Music, at least the good stuff, seems to emerge from the soul of the artist. It can take off in a heart beat and get a crowd excited. Bad music comes from just about everywhere else. Having heard lots of the bad stuff from our kids over the years, a surprisingly good one sneaked up on us. It came from a group called the Lumineers, whose songs drifted into our house through the backdoor. We had not expected it. (Luckily our daughters were around to make sure we left it ajar.)
Witness Post: Lumineers
Wes on guitar at 9:30 Club in DC, touring with Old Crow Medicine Show, August, 2012
Wesley Schultz, the Lumineers’ muse, is a native of Ramsey, New Jersey. Growing up in the suburbs of NYC, from an early age he wanted to be an artist: In March of 1992, as a 9 year old, Wes is quoted in the New York Times with saying. “I want to be an artist … I spend a lot of time on my drawings and it turns out good ’cause I’ve been practicing a lot.”
Before too long Wes started painting with lyrics and music and rock and stomp and musicality which came from the right spot. Wes’s long-time Ramsey friend, Jeremiah Fraites, joined him on percussion. They have been playing music together a lot since 2005: Wes on guitar and vocals, Jer on drums, piano and backup harmony. Wes’s lyrics have always been evocative and thoughtful.
With the sheer expense of New York City and the cut-throat ways of the music business in the Big Apple, the duo headed West. They said it was less a pilgrimage than an act of stubborn hopefulness. They packed up their meager belongings into a trailer full of musical instruments and moved their home base to Denver, Colorado.
Wes, Brandy, Jer, Caitlin, and Stelth (at CAKE House bar-be-que)
Eleanor Hooper and Jer at the CAKE House
They went to the ‘open mike nights’ at some of the local bars and nightclubs, like the Meadowlark, and tried to gain an audience. The Lumineers duo added Neyla Pekarek to their group, when she responded to a Craigslist ad for a cellist. Neyla, a classically trained Denver native, helped smooth out the group’s rough edges while expanding the breadth of the sound. She also enhanced her skills on mandolin and piano.
The Hooper family and the Lumineers intersected on the eastern edge of the Rockies. Our daughters, Eleanor and Kathleen Hooper, would go to Meadowlark and other pubs to hear the local bands and drink half-priced PBR’s. They are graduates of the University of Denver. In her senior year Eleanor lived off campus with three dear friends, Caitlin Dewey, Annika Sohlstrom, and Emily Kornhauser. They called their house the CAKE House, jumbling some initials together. Through Eleanor we met Jeremiah, the drummer / piano player, who always wore his signature wardrobe — black hat, white T-shirt and suspenders.
CAKE House: Caitlin Dewey, Annika Sohlstrom, Emily Kornhaeuser, and Eleanor Hooper
In June, 2011, Jer and Wes invited our family to hear a Lumineers’ performance at a local indoor/outdoor bar on Mississippi Avenue in Portland. We arrived early, shared a picnic table with some strangers, ate homefries and drank tap micro-brews. The Lumineers were the second of two groups to perform. We watched the Band set up the stage, tune strings and get ready to begin. The setting was far from ideal: the outside acoustics were poor, the mics muted Jer so he had to shout to be heard, and the foot stomps on the flimsy stage were intense. But their musicality was great: they played drums, violin, piano, guitar, cello, recorder, even xylophone. As Eleanor knew we would be, we were completely taken with them. They have a knack for drawing in young kids, having them playfully singing with them, which is a gift.
Jer with Eleanor, Isa Almy and Kathleen Hooper
The Great Van Heist
Then later that summer we received an emergency text from Eleanor: Mom & Dad, The Lumineers had all of their musical instruments stolen from the back of their van. My wife and I decided to send the band some dollars to buy new & used equipment to tide them over for their West Coast tour.
The Van Was Robbed of Musical Instruments in LA
LOS ANGELES, CA (9/19/2011) OUR VAN WAS BROKEN INTO AND INSTRUMENTS WERE STOLEN.
“Smashed in my car window, didn’t touch the stereo.” – Lyrics from “Slow It Down” which is on our forthcoming album … Yes, I have been robbed before – those lyrics were about Brooklyn.
Yesterday, in broad daylight, we got robbed again … The Lumineers’ van was broken into, this time in LA.
Most of our instruments were taken …. Some of the things were worth something monetarily, some were invaluable like my mother’s guitar. Wrote a lot of songs on that guitar. But the lyrics up top are a lot less about what was stolen, and a lot more about what they can’t take. You cannot take the music. That can’t be stolen. We proved that last night and will continue to do so.
So we’ll be playing the rest of this tour with borrowed instruments – thank you to those who have lent a hand and thank you to those who have donated money to replace what was taken. Immediately following all this there has been a steady outpouring of support – and all we feel is gratitude.
