Humptulips. To those outside of Grays Harbor, it might seem like a silly word. Locals know it a quiet little piece of the county a little north of Hoquiam. But lately, it’s more likely to come to mind as one of the hottest bands in the area.
Currently comprised of six members, the country-rock cover band has been seen everywhere lately, from shows at the Quinault Beach Resort & Casino, to the Aberdeen Art Walk, to opening for Montgomery Gentry at the D&R Theatre. From the Pourhouse in Aberdeen to the Pine Tree Tavern in Westport to Gepetto’s in Montesano. And the list goes on.
And tomorrow night, the band is the headline act at the Grays Harbor County Fair, from 8 to 10 p.m. But for all their recent popularity, the band “Humptulips” has actually been around for quite some time. It was 1998 when members Matt Smaciarz (drums) started the group with Brian Huffstutter, who currently plays rhythm guitar.
The two say the Corn and Van Halen covers they played then were quite different from the “top-40” favorites like Keith Urban, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton they now collaborate on.
“It was not even close to country music, not even close,” said Smaciarz, who now has a large “H” tattooed on his arm in honor of his band.
It was he who came up with the unlikely name after stopping in Humptulips with his then 5-year-old daughter, who was worried when she was unable to see another child around, asking, “Daddy, where are all the kids?”
Smaciarz, playing a game, then conspired with the local grocery store checkout clerk to play a little prank on her.
“I told the store clerk, ‘my daughter is going to ask where all the kids are. Just tell her there are no kids,’” he said. The clerk complied, and his daughter left wide-eyed. From then on, Smaciarz was able to use the experience to spur his daughter to more easily obey parental orders.
“Hump-the-tulips, because she didn’t say Humptulips then, got her to clean her room,” he said. “ If she didn’t put things away we’d move to where there are no kids.”
The somewhat unusual name was up for debate among the other band members, who considered changing it for a while.
“Because some people don’t know where or what is Humptulips,” said Corey Daniels, the lead singer and branch manger of the Cosmopolis Peterbilt operation, adding that they even considered that some might find it offensive.
At the recent Montgomery Gentry show at the D&R theater, where the band received high praise from the country legends, someone from the Gentry setup crew had placed a space between the “hump” and the “tulips” on an agenda.
“So we had to explain that we’re not really flower pervs,” said Daniels, who added the band does not foresee changing the name anytime soon, even though instances like this may continue. “Do a little homework and you’ll understand. … It’s just who we are.”
It was Daniels winning the title of Grays Harbor Idol in the early 2000s (Daniels can’t remember the exact year) that really brought the band back to life.
He had won the chance to open for country musician Keith Anderson, and had been contacted by a woman who said her boss (Smaciarz) was a drummer he should connect with.
“He (Daniels) was so popular, and he didn’t have a band,” said Smaciarz. The three collaborated and just four days later opened for Anderson. “I was getting in at 1 or 2 in the morning every night,” said Daniels of the show’s preparations, which he said paid off with a well-received show.
However, Huffstutter, now a retired soldier and civilian contractor, was called back to Iraq soon after, and the band’s transformation process was halted.
It was 3 or 4 years, Daniels said, until Humptulips pulled him up on stage one night at Gepetto’s in Montesano.
“The crowd just went wild,” said Daniels, adding they decided to pursue country music (the genre that he loves the most) after that night.
Since then, the band has gone through a number of other musicians, first adding Jim McDowell — a lifelong musician — as its keyboardist.
“Keyboard is just necessary in country music, it fills in all the gaps. And he’s a great sound guy,” said Daniels.
Over the past two years, Chloe Pickney on bass and Don Stone on lead guitar are the newest additions.
The band had gone through a couple of other musicians in their spots prior to Pickney and Stone’s arrival.
“They made us solid, those guys,” Daniels said of the duo, who are co-owners of Aberdeen’s Rosevear’s Music Center along with Larry Rosevear.
“They are just very,very talented country style players,” said Daniels. ” (Stone) just knows how to rock and really fits today’s country music style … And Chloe is just so solid. She never misses, just keeps us in the pocket all the time.”
And Humptulips fans can feel safe now in the current makeup of the group. “I don’t foresee any changes now,” said Daniels.
The band’s members all come from different musical backgrounds, but the group as a whole has found its niche in country music; the focus was mainly spurred by Daniels who is the main decision maker on what new songs the band will play.
“Country. That’s it,” Daniels said, as to which kinds of music he enjoys or that influences him. “As a kid everybody listened to Quiet Riot. But I got one station, and it played country music until the Twilight Zone came on.”
And the band seems pretty alright with it.
“Bottom line, Corey is the one that’s gotta sing the songs,” said Huffstutter.
And the country music fans around the harbor seem thrilled to have a band with such a popular country focus. The band has almost 1,500 fans on Facebook, and their shows are packed.
One particularly crowded show — one of the band’s most memorable — was at the Artic Tavern in Cosmopolis where law enforcement officers had to tell the band too many of their fans had parked on the side of the road.
“There were people standing around the microphone. … When you see cars parked on the side of the highway, you know it’s a good show,” said Daniels.
For now, the band is concentrated on becoming “the most requested band in Western Washington,” or at least Grays Harbor. They recently hired a manager, Ashley Greninger, to help them coordinate and so far they all agree the addition has made a difference.
“Having Ashley on board and helping us book gigs has helped hugely,” said Stone, adding that aside form the addition of Greninger, he is not quite sure why the band has seemingly more recently achieved a new level of success. ”I don’t know where the momentum comes from, but I want to keep it up as much as we can.”
The band is currently working on adding some originals to its repertoire and are also looking at playing some from other country songwriters.
“We want to put out our own album and see how that goes,” said Daniels.
All of the members have their day jobs, but all of them said they would— with discretion— leave them for a chance at doing what they love the most — which is music — and earning a living at it.
“A Grammy, I would love a Grammy, “ said Daniels. “I have big visions, as old as I am.”