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November 2006

STEW

The day after our folk frolic at the Sacramento-adjacent Marriot, Paul, Victoria, Richie of Loose Acoustic Trio, and his lovely wife Katie motored west through orchards and mist to Berkeley to see old pal Stew’s musical Passing Strange at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.

We’ve done shows and recordings with Stew and Heidi and The Negro Problem over the years, and know well their talents, but seeing this play is like waking up and realizing your roommate is Beethoven. It’s scary. Stew is scary. This play is funny, pure poetry and sardonic nihilism, dense with political and social commentary, and it makes you cry repeatedly, and then laugh, and then cry some more. The best American play of the last 20 years? Undoubtedly. Go see it. It’s moving to New York soon, where it will RULE. If there is a hero to slay the rotting hacks of Broadway, this is it.Oh, and the cast–they’re amazing. How can people be this talented? And SpyCar cohort Marc Doten does beautiful keyboard work, rising from his own private pit onstage and descending at key moments. You must see this.

I SEE HAWKS BOUNCE BACK or WHAT IS FOLK MUSIC?

The Hawks awoke at last from their post-Hollywood nightmare early Friday morning with a drive up the 5. Uncharacteristically ignoring gas prices and Peak Oil concerns, Rob, the two Pauls, and Rick Shea climbed into four separate cars and headed for the Far-West Folk Alliance Conference at the Sacramento Mariott Rancho Cordova.

The drive up the 5 was brown and gray. Tule fog hung over fields of rotting pumpkins, dormant grapevines, and apricot trees waiting to bloom. At the 580 turn off we took the unfamiliar road east toward the capitol, where green and fall colors percolate into the landscape, and lots of big migratory birds grooving among the many swamps surrounding Sacramento. Or rather, Sacramento is a swamp, a big one, temporarily occupied by humans on a fragile concrete and asphalt platform. Schwarzenegger wouldn’t dare to move here, but folkies from across the West Coast are converging for a chance to commune with each other among acoustic instruments, candles, and herbal teas packed into hotel hallways and rooms.

Rancho Cordova is a 15 minute drive east on Highway 50, clogged with Sacramentoans escaping to Reno for the weekend. We’ll spare you the usual Hawks rant on the suburbanization of our farmland. Welcome to the Marriot.

Logo_sml.jpgIt’s a little scary at first being thrown into this folk music soup of ponytails, guitar cases, and showcase flyers floating in mauve corporate carpeting. A four dulcimer jam session and a bluegrass session are already rocking the lobby. Hundreds of musicians, bookers, folk DJs, and fans mill about, a big reunion. We realize that we’re not really folkies, just as we’re not really a country band or an Americana band. What the hell are we?

We take refuge in Room 604 to fortify ourselves with whiskey and friendship. Adequately oriented, we descend to the ground floor convention rooms for our first set. We’re following Sourdough Slim, a real deal yodeling cowboy. He’s glad to see us come in the room, doubling his audience, and perks up a bit, livening up his schtick with dandy prairie-style jokage and taking yodeling into the 21st century with some Tuvan type overtones emerging from a trill. Sourdough Slim might be the best yodeler in America.Our first set is a bit stiff. There’s no vibe in this flourescently lit corporate conference room. This is a place suited to real estate seminars, motivational speakers, and doomed weddings. It’s just not suited for music. But we do our thing for some folks who come down to see us and then we’re on our way to the guerrilla showcase floor.

Many are called to headliner status, but few are chosen. We barely missed the cut for the main stage, but we’re alternates, and listed in the program. If Utah Phillips misses his plane, we’ll be on the main stage. He doesn’t. Nor does Voco, who do a remarkable performance of Celtic based world music and Moira Smiley’s great original songs. Don’t miss them!For unchosen performers, the guerilla room is an ingenious way to get seen by the folk movers and shakers. Bands and solo acts, labels and house concert promotors rent out rooms and host performances. What a scene.

