Long, muddy road for students & Bison
Regent students assist local band in making their first music video
By Lauren Pell | photo courtesy of Daniel McCullum
In early March, about 60 Regent students ventured out into the cold woods to film a a music video for the local band Bison. It was so cold that, according to Breanna Lebsack, a senior CTV student, a bag of baby carrots froze within 20 minutes. Lebsack, who was the producer, said that the crew worked hard on set to create a music video that was “a miracle in every way,” for Bison. They had a lot of obstacles to overcome, but the band wanted to make a quality video for their dedicated fans.
The band set high standards for their first music video, which featured their song “Switzerland.” Since the song has begun playing on the local radio station 96X (96.1 FM) as often as many nationally known songs, many locals have become fans of Bison, who describe their sound as “mountain-top chamber.” The music video for “Switzerland” is about finding “a place of hope in the face of something difficult,” said Dan Hardesty, who performs on the mandolin, banjo, guitar, backing vocals, and sometimes percussion and drums. The video is one insight into the band’s songs, which often feature biblical themes and allusions. It is apparent that their Christian faith is an important part of the band, seeing as how Dan is the worship pastor at Community Church of Chesapeake, and they are all involved with the church.
Dan said that the idea for the video was a collaborative effort with his son Ben Hardesty (the band’s front man, who sings, plays guitar and drums and percussion), and director Daniel Jeter to create the concept for the video. Jeter is a Regent graduate who now works at the Christian Broadcasting Network. The band asked Jeter to make the video, and Jeter gathered the crew.
“I don’t think we knew how big this project was going to be,” Lebsack said. Every morning before the shoot, the production design crew transformed a forest in Chesapeake, Virginia into a “fantasy world.” After the sun set, about 100 people (members of the crew and extras) showed up to begin filming. Because of the band’s local connections, they had family and friends volunteer their time to help on set. “They’re community-oriented people,” said Lebsack. The band “brought a country hospitality feel to the whole set,” Lebsack explained. She said that the band’s fans, friends, family, and church helped with the video a lot, demonstrating their love for Bison.
“We really did the impossible”
Bison had to travel a long and muddy road before their first music video was completed (both figuratively and literally). One of the biggest obstacles was finances. In order to overcome this obstacle, the band created a Kickstarter.com fundraiser. Through fans’ donations, they raised over $5,000. Still, Dan said, they quickly realized that making their creative vision come to life would take more. As the producer of the video, Lebsack was responsible for the business side of the project. She said that the small budget limited the possibilities for the shoot. “We really did the impossible,” she said. According to Lebsack, a video shoot of that magnitude could cost $30,000 or more, but they were able to do it for a lot less. She credits the love and support of Bison’s friends and fans.
The location of the shoot presented a problem with transportation. The crew filmed at Triple R Ranch in Chesapeake, Virginia behind a horse pasture. “I think we made the record for the most amount of cars stuck in the mud,” said Lebsack. They ended up having to use tractors to get to the set.
They also struggled with time limitations, especially since the film crew could only work a certain amount of hours at a time. The crew planned to shoot only three days. However, they had to use a fourth day to complete the project. Long days with lots of people caused unusual stress, and the band described the experience as complicated and nerve-wracking. After planning the video for so long with his dad and Jeter (the director), Ben explained that it was “difficult to hand the brush over to someone else” because he no longer had as much control of the outcome. He just had to let everyone do their job on set. After all was said and done, though, the band was happy to have their first music video done. The crew was happy it was over, too. “Film school gives you an opportunity to find your limits. Everyone tested their limits on this project,” Lebsack said. “Thank God there was a lot of prayer put into this.” Despite the obstacles of finances, time, and location, the crew and band still succeeded.
“People were in it for the project, not for themselves”
Lebsack explained that since the band and crew were Christians, the tone was easily set for how people should act. She said that sharing the same Christian values allowed the filmmakers to hold each other up to a higher standard. “You also have more grace with each other,” she said.
The band’s humble spirit helped encourage everyone on set. “They did so many things behind the scenes,” Lebsack said. She described them as very down to earth people. And everyone who helped genuinely cared. “People were in it for the project, not for themselves,” she said. The harsh conditions did not stop the love and community-oriented hearts of Bison. “That’s where people’s real colors come out,” she said. When things got hard, everyone on set encouraged each other and picked up slack. “If anyone had done their job a little less it would have never been done. Everyone stepped up to the plate,” she said.
Sound, Style, Charity, and Family
The sound, look, community aspect, and diversity of members distinguishes Bison from other bands. While some compare Bison to bands like Mumford and Sons, such comparisons do not do Bison justice. They play instruments ranging from banjo and guitar to reed organ and cello, giving listeners a new and interesting sound. Their unusual instruments, beautiful harmonies, and building percussion give Bison the unique sound that they call “mountain-top chamber.”
At every show, each member of Bison looks the part. The females wear dresses and the males wear vests and suits. Ben likes to think that Bison looks like they “walked out of an earlier part of the century.” They believe that their fashion style is important. “The way you dress is also a part of the show,” said Annah Hardesty, who performs on the orchestra bells, drums and percussion, and backing vocals. She describes their style as “classic.”
Another unique aspect of Bison is their involvement with the community. The community efforts in their music video are easily explained: the band loves the community. Many of Bison’s shows have been for charity. Dan explained that when they started gaining popularity, they knew they wanted to help others through Bison. “[We thought,] We should leverage this for some greater cause. Why wouldn’t we?” Dan said. In November 2011, over 700 fans showed up at the NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia to hear the band play at a show benefitting the Foodbank. Using the local radio station 96X, they have been able to advertise local shows benefitting local causes. Dan explained that helping the community is a part of who they are as a band. “We’ll wave this banner and get people to follow us behind it,” he said.
Some fans might be surprised to learn that a lot of the band is made up of family members. Dan is the father of Ben and Annah. Also, Andrew Benfante (reed organ, drums and percussion, melodica, and guitar) and Jay Benfante (drums and percussion and melodica) are brothers. Amos Housworth (cello) and Teresa Totheroh (violin) are family friends. The added family dynamic only helps the band blend better musically and personality-wise. “We are a very close family, and we live in a small house, so you can’t get away from each other,” Dan joked.
“Expand the world of Bison”
Now that Bison has completed their first music video, the band is looking ahead for what’s next. In April, they opened for the Avett Brothers in Virginia Beach. They also recently signed with Universal Records, who is “banking on our local popularity being replicated throughout the nation,” said Dan. Then, the band said they will begin to “expand the world of Bison” by re-recording their debut album “Quill” over the summer. In September, they plan to release an EP, which will include songs off of the album, and then in January 2013, they will complete the EP with a full-length album, consisting of some old songs and some new songs.
Hampton Roads has tasted Bison for a little more than a year now and they have fallen in love. Soon, the rest of the country will hear Bison’s music and see their music video for “Switzerland,” which Regent students and graduates toiled on during those cold and muddy March nights.