I grew up in Boulder as the Boulder-bred band Rose Hill Drive was establishing itself as a rock tour de force, and everyone loved them. Their shows were packed with kids from the local schools, and the question in anyone's mind wasn't if they would make it big, but when. Opening for The Who for string of dates in 2007, with just one album under the band's belt, seemed to solidify the group's seemingly inevitable rise to stardom. They were technical virtuosos with infused with the soul of rock ’n’ roll, and the band sold out shows like glitter at a Justin Beiber concert.
But something happened along the way. Success didn't come after two albums and years of relentless touring. The band took a "hiatus" and almost broke up. The tight-knit trio, which had formed when the members were in high school, added a bass player and became a two-guitar quartet. Success wasn't as easy now. Fox Theatre shows didn't sell out on a dime like they did in the past, and with its once-hardcore fan base growing up and leaving town, the band had to branch out to venues like the Bluebird Theater in Denver and the Belly Up in Aspen when it played shows in Colorado.
Now the band, teaming up with a company called Chair 11 Productions (is it "chair e11even"? I don't know), has made an honest and compelling short documentary called "17 Minutes on the Road" about where they are in their career.
"I thought that we were going to be the biggest thing ever and people had to realize it. And it's just not like that," says Daniel Sproul, in a backstage interview that kicks off the documentary. "I don't think that realization would have been easy when I was 18."
It's a profound thing to admit, and it's at the core of the progression of Rose Hill's career. They started fast and slowed down suddenly, and the g-forces from that transition surely caused some of the friction that led them to take a 17-month hiatus after their second album fizzled. Now they seem to have accepted where they are, and they make jokes about playing gigs in a Mexican restaurant and playing shows with zero women in attendance. Rose Hill Drive's story is a cautionary tale about trying to make it as a band. You might have all the talent in the world — and Rose Hill certainly has talent to spare — but that's no guarantee you'll be able to make even a modest living off it.