This year the entire fourth floor of the Sacramento Marriott is devoted to this sea of folk. It’s like a college dorm. Every door is open, every room is decorated with Christmas lights, posters, some with major foodage laid out to lure the hungry passerby. Our first stop is in the Big Ol’ Tumbleweed Room of our friends Steve Werner and Fur Dixon. We roll in, jump on their bed and listen to them do some of their great tunes. Then we do a set. Folkies wander in and out. We play another set down the hall, then the Folk In A room, and then another by the stairway in the Motel Calfiornia room. Folk music plays on and on and on through the night. Day Two arrives and tonight we’ve got our own performance room with our buddies The Loose Acoustic Trio and Rick Shea. Victoria and Richie’s (of Loose Acoustic Trio) wife Katie decorate the room with our own Christmas lights and a cool sign announcing our FRUIT OF THE BARLEY themed room. The best part of our room is the whiskey bar, with a Balvenie 16 year old scotch and Glenlivet courtesy of Richie, a bottle of Jameson’s, and a motley collection of shot glasses. The Hawks are never far from this hallowed zone. We take turns doing sets with Rick and the Trio. Our friend Moira Smiley of Voco comes by and blows us all away with a largely acapella set of gorgeous tunes from Ireland to America. It’s truly moving and a highlight of the trip.

Another highlight is the late night Fruit of the Barley jam. It’s great to play tune after tune with old friends and new with no bar time deadline, no mics, no lights, just songs. It’s a fine closing ceremony.

Outside, Sacramento’s a foggy, foggy land at 3 a.m. Author’s note: thanks to all those who sent messages of encouragement and outrage following the events of Nov. 14th. You are all very kind. The Roxy continues its pay to play policy, which has led to its collapse as an L.A. cultural beacon but is making money for someone.

Further author’s note: Sacramento has badass coffee. Badass. Check out Naked Coffee next time you’re up there, $6 for the best beans you’ll ever brew, and baristas that beat Peets, no mean feat.

HAWKS BOMB or A NORMAL ACCIDENT*

It had to happen eventually. We Hawks have had a great streak of live shows since we first ventured onstage at Anastasia’s Asylum and the Silverlake Lounge in ’01. Our fans are the best, and we usually win over a few strangers by the end of a night.

Last night we bombed. Ka boom. We played to a roomful of an alien tribe and the results weren’t pretty.It had seemed like a good idea to accept a gig offer from the Roxy to open for Eric Church, a new Capitol recording artist. There’s a picture of him drinking whiskey on the cover of his record so you know he’s the real deal. We figured we’d blow the Capitol executives away with our sensitive version of alt country and get signed to a fat record deal.

Actually, the Roxy offered us $250 without having to play the “sell tickets or die” game, so against our better judgement about gigs on the Strip, we bit. $250 guarantee? OK. The Roxy is a cold and dark room until the humans show up. We arrived on time for sound check, kind of an early blunder, and sat around in the cavernous chill. Eric Church’s gear was set up onstage. Pretty impressive: one electric guitarist’s pedal board had two tuners, and a compressor and graphic EQ, and their own computer mixing board sits right onstage.

The young Roxy house sound guys were the first humans to join us. They quietly freaked at our request to mike all our instruments instead of using pickups and amps, but manfully took on this novel task. It’s not that easy to put microphones in front of guitars and get a good sound. So next time you see Gillian Welch, or Del McCoury’s band gathered around a single condensor mic, bow down to their sound person. Our Roxy crew got what they considered a passable sound and threw in the towel. We feigned our appreciation and waited for the masses to arrive.

Things looked up as the bar opened and the bartender agreed to give us Woodford Reserve bourbon for the musician drink tickets. Extraordinary! The Eric Church fans filtered in. Uh oh. More white straw cowboy hats per capita than we ever remember seeing, Jack Daniels bandanas, whoops and hollers from the young, well fed crowd. These folks came to party and outlaw things up. Seven bucks for Roxy adjacent parking and they were ready to blow off some steam.Retreating to the upstairs dressing rooms, we revised our set list, removing some of the more sensitive/spiritual type tunes. To no avail.

