The Band brought them together, and the Band is helping to define their sound.
The Henge, which played an energetic set at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s Garage Pub last weekend, had its genesis when Bryan Brooksby heard Austin Schilling play “The Weight” during an open-mic session at the Garage Pub.
Brooksby, trying to carve out a Billings musical presence after moving here from Portland, Ore., was waiting to play next when he heard that tune from the Band, which he says is, and always will be, his favorite group.
He thought, “Oh oh, I have to go on after this guy.” So he followed up in what seemed to be the best way possible: He played “Ophelia,” another song by the Band.
The two started talking afterward, and, with the help of Schilling’s longtime friend A.J. Sheble, Henge was born in October.
At Saturday’s show, Henge played only one tune by the Band, the existential musings of “The Weight,” with help on vocals from Jessica Lechner. But Brooksby lists the Band as one of Henge’s chief influences, along with Bob Dylan and Van Morrison.
These ears thought they also detected hints of the Delta blues, Elvis Presley, the Allman Brothers, the Hollies, Texas progressive country and even the Soggy Bottom Boys from the Coen Brothers’ immaculate comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
But the band members rely on themselves for most of their inspiration. Saturday’s 20-song set included fewer than a half-dozen covers, with Brooksby and Schilling writing most of the originals. Sheble is the group’s George Harrison, Brooksby said, quiet but bursting with talent.
Most of the band’s shows have been heavily acoustic, Brooksby said, but for Saturday’s concert they added two musicians from Satsang—Keller Paulson on drums and Karl Roth on bass—and adopted more of a rock ’n’ roll sound.
With all three of the band’s main players on guitar, and with a relentlessly upbeat tempo, the danger that redundancy would set in had to be deftly avoided. The band did it by offering sophisticated vocal arrangements that kept the sound fresh.
For that, Brooksby credited Sheble and Schilling, who grew up together in Cut Bank and sang in the high school choir.
“They’ve both really helped me a lot with my singing,” Brooksby said.
Brooksby’s own interest in music began at a young age and was encouraged by his parents. He was part of a band called the Sorry Devils that formed in 2012 and was invited to play “The Weight” at a Portland tribute concert that recreated the Band’s famous “Last Waltz” show, which became an iconic concert film directed by Martin Scorsese.
Brooksby moved to Billings because of a girl and to study music at Rocky Mountain College (full disclosure: He was in this writer’s freshmen composition class at Rocky). But now he is devoting full time to his music.
He was part of GretschLove, an acoustic duo, for a while but wanted a fuller band. Then along came Schilling and Sheble.
“We definitely encourage each other musically,” Brooksby said.
Schilling has been playing for only about five years, but he writes a couple of songs a week. On Saturday, frontman Brooksby introduced one of them this way: “We wrote this one yesterday. Do you guys want to hear it?”
At that, Schilling, who sang lead vocals on most of the songs, launched into a lively tune with repeated lines that sounded like, “He stole my money, he stole my shoes, and I ain’t never felt more alive.”
After an earlier original, “Fool for You,” Brooksby told the crowd of about 60 people, “That was the fast, dirty blues. This is that slow, sexy blues,” then launched into another original.
Only on song No. 8 did Brooksby announce, “We’re going to venture into the land of cover songs,” introducing Texas songwriter Hayes Carll’s “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart.” Other covers also drew heavily on Texas influences, including Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm” and ZZ Top’s “Gimme Me All Your Lovin’.”
“We strictly cover Texas artists,” Brooksby said before the band played a couple of non-Texas songs. Henge was joined by opening act Reid Perry on Tom Petty’s “Listen to Her Heart,” then by Lechner for “The Weight,” the one song that didn’t fit seamlessly into the set. But the Henge played and sang it with such spirit and skill that it seemed the perfect tribute before closing with two more originals.
Only six months into the band’s career, and with Schilling missing for student teaching for much of the semester, the Henge hasn’t yet worked out all of the kinks.
“There were a few missteps,” Brooksby admitted. “But we had our poker faces on.”
The busy summer ahead could allow plenty of time to work out those kinks. The band has shows scheduled in Great Falls, Helena and Choteau and is working on shows in Seattle in August.
Locally, the band plays at 7 p.m. Friday at Yellowstone Cellars and Winery and at 8 p.m. May 21 at MoAV Coffee at the old Carlin Hotel.
For Brooksby, who has been playing music seriously since 2010, it’s all part of the therapeutic value of playing live music.
“It’s just one of those things that you can’t recreate with anything else,” he said.
Indeed, his other musical projects include playing with Lechner in Double Barreled Daisy. And he hopes that the Henge will have a recording out by July. So far, he has no regrets about leaving Portland and college behind.
“I’m super happy up here in Billings, and super proud of our band,” he said.