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What started as a grueling process became one of the biggest rewards for Blue Mountain Tribe, a Native American blues and rock band from Tehachapi, Calif.

The band was selected to perform at Stage 49 on Friday, April 28, 2023, at 7:15 p.m., in Albuquerque, N.M., as part of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, the world's largest powwow.

Blue Mountain Tribe comprises four members, lead singer and harmonica player Robin Hairston, also known as Rockin Robin; his son Caleb Hairston on lead guitar and vocals; Jeff “Cooper Hawk” Cooper; bass player and vocals and Pat Mata on the drums. 

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Before the band formed, Hairston and Caleb were playing the bar scene, but they knew they wanted to do more. After being inspired by a PBS performance by XIT — a Native American rock band that started in the 1970s —, the duo knew what they wanted to do.

“They got up there, and they rocked,” Hairston said, adding that it wasn’t the traditional music many were used to hearing from Native American bands. “They didn’t play the flute, the drum; they got up there and just rocked.”

That’s where their journey began. But finding other Native American musicians in their area wasn’t easy. The Hairston duo, who identify as Chiricahua Apache, wanted to find individuals who could play and share their love of music. Finally, they found Hawk, who identifies as Cherokee, and Mata, who identifies as YTT Northern Chumash-Yokuts. And in 2012, Blue Mountain Tribe was born. 

“We started writing Native American original music with the bluesy rock sound, but we sang about Native American history and culture and pain and suffering and all the things Native Americans go through,” Hairston said. “And we added these stories to our music, and people literally fell in love with us.”

The band released their debut album, “All Our Relations,” in October 2014, followed by their second, “Oh Great Warrior!” in November 2022. 

While the band enjoyed playing the smaller stages, they were ready for a new challenge and put their application in for a sought-after spot on Stage 49. 

“They don’t play around,” Hairston said. “They want the best of the best.”

Many of Blue Mountain Tribe’s songs are about Native American veterans and what they endured when they returned from war. Hairston himself is a 20-year veteran and served in the Marines and Army. It’s important for the band to share the stories of those who served, Hairston and Hawk said, but it’s also important for them to bring light to current Indigenous issues as well as the dark moments in Native American history. 

“The songs are just sharing our concerns for our people,” Hawk said.

And with those concerns always comes hope. Hawk said they want to remind people to live well, even when things around them aren’t going well.

“We want to pass our music to the world and bring peace, love and understanding through our music,” Hairston said. “A lot of our music is very positive and brings a lot of hope.”

The four-member band works hard to share their message with people, book their own shows, and get their name out there. So, when they got the news about their spot on Stage 49, it felt like they’d made it.

“I keep telling people and the band members, we’re gonna go to the top someday,” Hairston said. “Well, I was telling one of our producers I’d love to go to the top, and he said, ‘Robin, you’ve already made the top by making Gathering of Nations; you’ve hit the pinnacle of your career.”

The band will be playing songs off of “Oh Great Warrior!” and they’re excited for the opportunity to expand their audience reach. 

“The Blue Mountain Tribe is not in this for the money at all,” Hairston said. “We’ve done so many charity events and donated to many different things Native Americans were experiencing. We’re in it for the spirituality of the Native Americans and our beliefs and our traditions and helping our people.”

The Gathering of Nations hasn’t been easy. Hairston said the band has had many run-ins with what he calls “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Once the band got more attention, people started trying to exploit them.

Hawk said somebody offered to interview them for their magazine but expected them to pay for it. They also struggle with getting gigs booked around their full-time jobs, he said.

But there were struggles before the band started. In the earlier days of Hairston’s career, he struggled with cocaine use and now speaks out against drugs and substance use. But despite the past and current struggles, the band keeps moving forward.

“Enjoy it,” Hawk said. “If you’re in a band, try to be friends, brothers, with your bandmates, enjoy playing together.”

More information on the Blue Mountain Tribe can be found at bluemountaintribe.com

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