If there ever was an artist in the right spot, it’s Joe Hott.
The bluegrass/country performer is ripe with authenticity. When he speaks, his Appalachian roots flow from his mouth like honey off a biscuit. Even his band, The Short Mountain Band, is a homage to the mountain that looms behind his childhood home in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.
He talks about his walk. He lives his musical walk. For a minute, you can’t help but bask in the nostalgia. You feel like you are escorted back to classic country with stars like Ralph Stanley or Bill Monroe
After a minute or two, you notice a similarity in sound and style to Hank Williams, and come to think of it, you might see a little resemblance, too.
Hott doesn’t object to the comparison.
“That’s not a bad image to have,” he said. “He was one of the best. We try to incorporate his songs. He’s one of my favorites.”
The 615 Hideaway Records artist is one of the key acts coming to the annual Northern Indiana Tri-State Bluegrass Association Memorial Day Festival at the Noble County Fairgrounds in Kendallville, Thursday, May 25, through Sunday, May 28.
For a schedule of acts and more information, go to bluegrassusa.net.
Making the old sound new
Hott’s debut 2017 album, The Last Thing on My Mind, put him on the chart, as he was nominated for Inspirational Bluegrass Artist of the Year by the Inspirational Country Music Association. His 2018 single “West Virginia Rail” reached No. 1 on the Roots Music Report’s bluegrass chart.
His is a mix of gospel with strong instrumentals, including the banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, and a train whistle that has become a signature sound.
You can hear the passion. It’s hard to keep from tapping. It’s high energy, it’s active. Even the slow songs pull you in. His bio says it best by calling him “a must see, a must hear.”
He admits he’s not sure why.
“I reckon we have to do our best to put on a great show for everybody,” he said. “We try to include the music people aren’t hearing anymore, stuff that’s hard to find. We try to bring that history back and the fun memories back when those songs were brand new.
Hott’s mission is intentionally focused on preserving a historical, traditional sound.
“It’s gone by the wayside, but we are going to keep it going for as long as we can,” he said. “We incorporate some of the old-school traditional country. We do a couple of Buck Owens songs and songs from his era. We mix in a little gospel and round out the show the best we can.”
Hott reasons the legends of the genre have stood the test of time.
“They’ll never be replicated or replaced in any way,” he said. “They cleared the way in the business. Of course, we wouldn’t be here without them.”
Sticking with tradition
One of the selling points is the music’s rugged soul. He says his show comes from the heart and the mood it creates.
“For the most part, it’s all about feel,” he said. “You just listen to how the song is going to go. I like to keep it as real and as natural as possible without adding a whole lot to it. That’s my No. 1 goal is to keep it real and keep it simple.”
He has his theories on how country music is becoming hillbilly rock. Without pointing fingers, he’ll quickly tell you it’s OK. He says it’s not his battle.
“I don’t know the reason for the big separation,” he said. “I know even bluegrass lately has gone more on the progressive side. We always hone in on the traditional side of it. That’s what best suits us.
“I guess everybody has their unique style that they want to put on or twist. I hope the tradition will stick around.”
Even if it’s fading, that’s where his roots are planted.
“It crossed my mind a time or two,” he said. “I know the genre has had its struggles throughout the years. Yet it always seems to circle back. I hope that’s the case again this time. I think people venture out for so long searching for new stuff. But they always come back home in a sense and recapture their roots and start listening to the traditional sound again.”
Working on album
His roots in the church clearly show in the music he plays. As the son of a pastor, he says there is an added passion to incorporating gospel into the show.
“That’s our way of spreading the word and people are wanting to hear the old-time gospel music, you don’t hear it at all,” he said. “I’m really hungry for it. We’re really glad to be able to supply it.”
It’s a model he copies from The Stanley Brothers.
“They did a lot of traditional bluegrass and honky tonk, but they always made room for the sacred songs and gospel,” he said.
The Kendallville festival is part of a modest 2023 schedule that takes Hott to about a dozen or around the country while he stays close to home to focus on writing and producing new songs.
“We are traveling light at the moment,” he said. “Hopefully, next year we’ll start adding even more to the list. Maybe we do, you know, four- or five-day runs. Right now, we are just weekend warriors. We are focusing on a new album.”
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