Hawaii calls Pineapple Crackers’ Broyles home for more reggae fusion

Benson Broyles didn’t expect to live in a place like Grand Junction, and he certainly never planned on starting Pineapple Crackers, one of the most popular area bands over the past several years.

But the joyful run — he met his fianceé and flourished as a singer/songwriter here — has come to an end because Broyles has decided after 12 years here it’s time to return to Hawaii to be closer to his family and the style of reggae fusion he brought here but fills the air of his native island home.

“I went back for Thanksgiving last year,” said Broyles, 31, during a recent chat over coffee. “That’s when I decided I didn’t want to leave. I have my family here, but it’s not, like, your family. I’m actually going to start a band with my cousins and my brother. I miss the ocean, of course. I love to spearfish.”

The Pineapple Crackers’ final show in Grand Junction will be at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, at Mesa Theater and Lounge, 538 Main St. Tickets cost $10 for the all-ages show that includes special performances from Zolopht and the Destroyers and Poke Squid.

But Pineapple Crackers is the headline band, and it’s impossible to talk about the Pineapple Crackers without looking back at Broyles’ years in Grand Junction.

(The band’s final show in Colorado actually is Oct. 5 at RJ’s Steakhouse in Cedaredge.)

“In 2006, I was hanging out with my friend Paul Roach, the original cracker,” Broyles said, sitting back in his chair, remembering how the band was formed. “We were at the Rockslide. I had my ukulele with me, and they asked if I could really play it. The former general manager asked if I’d like to play there, so Paul and I got together. He played guitar. We were sitting on the patio and he asked what to call us. I said, ‘I’m a pineapple. He’s a cracker.’ He stamped our name, and we played our first gig there.”

Although Pineapple Crackers started as a duet, Broyles played solo shows since moving to Grand Junction in 2001 after transferring to then-Mesa State College from the University of Kansas, where he spent one year on a football scholarship.

Mesa State had a cultural diversity program, particularly for Hawaiians, which drew Broyles out of Kansas when he decided to focus on music instead of football.

“I played house parties by myself,” Broyles said. He was 19 at the time and couldn’t get into clubs or bars to perform.

Once Broyles turned 21, he got more involved in the local music scene and was studying music at Mesa State.

“It just grew,” Broyles said. “We got together and practiced but mostly we played covers. I started writing music and started incorporating everything.”

Broyles’ mash-up version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” is posted on YouTube, featuring him on stage at Mesa Theater in 2009, where Pineapple Crackers recorded its first album.

“They had to turn people away,” Broyles said, remembering the capacity crowd that turned out for the recording.

When Roach moved back to Minnesota several years ago, guitarist Jimi Blevins joined Broyles to keep the Pineapple Crackers humming. Broyles and Blevins often hire a bass player and drummer to perform with them.

Broyles has watched a number of different musicians come and go for Pineapple Crackers through the years.

“I’ve noticed everybody is settled down,” Broyles said. “Jimi’s got two kids and can’t really leave and go anywhere. If a label wanted us to move to L.A., he wouldn’t be able to do that.”

And then Broyles got engaged in August to Danyell Hansen and the couple plans to move to Kauai in October.

A native of Nevada, Hansen is admittedly “kind of a country girl,” but the Pineapple Crackers’ brand of Hawaiian rock reggae “has grown on me.”

“It’s just amazing,” Hansen said. “Every time he writes a new song, it keeps getting better and better.”

Pineapple Crackers released its second album in 2010 and its final full-length album will be for sale exclusively at the upcoming Mesa Theater show. The tracks are all originals Broyles wrote.

“I know our style did well in Grand Junction but compared to the rest of the world, this isn’t a big town,” Broyles said. “Going to Hawaii, our music fits in there. It might be harder, but if we can get it tight and do what I envision, I think we can go places and get big over there, and it’ll get easier to play on the West Coast.”

The new band doesn’t have a name, but it will have the keyboard player and vocal harmonies Broyles wants in a Hawaiian reggae group. If all goes as planned, even though most of his life in Grand Junction never went as planned, he’ll be back, in a professional sense.

“I’ll stop by,” Broyles said with a smile, shaking his empty glass. “Junction’s been good to me.”


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