By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

June 3, 2004

Let's see, they've got bluegrass, Beatles-style rock from teenagers, passionate modern rock by some kids from Philly, alt country, banjo music, pop, traditional string band, classic country and rootsy singer/ songwriters. That should about cover it. Oh, wait: There's gothic country, too.

The all-volunteer army that puts St. Louis' Twangfest together every year likes to say it takes a big tent to hold all of the artists that qualify as "twangy" under their very liberal definition. This year's tent may need an addition, or at least a porch. Twangfest 8 gets under way Wednesday, and 16 acts will play over four nights. The headliners include Chicago's Redwalls, a band barely out of high school whose members have spent a lot of time with their parents' record collections; Philadelphia's Marah, labeled alt country early but so much more; Chicago's Robbie Fulks, a fiercely independent roots-rock singer/songwriter; and Grand Champeen of Austin, Texas, rockers known for their full-tilt live shows.

Twangfest board member Mark Wyatt, a musician (ex of One Riot One Ranger and the defunct Sovines) from Columbus, Ohio, recalled a line from rock critic Robert Christgau, who said the Ramones' first album showed how much you could take out of rock and still have it be rock; the band's second showed how much you could put back in and still have it be Ramones.

"We're kind of exploring that with Twangfest" and the definition of twang, Wyatt says.

Most things about this year's Twangfest will be familiar to fans: Twangpins, a bowling tournament with a "supergroup" pickup band; Twangclips, a presentation of rare concert and video footage; and a first night at Schlafly's Tap Room followed by three nights at the Duck Room in the Delmar Loop (see boxes for details).

The biggest change is that there are fewer acts each night, down to four from five. The good news is that each band, especially each night's headliner, will get more time to play.

"Last year, we seemed to run into a lot of problems keeping bands on schedule," says Marie Arsenault, a St. Louis booking agent and member of the Twangfest board.

The music runs nightly from 8 p.m.-1 a.m., which previously gave each act an hour -- minus the time it took to change the stage between acts. This worked relatively well for a solo guitar-strummer, not so well for a six-member band of multi-instrumentalists and not well at all for the last act of the night.

"All of that time was coming out of the headliner act," Arsenault says. "We were getting complaints that the headliner doesn't get to play longer, and it was eliminating the option of encores."

Reducing the number of acts to four also will help with the budget, supported by tickets and sponsor donations.

"We stuck with acts this year within our budget, acts that we thought would fit with what we like and what our fans like, and not necessarily big names," Arsenault says. "We really tried to get acts we knew would put on great live shows."

Lineup for Twangfest 8

The Redwalls

Hometown: Chicago.

Genre: Pop rock.

25 words or less: Sounds like Beatles, Kinks, Stones. Especially Beatles.

On CD: The band's debut, "Universal Blues," features "The Ballad of John and Yo--" um, I mean, "Colorful Revolution."


Danny Barnes

Hometown: Texas native, now from Seattle.

Genre: Very eclectic.

25 words or less: A distinctive banjo picker, Barnes crosses from country to blues to bluegrass.

On CD: Newest is "Dirt on the Angel," a generous 15-song helping of snacks ("Popcorn and Wine"), main dishes ("I Likes My Chicken Hot"), sonic jam (Beck's "Loser") and a primer on "Life in the Country."


Frog Holler

Hometown: Virginsville, Pa.

Genre: Alt country.

25 words or less: Singer/songwriter Darren Schlappich leads this six-piece band that evokes but never copies the Band and Uncle Tupelo.

On CD: The group's latest CD is "Railings," its fourth. Frog Holler's bluegrass roots show on "About Time"; its romantic side shines on "The Sweetest Sound."


Ann Fermin's Trigger Gospel

Hometown: Born in the Philippines, now living in Chicago.

Genre: Country.

25 words or less: A voice made for country radio -- if country radio actually played, y'know, country music.

On CD: "Oh, the Stories We Hold" is her fifth and latest, produced by ex-Wilco player Jay Bennett.



Hometown: Philadelphia.

Genre: Once pigeonholed as alt country, these Philly boys rock -- and use an occasional banjo.

25 words or less: Literate, intelligent, danceable, passionate.

