July 2, 2011
Oak Canyon Ranch
It's sort of amazing that the Hootenanny manages to go off year after year without any serious hitches. With all the alpha males and gear heads in attendance indulging in bottomless reservoirs of booze, the usually serene medow of Oak Canyon Ranch takes on the feel of an untapped powder keg. But this year's show saw no major incidents and should serve as an example to other concert promoters that it is in fact possible to efficiently run a well-scheduled music festival. This year's show saw 20 bands playing throughout the day on three stages. The sun was unmercifully focused, and the air stagnant-- and thanks to the omnipresent half-bared bosoms--scads of sweaty cleavage.
But unlike some day-long events which see fans traipsing back and forth across a large field to catch their favorite performers before the one they're watching is over, Hootenanny alternately sees each band playing on a split stage. While one is playing, the other setting up, and so on. And for those interested in seeing acts with a lower profile, there was also a sidestage.
As for quality of the sets, if you're a hard core rockabilly fan, there was plenty here for you to enjoy, and the bands picked to play represented the greasiest cream of the chop-top crop. Here's a quick run down of the show's highlights:
Most invigorating performance -Dropkick Murphys: After a long day in the hot sun, these guys hit the stage with a sense of purpose banging their heads and charging back and forth armed with various folk instruments. It led me to believe they probably spent most of the day in an air conditioned space, though I could be wrong. Who in a million years would have envisioned a loud punk rock band successfully incorporating banjos, bagpipes and accordions into their set? They're like Flogging Molly, but with teeth.
Best Veteran Performer-Reverend Horton Heat: Mr. Hootenanny himself. Sadly there were moments when the Rev was more interested in reminding the audience of the fact that the band has been doing their thing for 25 years. He decided to play a sizable chunk of his set in chronological order pedantically notifying fans which song was off which album like the announcer at a skate rink. It sort of lent a phoned in, formulaic vibe to the performance. "This song was on our first album" ("Marijuana," ) "This song was on Space Heater "Baby, I'm Drunk," "this song was on the Drew Carrie Show, "Now, Right Now." But by the end of the set he starting asking the audience to voice requests-- "Bales of Cocaine," I've seen this guy perform six or seven times and the part where he sings (with raucous audience participation) "Horton that's some blow," never gets old. He asked for more requests, "400 Bucks," and obliged. There were moments on songs like "Galaxy 500," when Heat, noted for his supreme axemanship, howled with the raspy terydactyle animalism of a hardcore singer. While playing swinging complex leads with intense focus, he would suddenly look at someone in the audience and break into the most easy going Texas smile you ever saw.
He ended the set with "Big Red Rocket of Love," beautifully chopping in a spacey breakdown of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." He played a lead which saw notes dropping from neck of his guitar like sonic drops of water. He then returned to the original song and ended the set. Who cares how he chooses to play his show? After 25 years, the man has nothing left to prove.
Best act for the price of admission - Mojo Nixon: Coming out of retirement to play the occasional gig, the venerable 80s rockabilly icon who gave us such gems as "Stuffin Martha's Muffin" and subversive collaborations with Jello Biafra, stood on the main stage in the midday sun. Armed with only an electric guitar and clad in cutoff denim shorts, his grey hair and massive sideburns gave him the appearance of Michael J. Fox's father in Teenwolf. But Nixon was anything but patronly. One of his ribald, humor-infused songs featured a narrative about Princess Diana attempting to give Dodi a hand job before they died.
With uninhibited intensity, the notrious liberterian stomped, strummed and capered, doing his damndest to engage the early-day crowd. Between numbers he would tell jokes with detailed descriptions of buttholes using such phrases as 'dingleberry barrier.' The song "Tie My Pecker to My Leg" got the crowd's attention just fine, but his peaon to legalizing all drugs perked everyone up best.
Best side-show surprise - The Moonlight Howlers: This Arizona trio played at the peak of the day's heat. Their drummer, a young woman the band's Facebook page identifies as Ariel, looked severely taxed by the heat. But at just the right moments, she would suddenly snap to with a wickedly swinging beats making it look effortless. Her call and response vocal interaction with lead vocalist Tory Lee Terror, who slapped furiously at an upright bass, was incredibly substantial and impressive for someone behind a drum set. Definitely a band to check out the next time they come through.
Mainstage Madness, or Best FYF Crossover - Murder City Devils: This is the token band many wouldn't expect to appear on a rockabilly bill. Their screechy vocals, backed by gothic keyboards and punk guitars represented the day's biggest sound departure. They were probably aware of this when singer Spencer Moody attempted to bait the crowd with some stage craft. Specifically, Moody grabbed his guitarist and began to kiss him deeply. Surprisingly, few in the crowd appeared to care-- a big change from even ten years ago. The crowd saved its aggressive response for pitting to the song "Bear Away," which saw Moody standing atop the monitors screaming the lyrics at the top of his lungs. It was a total loss of decorum, even by Mojo Nixon standards.
Best demonstration of the spirit of rock & roll - Super Suckers: You know-- loud anthemic hooks, bluesy-bendy solos played behind the head, inciting the crowd to lift their middle fingers simultaneously. Lead singer Eddie Spaghetti dedicated the song "Pretty Fucked Up," which features the lyric "She used to be pretty/but now she's pretty fucked up" to his wife who was celebrating a birthday. It sort of sounded like a Bob Seger tune.
The crowd: Dudes in shredded jeans and sleeveless work shirts rocking pomps to the sky. Ladies rocking everything from capri pants to vintage high-waisted shorts as well as fishnets and wedge sandals (I'm told it's not easy spending a day walking around on uneven ground in those things. Guys, tell your gals you love them for being so godamned sexy.) Parasols til tueday.
Sadly, there was at least one shirtless racist rocking the swastika tattoos, but there was also some really cool ink including one of a pinup girl suggestively pressing her body against a crucifix, and lots of "Mooneyes" tattoos. I wasn't aware Mooneyes was still so popular after all these years. There were also lots of T-shirts produced by show promoter Johnny's saloon which read "Thank a veteran for your freedom or Fuck You." Well said. Now that Johnny has taken his message to the drunks of Huntington Beach and the Hootenanny , maybe he can go see the doctors at Walter Reed.
Overheard: One of the Miss Hootenanny contestants telling the crowd what alcoholic drink she'd like to be and why. "Sailor Jerry's, because I love the company." Sweety, you're a disgrace to drunks the world over.