The Henhouse Prowlers: are they a fox looking to eat or a rooster looking for a good time?
“We chose the rooster,” blurted a band member as we joked about the band’s origin name in a pre-concert interview. Ben Wright, who plays banjo and sings, got a list of names from his father who is a writer.
“We’re playing music from the country in the city. We’re out at night. It was honestly just a good name. It sounds like a bluegrass band without sounding like the Something Something Mountain Boys,” said Wright.
The bluegrass band from Chicago has been prowling around the U.S. and world for 15 years. They have visited an array of countries (25 to be exact), many of which most bluegrass groups don’t visit. With each passing year, trip, and interaction, the sound of Henhouse Prowlers is one to be heard and remembered.
They are not your average bluegrass group. Yes, they wear the suits, play the instruments, and sing around an old school microphone. They fit the visual stereotype but the music does not. Their travels have influenced their songwriting in ways that are hard to explain.
As Chris Dollar, who sings and plays guitar, explains, “I’m surrounded by all this music I’ve never heard before, which absolutely comes back into my mind and gets put out in the material.”
The influence from diverse cultures is obvious when the Henhouse Prowlers perform. For example, all bluegrass bands play “Kara Jorgo” by Кара жорго from Kyrgyzstan and “Chop My Money“ by P-Square from Nigeria, right?. They’re classics! All bands have live albums from Kyrgyzstan, right? The ability of Henhouse Prowlers to make something as American as bluegrass accepted worldwide is unprecedented.
“We are received exceptionally well, partly because people are moved by music in general. When we do trips to far off lands we learn music from those places before we go. We can show them traditional American music and “here’s our take on your music.” That opens up doors! You can’t imagine how big those doors are. When you learn to sing in other languages, even poorly, it moves people,” says Wright.
So much so that they became Global Musical Ambassadors for the U.S. State Department in 2013. It has allowed them to connect with locals and fans in a way that none thought possible. One night in a small town in southern Illinois, a foreign exchange student was in the crowd and “Kara Jorgo” was weaved into the setlist. All of a sudden, this kid was at the center of the crowd dancing in perfect Kyrgyz fashion for all to see.
“The music broke down any kind of border that existed for one evening in a small town in Central Illinois,” shared Write.
It’s the kind of musical experience the Henhouse Prowlers try and bring to all who cross paths with them. They have embodied the experience by starting a non-profit call the Bluegrass Ambassadors. The main goal is to break down cultural barriers through music.
Whether they teach kids in an underfunded school in Chicago how to play ‘God’s Plan” by Drake on band instruments or bluegrass up “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X to help teach a class, the results are the same. Location, culture, race, and differences have no bounds while interacting through music.
The demystification only grows as you listen to their unique brand of bluegrass. I got the opportunity over the weekend when they stopped in at the Turf Club with special guests Max Graham Trio and Fireside Collective. The 4-hour marathon started with Max Graham’s laid back style and was followed up by Fireside Collective from North Carolina.
The high-speed guitars and lyrics from Fireside made the crowd move in the traditional bluegrass style. Joe Cicero on guitar is an act within himself to watch.
Henhouse Prowlers shared both their traditional and international songs. Listening to traditional hip-hop and other genres in a bluegrass fashion was a nice change of pace from the almost three hours of bluegrass that had been played up to that point.
They ended their set with unplugged performances of personal songs in the crowd. This drove home their main message: that no boundaries exist in music.