Jer, Neyla and Wes thankful in LA
Thank you for helping us…. because of your generosity we can press on. We will keep updating the site as more info becomes available.
Thank you so much,
Wes, Jer, & Neyla
October 6, 2011
Moving Past Heist
In 2011 the band took the instrument losses in stride and kept working. The Lumineers mailed us a great personalized letter which graciously thanked us for our check. Along with note was a poster ‘fit for framing’ of “The Great Van Heist of 2011.” The poster now hangs on the wall of my office as a memento.
That summer, fall and winter, the band toured California, Oregon and Washington. Success always takes longer than you think, and the climb is steeper than you imagine, but eventually things work out. By mid 2012 the Lumineers started attracting devoted fans, first across the Western US, then back in their old East Coast stomping grounds. From California surfer dudes to Jersey boys, the fans started getting active. Young, old and in-between, they were drawn by songs like “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love,” which seemed like Americana-inflected barn-burners that arose from the same roots as the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons.
The Lumineers were soon heard on alternative radio stations in the West and then in the East. Concert crowds started to know all of the lyrics of the songs; they were drawn into songs like “Slow it Down” and “Dead Sea.” Rhythmically they were slow and sultry ballads. The pounding “Ho Hey” was all over the radio and seemed to go viral. Soon enough companies like Microsoft adopted it for their Bing search engine theme song and it was off to the Big Time. Plus with their warm stage presence, the Lumineers put on a great show.
Before too many more seasons, instead of digging their own instruments from the back of the old van, a porter took the performers and their instruments from the back of the chartered bus or private plane to the concert hall.
Lumineers performing at the Grammy’s, 2012
We were fortunate to hear them for a return trip to Portland in the fall of 2013. What a difference time makes! Instead of a dumpy bar in the outskirts of town, the band played to a near sell-out crowd at the Rose Garden’s Memorial Coliseum, which seats about 15,000. Our daughter, Eleanor, happened to be in town with her friend, Karsyn Sprague from Jackson Hole. Eleanor texted Jer and asked if there might be some tickets available for the show. In short order he had made arrangements for some tickets to be left for us to fetch at Will Call. Eleanor invited us, along with Karsyn and her DU friends, Julie Schroeder and Charlotte Ladd, all of whom adore the Lumineers. Since we had last heard them, the trio had skillfully added two other excellent musicians, Stelth Ulvang and Ben Wahamaki, who complement the music and fill in the richness of the vocals and instrumental chords so well.
The set descended from the ceiling with three huge chandeliers and ‘performance stations’ for the musicians. It was nice, but somewhat impersonal. That night the floor in front of the stage was where it was happening: packed with teens and twenty-somethings they were all dancing and singing along with the music. The stands were also rocking, as they put on a elated show. Jer, Wes and Neyla seemed glad that their Denver friends had come to Portland. Eleanor and Jer had some good eye-contact during the concert as the performance unfolded. Jer was on his knees and Eleanor dancing toward him in front of the stage. We spotted them from the stands. As official groupies, we were grateful to be present in the audience. The Portland crowd, like those across the country, was drawn by the live experience of the Band as the concert unfolded. Performances have been described as “a coming-together in musical solidarity against isolation, adversity, and despair.”
In the middle of the three hour set, the Lumineers left the stage and walked out onto the floor of the Coliseum, taking positions on a small elevated dais. When the klieg lights on stage went black and were replaced with roving spot lights the crowd got louder. The performers were patted on the backs as they strolled amidst the audience. The change of scenery altered everything.
Surrounded by the fans, the music became personal. The audience could feel a connection with the musicians that defied the fame and recent notoriety. The Lumineers had recreated the same feeling as when they sang and played the xylophone with the children on Mississippi Avenue in Portland two years ago. Only this time they were able to scale it and customize it to a large crowd. The fans, close enough to touch and relate, felt the magic and the rhythm of the music. The Lumineers have it!
The next night the Band performed in San Francisco at the open-air Pier 27 on the Embarcadero. Jer had made arrangements (again through Eleanor) for two tickets to be left at Will-Call for our daughter, Margaret and her friend Katherine. Over 10,000 people were there for the concert series, concluding the celebration around the America’s Cup, which the US narrowly won on the final day of racing. As the temperature dropped slightly that night, Margaret bought herself a zip-up jacket with the Lumineers logo. The walking hobo with the calliope was replace by an elephant. Margaret reports it was another crowd pleasing feast full of music.
We have your journeys in our prayers. Work hard, practice harder, as you always have; you are artists with soul. Keep the hits coming!
Your Van Heist helpers, the Hoopers.