The first thing to do, when confronted with The Grateful 8, is to abandon the idea that they can be defined. The group balloons to 12 members and down to two. The members switch instruments between sets and soloists depending on the night. There’s a core group of roughly eight members, but they aren’t exactly keeping track.
“Not always 8, but always grateful,” the old group of friends declare
They describe their style as eclectic and born of Humboldt County. They shout out locally-named genres. High Desert Rock and Roll. Battle Born Blues. Mucc-Town Sound. They play a mixture of originals and covers.
The Grateful 8 speak to each other with natural ease. It takes one question to get the group rolling and after that, they take on the difficult tasks of the interview themselves. They ask each other about their music and describe their history and the band’s sound without prompting. They eagerly share and celebrate the successes of their friends and nudge each other's accolades to the forefront of the chat.
They volley questions and answers across Peter Granath’s front yard, while his shy dog pokes her head in and out of the house. The conversation flows without competition — there’s curiously little interruption as they talk. The space they give each other here mirrors their collaborative style.
April Wilson, one of the two female vocalists, joined The Grateful 8 two months ago. She laughs and adds the caveat, “I’ve been singing in my shower for a really long time.” She also performed at two funerals and a wedding, in addition to composing a one-chord song for her father. It was in G.
“Just so it’s said, it’s something of a masterpiece,” Granath says. Granath goes by Pedro Greengo onstage. “I’ve been playing music for, yeah — 21 years, and I’ve never had so much fun as I’m having now, here with this band, here in little Winnemucca, just riding the wave that’s happening on the scene right now.”
JT Balaam jokes that his parents were rednecks and that the proper spelling of his first name is “JayTee.” He’s Lou Boogie onstage. Balaam has played for about 15 years, with a few different bands.
Eric Mercado, A.K.A. E.Mericiless, got his start as a Spirit of Mexico dancer. He was involved in punk and hip hop groups in the area until last year, when he joined the Jam Hotline and started playing guitar again, after a long break from the instrument.
“And then it was like, we went to another level, this last time we got together. There were certain elements that were missing, and they got found on their own. They were kind of introduced organically,” Mercado says.
Cassandra Hyde, the youngest of the group at 20, got her start singing in choirs.
The majority of The Grateful 8 are in their late 20s. They went to school together. Granath describes Hyde's first time singing with the group at Winnemucca Pizzeria as a fearless declaration. She knew she could sing and fit in right away with the collection of old friends. When Wilson later joined, Hyde mouthed the words of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams" as Wilson sang, to help her get the timing right. It was an instant connection.
Drew Trent, known as the Blues Man, started playing music about 15 years ago. Nearly 10 of those years were spent in collaboration with with Granath and Balaam.
Their project, the Jam Hotline, was an incubator for the loose structure of The Grateful 8. Trent described the group as inviting. “Anybody [who] wanted to come over and jam — [we encouraged them to] come over and jam,” he said, “That’s how it should be.”
Orin George, “The O.G.” keeps the beat on the drum.
Kirk Fortin, often seen playing his violin, is credited with bringing about some of the musical revolution in Winnemucca. Granath credited Fortin with pushing the idea that Winnemucca musicians should work together to bring out a new sound, and compete with those outside the community, not those inside it. “It’s not us against us,” he said, “It’s us against them.”
The group crowds into Peter Granath’s living room twice a week to rehearse. They share space with half a dozen amplifiers, a drum kit and a baby grand piano. The group is surrounded by photos of Martin Luther King, Jr., Casablanca posters and international flags. It’s an eclectic, tiny space — the hallway has a green lightbulb that shines in on the band and competes with the bright flashing LED disco ball set up behind the drums.
The instruments spill into a galley kitchen, where the girls brew tea before rehearsing. If there is a table, it’s not visible — that space is reserved for the piano. Priorities.
The close quarters and colorful decor breed an instant camaraderie and intimacy.
When Fortin arrives, he squeezes past Wilson and Hyde and into the kitchen with his fiddle. There, he improvises an accompaniment to “Dearly Departed”, a staccato Shakey Graves tune that doesn’t usually feature the instrument.
Wilson and Granath have smoothed the edges of the hit, giving it just a bit of desert twang.
Mucc Town Sound
The relatively new group has already played all over town. They are regular features at Cheers Taphouse and at Winnemucca Pizzeria. They had a set at the Centennial Fair and at Spare Time Bowl on Halloween.
This, Mercado says, is sort of the point. He waxes poetic on the local music scene, which he says is blossoming.
“There’s so much music here.... I think there wasn’t really anything going on for a while. So now all these people are coming forward, saying, ‘I got a voice, I got this, I got that,’” he says, "We’re like, dude — bring it out.... There’s so many chances for acts and shows. People love entertainment. Everybody loves music. It’s a good time for everybody. It’s good for the community and it brings people together. So, everybody should come out of the woodwork and start playing whatever they got, however they got it. Just do it.”
“The other big thing is gratitude,” Granath says.
The band started as a group of eight playing at the Winnemucca Pizzeria. They called themselves The Pizzeria 8.
The name, Granath said, "was a little long, but there was an immense outpouring of gratitude to one another that this could come together and happen. Happy to play, happy to see all these years of knowing each other and all the years of hardship or getting the blues and living the blues — whatever you got to do, you know, came to something. Come forward to here in the future and it’s not all over. There’s more things to be done.”
The name quickly shifted to the shorter Grateful 8. Each member has their own reason to be thankful, but all express a love for the music and their bandmates.
“When you’re with a band, you feel like you can do anything. I would have been just one of those people, like, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to sing.” Wilson shrugs as if dismissing her own dream. “But now we’re literally doing it, with people we’ve known for forever….It’s one of those passions that you have. When you love doing it, and you see other people love what you’re doing, that’s the biggest thing you can be grateful for."
After spending two days each week practicing and more time playing, the band members became attuned to each other’s needs. If one has a bad day or needs support, the rest of the group is ready to step in.
“It’s now the band’s problem. It’s not your problem,” says Hyde.
Mercado agrees, saying, “It’s not a big deal to come in and unload your [problems], because that’s what we’re about. You know, it’s supporting each other. And that’s why we’re grateful, too. A lot of us were so busy before with life, that I feel there wasn’t a lot of camaraderie in our lives."
Granath lights up at the word “camaraderie” and gives a short, impassioned monologue, bathed in affection for the people in his front yard. “To express yourself, and be appreciated, and be emulated: I make a noise with a guitar or a piano or sing a note and the rest of the group hears it and feels it, and does it too. And vice versa —that’s the language of music. And to speak that language together? That is a unique thing that I have not found the ability to do with other groups or other people. And to have it happen in this way, yeah, it’s a special magic,” Granath said.
The group plans to keep booking local shows and playing whenever they get the chance. Their goals beyond that are loose and undefined.
"If you look at it sideways, it’s infinity and we’re just trying to keep it going,” Mercado says.