By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Photo by Jeanne Rice Hootenanny 2003
Cal State Fullerton
Saturday, July 5
So what do we see not five minutes after arriving at the annual retro-roots extravaganza that is Hootenanny, but some blowjob wearing a shirt adorned with the name of a stupid fucking Nazi-loving, white-power-spewing OC band who shall remain nameless (lest they garner free publicity at our expense). Then there was the I've-been-kicked-in-the-face-50-times-looking Aryan we came across at the end of this sweltering afternoon, who strutted through the throng proudly modeling his Skrewdriver tee.
And then there was that merch booth occupied by a Huntington Beach-based clothing company that's clearly marketing their goods to white-power inbreds, with their assortment of Confederate flag- and Iron Cross-stamped crapola. And what's with the plethora of Iron Crosses among the Hooteneeners these days, anyway? We were at the very first Hoot back in '95, and don't recall nearly the number of tawdry symbols we saw flying freely around on Saturday. Toss in the gratuitous flag-waving, the Stray Cats doing the national anthem (and what was that all about?) and at least one hollering of "FAGGOT!" we heard from the stage during the Cadillac Tramps' set (we aren't sure by whom), and the Hoot pretty much confirmed what several scenesters have told us: the rockabilly/roots scene is packed with Republicans, fascists, Nazis, assclowns and queer-bashers. And gobs of people who go to this thing every year—the greasers with the rolled-up pants cuffs, the Bettie Page look-alikes with the saddle shoes, the drunks who used to hang out at the Shack—doubtlessly love it like that. So would have the Recall Gray Davis petitioners, if they had only known. Honestly, though, as big-ass music fests go, this one just made us miss those old hippie-heavy HORDE tours from the '90s. Quick! When's the next all-inclusive, peace-sign-flashin', humanity-lovin' Phish show?
Adolf groupies aside, we actually did come for the music, but it was just so hard to concentrate on any semblances of aural excellence with so many creepy people running about (not to mention the 300-degree heat). But what we heard, we liked. Take Crank Williams, who commandeered the stage inside the shady confines of the Doll Hut tent. They're essentially a Hank Williams tribute band, but not jokey, like too many other trib acts. Instead, they sped through classic nuggets like "Lost Highway" and "I Saw the Light" with a fabulous punch, goosing them up and making ol' Hank sound like he probably would've sounded had he come out of England in '77 (and never fathered a doofus like Hank Jr., natch). Crank were the perfect way to start the afternoon.
Eventually we had to venture out into the sun, but we gladly suffered for the Original Sinners, Exene's (no last name necessary) band when she's not doing another X reunion show. And they were great, too, pumping out surprisingly tough, zippy rock & roll that's easily some of the hardest, sweetest stuff she's ever done outside X. Weird, though, was watching her ex-hubby John Doe on the stage next to hers getting ready for his set, acting as if she wasn't even there—apparently there's only love between the two when Billy Zoom is around. But eternal lefty Doe earned our love for switching some lines around in his opening "The New World" to make it skew antiwar and anti-Bush. And, considering this crowd, it's something of a minor miracle that the man wasn't promptly dragged off and lynched.
That was enough sun for a while, so we beat it back to the Doll Hut tent for the excellently raucous strains of Gypsy Trash, and enjoyed such magical moments as when singer DD Wood dedicated the tune "Loser" to her ex-hubby Joe as we scarfed down terribly overpriced Chinese food. But the music, at least, was delicious and ornery; watching them made the stinging sensation we got from all the sunblock dripping down into our eyes worth it.
As for the Blasters, now that they're once again Dave Alvin-less, what's the point? They ran through all their old songs that everyone knows by rote—great songs, sure, but they're all so ingrained in the mind of any local roots fan that it's like ordering at a McDonald's drive-thru—they say the name of the song before they play it, you know exactly what it'll taste like. And it's always the same.
The Stray Cats took a break from hating one another to stage this one-off reunion gig (coerced, we're sure, by the prospect of a fat payday), which was the most anticipated set of the weekend. Except by us. We never thought much of them back in high school (as one-hit-album-wonders-of-1982 go, we were solidly in the Men at Work camp) and we sure don't think much of them now, especially since they not only showed up 20 minutes late—summarily ruining what up till then was a perfectly timed fest—but they showed up escorted to the stage by huge, hulking bodyguards. Who'd be lame/drunk enough to bum-rush the Stray Cats in 2003? Turned out at least one oaf, who tried to touch Her Highness Queen Brian Setzer, but was instantly taken out by the Stray Cats' goon squad. We hung around for "Stray Cat Strut," heard the rest of the predictably dull set from the parking lot, made plans to pack a can of Nazi-Rid™ spray for next year's Hoot, and split.