Jeff Hortillosa ’09 and Whiskey Shivers to play at Austin City Limits Festival in October
The band: Whiskey Shivers. Its mission: to knock the dust off roots music. Thus far, the group has proceeded not only to knock the dust off, but, as they describe it, “soak it in gasoline and send it into outer space.”
Essentially, Whiskey Shivers combines traditional bluegrass fiddling and banjo-playing with an athletic and percussive rockabilly bass and buzz-saw guitar, throwing in a dash of washboard and a few rollicking whoops for good measure. The result? A toe-tapping freight train that doesn’t stop until the bow-strings have frayed and everyone has broken into a good sweat.
Their sound, described as “trashgrass,” a “folk tornado” and “traditional country with a bit of Appalachian mountain music executed on punk-rock jet fuel,” has caught fire in the band’s home base of Austin, Texas, so much so that they have garnered a spot in the Austin City Limits (ACL) festival this October.
“People live their entire lives wanting to play ACL,” says Whiskey Shivers guitarist Jeff Hortillosa ’09. “We’ll be playing for around 10,000 people. We’ve gotten really lucky and also worked really hard for this.”
ACL is a new career highlight for Hortillosa, who first got seriously involved with music at his alma mater.
“When I first came to Centre, I played guitar, but I never sang in front of anybody,” he says. “When I met other campus musicians, they convinced me to play with other people—all my friends were super-supportive of my music.”
From that point onward, Hortillosa experimented with a variety of musical styles and genres, playing in the Hillside Stranglers, a bluegrass band; Gorilla Pie, a metal band; and the Kentucky Music Ensemble, led by NEH Associate Professor of Music Nathan Link.
During his senior year, he played with the percussion ensemble and served as president of Centre Encore, a campus organization that fosters music groups on campus and sponsored the annual Battle of the Bands campus competition.
Hortillosa credits Centre’s diverse lineup of student convocations and performances at the Norton Center for the Arts for broadening his musical horizons.
“My cultural awareness was heightened at Centre—with convos and everything, I saw a whole bunch of different types of music. That’s where I first heard folk music and bluegrass. I wouldn’t have learned about it if it weren’t for Centre.”
After graduating, Hortillosa moved to Austin as guitarist and vocalist in Uncle Lady (with Catherine Naiser ’08 and Joey McGill ’10), which performed at Centre’s 2011 Homecoming festivities. Once in Austin, he ended up playing in more and more groups here and there, revealing that no matter what style or genre, Hortillosa feels a strong need to make music with others.
“I like the cooperation aspect of it,” he says. “I like being able to come together as a team and create something. That moment of synergy when everyone is on the same page and creating one beautiful thing.”
Synergy is important for any band, but especially for a band playing in Austin. Being successful there is not easy—the music scene is vibrant and growing, heightening the pressure on bands to deliver one-of-a-kind shows and sounds.
“There are easily over one hundred live shows per night in Austin,” says Hortillosa. “It’s daunting, because there’s so much competition. You have to excel. It pushes you as a professional.”
Fortunately for Hortillosa, Centre prepared him well for the focused dedication professional musicianship requires.
“The general work ethic that comes from Centre encourages you to become really dedicated to both your schoolwork and your extra-curriculars,” he says. “I had to learn how to turn that work ethic into making music.”
Last year, Whiskey Shivers played over 300 shows, so there are plenty of highs and lows to remember. Recent accolades and honors include being voted best country/bluegrass band of 2013 by The Austin Chronicle and having Hortillosa’s song “Middlesboro” featured as Song of the Day on Austin radio station KUT. The band has also performed on television with CNN’s Anthony Bourdain. For Hortillosa, auditioning to be the guitarist for Old Crow Medicine Show was an unforgettable experience as was playing with them live.
One of the stranger moments for the band was an invitation to play in the VIP lounge of a newly opened Formula 1 racetrack in Austin.
“We hung out in the VIP lounge for about eight hours,” he says, “only playing in the 15 minute breaks between races. We were drinking champagne and eating chocolate covered strawberries.”
Equally interesting was the experience of filming the video for “Gimme All Your Lovin,'” in which all of the band members formed one giant person wearing the same plaid shirt.
“It was about 16 hours of filming,” says Hortillosa, “and about five hours inside this giant shirt with four other dudes all wrapped around each other. We were glad to do it, but we were glad when it was done.”
Whiskey Shivers will be sharing their unique blend of ballistic bluegrass at ACL on October 12. Fall plans include recording a new album.
To learn more about Whiskey Shivers, visit their website.
By Mariel Smith