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Highway 20 Band plays for the love of music
Local group blends country, rock
Highway 20 Band upcoming performances
Friday: 9 p.m. at The Refuge, Colusa
Aug. 16: Gold Country Casino, Oroville
Aug. 18: Plumas Street Resort, Lake Almanor
Aug. 24: Butte County Fair (two shows)
Aug. 25: 6:30 p.m. at Steelhead Lodge, Colusa
For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gene McKasson grew up listening to heavy metal and country music.
And while he admits to having been inspired by the hard beat of his generation's rock, the 44-year-old Colusa resident prefers to sing country.
"We base ourselves on country, but we play a lot of '80s rock," said McKasson, referring to the Highway 20 Band, which he and lead guitarist D.J. Mathis of Maxwell started in 2007.
"D.J. and I grew up playing together," said McKasson. "He is super talented, and I don't know what I would do without him."
Mathis also plays in the band FBR, which stands for Former Bronc Riders.
Highway 20 Band's other members include singer Kellie (Lorenzini) Stroud, a Colusa native who lives in Sacramento, and Colusa brothers Tommy Bassett (drums) and David Bassett (bass).
Stroud is one of the lead vocalists with McKasson, but he says one of the real advantages the band has is every member sings.
"One of the things we have right now that I really love is everyone sings, so we have great harmony," McKasson said.
That gives the group, a cover band that plays other artists' material, a great deal of flexibility when it performs.
"What we try to do is replicate a song as close as we can, and we try to find the person who sings it the closest," McKasson said.
Still, McKasson hopes the cover work will lead to more opportunities to show off the original material the band has as well.
And that means keeping busy, often sacrificing pay just for the chance to be seen.
He said that is why the group recently agreed to play in Palo Alto for $200. It was a new audience in a new location, and that could lead to something better.
"We definitely play for the love of music, not the money," McKasson said. "You have to get your name out there first."
McKasson said he grew up listening to his parents' country band, and at age 9, picked up a guitar and started to play.
"I played by ear and taught myself," said McKasson, although he got a lesson now and than from his father.
He also played in school bands, playing trombone and bass guitar, and was part of a trio with another talented local, Jeff Poppinga.
And McKasson likes the talent around him now, too.
"Kellie has her own demo album, and the Bassett boys grew up playing music," McKasson said. "Their dad has the band Legends, and they have played with him quite a bit."
All the members have other jobs, so the toughest part of having the band is actually finding time to rehearse new material.
The band has been playing a lot of dates lately, and while that keeps them sharp, it is difficult to add songs to remain current and fresh.
McKasson said sometimes they will add a new song on the fly, but only if they are confident they can pull it off.
One of his favorite things to do is the band's annual children's charity event, often teaming with other area bands to raise money for a specific person or an organization.
McKasson said despite the extra costs and general headaches, he actually enjoys being on the road.
Not that he dislikes playing in front of people he knows. That is its own kind of thrill, he said, and he is looking forward to a couple of local gigs this month.
But when someone the band does not know comes up and says they are good, that is special.
"Nothing feels better than that," he said.
In the end, no matter the venue, it is about playing.
"When the lights on the stage come up, that's where I belong," said McKasson, adding all the band members feel that way.
"Like I said, it is not about the money, it is for the love of music – and on stage is where we belong."