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Didn't Mean Anything By It: The members of Ben Lomond's Honest Mistake claim innocence always and, they hope, the Olympiks gold medal.

Rock In Them Thar Hills

San Lorenzo Valley represents in the finals round of Your Music Olympiks

By Garrett Wheeler

You can take the boy out of the woods, but you can't take the woods out of the boy." The comment comes from Honest Mistake frontman Doug Burkhardt, who, armed with a college education, a respectable career path and the unmistakable drawl of a California hillbilly, is living proof of the aphorism's wisdom. And for Burkhardt, there's no better place than Santa Cruz's Appalachia for a rock band to call home. "For some reason, the crowds love the whole mountain theme, I guess because it's a genuine part of who we are, and they can relate to that," Burkhardt says.

Honest Mistake has been called many names--rebels from the redwoods, freaks from the creeks, hood-rats from the hills. But while Santa Cruz proper has long harbored a reputation as a rock & roll hotbed, particularly punk rock, the Santa Cruz Mountains do not share the same notoriety.

That is, not until recently. Out of the seven finalists in this year's Your Music Olympiks (formerly known as Santa Cruz Rock Wars), three--Three Up Front, Who's Holdin' and Honest Mistake-- reside in the hills east of Santa Cruz. According to Burkhardt, it's a "tight-knit crew" of musicians. "There's unity in the hills," Burkhardt says. "We want every band [from the mountains] to have successful shows." Of course, when it comes to taking credit for the burgeoning mountain rock scene, Burkhardt takes pride in the contributions of his own outfit. "We were really the first band to be proud of the mountains, and to write songs about that. We've always said that chain saws, overalls and Copenhagen are welcome at our shows."

Indeed, the hillbilly spirit Burkhardt and his band mates Pete Carlson (drums), Cody Peters (bass) and Mike Lemus (lead guitar) possess is reflected in Honest Mistake's cache of original material, epitomized by the group's theme song, "Mountains Up Your Ass." "That's the one that gets the crowd going," says Burkhardt of the reggae-infused rock number. Along with tinges of reggae, Honest Mistake also throws heavy metal, blues and even hip-hop into the mix.

Though the band's stylistic diversity varies widely, Burkhardt expounds on one key ingredient present throughout: energy. "We always get the audience involved. We'll stick the microphone in the crowd and have them sing with us--we make them a part of the show. We don't think we're the best musicians, but we bring the best energy." Since their inception in 2004, Honest Mistake have steadily climbed the ranks of local rockers, establishing themselves as one of the area's best--and loudest--bands. Originally called the Santa Cruz Addicts, the group changed the title after another band, punk veterans the Adicts, sent them a MySpace message requesting a name change. "It was an honest mistake," Burkhardt recalls, "so that's what we started calling ourselves."

After a year of playing the weeknight bar circuit, including Ben Lomond's biker haven, Henfling's Tavern, it was clear that Honest Mistake was ready for a prime time slot. "The owner of Henfling's told us that we were bringing in more heads than anybody, which was kind of a shock at the time," says Burkhardt. "Now we can't even play all the shows we're asked to play--but I guess that's not a bad problem to have."

Given Honest Mistake's popularity, Burkhart's attitude toward fame and the Big Time is surprisingly nonchalant. "You know, a lot of bands are out there chasing a dream, trying to get signed, but we're definitely not one of them. We're a little older, most of us our in our 30s, so we're not trying to be something we're not--we just try to have a good time." For Honest Mistake, a good time is nothing more than playing a gig with a bunch of friends and sharing a few cold brews. The complications of pop-stardom are of little concern for the Ben Lomand boys, who are perfectly content with their role as local favorites.

Still, Honest Mistake is taking full advantage of its status. In June, the band is holding a benefit concert for the Valley Churches United, a local coalition desperately in need of funding. The show will be held at Henfling's, with all proceeds going to the church organization. But first on the band's agenda is the 2008 Your Music Olympiks finals. Honest Mistake is rumored to be in first place going into the show, not that pressure is of any concern. "We just want to rock and have fun," says Burkhardt. "If by some chance we win this thing, I think we'll just buy a truckload of beer with the prize money and have a huge party with all our friends." Why the generosity? "They're the ones who've had our backs since the beginning--we'd be nothing without our mountain people."

YOUR MUSIC OLYMPIKS FINALS is Friday, May 23, at 8pm at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12 adv/$15 door. 831.423.1338.

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