Playing for a crowd of 40 sounds like a step down from opening in front of 24,000 people, but folk guitarist Richard “Blackhawk” Kapusta never worried much about the numbers.
“My thing is connecting with people close,” Kapusta said. “That’s what I like.” For three years, Kapusta and fellow guitarist Jeff Hickey have brought their acoustic mix of country, folk and bluegrass to the Up North Pub every Wednesday night. During this time, they have instituted an open door policy for other musicians to sit in and play with them unrehearsed.
Calling themselves Moonhouse after the ancient Utah ruins, Kapusta and Hickey’s performances are kept strictly on a personal level with the crowds, greeting regulars walking through the doors and squeezing in political humor whenever possible. “I’m firmly committed to a separation of guitar and state,” Hickey likes to say, but only after expressing his political views.
Wednesday nights are not about politics, though. They are about playing music and having a good time. Kapusta’s deep, driving voice could be described as a smoother, softer-sounding Johnny Cash, while Hickey often resembles early Arlo Guthrie when he is playing live. The two work together so well, complementing each other musically and vocally during performances, that it is surprising that Moonhouse has only been together for a few years.
Moonhouse’s success is simple to explain: it has made its music accessible to the people. Requests are freely shouted, patrons talk with the band and the bar is transformed into a camp-fire-like setting where people join in singing, telling stories and bringing instruments to contribute to the music.
The tight, easy-flowing music that Kapusta and Hickey play and their laid-back attitudes create an accessible environment that is welcoming to new artists who want to join the band for a night and play along. On any given Wednesday, Moonhouse could find itself with new talent and a vast array of musical instruments, including pianos, percussions, harmonicas and additional guitars, but there is no guarantee until the artists show up to play. The most frequent musician to sit in with Moonhouse is The Northern Pines Band’s (NPB) percussionist and piano player Jayme Cash. Cash, who tends to only miss shows when NPB is performing, has become such a regular on Wednesday nights that Kapusta and Hickey often refer to him as a band member.
The nights that Cash is gone do not hinder the evening’s energy, however, and Moonhouse is more than willing to welcome new talent to the stage. “There are a lot of musicians in this town that say, ‘God, I could do that,'” Kapusta said. “So we were like, ‘Yeah, well try it.’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but we are not going to get our lip out because they missed some notes. We don’t know what the hell we are going to play next anyway; I can’t expect them to. We just play how we feel.”
After 40 years of guitar playing, 15 recordings and a self-proclaimed 50,000 albums sold, Kapusta has certainly earned the right to kick back and enjoy his music. “I had my 15 seconds of fame,” Kapusta said. “It’s like I’m starting over. I never had any bar gigs. My stuff was big concerts on stage for large events and venues. I mean, Jesus, we opened for Rickie van Shelton in front of 24,000 people, and the next day we’re playing live on the radio.”
The business side of the music industry, however, threw a brief dark shadow over Kapusta and his earlier band. Touring under the name Blackhawk, Kapusta became entangled in court proceedings when the country band of the same name became nationally recognized. “I went through a two-year legal battle with them that cost me $20,000 in lawyer fees,” Kapusta said. “We had a settlement, and they had to pay us for the right to use the name.”
With the legal case years behind him, Kapusta looks forward to enjoying the music that Moonhouse produces and is currently working on releasing a disc of songs performed at the Up North Pub. “The only way that I want to capture us is live,” Kapusta said. The project is estimated to take about six months to finish, but Kapusta is not rushing things.
His experiences have shown him that everything will come together if it’s meant to, and in its own time. “The older you get, the more you have to understand what divert gratification is all about, and that it doesn’t have to happen all at once,” Kapusta said. “Pace yourself. You don’t want to peak too early.”