The hardest-working couple in the local music scene is hands-down Wild Bill Kneebone and Deb Hilton of the Porchlights.
With two live DVDs, five CDs, and a new album simmering in the studio, the popular Dolores guitar duo is showing no signs of slowing down, consistently booking weekly gigs all over the Southwest, and traveling through rain and snow in a road-weary Subaru.
“On the road for thousands of miles, changing clothes outside in a blizzard, cold pizza for breakfast, that’s us!” Hilton says. “Our catch phrase is ‘It’s sooo glamorous!’ But it’s all worth it when we play the gig, and the real fun begins.”
Mingling with greats, the talented Porchlights hold their own, performing opening acts for Little Feat and Cross Canadian Ragweed. They’ve also shared the stage with Bruce Hornsby, Yonder Mountain String Band, Big Head Todd, Derek Trucks Band, Steve Kimock, and Pete Sears of Hot Tuna.
“We were in a diner in Flag, there was a buzz for the upcoming Little Feat show,” Kneebone recalls. “The band walked in and overheard the staff saying ‘can’t wait for tonight’. They jokingly asked, ‘Why, who’s playing?’ and the staff yells out ‘The Porchlights, man!’”
Everyone had a laugh, and the Porchlights and Little Feat swap stories of life on the road and the music business before and after the gig.
In a way it was a full-circle moment. Wild Bill recalls meeting Deb during one of her solo shows at a coffee house in Flagstaff in 1995.
“When I first heard her voice, I knew she was someone special. I told her if she ever needed someone to produce her first album, I would love to do it,” he says. “I got the job, it turned into our album, and we have been together playing music ever since.”
Listening to the Porchlights is an engaging, personal experience that feels close to the heart. Deb’s insightful, catchy lyrics and smooth rhythm guitar are in sync with Kneebone’s melodic, jamming-in-the-pocket, guitar leads.
Their songs have a crescendo aspect to them, taking the listener on a journey through the valley of life’s trials and tribulations, then sparking inspiration through a nugget of wisdom or cheery observation on a climb to the mountain top.
The creative power of the couple is attracting attention. During an improvisational song made up on stage at Blondie’s in Cortez four years ago, the couple found a hit they named Blondie’s Stomp.
The song is a fan favorite now, and was picked up by a soon-to-be-released film about Ed Abbey and river runners called Wrenched.
“We just got the call that our song will be in the movie, so it’s pretty cool,” Kneebone says.
The Porchlights play 125 performances a year, he says, and “60 are hard to get. That is the toughest part, doing the bookings. But when we get on stage, each gig is sacred to us. We relax and have fun.”
Songwriting is a never-ending process with its ups and downs, Hilton says.
“When we get on the road, our songs stretch out and find their depth. They take on a unique signature,” she said. “Others are like a struggling house plant. You have to be willing to let go and put them back into the compost.”
Deb jumps on song ideas quickly, firmly believing that “if you don’t, the idea floats away and becomes someone else’s inspiration.”
The Porchlights formed their own label, Ravenrock Records, and produce their music at Friendly Eddys Studio in Dolores.
Their diverse repertoire includes 60 originals combining elements of rock, bluegrass, guitar instrumental, folk swing, jam, swing, and they play covers as well.
“From bluegrass to Pearl Jam,” Kneebone says. “Every time we see the audience, I’m reminded that we’re living the dream.”
Their saying “The Porchlight is On” rings true to life.
For everything Porchlights, including tour dates, CDs, and DVDs for sale, and Dolores merchandise visit their excellent website at http://porchlights.20m.com/index.html
Locally, their next shows are March 1 at the Mancos Opera House, and then March 14 at the Durango Brewery.