Wednesday, August 09, 2017

So-Cal Hoedown in downtown Santa Ana gives early rock its due

Singer-bassist Lee Rocker, left, with guitarist Buzz Campbell at
So-Cal Hoedown on Aug. 5, 2017. Photo: Bob Steshetz

Concert Review by Robert Kinsler

The So-Cal Hoedown
With: Rocket From The Crypt, Lee Rocker, Jello Biafra, Southern Culture on the Skids, more
Where: Downtown Santa Ana
When: Aug. 5, 2017

Abby Maharaj of Abby Girl & the
Real Deal. Photo: Bob Steshetz
Rock 'n' Roll's glorious beginnings were celebrated at almost every turn at the second annual So-Cal Hoedown on Saturday (Aug. 5, 2017). Either through sets that featured covers of beloved '50s or early '60s classic songs, or via the performers' very musical DNA, key artists such as Lee Rocker, Deke Dickerson, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, Cash'd Out, The Farmers, and Abby Girl & the Real Deal may have well provided the perfect introduction of rock's infancy to the many youngsters who attended the music fest with their parents. A colorful pre-1970 Custom Car Show served as a cool backdrop to the history-minded performances, all set amidst a large four-block swath of downtown Santa Ana.

There were also sets that recalled rock's later glories and that was good too. Headliner Rocket from the Crypt's groundbreaking punk- and alt-rock mix was a highlight of San Diego's notable early '90s music scene and the troupe proved to be an epic choice to cap the Hoedown. Rocket from the Crypt's high-powered attack, bound with group vocals and rapid-fire sax and lead guitar fills that adorned the hard-charging music was showcased in favorites including "Born in '69" and "On A Rope." 

The day-long festival featured performances on four stages (two indoor and an equal number of outdoor, including the main Hoedown stage). Plenty of stand-out performances played out throughout the 10-hour event. Former Stray Cat Lee Rocker and his terrific band championed rockabilly with an hour-long set showcasing many of his well-known Stray Cat-era songs (including "Stray Cat Strut," "Runaway Boys," "Rumble in Brighton") as well as memorable originals and classics initially popularized by early rockers. The best among his covers was a take on the Beatles' "I'll Cry Instead" that was completely and masterfully reworked to fit with Rocker's rockabilly style.

The day's single-best performance this writer caught belonged to the Farmers, a San Diego-based quintet featuring singer-guitarist Jerry Raney that recalls his seminal '80s band The Beat Farmers with its mix of roots rock, power pop and cow punk. In addition to stellar original rockers such as "Mr. Dynamite" and "Maureen," the band impressed mightily with an inspired cover of the Neil Young classic "Powderfinger."
Michael Ubaldini at So-Cal Hoedown.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift

Also scoring points for originality and expert songcraft was Orange County's own singer-songwriter Michael Ubaldini, who backed by his three-member band the Starshakers, offered up a short set of tuneful and literate songs. Chief among Ubaldini's sharp observations was the timely "Politician Superstar" and "Jeanie Lees Phone," the latter a wry jab at how so many people lose sight of life itself while immersed in their smartphones.

Among the other great showcases at Hoedown was Southern Culture on the Skids, an American rock band that draws comparisons with the driving humor-minded minimalist rock of Violent Femmes but has a musical palette rooted in rockabilly, country-western, and surf rock guitar. Whatever the brand, SCOTS delivered an exciting and fun-filled set including the infectious skewed Southern rocker "Mojo Box," buoyant "Freak Flag," the Caribbean- flavored "House of Bamboo" and genre-blending sing-along "Banana Puddin'."
Lance Lipinsky in action.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

A recap of the So-Cal Hoedown musical menu wouldn't be complete with praising the mix of faithful rockabilly covers and strong originals by Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics. Besting Cash'd Out's subsequent full-on tribute to Johnny Cash with an emotive take on the Man in Black's "Big River" was only one of the many standouts in Dickerson's 50-minute set; a rollicking romp through the Jerry Lee Lewis classic "End of the Road" and Link Wray's involving instrumental "Run Chicken Run" blended in wonderfully with Dickerson's own "I Might Not Come Home at All" and "Snatch It and Grab It." He also was joined by emerging super-talented pianist Lance Lipinsky to close out the rousing set.

Other memorable turns came courtesy of the psychobilly stylings of Guana Batz ("Radio Sweetheart" and a cover of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" thrilled the crowd), the Western swing of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys (personified by the dance-styled "Fine, Fine, Superfine" and Buddy Holly-styled "It's Time"), and angry punk rock attack of singer-songwriter/activist Jello Biafra (of Dead Kennedys fame).

A special big "thank you" to Bob Steshetz and Kelly A. Swift for the use of their wonderful photographs with this review!

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