Ghost Buffalo's first nearly nationwide tour was one to remember.
Following the release of their self-titled debut LP in February, they found audiences in cities like New York, Boston and Little Rock to be hit-or-miss. In Kansas City, two days before the tour's end, singer/guitarist Marie Litton was hospitalized with the flu.
And over the course of a few weeks, the band's bus broke down three times, once on the New Jersey Turnpike.
"You have to have bad tours," says Litton, who was voted Best Frontwoman by Westword in 2005. "We haven't really had bad tours, so we were due."
There's a bit of irony, though, that this tour proved so bumpy. It was supposed to have provided a welcome change for Litton; she'd be touring with her fianc, guitarist Matt Bellinger, who had recently quit Planes Mistaken for Stars to focus on Ghost Buffalo.
The two met while Bellinger was playing in, and often touring with, Planes Mistaken for Stars. Their time apart had been tough on Litton, and inspired many of the songs she wrote for Ghost Buffalo's debut.
"They're all about me not wanting to be by myself anymore," she says. "He was gone like five to six weeks every other month. Some people can live like that, but I couldn't."
And Marie has the voice for lonesome songs. With a slight country twang, Litton's soft-yet-soaring voice earns her comparisons to Emmylou Harris and Neko Case, and is an interesting complement to the more aggressive bedrock lain by the band. The sound draws the phrase "alt-country" to many listeners' lips, and the band finds its own among other country-inspired Denver bands, like Slim Cessna and 16 Horsepower.
But they do not appeal to country fans.
"We've played with serious country bands, like The Railbenders, and their fans don't dig us. I don't think we're country enough for them. I was like, "OK, let's get out of here. I think they might want to kill us,'" she says. "But any indie rock show we've ever played, people are really responsive. They are more open."
Litton credits Johnny Cash as the original punk-country crossover artist who drew post-punkers like Bellinger into the country stew. And Ghost Buffalo are just one degree of separation from the Man in Black. The same company that distributed the video for "Hurt" distributed the band's music video for "Hell Here," which gets airplay on MTV Latin America, MuchMusic in Canada and UPN20. At first, the band was skeptical about making a video.
"It's so funny because the video helped us so much, and we were all so anti- it," she says. On the tour from hell, Litton met fans that drove hours to see them after only learning about them from their video.
The band's skepticism about music videos is understandable; something about the commercial-like quality of music videos seems counter to the indie creed. But Litton's learned her lesson.
"I'm sad that I was so anti- it, because it's done so well for us, and it came out so good," she says. "So now I'm just gonna shut my mouth. I'm not gonna be against anything anymore."
Ghost Buffalo with Drag the River
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Friday, May 5, 9 p.m.
Tickets: $8, all ages; call 866/468-7621 or visit ticketweb.com.