Artist Profile: Henhouse Prowlers – Keeping Tradition Alive

Some of the top bluegrass pickers in the country have come from the Midwest, and Chicago’s premier tradition-inspired bluegrass band, The Henhouse Prowlers, rates among the finest. Founding members, Ben Wright (banjo) and Jon Goldine (bass) along with recent additions Eric Lambert (guitar) and Grant Ziolkowski (mandolin) have been steadily touring to promote their new album, Verses, Chapters, Rhymes, and their critically acclaimed debut album, Dark Rumor.

Steeped in traditional bluegrass that is saturated with instrumental dexterity and complex chord changes it is easy to see how the quintet has won such prestigious awards as the 2010 Rocky Grass Band Competition and the 2010 Chicago Music Award.


Each member of the Prowlers contributes equally, both musically and vocally. Wright’s vocal weight lends a unique layer of depth to the vocal harmony, the rich bass resonating within the lower end of the stack. Wright’s three-finger picking style is reminiscent of Earl Scruggs with rapid and repetitive rolls. Goldine’s vocal timbre fills in the higher end of the stack as his upright bass layers in the bottom end. Lambert, the resident acoustic flat picker whose vocals are akin to Billy Nershi from The String Cheese Incident adds a seasoned flavor to the quintet. Young buck, Grant Ziolkowski, is a wunderkind on the mandolin, his cross picking mimicking senior member Wright’s banjo roll with a sweet vocal melodic vocal registration.  The shared talent makes the transition of breakdowns almost flawless as the members rotate through the melodies.

At recent show at the Mousetrap, in Indianapolis, Indiana, they shared these talents to a substantial size crowd, getting everyone moving and dancing.  “Uncle Bubba,” a tune from Dark Rumor found Goldine on vocals, his smooth tenor provoking a haunting melody about a family in 1961. The harmonics of the chorus provided chills before the breakdown sends the listener reeling with emotion.  Wrights low tessitura served to complement Goldine’s powerful voice. An older song, “Syracuse,” found Wright on vocals growling out a story about a self indulgent man traveling with his spoiled pompous wife from Chicago back home to Syracuse and the hardships of those that live life without reflection of what the human soul is about, Lambert’s acoustic melody ripped through the layers and passed it to Ziolkowski to pick away. And so it was throughout the night, the band flawlessly working a single powerhouse unit, swapping lead vocals, while Lambert’s flat picking riffs and Wright’s banjo seemed to roll on through the melody.  The band’s time on stage is a skillful display of their unparalleled musical powers.  It is a genuine treat and true wonder to be able to witness a bluegrass band perform with such tenacity and jam in the splendor of tradition.

With fall tour slowly coming to a close, the Henhouse Prowlers have announced they will be partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository for the Bluegrass Pitch-in at the Mayne Stage in Chicago on Friday, November 25. They also will be embarking after this on a West Coast tour, to be followed by a European tour next year.


Stream: Henhouse Prowlers (5/27/11)

Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos of Henhouse Prowlers by Amber Jennings