On CD: The band's new album, "20,000 Streets Under the Sky," won't be released until after Twangfest, on June 29, but listen for new songs, including the great "Freedom Park."


Cary Hudson

Hometown: Oxford, Miss.

Genre: Roots rock.

25 words or less: Hudson, a former member of the great Blue Mountain, plays in all textures, from light fingerpicking to greasy power chords.

On CD: "The Phoenix," Hudson's solo debut in 2002, exploded with the first track, "High Heel Sneakers." His new CD is the just-released "Cool Breeze."


Handsome Family

Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M.

Genre: Gothic country and Western from Brett and Rennie Sparks.

25 words or less: Think psycho-billy, but slower and spookier; Johnny Cash channeling Rod Serling around a campfire.

On CD: Latest CD is "Singing Bones," featuring the jarring "The Bottomless Hole," the creepy "24 Hour Store" and the don't-go-to-the-city cautionary tale of "Girl With the Golden Hair."


Adrienne Young and Little Sadie

Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.

Genre: Acoustic folk, bluegrass

25 words or less: She writes like a novelist, sings like a dream, and plays banjo and guitar behind songs ranging from murder sagas to current events.

On CD: Her smashing debut, "Plow to the End of the Row" (2003), features "Sadie's Song," "Soldier's Joy," "Home Remedy" and the anti-Iraq war rocker "Blinded by Stars."


Photo by Jason Baldwin

Robbie Fulks

Hometown: Chicago.

Genre: Alt country, roots rock.

25 words or less: Fulks can be charming, acerbic, hostile and funny, often in the same song. Stay alert for Michael Jackson covers.

On CD: It's been a while since the original tunes of "Couples in Trouble" and the covers of "13 Hillbilly Giants," both in 2001.


Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub

Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.

Genre: Traditional country, but not slavishly so.

25 words or less: Smart, classic country performed by a fine band.

On CD: "Fool for Love" (2003), his fifth, features "Life of a Fool" and "Like Railroad Steel."


Susanna Van Tassel, Jim Stringer and the Austin Music Band

Hometown: Austin, Texas.

Genre: Traditional country and honky-tonk.

25 words or less: Van Tassel and Stringer join forces for short, snappy shuffles, two-steps, swing and even a polka. If there's room, dance.

On CD: Stringer's latest, "In My Hand" (2004), features "Pink Tornado" and "Cold Uneasy Blues." Van Tassell last appeared with "My Little Star" (2002). Listen for "Domestic Bliss."


Grey deLisle

Hometown: Los Angeles.

Genre: Folk and gospel.

25 words or less: A crystal voice, somewhat like Dolly Parton's, singing of sin and redemption, love and loss.

On CD: The new "The Graceful Ghost" chronicles a long-distance relationship, backed by autoharp and acoustic instruments, recorded on analog equipment. Warm is the word.


Grand Champeen

Hometown: Austin, Texas.

Genre: Indie rock.

25 words or less: The band has been compared to Soul Asylum and the Replacements; it's a good starting point. There's some twang, albeit turned up to 11.

On CD: "The One That Brought You" (2003) features 13 rockers, one ballad; that's about right. Check "Rest of the Night," "That's Never Why" and "Step Into My Heart."

Two Cow Garage

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio.

Genre: Alt country, roots rock.

25 words or less: Heartland trio with a great name, revved up on Uncle Tupelo and snorting through Middle America with a fiddle and pedal steel guitar.

On CD: "Please Turn the Gas Back On" (2003) features 11 strong tracks, led by "River" and "Farmtown."


Bigger Lovers

Hometown: Philadelphia.

Genre: Indie rock, power pop.

25 words or less: New CD title says it all: "This affair never happened ... and here are eleven songs about it." (And there's a praying mantis on the cover.)

On CD: Hope the band plays "Blowtorch."


Hometown: Columbus, Ohio.

Genre: Roots rock.

25 words or less: A new band, including Justin Lute ("The Adventures of Lori Lou," 2002) and guitarist Matt Benz, late of the Sovines.

On CD: Nothing yet, but Lute says the Whilers hope to have a three-tune EP ready for distribution at Twangfest.