This fall has been a time of endings on the local music scene. Bands ranging from twenty-year veterans Lost Sailors to the more recently arrived 505 Blues have called it quits in recent weeks. And, after a show at the Nines this Friday night, Urban Horse Thieves will join them in riding off into the sunset after a successful ten-year run.
Urban Horse Thieves’ particular brand of outlaw Americana had its genesis in a series of song demos that guitarist and lead singer Dustin Stuhr put together with help from local mix-meister Matt Morano in 1999. Through those demos, Stuhr met other like-minded musicians, including bassist and singer Joseph Rayle, the only other remaining original member. The band pulled together around songs written by Stuhr and Rayle, picked a band name that came straight out of Stuhr’s brother’s dream (“about a band that was stalking him”), and debuted in the fall of 2001.
Lead guitarist Charles d’Orban, whom Stuhr credits as helping to blend the two songwriters’ styles into something cohesive, joined in 2002. A few years later, Joseph Prusch added his fiddle to the mix, also contributing to songwriting and filling in the high harmonies that had previously been handled by percussionist Lynette Dromsky. More recently, Steve Reichlen took over for original drummer Tony Cotraccia, completing a lineup that has now played together for about six years.
Stuhr got involved with local collective I-Town Records, and the band released two CDs on the label -- Won’t Be Long in 2004, and When the Rubber Meets the Road three years later. “The recording experiences really helped us to know each other better as musicians,” he says, acknowledging what they learned from Nate Richardson (who co-produced Won’t Be Long with the band) and Alex Perialis (who mastered Where the Rubber Meets the Road), among others. In turn, participating in I-Town “helped us feel like a part of the local music scene and make important connections with other bands.”
Urban Horse Thieves took full advantage of those connections and turned them toward a good cause by founding and serving as host band for the Americana Jubilee for the past seven years. The Jubilee is an annual, multi-band, full-day event that has served as a fundraiser for a variety of worthwhile local organizations, including Birthnet of the Finger Lakes, the Healthy Food For All program of the Full Plate Collective, the Bert Scholl Fund, and the Northern Light Learning Center. Urban Horse Thieves further delved into collaborations and cooperation by participating in several of the various summer concert series in the area and a variety of festivals big and small.
It’s fair to say, though, that Urban Horse Thieves found their biggest successes outside Ithaca, in towns like Auburn, Owego, Corning, and Hammondsport. Not only did the out-of-town gigs bring the band closer together as a result of traveling together, they helped the band to grow musically. Says Stuhr, “When you are no longer playing for your friends and instead are looking at a room of strangers, the band has to step up and win over the crowd. We got a lot better at that.”
They got good enough to perform regularly at a variety of venues including barns (“I’ve always enjoyed any gig that involved playing in a barn,” Stuhr enthuses), the Bernie Milton Pavilion (“the heart of the local music scene”), and “a couple of little clubs in the middle of nowhere that we’ve regularly had folks dance nonstop for three hours.” Through it all, Urban Horse Thieves honed their sound and moved toward co-writing more songs, including the all-in-good-fun “UHT Theme” (from which this article shamelessly stole its headline).
Urban Horse Thieves even broke through internationally, via Stuhr’s “This Song Ain’t About You,” from Won’t Be Long. This catchy song was always a highlight of the band’s live sets. After appearing on both I-Town Records’ Volume 3 and a compilation of national independent artists (State of Americana, Vol. 2 from Shut Eye Records), it was picked to be on the soundtrack of the indie film 10 MPH alongside songs by Brett Dennen and Roman Candle.
But after ten years, hundreds of performances, and thousands of miles on the road, Friday night’s show at the Nines will mark the final time that this lineup of country outlaws will perform together. “Some of us may perform again at some point under this name,” Stuhr notes, “but it won’t be the band that most people know as UHT.” He’s hopeful that some of the people who have played with the band (either as guests or as members) will show up to help mark the ending.
Meanwhile, several of the band members are involved in other projects, so most of them will continue to be visible on the local scene. (In particular, be sure to check out Stuhr’s two-year-old side project, the Jen Cork-fronted Black Walnut Band, the next time they play in town). And it’s not out of the question that some old favorite songs will find new life elsewhere, or that a new gang of Urban Horse Thieves might appear at some point in the future. “I think at this point,” Stuhr concludes, “we are grateful that it’s gone on this long, and anything in the future will be like bonus rounds.”
Join the Urban Horse Thieves for one last round-up, this Friday at the Nines at 10pm. There's a $5 cover, and the kitchen will be open all night long.