Bridging Genres and Generations: An Evening with Reckless Abandon
Reckless Abandon won’t take the stage for another twenty minutes, but the Murray Bar in downtown Livingston positively sings with anticipation as I lead my roommates through its historic front doors. We scan for a place to sit, and in doing so, learn our first lesson about Reckless Abandon concerts: If you want prime seating, you need to show up well in advance.
Abandoning my friends to fend for themselves (recklessly), I work my way through the congregation of excited fans, loyal bar patrons, and first timers like myself, who have no idea what they’re getting into but feel thrilled to be a part of it nonetheless. Onstage, front man Mark Eaton adjusts the sound equipment, accompanied by drummer Austin Belluscio. I introduce myself, and we escape to the back patio for a quick interview in the dwindling warmth of the late September evening. Tomorrow, the first snow of the season will seize everyone’s attention (obnoxiously so, for those who assumed they’d be safe buying tickets to an early-season Bobcats football game), but tonight, the show belongs to Reckless Abandon.
The band’s origins trace back to a fateful day in 2015, when Mark Eaton decided to dust off his guitar after at least thirty years’ hiatus. Eaton explains, “As a teenager, I dreamed of being a rock star, and was in a few garage jam bands, but like most people, eventually gave it up to raise a family.” Eaton’s return to music after so long a break birthed a philosophy, which turned into a band name, which morphed into local legend. “When I first started to play guitar again,” he continues, “I decided to give it everything I had, to go as far as I could with it this time—with reckless abandon, if you will. It has to do with how we play our music, to basically abandon ourselves and leave behind any stress of the day, any worries or fears, anything that might get in the way of communicating our soul to an audience.”
Initially, the band consisted of Eaton, bassist Jacob Pruzon, and drummer Gilles Viallon. Since then, Matthew Wintersteen has replaced Pruzon on bass guitar, and quite recently, Austin Belluscio has taken over for Viallon on drums. Both new members carry strong backgrounds in jazz music, and Belluscio contributes his talents to the MSU jazz band as well. They discovered their fourth member, Cole “the Breeze” Homan, during a gig at a Belgrade High School dance. Eaton explains, “He was in the other band that played there, and he liked our style, so he joined as my co-front man.” A bluegrass aficionado and multi-talented musician, Homan shares vocals and guitar duty with Eaton.
Homan and Wintersteen join us outside as their showtime draws near. Seeing all four musicians in the same place, I feel obligated to address the generational gap present between Eaton and the rest of the band. Eaton clarifies that the difference isn’t so much a divide as it is a unifying asset. The age difference introduces a unique dynamic, in which each member brings his own age-based experiences and influences to the table. With this dynamic in mind, I ask the band to describe a typical practice, curious how they work under such potentially chaotic conditions.
“What practice?” Homan responds, and he’s not being entirely facetious. With such a busy gig schedule, the band members often jump from show to show with little time to regroup in between. When they find those elusive hours of freedom, though, they’ll jam in a band member’s basement, tinkering extensively with their impressive catalog of covers and original songs.
When writing originals, the band relies on a collaborative process, once again drawing from their broad spectrum of experience. “We talk about what’s going on in our lives and think of cool ways to blend that in,” says Eaton. The happenings in each member’s life vary, but Bozeman and the surrounding wilderness supply them with no shortage of inspiration. Wintersteen spends much of his free time rock climbing, and Homan backcountry skis, or, as Eaton memorably phrases it, “takes ten hours to hike up the mountain and three seconds to ski down.”
Alive and Well
Glancing at my watch, I realize I have about the length of time Homan would take to ski down a mountain before Reckless Abandon is scheduled to take the stage. The band has tolerated me remarkably well up until this point, but I’m worried their fans might tear me apart for holding up the concert.
Skipping a few less significant questions, I ask how the band feels about the present state of their three main genres—rock, blues, and jazz. Although the latter two linger slightly off the mainstream grid, Eaton’s response inspires confidence in their longevity. “I don’t think we have to worry about them going away any time soon,” he tells me. “You see nine-year-olds nailing these really complicated blues songs on YouTube, doing crazy things with the guitar. As long as people like that exist, we’ll be just fine.”
As we return to the comfortable warmth of the bar, Eaton imparts the following message for the people of Bozeman: “We’d like everyone to know that the working musicians’ community is alive and well and thriving. Support people when they’re out there playing. They’re all worth it—all hard-working people who put a lot of time into what they do! To put on a three-hour show just takes weeks of prep. So support your local musicians!”
The scene inside the bar encourages me in this respect. Fans from all around Gallatin County have risen to their feet and gathered around the stage, nullifying the need for good seating. If this Friday night in downtown Livingston serves as any indicator, local music—just like Reckless Abandon’s favorite genres—is in no danger of losing its support.
Rocking the Murray
Taking their positions on the stage, framed by an iconic wine-cork wall, Eaton and company plunge into a funky original song that causes every head in the room to bob. Couples begin to groove in front of the stage, and a well-meaning elderly patron accuses my roommates and I of being too timid to ask the girls across the bar for a dance. Maybe there’s some truth to that accusation, but to be fair, we’re fully mesmerized by the band’s lively stage presence, and the night, as they say, is still young.
Homan takes the mic for the band’s second song, a cover of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue on Black,” his voice harmonizing with Eaton’s during the chorus. Shepherd, a blues-rock artist, is just one example from Reckless Abandon’s daunting and diverse list of inspirations. Other influences range from Radiohead (Wintersteen often moves front and center to cover “Creep”) to Jimi Hendrix, and from Traffic (Homan sings a powerful rendition of “Dear Mr. Fantasy”) to Bill Withers. The band features performances of these covers on their YouTube page: “Reckless Abandon Montana.”
While I’d highly recommend viewing the YouTube performances, the experience pales in comparison to witnessing Reckless Abandon bridge genres and generations live onstage. Eaton’s love for 80’s-90’s rock, Homan’s bluegrass roots, and Wintersteen’s and Belluscio’s jazz backgrounds blend seamlessly in the concert setting, enriching each cover with something fresh and ensuring each original song’s status as a certifiable hit.
Sharing Some Soul
As the band plows through their three-hour setlist, performing crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser, my only complaint is that more people aren’t present to share the experience. I’m not sure how many more bodies the Murray could possibly hold, but a band that works so hard to deliver such a memorable show deserves all the support its venue’s walls can contain.
Luckily, if your life’s been lacking in Reckless Abandon up until this point, November offers a plethora of opportunities to catch them in concert. The band will rock the Murray once again on Saturday the 2nd, at 9:00. From there, they’ll migrate to JR’s Lounge in Belgrade for a pair of 9:00 shows on Friday the 8th and Saturday the 9th. Finally, you can catch them live and escape November’s chill while soaking at Bozeman Hot Springs on Thursday the 14th, at 7:00.
For more up-to-date information, make sure to follow their Facebook page, “@abandonitallrecklessly.” The band maintains a very active presence on the site, posting concert times, videos from their shows, and content from other artists worth paying attention to—all in addition to interacting with their growing fanbase.
Reckless Abandon can count on three more fans jumping onto that base as my roommates and I exit the Murray, our ears still buzzing with an unforgettable concert experience. In the not entirely unrelated world of sports, athletes swear by the maxim that they have to ‘leave it all on the field’ in order to play their best. Tonight, Mark Eaton, Cole Homan, Matthew Wintersteen, and Austin Belluscio have accomplished a similar feat at the Murray Bar, recklessly abandoning all their worries, stresses, and fears onstage, and in doing so, sharing a whole lot of soul with the world.