Monday, August 15, 2016

So-Cal Hoedown brings alt-country, roots rock and rockabilly legends together

The Blasters performing in the Yost Theater /
Photo courtesy of Bob Steshetz
The So-Cal Hoedown
With: Wanda Jackson, Shooter Jennings & Waymore's Outlaws, Nekromantix, the Blasters, Slim Jim Phantom Trio, more
Where: Downtown Santa Ana
When: August 13, 2016

When the much-anticipated 20th anniversary of Hootenanny was suddenly cancelled two years ago, lovers of the annual event that drew lovers of rockabilly, alt-country and old school punk music as well as restored classic hot rods and pin-up fashion wondered where a similarly-styled festival might emerge as a worthy replacement.

Pope Paul / Photo: Bob Steshetz
On Saturday (August 13, 2016), the first-ever So-Cal Hoedown mostly delivered on the vibe and style that made Hootenanny a truly unique OC fest. With the obvious exception of the location (the rural setting of Hootenanny's Irvine Lake vs. a four-block spread in downtown Santa Ana), the faithful gathered on a blistering Saturday to celebrate with some of the best-known musical heroes across the roots spectrum providing the soundtrack.

The performances this writer caught across an eight-hour span were mostly inspired, beginning with Pope Paul & the Illegals, the first act to play the Main Stage. The Santa Ana-based singer-guitarist Pope Paul and a rotating set of other players blended rockabilly with a good dose of country swing, blues and honky tonk including on several sterling originals ("Home Just Ain't No Place For Me," "Stars Don't Shine in Santa Ana"). 

While the Slim Jim Phantom Trio's claim to fame is the namesake of Stray Cats fame, the threesome's secret weapon is singer-guitarist Jamie James (formerly of the Kingbees), who provided some rousing vocals and easy-going cheer throughout a set ripe with covers of notable rockabilly-era staples. Slim Jim also delivered a strong vocal performance of the Stray Cats' "Rumble in Brighton" and an inspired take on "Rock This Town."
Sean Wheeler of Throw Rag

Fans of hardcore punk soon found their reason to brave the hot sun and come out to the Main Stage. Orange County's Cadillac Tramps turned in a blistering 45-minute performance. Lead vocalist Mike "Gabby" Gaborno's wit offered a perfect counterbalance to flat-out rocking material, with the two-guitar attack of Brian Coakley and Jonny Two Bags hitting home on the hard-edged "Cadillac Hearse" and the rocking "Train to Fame."

Throw Rag followed up with an entertaining showcase where singer-showman Sean Wheeler led his troupe through songs that somehow blended rockabilly, punk and psychobilly while he used articles of colorful clothing, body movements and the tattoos on his body to enhance the show. Of course, being armed with killer tracks like the infectious punk rock gem "Rule Maker" and catchy "Bobby Wayne" didn't hurt either.
"Metal" Marty Chandler

The standout of the day was Supersuckers, a band that took advantage of every second of its 45-minute set to unleash its brew of alt-country and Southern rock courtesy of material awash in solid songcraft and delivered with powerful performances. The set was launched with "Holdin' the Bag" (the title track off Supersuckers' latest album), which used textures from a banjo to add depth; singer-guitarist Eddie Spaghetti sang powerfully and lead guitarist Marty Chandler was a wonder on the fretboard, particularly on the fun "Jibber-Jabber" and country-styled rocker "Good Livin'." 

While the hard-hitting Nekromantix provided enough sonic firepower to fuel a growling mosh pit, the trio's music was a mostly one dimensional take on psychobilly. The lone exception was the original "Nekrofelia" that was bolstered by a bit of melody.
Phil Alvin of The Blasters / Photo: Bob Steshetz

The day's high-profile closing acts veered the music back to rockabilly and country sounds. The Blasters thrilled an audience packed into the Yost Theater, with singer-rhythm guitarist Phil Alvin leading the quartet through a mix of early rock 'n' roll, roots, rockabilly and blues rock. Early highlights included "Dark Night" and "Trouble Bound."

Shooter Jennings played two sets in one: he launched his outing with an acoustic set, accompanied by his own guitar or keyboards. His second set teamed him with Waymore's Outlaws. Like his late father Waylon Jennings, Shooter is a true country outlaw and his material often highlighted the rift between authentic country and fabricated mainstream artists who have few real life ties with the themes they sing about. "The Gunslinger," "Nashville From Afar" and "4th of July" were among the many nuggets.
Wanda Jackson /
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Closing out the set was legendary singer Wanda Jackson, who acknowledged early on that a recent series of surgeries and knee replacement left her having to perform while sitting down. "By golly, I'm here," she said with the audience cheering. Jackson, 78, has a career stretching back to rock's infancy (she toured with Elvis Presley and briefly dated him in the mid 1950s). Although her voice at times lacks the authority of her youth, she offered up faithful version of her early rockabilly and country hits, the best being the early rock hits "Rock Your Baby" and "Riot in Cell Block #9" as well as her rockabilly ballad "Funnel of Love."

Robert Kinsler
Editor's note: This review was originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site on August 14, 2016. A special "Thank You" to Bob Steshetz for the use of his photos taken at the event.

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