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.
It’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.