, which means they travel, book shows, performs and record on their own. “It’s a lot of work, and takes a lot of patience, but there’s no limit to the reward that you get when you play a wonderful show for wonderful people and have a great time with the people that you care about the most,” says Orion.
Photo courtesy BrownChicken BrownCow Stringband