Traverse City Record-Eagle

Arts & Entertainment

May 2, 2014

Hard work pays off for former college band

TRAVERSE CITY — Every successful band has that moment when its members realize they’ve got something worth pursuing — something more than worth the investment of blood, sweat, tears and passion.

That moment came several years ago for Grand Rapids’ Ultraviolet Hippopotamus. The group with humble beginnings as a mere “college band” at Ferris State University in Big Rapids realized that its fans wanted more.

“People started liking it, so we starting taking it more seriously,” said Brian Samuels singer, bassist and mandolin player.

Good thing.

More than 1,000 performances later, the West Michigan jam band with an eclectic rock groove has become a national touring force, sharing stages with the likes of Trey Anastasio, Umphrey’s McGee, Primus, John Butler Trio, STS9 and more at major festivals. All the while they've cultivated a broad-ranging U.S. audience for its instrumentally adroit, lively shows.

Indeed, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and jazz legend Miles Davis likely would have loved the band’s approach. It oozes the sort of technical expertise, boundary-pushing temperament and multifarious musical approach that made these artists enduring American icons.

That tack brought the band widespread praise and more. Its more recent studio album, “Translate,” recently won the alternative album of the year honors from Grand Rapids radio station WYCE-FM as well as snagging the Local Spin of the Year Award from the LocalSpins.com website.

High-profile gigs have become common these days for the much-traveled band lovingly nicknamed UV Hippo. The band weaves prog-rock, bluegrass, jazz, reggae, electronica and funk into its mercurial music, a mix first displayed in its 2006 studio recording, “Background Music.”

“I would just say rock ’n’ roll,” Samuels offers. “It is hard to describe because we do all these styles. Really, when you come to see us, it’s a rock show. It’s just a fun, energetic experience so that’s why I just call it rock ’n’ roll.”

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