Living Local on the Road

Being a grassroots touring band means long slogs on the highways of America. With that comes limited eating options—usually an endless cycle of fast food outposts at interstate junctions. Despite a rigorous road schedule, Philadelphia-based edgy acoustic outfit Hoots and Hellmouth have decided they can do better.

For the past five years the unorthodox string trio has been delivering their foot-stomping folk-soul revivals to crowds across the country. Along the way, they’ve never been shy about their stance on the need for agrarian reform and a return to local, community-based food exchange. In line with their ideals, the band resists the convenience of Waffle House and vigilantly patronizes local farms, co-ops, and restaurants at each tour stop. The group also hosts a blog on their website called “Notes from an Urban Homestead” that discusses how to cultivate crops among the city gridlock.

“Our corporate culture has turned food into just a product, as opposed to an exchange between humans and the earth,” says lead singer Sean Hoots. “As a touring band we realize the juxtaposition of us preaching community and localism while we’re in a van driving across the country. We try to connect with each community that we visit, so we can put our hearts into action. Playing music for a living doesn’t have to be at odds with our values.”

Lyrically, the group avoids being overtly heavy-handed. On the band’s latest album, The Holy Open Secret, there are distinct jabs at our current infrastructure in songs like “Roots of the Industry,” but the message largely stays redemptive and optimistic in offerings like “You and All of Us” and “Known for Possession.”

“We don’t want to be a political issue band on a soapbox,” says Hoots. “We’re musicians first, but we realize the absolute necessity of community and sustainability. We want to make it more of a discussion about solutions and live the example.”

Moving forward, the band is also taking a progressive approach to recording. With the seismic shift of the digital age leaving CD sales in shambles, Hoots and Hellmouth have decided to record slowly and let fans watch the progress. The band regularly posts new songs in the “Window in the Woodshed” section of their website with video and explanation of the process.

This fall the band will take a break from clubs and bars and reprise last year’s Harvest Tour, which found them playing on farms during harvest season from late September to early October. Last year’s run stopped at the Sunnyside Farms and Orchard in Washington, Va., where the band shared food with small-town locals and then picked tunes all night in the barn. Dates are still being set for this fall’s jaunt, but Hoots says Southern stops are likely.

“We’ll play shows and have a potluck with locals,” he says. “It’s a way to celebrate community and encourage others to do the same.”

FOOD FIGHT: Listen to Hoots and Hellmouth turn plowshares into swords HERE.