Fans arriving a bit late at Hootenanny on Saturday, July 7, 2007 were in luck. In fact, the first several performers to play on the Main Stage provided a good excuse to get out of the daytime sun and go check out the classic cars and the glut of merchandise booths and find a place to keep cool until the big names played.
Because while the Flamethrowers kicked off the day with a set of rowdy rock highlighted by "Stay Free Forever" and "Never a Dull Moment," things quickly took a turn for the worse when Tex and the Horseheads played a losing mix of roots rock, blues and cow punk.
But from the time Throw Rag took the stage at 1 p.m., fans never had to wait long to catch one of many classic artists returning to the unique festival that has been a celebration of those seeking the trailhead where alt-country, rockabilly, blues, folk and rock 'n' roll connect.
Clearly the majority of the crowd was there to see headliners Social Distortion. Frontman Mike Ness seemed unusually reflective during the band's hour-long set, ignoring many of the band's best-known songs and offering up a rich mix of obscure originals and strong remakes including the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb," Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" and Hank Williams' "Six More Miles (To the Graveyard)."
While the legendary Orange County outfit didn't play set list staples such as "Story of My Life," "Ball and Chain" and "Bad Luck," the Hootenanny crowd was treated to "Far Behind" (a new song featured on the band's just-released "Greatest Hits" set) and his confessional "King of Fools." Social Distortion closed with an introspective piano-anchored "Prison Bound" and a fiery remake of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."
Leading up to Social Distortion's set, there were a handful of 30-minute appearances that highlighted some of the best Americana artists from the Southland.
Those who continue to link John Doe with X and Lee Rocker with the Stray Cats are missing out on enjoying the unique talents of each of these singer-songwriters.
Rocker and his excellent three-man band busted out of the gate with several songs from the forthcoming CD "Black Cat Bone," with the high octane "Lost Highway" and the bluesy title track thrilling the crowd. Later Rocker played "Race Track Blues," a 2005 song that provided a showcase for the two excellent lead guitarists in his band.
Doe, who came to Hootenanny armed with a wealth of affecting songs from his new album "A Year in the Wilderness," didn't disappoint. He opened with the beautiful "The Golden State" and later rocked with "Lean out Your Window."
Doe and his strong band closed their set with a terrific version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."
With both the Phil Alvin-led Blasters and his Dave Alvin on the bill, it was a dream-come-true moment when the brothers and one-time band mates teamed up to play a great version of the Blasters' classic "Marie Marie."
Several Orange County-based artists turned in pleasing sets as well. Anaheim-based Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys offered up "Power of the 45," "Chalk it Up to the Blues" and other retro-sounding gems blending traditional country, rockabilly and western swing, while Fountain Valley's Michael Ubaldini explored the vast ranges of his Americana landscape with ferocious rockabilly ("Scratch My Back"), Dixieland (""Mardi Gras") and heartland rock 'n' roll ("Tears of a Lonesome Train"). One major oversight of the concert organizer was putting Ubaldini on the Second Stage when this major talent should have been featured on the Main Stage.
Hootenanny, which was launched way back in 1995, continues to be one of Orange County's most original and wonderful live music showcases. But do they have to charge $9 for a falafel?