Sunday, July 05, 2009


UPDATE: For more of my photos of the Hootenanny Festival, CLICK HERE

Phil Alvin & Rev. Horton Heat with Los Lobos

IRVINE, CA. -- It was a true patriotic moment: Hearing The Blasters sing "American Music" on the Fourth of July! Of course I was in a Porta-potty when they started. But I wasn't there for long.

It was the 15th annual Hootenanny Festival outside of Irvine. I don't know why they call it that. When I first heard of "The Hootenanny Festival" my first image was a bunch of folkies in a coffee shop singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone."

But that's not what this festival is all about. This is a hootenanny for rockabilly, pyschobilly, roots rock, a little neo-swing and a touch of hillbilly music. Plus there's a car show.

Here's some of the people I saw.
Hail the Mighty Cesar
* Los Lobos: Following The Rev. Horton Heat -- not to mention all the other high-octane bands on the bill -- it only made sense that Los Lobos would emphasize their raw R&B side, rather than their artsier tendencies. Which is great, because that's the side that first made me love Los Lobos back in the early 80s. So sure enough, they led off with an explosive "Don't Worry Baby" and never once let the energy wane.

Toward the end of the set they called Phil Alvin of The Blasters and Rev. Heat to the stage to top off the festival with some R&B and blues standards (my favorite was "Buzz, Buzz, Buzz," originally a hit for The Hollywood Flames)

When Alvin began singing the Blasters' classic "Marie, Marie," it reminded me that one of the last times I'd seen Los Lobos, at a South by Southwest in Austin a few years ago, Phil's brother Dave Alvin joined the band on stage and sang that same song. Earlier in the Lobos' set, Cesar Rosas recalled how The Blasters had given his band their first break. The early 80s indeed was a great time for roots music in Southern California with bands like Los Lobos and The Blasters mixing it up with X and future country star Dwight Yokam. It was good to get a little taste of that on Saturday.

REV. HEAT & JIMBO * The Rev. Horton Heat: The Rev. is a Hootenanny veteran and a crowd favorite. And it was easy to see why. He ripped it to shreds during his set. From the very beginning, the crowd was screaming for the song "Psychobilly Freakout." He delivered it with zeal.

One thing that strikes me about Heat's performance is that even though his music is frantic and crazy, his demeanor is calm. No jumping around, very few rock-star poses. It's as if he just allows a wild energy to pass through him and he just lets it flow with a bemused expression.

* Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: With its five-man horn section, Big Bad Voodoo added some good variety to the bill. They followed the cacophony of Nekromantix, a loud blaring psychobilly trio that sounds much better on record than they did at the festival.

For the record, I'm one of the few critics in Criticdom who wasn't completely down on the neo-swing fad of the late '90s. While I wasn't real impressed with the zoot-suit costume-party aspect of the movement, I actually enjoyed the sounds of several bands including The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. "Neo Swing" was a misnomer anyway. These bands basically revived the jump blues sound.

Voodoo Daddy's most recent album, How Big Can You Get, is a tribute to Cab Calloway. (They covered "Minnie the Moocher on one of their early albums.) They did "Minnie" and "Calloway Boogie" on Saturday. Cab's originals are still the best, but BBVD does them justice.

* Lee Rocker: He's the bass player of The Stray Cats, who were early MTV stars and the most successful of the early '80s rockabilly revivalists.

Lee was cool. He might look like your high-school science teacher, but, as the song says, "He's got cat class and he's got cat style."

The Phil Zone
* The Blasters: Dave Alvin, an original Blaster, has gone on to more critical acclaim as a solo artist (and he's coming to Santa Fe Brewing Company next month), but Brother Phil remains the voice of The Blasters.

And what a voice. The guy just exudes soul. As the music pours out he grins as he must have done the first time he heard rock 'n' roll as a kid.

The most memorable songs were early Blasters faves ("American Music," of course, ""Long White Cadillac," "No Other Girl," "Dark Night," and "Marie Marie," which Phil now sings in Spanish.)

They also did some dynamite covers by the likes of Johnny Paycheck and James Brown.

My only complaint was that the set was only 30 minutes (which was the case with everyone except Los Lobos and Rev. Horton Heath.) I could have listened to The Blasters for another hour.

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