Followers of the North Fork music scene likely noticed that with all of the live music offered in 2015, one of the most prolific bands was relatively quiet.
The Scones and members Rick Stockton, Helen Highwater and Harry Knipe were busy making "Light in the Forest," a CD of 11 original songs. The band celebrated the release Dec. 12 at the Paradise Theatre.
For Stockton and Highwater, the two constants in the history of The Scones, and earlier The Strolling Scones, this was their eighth CD since 2006, and the first full-length CD of all-original songs by The Scones.
Stockton, the songwriter, describes the collection as "rich in harmony, with good beats." He and Highwater are known for their harmonies, and for their original "rockin' Americana" sounds. The band draws from a number of influences, including the iconic music of the 1960s.
For Scones followers, that signature 60s vibe can be felt throughout the CD. "We can't help ourselves," said Highwater.
Stockton pulls lyrics from both previous experiences and from a subconscious state, and gives them to Hightower for critiquing. Songs like "Fightin' in the Trenches," "Don't Talk About Love" and lyrics like "friends don't treat each other this way" can be very personal, or inspired by an incident, a movie or a book. Highwater says she usually can tell where they're from.
The Scones also remained true to their blues roots in "I Need Some Good News Bad" and "Lonesome Traveler," and Highwater brings "Funny How Love Can Change Everything" to life with her sultry lead vocals.
Stockton started writing songs as a teenager in Texas. He gets a riff or a melody in his head, then the craft kicks in and he fills in the gaps with rhymes or sounds to give each song its unique quality and bring out the best of the performers' talents.
Work began on Light in the Forest in January and took almost eight months to complete. The band collaborated with other musicians, including Ellen Hutto on flute and harmony vocals, Harry Harpoon on harmonica, Randall Utterback on fiddle, and David Alderdice on the doumbek, riq, bongos and camel bells. David Snyder is featured on piano and organ, Greg Cooperman plays harmonica and accordion, and Dave Menapace adds depth on the trumpet.
Danielle Menapace's English horn gives "I Can't Find Her," a song with a moral about dragging one's feet when opportunity knocks, a gypsy feel, while "It's About Time," featuring Stockton on the claw hammer banjo draws from the traditional Appalachian folk tune, "The Coo Coo."
"Rick really gets to use his creativity in the studio," said Highwater.
Stockton's editing techniques date back to 1960s and groups like The Beatles, allowing for "all of the psychedelic sounds of the 60s." Songs are recorded in analog and transferred to digital, where the products are fine-tuned. With today's electronic capabilities, that may sound outdated, "but it sounds better," said Stockton.
Work on the CD is done, but the promotional work is just beginning, although Stockton admits he's anxious to start writing again. "Rick wants to move on to the next creative thing," said Highwater.
The band plans more local shows, too, starting on New Year's Day with the Black Eyed Pea Jubilee at the Blue Sage. The event includes a potluck and several local acts taking the stage for 25-minute sets. Justin Hess will join Stockton and Highwater on drums, and other former band members are also in the lineup. An all-star set is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
After the CD was complete, The Scones performed in the Sapphire Room in Boise, Idaho. "We're finding we're getting such great response when we do these bigger concerts," said Highwater.
They're also working on a promotional tour of Texas, and applying for slots in summer parks series concerts. They're also looking into house concerts, where people open their homes to friends. Audiences can be all sizes, from a roomful to 60 or more, all there just for the music. They could book an entire tour of the country on house concerts, said Highwater. "It's a really good way to go."
The CD is one of many accomplishments in the couple's nearly four decades together. Stockton and Highwater met in the mid-1980s at a Denver restaurant. He was performing solo and she was a waitress. She asked to sit in and he asked her what she knew.
They played the Denver/Boulder area for about a year, then toured the southern U.S., from Florida to Arizona, with a lot of stops in Texas. The music mecca of Austin was tough, said Stockton, and bookings were a matter of supply vs. demand. They went on the road for two years, performing six nights a week. "It was crazy," said Stockton, "but it was a good experience."
The couple, then known as Thicker Than Thieves, found Paonia in 1996 while driving from Glenwood Springs to Telluride. They dove into the local music scene, managing a recording studio and landing a weekend gig at Guido's in Aspen that lasted for six years and led to other work in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The Strolling Scones, a fictitious 1960s British Invasion band, was suggested by former Blue Sage director Thomas Smith as a gimmick for a show. "It was a really fun night," said Stockton. The band went on to perform and record for more than a decade. Their first CD release party in 2001 grew into the annual Mountain Harvest Festival, one of the major events in Paonia. The non-profit is now a year-round philanthropic effort.
The musical "Ladies and Gentlemen, It's The Strolling Scones!" based on the story of the fictitious band, premiered in 2013 at the Paradise Theatre.
In recent years the couple has produced an average of a CD every two years, including "2 Vegans," a 2009 selection of cover tunes recorded as a tribute to 1967 rock 'n' roll, and "Baker's Dozen," a "best-of" compilation. The Scones' first CD, "Duct Tape Chronicles," was released in 2014 on a very limited run. CDs are available locally at The Art Den in Paonia, and online through sconesmusic.com, amazon.com, downloaded through iTunes, and on cdbaby.com, an independent online music store which has helped the band sell its music all over the world.
The couple express a great deal of gratitude for their success. Locals "are very supportive of original music," said Stockton, and were very supportive of their musical. They're hoping for a second production of the musical and are working with a theater in Littleton.
As the final song, "Do the Best You Can," suggests, Highwater and Stockton are doing their best to give audiences what they want: songs to remember and sing to.
A lot of today's music is interesting, but not memorable, "and not something you'll get stuck in your head and start whistling," said Stockton. "We're trying to get that sound. And it's a nice sound."