Rocky Mountain honkytonk debuts at The Lariat Friday

Riding into town from Denver, Halden Wofford & The Hi*Beams will serve up a tasty blend of honkytonk, Western swing and authentic country roots music starting at 9 p.m. Friday. Described as “equal parts Hank Williams and Johnny Depp,” front man Halden Wofford writes most of the band’s songs but is also an illustrator, author and storyteller.

Wofford started playing country music in Denver in 1995, performing in American Legion halls and obscure bars in questionable neighborhoods. He said The Hi*Beams came together in 1999. “Steel guitar player Brett Billings and I hooked up in ’99. We’d been playing as The Barn Cats … doing a lot of Hank covers.”

As the band took shape, Wofford and company refocused and decided they needed a new name. “No one could agree on the name,” said Wofford, so the musicians wrote different names on paper and put them in a hat. The name they pulled out of the hat was The Hi*Beams, and “it kinda stuck.”

The band started as a honkytonk Western swing band, Wofford said, but “I like writing songs so the first album was all originals.” With the current band lineup in place for 15 years, the music they play “depends on where we are. At festivals, we play mostly originals, but sometimes we’ll play a lot of old country standards ‒ Bob Wills, Willie, Buck Owens.”

At a young age, Wofford moved with his family from California to Fort Worth, Texas, where his mother’s family had roots and where country music infused Wofford’s psyche through the sounds of artists like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Willie Nelson. As he grew into his teen years, Wofford, “like every kid in Texas,” started listing to rock music by bands like AC/DC and Van Halen.

“Then I went to art school,” said Wofford, “and I fell in love with Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground and then Nick Cave. As I grew older, I was loving Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. But how do you get from Johnny Cash to The Velvet Underground? I couldn’t see any connection. But then I heard the missing link. Greg Schochet, our guitar player, had it on his iPod. It was Link Wray’s album Three Track Shack.”

Wofford was familiar with Wray’s earlier rockabilly songs like “Rumble,” but what he heard on Schochet’s iPod was “this Southern rock, swampy-sounding album. When I heard that music, I realized that’s the link between Johnny Cash and The Velvet Underground. It kinda blew my mind.” (One of Wray’s songs, “Fire and Brimstone,” was recorded by Nick Cave and Ralph Stanley for the soundtrack of the movie Lawless.)

This newfound musical connection became the inspiration for Wofford and the Hi*Beams’ recently released album, The Missing Link. “It’s kind of a concept album ‒ as close I’m ever going to get anyway.”

The title track introduces the idea of Wray as the missing link:

There ain’t too much hope for me
But this helps me cope
Johnny Cash, Link Wray,
Lou Reed and Nick Cave
Is all that I need.

The album’s second song, “Guess Things Happen That Way,” was written by Jack Clement and popularized by Johnny Cash. The third song is Wray’s “Fire & Brimstone,” followed by The Velvet Underground’s “White Light White Heat,” then Nick Cave’s “The Ballad of Robert Moore and Betty Coltrane.” But Wofford and his band mates make the songs their own with honkytonk steel guitar and Wofford’s classic country voice that channels artists like Hank Williams Sr. and Dwight Yoakam.

Wofford and the Hi*Beams have played up and down the Ark Valley, including a July show at the Tabor Opera House, but this will be the band’s first gig at The Lariat.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Wofford said. “We love Colorado. It’s home.”

So put on your cowboy boots and Stetson hat and head down to The Rope for some Rocky Mountain honkytonk this Friday.