Local roots music festival celebrates with four nights of concerts


By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

June 4, 2006

The Bottle Rockets
Twangfest, a homegrown and lovingly nurtured celebration of roots music, turns 10 this year. And it's throwing a four-night birthday party Wednesday through Saturday, with a roster of headliners including BR549, the Yayhoos, the Dirtbombs and local heroes the Bottle Rockets.

For this series of concerts, the volunteer organizers of the nonprofit festival have tried to stay true to the spirit of its past decade, which paralleled the growth of alternative country and the expanding umbrella of Americana music. "When we started in '97, alt-country was something you could really point to," says Amy Silvers, a Twangfest board member from Kansas City. "Now, fewer and fewer bands want to be associated with that label.

"So we wanted to fit with the direction of the past few years, a broader definition of roots music, from garage rock to power pop, with stops along the way of American music: soul, country blues like Kevin Gordon, rock like the Deadstring Brothers, as well as twangy alt-country like BR549, the Avett Brothers and Scott Miller." The first Twangfest, a two-night affair at Off Broadway, featured St. Louis' Belle Starr as well as the Waco Brothers, the Ghost Rockets and the Sovines, a Columbus, Ohio, group that is reuniting this year for the Friday show. The festival was a spinoff of an early Internet news group, Postcard 2, which grew out of Postcard, a "listserve" devoted to Belleville's Uncle Tupelo.

"Back in those days, it was as strong a music community as there is," Silvers says. "A lot of people were writers already and went on to write for No Depression," now a leading magazine covering Americana music that was born about the same time as Twangfest.

"There were a lot of musicians and fans, just an incredible pool of talent," Silver says. "People wanted to learn and hear more from each other."

Marie Arsenault, a St. Louis booking agent and Twangfest board member,

The Yahoos | Photo by Barry Gilbert

says nobody counted heads for the first Twangfest, because nobody expected there would be another. But Twangfest 2 in 1998 sold about 400 tickets over three nights, compared with about 1,200 over four nights last year.

The Deadstring Brothers
This year, the festival begins on Wednesday at the Tap Room and moves to Blueberry Hill's Duck Room for the next three nights. In the past, Silvers says, 30 percent to 35 percent of the concertgoers have come from outside the St. Louis area, some from as far afield as Scandinavia -- a hotbed of alt-country fandom -- and Australia.

Peter Blackstock, co-editor of No Depression who has attended three Twangfests, says the festival has "a really

high profile, particularly among people interested in alt-country and roots rock."

Although Twangfest competes for performers with other summer festivals, it is quite different. For one thing, performances are in clubs, not outdoors, Blackstock says.

"I don't know if there's anything like it," he said. "It's not like (big roots-music outdoor festivals) Merlefest or Bonnaroo or Telluride.

"My impression is that Twangfest has always been just an outgrowth of what the people who run it and attend it like."

The closing night this year will remain at the Duck Room, capacity 375, unlike last year's finale with Neko Case at the Pageant, which can hold up to 2,000.

Because of competition from other festivals and bigger-draw acts not touring, Twangfest decided to stay in the smaller space for the final show on Saturday, Silvers says.

The Dirtbombs

"We're expecting it to be pretty packed Saturday night," Silvers says, and not just because the headliner is BR549, which played in town in February. Lucero has been gaining momentum, and Miller hasn't been here in three years.

Miller and Saturday night's opener, Mic Harrison, are likely to provide a special treat: They were members of the Steve Earle-produced, alt-country band the V-Roys, and organizers hope for a reunion miniset of V-Roys tunes.

Other acts are generating excitement, too, Silvers says. "The Dirtbombs have never played St. Louis, and the Deadstring Brothers have a lot of buzz right now."

Blackstock says the Twangfest board's ability to reach a consensus on acts that they want to see "makes a difference. ... It's not like a festival trying to book something for everyone. They're really trying to book something for themselves and hope there are enough people who like it."

Or, as Silvers says, with a laugh: "We don't book bands that anybody on the board actively hates."


Two St. Louis bands are on the roster this year for Twangfest. The Bottle Rockets will headline the Friday night show, timed to celebrate the release of the band's latest CD, "Zoysia." And the Transmitters, which includes longtime local musician Kip Loui (Belle Starr, Rockhouse Ramblers, Diesel Island), will open Thursday. The other headliners:

The Dirtbombs, from Detroit, mix punk with garage rock -- and a half-dozen more genres -- with two drummers, two bass players and singer Mick Collins on guitar. Their latest CD, "If You Don't Already Have a Look," collects a mammoth 52 tracks of singles, rarities, outtakes and covers. And for Trekkers, "I'm Saving Myself for Nichelle Nichols (No. 3)."

The Yayhoos, a roots-rock supergroup, features former Georgia Satellites frontman Dan Baird ("Keep Your Hands to Yourself"); Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, a songwriter and producer, who has played lead guitar in great bands, including Joan Jett's Blackhearts, the Del Lords and now Steve Earle's Dukes; Terry Anderson of the Woods and the writer of the Satellites hit "Battleship Chains"; and Keith Christoper, also a former Satellite, who has played bass with Baird, Tony Joe White and Billy Joe Shaver. Think three chords, some attitude, a lot of humor and -- wait for it -- ABBA and O'Jays covers.

BR549, a retro-leaning outfit from Nashville, Tenn., is led by singer-songwriter Chuck Mead. The band's fine new CD, "Dog Days," features a few tracks that go beyond the band's rockabilly and honky-tonk style and flirt with pop and blues.




Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings -- rootsy power pop from Southern California.

The Avett Brothers of Greenville, N.C. -- a bit of folk, a bit of country and a touch of not-quite-bluegrass.

The Yayhoos, featuring Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, Terry Anderson, Dan Baird and Keith Christoper -- from Brooklyn, N.Y., but their sound is from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.



The Transmitters, of St. Louis -- straightforward rock band led by veteran Kip Loui.

Glossary, from Murfreesboro, Tenn. -- indie rockers with a Southern bent.

The Deadstring Brothers, from Detroit -- add pedal steel guitar to heartland rock and country ballads, mix in a bit of "Exile on Main Street" Stones.

The Dirtbombs, from Detroit -- crank up punk, garage rock and R&B.


The Sovines -- a reunion of this alt-country band from Columbus, Ohio. 9 p.m.: Kevin Gordon -- songwriter, singer and guitar player from Nashville, Tenn., who holds a stage with literate lyrics supported by sounds at once twangy, swampy and bluesy.

Bottle Rockets -- roots-rocking favorite sons of Festus celebrate the release of their eighth studio CD, "Zoysia."


Mic Harrison of Knoxville, Tenn. -- rock and pop from former V-Roy and Superdrag guitarist. 9 p.m.: Lucero, of Memphis, Tenn. -- progressed from alt-country rock to more straight-ahead rock.

Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, of Knoxville, Tenn. -- also a former V-Roy, Miller combines elements of folk, alt-country, heartland rock and singer-songwriter honesty into first-class Americana.

BR549, of Nashville, Tenn. --high-energy rockabilly and country.