HOULTON, Maine — When Jason Howe and Brad Hutchinson have time, they sit on the porch with their kids — including Howe’s 7½-month-old twin boys — turn on the eight-track recorder, and start strumming the mandolin and hitting the drums. The Houlton natives call it the “porch sessions,” and from those family jams come a lot of material for their band, Mellow Endeavor.
“That’s the way we started writing together, and that’s where our best stuff comes from,” said percussionist Howe, 34, who has played in a number of Maine bands before his current one.
Mellow Endeavor, which also features guitarist and Sherman Mills native Jim Zabierek, has been playing together as a three piece since March of this year; plying their blend of harmony-drenched acoustic rock, bluegrass and folk to crowds statewide.
They have taken on a rigorous show schedule in Maine over the past few months, playing nearly every weekend, from Caribou to the Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, where they will play two shows this Friday and Saturday night, Dec. 16 and 17, at Sliders Restaurant. They will also appear on television on WVII/WFVX’s morning show segment Acoustic Sunrise at 7 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 30, and play New Year’s Eve at Paddy Murphy’s in Bangor.
Howe and Hutchinson have played music together for years, and in early 2011 branched out from playing in cover bands to doing their own acoustic music. A show in the spring with their friends in the band Mudseason, held at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor, was a turning point.
“We realized we had something there,” said Howe. “We’re friends, and our kids get along really well, but we really click when it comes to the music we love. We love bands like the Dead and Dispatch, but we also really love The Band and Bob Dylan, and stuff that has a lot of harmonies and great lyrics and stuff like that.”
On the weekends in Houlton, the pair would play at the Houlton Farmers Market, entertaining folks as they shopped for veggies and treats. It was there they met Zabierek, who signed on with them to form Mellow Endeavor shortly thereafter.
“Jim’s first gig with us was when he really hadn’t heard much of anything we’d actually done,” said Howe. “He was awesome. We both kind of thought, ‘If this guy plays this well coming in totally blind, then he’s going to be awesome once he learns it.’ He can really shred.”
The group also developed a devoted following at the University of Maine. Their shows in Orono and Bangor regularly attract large crowds comprised mostly of college students and recent graduates.
“It’s happened really quickly,” said Howe. “Something just worked, and we got into a groove that seemed to appeal to people. We’ve also had some success playing originals, and not just covers. We do play covers, of course, but we really try to do as much of our own stuff as possible. We try to keep it an even split. That’s really where our heads are at.”
Their relatively low-key setup — three guys playing only guitars and the box-shaped Cajon hand drum — means they can play just about anywhere. Whether it’s a loud bar, a restaurant or an outdoor market or festival, they can play to suit.
“It’s a lot harder to be in a full five-piece band with a full drum setup and all that,” said Howe. “It does make it a lot more difficult to play in smaller bars and smaller spaces. It’s very freeing to be so portable and flexible.”
Emily Burnham may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out her blog at cultureshock.bangordailynews.com.