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Relative Sounds Country Music Band Homeward Bound Blends Bluegrass With Texas Swing, Honky Tonk And Contemporary Pop

When you think of family bands, several infamous, novelty acts immediately come to mind: The Partridge Family, the Brady Bunch, Meneudo, the Cowsills and, of course, the Osmonds.

Homeward Bound is a five-sixths family band, featuring the Clouse family of Clayton, Wash. Both mom and dad, bassist Frank Clouse and keyboardist Pam, are in the band. Then there are the siblings: singer-guitarist Chris Clouse, guitarist-vocalist Jennifer Clouse and fiddler Chad Clouse. Drummer Brian Rochelle, well, he really isn’t related, but to Homeward Bound, he’s family.

Despite the stereotype, Homeward Bound isn’t the country music equivalent to the Partridge Family. And no, the family doesn’t travel around in a tacky colored bus, rather, a mini-van with “Homeward Bound” stenciled on the window.

“People have joked around about that (saying), ‘You guys think you’re the Partridge Family,”’ says Chris, Homeward Bound’s front-man. “What we’ve tried to do is steer as far clear of that as we can. I guess there’s a stereotype that goes with family bands that we’ve seen especially in the fiddle world. They just have a certain reputation as being goody two-shoes.”

No doubt the family aspect is the first thing people notice. However, Homeward Bound sidesteps gimmickry because of its undeniable talent. The band’s two independent CDs 1994’s “More than Once” and the newly released “Piece of Mind” - attest to this.

Unlike modern hat acts, this sextet exhibits depth and sparkles with country’s seemingly forgotten traditions. Give “Piece of Mind” a whirl and you’ll hear strains of bluegrass, Texas swing, honky tonk and contemporary pop.

Homeward Bound officially formed five years ago as a bluegrass band, playing rootsy acoustic standards at family gatherings.

“We always played music,” says Chris. “I started learning some George Strait songs and started singing little bit. So we started playing fiddle songs, playing at little things like picnics.”

Chad, 22, Chris, 18, and Jennifer, 16, learned to play the fiddle at early ages and they all competed in fiddle contests when they were younger. Both Chad and Chris placed high in their age groups in a national competition. Jennifer was crowned Best Fiddler in the Inland Empire.

“We lived down the street from a violin shop, about four houses down,” says Chad, recalling the days when his family lived in Spokane. “As a little kid I used to kind of hang out there.”

In 1991, the Clouses were approached by a promoter to audition as the opening act for an Earl Thomas Conley/Tom T. Hall concert at Silverwood Theme Park. At the time, the band didn’t even have a name.

“We had never played electric or anything,” says Chris.

“We had to trade in the stand-up bass for an electric bass and find ourselves a drummer,” chuckles Chad.

“We got the gig that time,” says Chris.

And numerous others, too.

That concert alone - Homeward Bound’s first brush with major exposure - landed the group several more opening slots for major acts.

Last year, the six appeared with one of country’s foremost figures, Johnny Cash, as well as popular veteran group the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

This year, Homeward Bound will not only play its first major headlining concert at the Clocktower Meadow at Riverfront Park on Sunday, but it will also play opener for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in Colville, Wash., in July. Also during summer, Homeward Bound will open a handful of other concerts, featuring big-time country acts which the Clouses weren’t at liberty to discuss.

Being a family band provides many advantages for the group. For one, the Clouses were able to compose, record and produce almost all of their new album in their Clayton home.

“Working by ourselves, we’ve had a whole lot more freedom,” says Chad. “We can work parts out. In the studio, time is money.”

Home recordings address yet another stereotype: They’re generally thought of as having an amateurish, low-fidelity quality about them. This isn’t the case with the production of “Piece of Mind,” which gleams with the brightness of a big studio recording.

Natural chemistry is another big factor in Homeward Bound. This shines through, especially in the live element.

“We kind of feel how each other move,” says Chris. “We’re just one piece.

“I think we’re a whole lot better as a whole than we are individually.”

“If one person starts to fall,” says Jennifer, “you always know that everybody will be right there to help you get back up.”

Ultimately, Homeward Bound would like to land a record deal on “music row” in Nashville. Band members will travel there intermittently during the summer.

But even if the band signs, its existence is year-to-year, depending on what the kids are up to. In the fall Chris will likely attend college in Nashville. And, Chad is living in Berkeley, Calif.

“We’ve always taken the band one year at a time,” says Chris. “We ask ourselves at the end of every season, ‘Are we going next year?”’

But the singer is quick to point out, “As soon as it hits a certain level here, we’ll probably run with it.”

“At the end of every season it’s incredible that we actually made it that far,” says Frank. “It just gives you the drive the next year.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Homeward Bound Location and time: Clocktower Meadow at Riverfront Park, Sunday, 11 a.m. Tickets: Free

This sidebar appeared with the story: Homeward Bound Location and time: Clocktower Meadow at Riverfront Park, Sunday, 11 a.m. Tickets: Free