At 8:32 the curtains raised, and hugging the stage were the Eric Church acolytes, at our feet in aforesaid urban cowboy gear, willing to endure the opening act’s extreme proximity to keep that proximity for their beloved headliner. Have you ever been on a hike far from the trailhead and sliced your foot open, bad, and wondered if this would be the time things actually didn’t turn out well? That’s the kind of adrenaline high the Hawks achieved as their first acoustic number, with their quiet guitars, subtle lyrics, and strange and foreign intimate acoustic sound hit the chattering young outlaw new country fans. Halfway through the second song, the well fed lasses in the dread white hats dealt with their boredom by talking to us as we played. Paul M was the object of some heavy flirting by a particularly well fed Jack Daniels lass.

A large and dangerously drunk lad in a black leather cowboy hat began screaming, “You suck!! You’re fired!!” before security deprived him of his first amendment rights and hauled him away. The lightheared indifference continued. We desperately switched to our cache of drinking songs. Mild interest, but the crowd’s attention wandered. Okay, how about some marijuana songs? Hmm, they don’t seem to smoke marijuana. Meth, perhaps. “Who are you!” “David Allen Coe!” “Play Family Tradition!”We played our hearts out, which was probably the right thing to do, but who knows, maybe we should have expressed our inner thoughts and started a melee. At least then we would’ve ended up in the paper. We rushed offstage as our required 50 minutes expired, to a smattering of applause that halted in mid-smatter.

Our four loyal fans (other Hawks fans were wise enough to avoid the bummer and hassle of the Strip) in the audience told us that the sound mix was a few decibels shy of anemic–but this was about tribes. Music culture is completely balkanized today. There was a consciousness gap going on here that just couldn’t be bridged at that time, under those circumstances. It was surreal, like giving a speech to a roomful of people who hate you in a language no one can understand. Or maybe we just sucked. And Eric Church rocks. Twin metal guitars, heavily drawled vocals, tattoos. He rocks. Rock on.

In the cold light of today, the surreal Sunset Strip saga continues. Here’s an email from the Roxy promotor: Hey Paul,
How are you? Can you please call me so we can discuss the show last night. I was bummed to hear you guys only brought four people. I know we all put in a lot of work to promote for you and I just need some answers. I also am going to ask
for some of the money back. If I had thought you would bring four people I never ever would have given you the show, let alone agreed to give you 250.00. I think it would be only fair if we got back some of the money. Please get back to me so we can talk. Thank you.

Scott* Normal Accident Theory (NAT) is the label for a school of thought that considers accidents in complex systems to be inevitable. A “normal accident” is defined as “an event that is unintended, unfortunate, damages people or objects, affects the functioning of the system of interest, and is non-trivial.”

OUTDOOR ECO SONGWRITING SEMINAR

Topanga.jpg
Rob and Paul L from the Hawks hosted the first class in their
brand new Outdoor Eco Songwriting Seminar series ($300 for six meetings, includes lunch), and it was a great success.
We began by leading our eight students on a rather grueling
hike, leaving the marked trail in Topanga Canyon for a vertical
scramble through chaparral, guitars on our backs. After three
hours we were scratched, winded, and sweat soaked, but the
view alone was worth the effort: the blue Pacific in all its glory.
Next, we instructed our students to take out their guitars,
pair off, and sit in lotus position facing each other. The goal:
to stare into your partner’s guitar, clearing your mind of all
thoughts. We had to slap a few note noodlers, notably Randall,
but soon silence and calm prevailed on the wind kissed upper
slopes.
After a light lunch of ahi tuna panini and chocolate chip
cookies, we began our trek back to the trailhead, this
time taking the trail. All agreed that it had been a memorable
experience, and we were already better songwriters than the
10 who headed up the trail that morning.
Next week: a chanting session in the DJ/lighting department,
Guitar Center Sherman Oaks.
For more information or to reserve your spot in our Winter Session email us at stonecutter@iseehawks.com