Shovelhead 66 plays sold-out show at the Oriental Theater

Max Hogan

Shovelhead 66 played at The Oriental Theater April 10. (Max Hogan | KCSU, The Collegian)

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The historic Oriental Theater in Denver opened its doors on April 10 to patrons of rock group Shovelhead 66.

The group describes itself on its website as “a high-energy and hard-rocking band whose passion is world domination,” drawing from the sounds of modern country, classic rock, punk and ’90s-era grunge. 

Although its influences are taken from an era of guitar-centric music from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the band itself is fairly new, forming in 2018 and only beginning to write original music after morphing from cover band Angry Steve into Shovelhead 66 in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. 

“As a band, (we) tried to use the pandemic in our favor,” said Joe Otis, the lead singer of Shovelhead 66.

Otis said that the original group planned on shifting from covers to making original music in January but fell apart before changing lineup and reforming as Shovelhead 66.

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“(After) the pandemic hit, … we got some of the band back together and started playing gigs with our new guitar player,” Otis said. “As the fall of 2020 came around and gigs weren’t as abundant, it allowed us to go back to our original goal and write and record our own music.”

So far, the band has released five professionally recorded singles and plans to release a full-length album this summer. Meanwhile, members discover their sound through the composition of new music and playing gigs as venues reopen. 

“This is a tough business to get recognized in, but we are slowly gaining ground here in Denver,” Otis said. 

The band has already started to make a name for itself in the Denver scene, selling out its most recent show. 

“A place like the Oriental Theater, pre-pandemic, would have never even looked at us, but when the pandemic came along, a lot of the bigger bands canceled,” Otis said.

With venues eager to host local bands that can draw a large crowd, Shovelhead 66 performed at the Oriental with their opener, classic-rock cover band Stairway to Hell. 

Energizing the crowd with stadium rock hits like Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Stairway to Hell brought the electricity of a live rock performance to the audience through the vessel of fully-miked drums, roaring bass and a wall of distorted guitar that rumbled through the theater. 

After an hour of nasally Robert Plant impressions accompanied by choruses of hard rock melodies and blaring AC/DC singles, Stairway to Hell and its guest bagpipe player departed from the stage and welcomed the main act. 

As Shovelhead 66 performed through their selection of singles rich with a variety of rock, metal and post-hardcore sounds, it became clear they’re a young band that wears its influences on its sleeves. The performance featured simple, melodic riffs with roots in heavy metal and country, grunge-inspired vocals and a general in-your-face attitude that engaged the crowd.

With a myriad of 20th-century influences behind it, it will be interesting to see how Shovelhead 66 continues to grow into their sound as a former cover band in today’s world, where rock has faded from mainstream popular music. 

On May 1, Shovelhead 66 will release their new single, “Horse,” a gritty song with modern country lyrics and instrumentals reminiscent of Soundgarden and similar grunge-era bands.

Editors Note: This article was previously published for KCSU and can be found at kcsufm.com/2021/04/shovelhead-66-plays-sold-out-show-at-the-oriental-theater/ .