THIS STORY WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH ON JUNE 10, 2013, BUT WAS SEVERELY TRIMMED. THIS IS THE UNTRIMMED VERSION.
By Barry Gilbert
Singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw, backed by the muscle of St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets, on Saturday night (June 8, 2013) brought a sweat-drenched end to Twangfest, one of the most successful editions in the festival’s 17-year run.
Among the 13 acts that performed last week, three – Crenshaw, Asleep at the Wheel and Ray Wylie Hubbard – are bonafide music legends, and two more – Joe Pug and Todd Snider – may earn that status someday.
In addition, the four-night celebration of American roots music sold out three of the four shows (one at Plush and two at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room), and set a record with fans buying 70 four-night passes. The festival ran smoothly, and even the technical gremlins took a year off.
St. Louis’ Bottle Rockets put the power into Marshall Crenshaw’s legendary power-pop Saturday night to close the most successful edition of Twangfest in the 17-year run of the roots-rock festival.
Night 4 of the KDHX-sponsored festival featured a generous portion of accessible alt-country, rock and power pop, first from opening act Dolly Varden, then for an hourlong set by the Bottle Rockets and finally a 90-minute set by Crenshaw, backed by the Bottle Rockets.
The show at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room was sold out, the third sell-out of the four night festival and the first three-night sell-out in its history.
It’s a rare night when a music fan can see Texas-swing legends Asleep at the Wheel in an intimate venue, but that happened Friday at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on the third night of Twangfest 17.
And the Wheel found a well primed crowd, taking the stage after a knockout set by singer Eilen Jewell and her fine band, featuring guitarist Jerry Miller.
The seven-member Asleep at the Wheel, founded in 1970 and still led by singer-guitarist Ray Benson, has always been a force onstage, and the latest incarnation continues the tradition. Blasting through 23 songs in nearly 90 minutes, the band crossed genres from Western swing and boogie woogie to blues, rockabilly and country.
If Joe Pug had started out in the ’70s, some mainstream record company or fired-up rock critic surely would have hung a “new Dylan” tag around his neck. Unfair as such a label might be in any era – check back with us in 50 years, or even 25, Joe – his songs are worthy of such hyperbole. And live on a stage is the place to hear them.
Pug headlined the second night of the KDHX-sponsored Twangfest 17 on Thursday, capping a four-act bill that sadly drew only half a house to Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room after a sold-out opening night Wednesday at Plush (Friday and Saturday night at the Duck Room are sold out, too).
Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at Plush on Twangfest 17 opening night. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT
By Barry Gilbert
“I’m gonna share some of my opinions with you tonight,” singer-songwriter Todd Snider warned the Twangfest 17 opening night crowd, “not because I think you should hear them … but because they rhyme.”
The wisecrack, offered with the same stoner drawl and twinkling eye as Snider uses in his songs, also applied to Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Texas troubadour who preceded Snider on the bill Monday night at Plush in midtown St. Louis. But where Snider is laid back and nuanced under a funky hat adorned by a flower, a folk singer at his core, the scruffy Hubbard is an in-your-face chronicler of life in the margins, all snarling rock ‘n’ roll and country blues.
Twangfest’s move to Plush from its traditional opening night venue, Schlafly’s Tap Room, was a success by any measure. The festival, supported by primary sponsor KDHX (881. FM), sold out the room with fans of each artist – the billing order easily could have been reversed – and sing-alongs were happening even when not requested by the artist.
Belleville-area native and Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar has two releases this spring: the CD “Honky Tonk” and the memoir “Falling Cars and Junkyard Dogs,” an episodic account of his life and times … so far.
The book’s short, almost songlike organization lets readers connect a lot of the dots. Farrar talked about the book shortly before taking Son Volt out on its “Honky Tonk” tour.
‘There’s a world of wisdom inside a fiddle tune,” Jay Farrar writes on the smart and evocative new Son Volt album “Honky Tonk,” a work that embraces the band’s early sound as well as that of classic country music.
Farrar hasn’t explored the fiddle and steel guitar vibe so extensively since “Windfall,” the first track on the first Son Volt album, “Trace,” in 1995. It’s a sound that was reinforced for Farrar over the past few years as he sat in with his brother Dade and new Son Volt player Gary Hunt in their St. Louis band Colonel Ford.
