Colorado Musical Prodigy Zach Heckendorf Makes His Telluride Bluegrass Debut
Photo of Zach Heckendorf courtesy of Dillon Blodgett
In honor of this year’s sold out 38th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival scheduled for June 16th through the 19th, I’ve chosen to highlight one of the most talked about young up-and-coming musical talents who makes his much anticipated debut at one of north america’s most prestigious musical festivals.
In many ways high school senior Zach Heckendorf is not unlike other teenagers: he likes playing sports after school, likes hanging out with friends, and likes strumming his guitar. But unlike his peers, young Heckendorf is building a musical career many others twice his age would be envious of. With only a mere few dozen public performances under his belt, Heckendorf has accomplished much in just a few short years: a recent heavily attended headliner show at Denver’s Bluebird Theatre, tapped as opener for last year’s sold out Fox Theatre “underplay” with John Butler Trio, routinely asked to participate in several high profile rocky mountain powerhouse radio station KBCO events, and most impressively, being asked to be the musical opener for a sold out Film on the Rocks show last summer at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre (see footage of that performance below). On top of all that, recently Zach released his debut album produced by Brett Dennen (yes, THAT Brett Dennen) which demonstrate the young troubador’s suitcase full of guitar chops, clever songwriting, and summertime smooth vocals reminiscent of Dave Mathews with a twist of G. Love.
In advance of Zach Heckendorf’s debut Telluride Bluegrass Fest performance next week, I had the chance to ask him a few questions about his blossoming music career and what he plans to do next. I predict we haven’t heard the last of young Mr. Heckendorf – besides, it’s truly refreshing to hear a young musician truthfully admit their guilty pleasure of listening to Blink182.
When did you start seriously playing the guitar and singing?
ZH: I started playing guitar seriously in about 4th grade with an awesome guy named Stu Lippa. I used to suck at singing and I would try to imitate Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge of Blink-182. But I kept at it and I’m at the point where I enjoy hearing myself sing.
What’s your personal rehearsal routine like when it comes to rehearsing?
ZH: Well I just started to use a loop pedal on stage so now I practice every looping song over and over and over again because looping doesn’t work unless it’s done perfectly. Other than that I listen to music that gets my blood flowing. Someone I opened up for takes a couple shots of Jack Daniels before he hops on stage because it calms him and loosens up his vocal chords. It’s something I want to try.
About how many live performances do you have under your belt since you started performing?
ZH: I wanna say around twenty to thirty. Not too many but I feel like I am getting more comfortable with the crowd each time.
Being a performer who is not yet 21 yet, are there any hassles or difficulties you have when it comes to finding places to perform?
ZH: Not really. I have to get fat X’s on my hands before shows though which I think adds a lot of style.
Do you prefer to perform solo or with a back-up band? Are there pros and cons to either set-up?
ZH: I like playing with a band better because I love communicating on stage. It’s also a lot easier to get the crowd riled up with a rhythm section. It also gives me time to break into a dance or sit back and watch other people solo or take the lead.
Besides being a performing musician outside of school, what other hobbies do you like to pursue?
ZH: I love lacrosse so I try to stay involved with it in some form. Right now I am lucky enough to help coach a seventh grade team. Also I love throwing on some tunes and riding my bike around Denver because it always seems to relax me.
As a senior in high school, you must be contemplating your future after graduation, what are your plans for your music career? Any thoughts on continuing your education and attending college?
ZH: I try not to have too many plans for my music career because I know it’s a hit or miss business but I hope to get a record deal with a more laid back company. Things have worked out very nicely so far so I am optimistic. Next year I am headed to Colorado College but if I get the chance to make this music thing into a real career I will probably go for it.
How supportive have your high school classmates been towards your music career?
ZH: Everyone is awesome about it and they always end up being a rowdy crowd.
You’ve played sold out shows at the Fox Theatre, you’ve performed in front of 9,000+ people at Red Rocks to a fantastic crowd response, what’s next on your list on music career accomplishments to achieve?
ZH: Starting to tour is my next goal. I would love to play some more college shows because they are way too much fun. My dream is to headline Red Rocks though. People ask me how it was to play there and I always say, “it was very cool but, to have every person at Red Rocks there for me would be very special.”
Is there a secret to your success as a performer?
ZH: I am trying to figure that one out as well.
-B. Dutch Seyfarth
* Zach Heckendorf performs at this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival as a part of the festival’s prestigious Troubador Contest. Previous and current participants of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival musician contests have included No Depression favorites such Railroad Earth, The Wayfarers, Gregory Alan Isakov, Pete Kartsounes, and many others. Please refer to the official Telluride Bluegrass Festival website for updates on their performer schedules [ click here ]