Hollowtops spring from the right environment

by Brook Gardner-Durbin

When Max Davies and Alex Kuokov met while performing at a small concert with Bozeman mainstays Flatt Cheddar and Kitchen Dwellers, neither thought much of it. After adding two more members (Bridger Dunnagan and Max “Bass Max” Johnson) and sticking together for close to two years, they are swiftly becoming one of Bozeman’s better-known musical acts.

Now known as The Hollowtops, the quartet describes themselves as progressive bluegrass or “grassical rock.” The group recently celebrated their 500th like on Facebook and will be competing in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival June 18-21 in Telluride, Colorado. They had a successful tour of Colorado over spring break earlier this year, and have booked shows throughout the summer to help spread their name. The Hollowtops have also reserved studio time in early June to record their first EP, which they hope will be “something to give to friends and maybe sell a few, but mainly to get [their] sound out,” according to Davies.

MSU has played an interesting role in the group’s development — crucial in some ways, and yet nearly irrelevant in others. Despite their blooming popularity, none of the group is majoring in music: Davies graduated MSU in 2011 with a degree in environmental studies, Kuokov and Dunnagan are both studying sustainable food systems and Johnson is majoring in civil engineering.

Kuokov took several music theory classes, but described the material as “not very applicable to any music I will ever play.” That’s because “bluegrass and folk [music] is all by ear; there’s no written music,” Dunnagan explained. Others in the group feel similarly unenthusiastic about their classes at times. Davies, at 26, does not believe his degree has been helpful. He put it to use briefly when he moved back to his hometown of Chicago after graduation, but soon decided to move back to Bozeman. He currently works at the Yellowstone Club. Dunnagan said that while he is enjoying some of his classes, he is “probably the most stoked about music, in [his] life.”

At the same time, however, all four recognize the importance MSU played in their success. The university taught them crucial skills to make their group successful beyond the official curriculum of their classes, as well as creating the social environment which allows them to use their skills. “Getting a college degree has gotten me so much education besides … what I’m learning,” Kuokov said. He pointed to the organizational skills he and the others developed preparing for their classes as one example of this, as they helped the group in booking shows and planning tours. Dunnagan also drew attention to the social environment MSU creates in Bozeman. “I wouldn’t have music … if it weren’t for the social environment,” he said. “Bozeman is a really good place to start a band because it’s so easy to get shows,” Kuokov said. He believes larger cities often have more competition for shows, so fledgling bands can have difficulty practicing and breaking into the music scene.

MSU, by giving small-town Bozeman a social scene often associated with larger cities, created the perfect environment for the Hollowtops to grow.

The Hollowtops will be performing at The Filling Station on Saturday, April 2 at 8 p.m. To contact them, visit facebook.com/hollowtops.