Farrar, a Metro East native and co-leader of the groundbreaking alt-country band Uncle Tupelo in the early ’90s, calls the fiddle a “transcendent instrument.”
“I wanted to explore the twin-fiddle sound, which is really something that speaks to me, and which I got to witness first-hand playing around town with Colonel Ford,” Farrar says. “It’s a powerful sound; it draws you in. There’s a natural chorus effect on the fiddle. The pitch is just a little bit off, and it’s an intriguing sound.”
Rockers took over the stage for the third night of Twangfest 16 at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Friday, and they were greeted by a sellout crowd, the largest in recent memory.
As the hour crept past midnight, the audience remained strong, active and loud for Ha Ha Tonka. And the Ozark band once again delivered a smashing set of music that mixes an indie rock vibe, Midwestern sincerity and Southern mysticism that no other band can match.
Ha Ha Tonka had to be on its game, because it followed co-headliner Langhorne Slim (the two acts are touring together), who brings boyish charm and energetic angst to a deepening catalog of rich music.
Opening was Kasey Anderson and the Honkies from Portland, Ore., a straight-ahead, four-man group of three-chord rockers fronted by Anderson, who connected to the crowd right away. His St. Louis references were delivered with self-aware irony: He knew he was pandering, so did the crowd, and both parties enjoyed it.
If you’re lucky, at some point over multiple days or multiple stages at a music festival, some act will open your eyes and knock you over.
The first two nights of KDHX-sponsored Twangfest 16 have featured great music by artists who have met or exceeded expectations, based on either reputation or past performance: Kelly Hogan, Pokey LaFarge and Wussy, at the top of the list. But the band that has obliterated expectations is Humming House, which played Wednesday night after local opener Prairie Rehab and in support of hometowners LaFarge and his old-timey South City Three.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Humming House is made up of five seemingly disparate parts: Celtic-music fan and singer/songwriter Justin Wade Tam, soul singer Kristen Rogers, classically trained fiddler and college professor Mike Butera, bluegrass mandolinist Joshua Wolak and classical composer/bassist Ben Jones.
Together, they are … what? Irish jam band? Bluegrass porch stompers? Acoustic rockers? R&B interpreters? Yes, all of the above.
Dave Alvin has become one of America’s greatest songwriters and guitar players. His early work with the punk-fueled R&B/rockabilly band the Blasters has matured into an adventurous exploration of American roots music encompassing folk, country and the blues.
His story and love songs are rooted in real people, ordinary working people facing personal and societal challenges yet somehow hanging on to a sliver of hope. Among his best: “Fourth of July,” “King of California,” “Ashgrove” and the new “Gary, Indiana 1959,” plus exquisite co-writes with Tom Russell on “Haley’s Comet,” “California Snow” and “Out in California.”
I interviewed Alvin for a Post-Dispatch story on June 14, 2011. I reached him on a tour stop in Asheville, N.C., about 11 o’clock in the morning — early for a working musician — and he apologized for not being totally awake. Here is a transcript of that interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.
We began by talking about Chris Gaffney, a fine singer-songwriter and accordion player and Alvin’s best friend who died of liver cancer at age 57 on April 17, 2008. Gaffney recorded with his own band as well as the great Hacienda Brothers, and he was a member of Alvin’s Guilty Men.
I told Dave I bought my first Gaffney album, “Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts,” in 1989 based only on the title and band name and became a fan instantly. I talked to Gaffney a couple of times at Alvin shows, and enjoyed the conversations.
Gaffney’s death hit Alvin hard.
DA: I could go on for hours. He was my best friend. He got all my jokes.
BG: Yeah, that is the mark of a best friend, isn’t it.
DA: That is the mark of a best friend (laughing).
BG: And if they don’t, they just pretend they do.
DA: He never pretended. He would let me know, on a scale of 1 to 10, how good the jokes were.
BG: “Two Lucky Bums” (on “Eleven Eleven”) of course is a duet with Chris. You had originally offered that as a download. And it’s that version I assume that’s on the CD.
DA: Yeah. I cut a couple of other songs for the record, and when I was piecing things together it kind of made sense to put it on and hold a couple of other things. … That just kind of summed everything up.
BG: There is a subtext of mortality on the new CD. Is that the influence of Chris’ passing, or is it bigger than that?