Like so many bands, Tenth Mountain Division was founded during adolescence. With only two members, the band started in the town of Edwards in the Vail Valley. Founding fathers MJ Ouimette and Winston Heuga grew up, as many of us did, listening to and falling in love with the music of a prior generation. Bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll music flowed through their veins, and at a ripe age, these two high schoolers picked up their instruments and formed what today is a premiere “jam-grass” band, with five permanent members and a quickly-growing fanbase.
Denver is well known for its live music scene, but the nearby suburb of Boulder has quite the untapped reservoir of creative-minded people. It was at the University of Colorado there that the wheels started turning for the band, when the duo became a trio with the addition of Connor Dunn. During the boys’ sophomore year not much later, the bluegrass trio underwent yet another transition. Drummer Tyler Gwynn joined the group, and brought with him the rock ‘n’ roll sound that has heavily influenced the band since his inauguration into it. Campbell Thomas would be the final touch to what soon morphed into Tenth Mountain Division, the “ski rock” group that “embodies the wild spirits of the mountain town.” Co-founder Heuga described the band in his own words, telling us that “having been raised from a variety of punk, funk, jam, bluegrass, jazz, and more has made endless possibilities for our sound.”
Since their sophomore years in college, Tenth Mountain Division has been going full speed ahead, utilizing their connections in the many Colorado communities they’re a part of to book gigs, get the word out and share their rock ‘n’ roll fusion sound across our state, and as of recently, across the country.
The band likes to describe themselves as “well-known among small groups of people,” which is pretty darn accurate. Huega’s older brother was a neighbor of mine in college, and just four years later I’m finding myself running around Denver and to and from Boulder to catch this quickly-evolving band. TMD has made the rounds in the Rocky Mountains and throughout the Front Range.
If there’s an intimate venue in our vicinity, TMD has probably made a stop or two. So far, they have played at venues such as The Walnut Room, Sancho’s Broken Arrow and Quixote’s True Blue. They also had a gig at Fort Collin’s Aggie Theatre and a first-ever headlining spot at Boulder’s Fox Theatre last month to wrap up an incredible summer.
Let’s rewind, though, to this past spring, when the Fox Theatre hosted a Battle of the Bands, the prize being a slot on the lineup for Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois, a hot spot for bluegrass and jam bands alike. Their fans came out in full force to support the not-so-amateur TMD, who found themselves two months later victoriously on the same bill as jam band legends moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, followed by a successful East Coast tour.
So, what’s next for the quintet? Keyboardist Campbell Thomas gave us some hopeful insight into the future of TMD, explaining, “This summer really showed me what we can become, and as long as we keep up the momentum that we’ve had, I think we can make a good name for ourselves.” Thomas says he has recently “fallen madly in love with The Band, and I really want to expand on their classic Americana, rock-a-billy, rock ‘n’ roll sound. We will all be out of school soon, so I am really looking forward to taking TMD into full gear, practicing individually and as an ensemble a lot more.”
Mandolinist Heuga added to Thomas’ sentiments, sharing with us that “fresh off of our first headlining act at the Fox Theater, it feels like there is a new energy in the band, and that we are ready to really grab this thing by the reins and take off.”
TMD’s next Denver show will be on October 1, as part of the Big Wonderful concert series. The evening’s festivities have been dubbed “Oktobergrass” and will feature Tenth Mountain Division, along with two other opening bands, and Jeff Austin & Friends as the headlining act. You know a local band has got some serious potential when they’re opening for Austin, one of the biggest names in Bluegrass music, and this is especially important for Heuga, who expressed that “Jeff is the reason I picked up the mandolin and it is truly a dream come true to open for him.”
Take a listen to Tenth Mountain Division’s epic ski-rock jams here: