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A lovely post-Thanksgiving Friday night at Bob Stane’s island of acousticism, Coffee Gallery Backstage in the upper heights of the Altadena altiplano.

Bob Stane deserves a Folk Medal of Freedom for his unswerving and unerring taste in folk since 1961. He gets wittier and more acerbic every year. His microphone/mixer layout is based on ROY G. BIV, the visible light spectrum. Yes, his mic chords on his six channel board are color coded red orange yellow green blue (hmm, he seems to skip indigo), violet. If you need more than six channels you might be in the wrong place. And you’re going to get a light show: lights up. Lights down. Lights up. Lights down. Rock on, Bob Stane, for decades more, we hope.

In attendance tonight were a sold out familyfriendsfans lovefest, all recovering from the previous night’s feasts. Onstage were Rob, the Pauls, Victoria on snare drum, and our national treasure Brantley Kearns, on fiddle and voice of America.

Brantley’s orbit is wide, far ranging, and elliptical, and when it enters the Hawks gravitational field, events both familiar and unpredictable occur. On the cozy Coffee Gallery stage we played lots of songs from our very first and very last CDs–new folk and
old new folk. Brantley’s fiddle can go psychedelic if that’s what you’re looking for, and he took it to the frontier on “I Fell In Love With The Grateful Dead” and “River Run.”

And took it old timey, too. Brantley’s rich North Carolina voice led us through Jimmy Martin’s “Ocean Of Diamonds,” Flatt and Scruggs’ strange and irresistible “Loafer’s Glory,” and Bill Monroe’s “Christmas Time’s A Comin’.” Hog heaven for Hawks, who hanker for hollows and hot cider and bourbon.

It’s been twelve years since we first stepped onstage with Brantley and wondered what might happen. We still wonder and still wander and that’s the way it should be.


It’s two a.m. The epic Auburn show is a fading memory. The mountain tribes are returned to their lairs. A light rain falls. The aging Hawks Yukon is packed up in the wet cold lonely parking lot of the Auburn Liquor Outlet Community Center. Old Californio’s shiny new Yukon Eco Forest is in a similar state. A strange and weighty silence.

Inside, Rob Waller and Levi Nunez are sobbing in an embrace on the green room couch. They’ve taken the verbal jousting a big too far, a bit too personal, and things spiraled. At one point Paul Marshall drew his .38 special and aimed it at the ceiling. “You two can start acting like men, or you’ll see what real men face.” Evangeline screamed, threw herself on the weapon, which discharged into a box of wine. Everyone is drenched in a frisky but complex pinot.

But it’s cathartic. The War Of the Hosers is over. Both bands pile on in a tannin soaked tantric love hug. Even Rich Dembowski, the half Polish, half Mexican, half Polish wordsmith wunderkind, wipes away a tear. We chalk it up to a sibling spat. There’s peace in the Valley-adjacent.

The Hawks drive west and down, Sacto adjacent bound. Bryan Thomas gave us a copy of Christina Ortega’s high school punk band, Kay Lastima and the Muertones, and we’re digging it. She could belt it out even back then.

Next day we trek back up the hill for Wesley Robertson’s very groovy afternoon radio show in lovely Nevada City. We’d like to interrupt this program to send a huge shoutout to KVMR. They have given us far more than our share of support over the years, and this year is no exception. We’ve always fantasized moving up here, growing medicinal marijuana in a sprawling unkempt steep sloped back yard with wood shingled cottage with wood burning stove, except that we might get on people’s nerves after a while. But absence makes our Hawks hearts very fond of these hills and airwaves.

The radio show goes great. Old Californio with Pete Grant sitting in on exotic 8 string dobro get a sweet sound going huddled around mics in the little room. We fuel up on local barista juice and take over the show, doing an all Wesley request set with Pete and Richie adding their licks. We steam up the room and saturate the mics.

Back down the hill in ramshackle fashion for Winters, CA, orchard railroad spur turned post 60s cultural refuge and game reserve. A mellow town with a hint of neomercantilism. Dave of the Palms, Dave who is the Palms, greets us. We unload gear and trudge up the long and familiar steps into the hall. Onstage the mics are set and ready to rock. We sound check, acoustic through real mics. Sounds great. Soundman Jeremy has got this room dialed in. Old Californio sound check and we check out Fortify restaurant, a hop skip and no jump at all up the street. We feel Fortify is worth a:


Fortify, in a gentrified old shop building, promises an intelligence that will be informing the cuisine. We Hawks take seriously the visual cues that a dining establishment will display. This room has a soothing color scheme, an open feel with tables made from old bowling alley lanes. The chef/owner admits she’s brand new to the mechanics of restauranting but says with great confidence that the food will be great.

She’s spot on in her description of the mechanics–orders are mixed up, portions gotten backwards, with much shuffling back and forth. But in context, charming, because: the food is delicious and indeed enlightened. We had chicken tortilla soup that was complex and an energy boost; chicken tacos and white bean soup prepared with a deep regard for properties of the legume. A subtly flavored green salad. Two tone tapioca and austere carrot cake. We are feeling good. A bearded mountain man plays old mountain tunes on mandola, fiddle, and mandolin. We hope this place flourishes. Check it out. Fortify. Worth the detour north from I-80.

Old Californio sound and look great in the hallowed hall of The Palms. Woody and Pete Grant, sitting in again on exotic 8 string dobro, engage in fierce musical battles, Jason’s got his Phil Lesh thing going tonight, and Rich and the boys’ crystalline vocals crystallize.

Our set feels like a warm glow from start to finish. Flanked by Pete’s dobro and Richie’s accordion, this is the acoustic version of the Hawks orchestra launched the night before. Lush. Kevin lays down a subtle brushes on snare groove that gently rocks the room. The crowd is our family and tribe, just like the night before, we get the big standing O and play some more. Big thanks to Dave and Kate, long may they divine.

We hit the late night road for Davis and our buddy Z’s roomy house. Next morning Kevin and Paul L, who share the inability to sleep in, leave their slumbering bandmates and prowl the streets of Davis, find the perfect balance of walking and caffeinating: a one mile walk to Davis’s hipicenter at the edge of the UC campus. Kevin observes that life’s great moments are such as this–a walk in the sun on a leisurely morning, no cares or plans, basking in the glow of last night’s show. And caffeine. Caffeine. Just knowing it’s on the way.

If one must be an addict, is not coffee the noblest of addictions? Other than the anxiety that a poorly timed collision of circumstances and triple macchiato can induce, there’s little downside to this proof of Intelligent Design. In Kevin Jarvis, Paul L has met his caffeiphilian match. This man loves coffee. He does indeed order a triple macchiato on a regular basis, and a few hours later, he’ll do it again. If it’s seven p.m. before a show, Kevin will suggest a coffee, if a hip cafe has caught his eye. Paul is very grateful for this unabashed enthusiasm. Any ambivalence about these benevolent chains of mental slavery are banished at the barista’s door. Accordionist Richie and his wife Katie are at that same rarefied level of coffee love, and often guide the Hawks on prowls of Sacramento’s ever expanding espresso empire.

Today Mishka’s cafe wins the Yelp competition. Walk, imbibe, walk back, Paul M and Rob are up and ready to rock, breakfast at the alarmingly fecund Black Bear Diner, pack up and roll westward to Marin. Rob finds a gorgeous back road through lush green fat oak dotted hills and deep into redwoods filtering golden afternoon light, out into the open again and there it is, at the end of a dogleg on rural road, hill framed as if by an overly sentimental painter, Rancho Nicasio. This roadhouse has been here for a long time, the stuff of Californio legends, and is a hangout for 60s and 70s rockers to this day. Elvin Bishop was in the night before to jam, Nicasio tech guy Mike Duke tells us (Mike is a songwriter himself, wrote hits for Huey Lewis and the News).

We set up on an afternoon where we should really be out climbing the hills, are well fed and watered by the kind Nicasio folks, and at 5 p.m. sharp or a bit later we launch into our first set. It’s mellow, as the sun blazes behind us and the audience dines on rural road fare. At the break Angela Strehli and Bob Brown, the Nicasio owners and brain trust, greet us, and we hang with friends, friend fans, family, and fan friends. The second set builds from dinner to full on extended jam version of Wonder Valley. It did get loud. We hang, we pack, we hit the road. We’ve decided to pull an all nighter.

Sugar can be your friend when you hit the road at 11 p.m. I-5 gas emporia offer a variety of tempting treats, and we sampled them all, took turns driving and yakking, humped over a now bone dry Grapevine, big trucks and speeding lunatics our only road companions, hit L.A. at 5 a.m., decamped at casa Waller, and scattered to the four winds, well, three. An action packed weekend that passed as in a dream.

CD Release Party At McCabes

It’s four o’clock on a Friday. Rob and Victoria and Paul L are sitting at Gilbert’s El Indio on Pico in Santa Monica, an old school Mexican cafe with legendary burritos, in sizes ranging from big to ridiculous, and a unique green sauce. Their waiter is a lifer. When Paul L came here regularly in the mid-1970s, this waiter consistently hit on Paul’s girlfriend. The much older adversaries gaze at each other as the table orders. Does the waiter remember? It seems unlikely, but . . .

Rob and Paul are nervous. It’s the Hawks’ first headlining show at McCabes, the apex of folk music in L.A. How are ticket sales? Are our beloved fans burned out from the Kickstarter campaign? Are they out of love? Did our one rehearsal nail down the arrangements for 10 new songs? Will our guest opener Old Californio kick our ass?

We stop at Trader Joes for what will hopefully be celebratory beverages. The wine specialist in tent like t-shirt pushes a Pinot Noir. Victoria’s got her doubts, but we go with it. We take a chance on an unusual double (not triple) distilled single malt Irish whiskey in the Trader Joe label for $20, a leap of faith launched by a past purchase of a Bowmore 15 year old in the Trader Joe label that proved to be excellent. We leap. [continue reading…]


Our new, all acoustic CD is almost here! Here are all the lyrics, music to follow soon:


Rivers in the sky
Layin in grass so high
Morning glory spied
By Mr. Darcy’s eye

I’m not alone in Freestone
Old friends reflecting
All my rarefied and better light
Green Apple meadow take this weary mind

Bohemian Highway
August river road
Bohemian Highway
Carrying me home

Pure black wooded night
Dipper in the sky
Seven Sisters fight
I ain’t takin’ sides

I’m the lonesome satellite
Following the Dipper lines
To true north my companion since the day before I chose delight
Abandoned my old sacred burden

Bohemian Highway
Rivers in the sky
Bohemian Highway
Rivers in my eyes

Thank you for wandering
Sweet curves and bitter hollows
Abandoned stone marked pastures
Return to random useless wonder
Return to random useless wonder

Bohemian Highway
August river road
Bohemian Highway
Carrying me home


Dear Flash
Dear Flash
It’s been a long long long long long long time

Well I surely do respect your need
to fade into the hills
But damn, old man, I’ve got to say
the effort nearly killed me

I miss your prose and your sensitive nose
Do you still hunt chanterelles?
I miss those days
And freedom’s way
And the lovely unshod belles

Dear Flash
Won’t you lend me some cash?
Won’t you lend me some cash?
Dear Flash

As I sit in Angelino
there’s a rumble in the air
The feds are flying gray Chinooks
to pacify our cares

And yes I need a Greyhound fare
But I also need relief
I spent my youth in bitter truth
Now I want to lie in green


I won’t be a nuisance
You’ll hardly know I’m there
At the far in of your acres
I’ll be a cropper
If you’ll share



I went out dreaming to the bottom of the sea
Under the whispering weight of the people gone before me
The song of the sinking sun summoned me to shore
That old friend I’d known a thousand times before

It was the spirit of death
The spirit of death
The spirit of death
The spirit of death
My heart is blessed
With the spirit of death

When I was a younger man
The good times eased the way
But now the stars are falling every other day
The dreams of childhood are returning to say
Your dance is coming, better pick a tune and play


Sweet sister Amy left us in the fall
Her spirit lingers in the hearts of us all
I asked my old friend if Amy was okay
He said that blazing spirit carried her on her way


If you visit my grave you won’t be alone
I’ll be dancing on my own gravestone
So bring your pretty woman, bring your fruit of the vine
A whole lot of laughing and a little bit of crying
Little bit of crying
Little bit of crying


Our favorite young couple
Came by to watch some TV
They felt a strange loneliness so soon after their joyous

It was a rocking wedding
All the friends came in from out of town
Now they feel like they’re letting
Everybody down

There’s a new kind of lonely
And it’s sitting right next to you
There’s a new kind of lonely
Ah but even the sky is blue

Randy went out and got wasted with the boys
Chasing skirts and getting hurt, recollapsing
All the young man’s joys

Mona stayed home, slept with the cat
Too tired to wonder when Randy’s
Finally coming back


Little dove
Where’s your love?
The one always beside you
I guess it’s true
The lucky twos
Sometimes refuse the solace of their garden

Now I’m sitting on the back porch with my long time lovely bride
Waiting for the sun to set, the breeze to blow
Everything’s all right



I fell in with the Grateful Dead
Hippie melodies in my head
I did what I did and I said what I said
In the parking lot caravan Grateful Dead

Me and my sister snuck out of the house
Took the Sunset bus into Hollywood’s mouth
To an acre of heaven in a concrete mile
Palladium, Palladium, Palladium smile

In the deep summer fog in Hampton Sydney
With the sweet southern girls who were oh so pretty
We smoked marijuana on the Chesapeake Bay
Fed the horses with handfuls of hay


In the summer of ‘72 I rode up the coast
On a sputtering Triumph with draft dodging freaks from my college
‘Twas the Santa Barbara Bowl and the New Riders opened the show
With a black wall of speakers as big as the ocean
Jerry came out smoking his cigarette
We hollered like wolves
He played his guitar seven days of the week
And the little man next to me was starting to peak
Oh, Donna, earth mama, smile down on this freak


My lady knew the crew
So we were granted backstage
Ate organic vegetarian curry and rice
Sat down in the wings on the hardwood floor
And the music washed over me
A foaming green gentle sea
A sea without jealousy
And I was the shore
I was laughing and crying without even trying


What, may you ask, is this song about?
It’s a cry for the tribes of peace to come out
We got the numbers, we’re fast and we’re strong
Consult your Whole Earth Catalogs

Take this hippie faded love and use it if you please
Or scatter us all gently on a Santa Cruz breeze
Or an Arkansas storm

To Winterland Meadowlands Soldier Field Tivoli
Rotterdam Amsterdam Newcastle Wimberly
Hey, batter, batter
You can’t destroy matter

I fell in with the Grateful Dead
Hippie melodies in my head
I did what I did and I said what I said
In the parking lot caravan Grateful Dead
A blonde hippie girl shared my bed


Even her mundane objects are beautiful
Human folly cast in stone
L.A. river from the 6th street bridge
Weedpatch Highway, Old Road

Mary Austin Sky
Mary Austin Sky

She made the desert more sacred for me
Temblor Mountains, Carrizo Plain
Palo Verde, Saline Valley
Holy landscape, human stain

Mary Austin Sky
Mary Austin Sky

Back the

Mary Austin Sky
Mary Austin Sky


She called me on the telephone and waited all night long
I never showed up at her door to carry her along
She scratched and scratched and smoked a pack
That itch just wouldn’t quit
Drank some wine, some Vicodine, and bought some time

It was that big old hypodermic needle
Nothing else would do
Big old hypodermic needle
Trusted, tried, and true
It was her steely shot of courage
It was her red white and blue

Four days later on the floor she didn’t feel so sick
Sun came through the kitchen door
Thank God she’d finally quit
Got out of the house, that brave little mouse
Facing the world on her own
Oh, but flying in on that clear desert wind
Her very best friend
Gonna be with her to the end

It was that big old hypodermic needle
Just a taste for the road
Big old hypodermic needle
Two sisters’ secret code
One last time for the memory
In a sunset turning gold

It was that same ironic ending to the fable at the wooden kitchen table
When you get too much of what you’re looking for
And what also killed the messenger, straight off the plane from Amsterdam
Was sweet and uncut heaven and I found them where they fell

It was that big old hypodermic needle
Who’s to say and who’s to tell
Big old hypodermic needle
Did you ever feel like an empty shell?
Comin home was easy
When you hear the angel bells
Two sweet sisters in the sunrise
Hear the angel bells


Now the river flows
Mostly underground
Summer rains
Have moved further south
Mosquitos in the sun
Miles of empty wells
Remember how we lived so well

My canopy abides
The strange new times
Open sky
Is hard and dry
Returns to me
I’ll root down
To porous ground

Run, river, run
River run, river run
River run
River run
River run

Now the river runs
Swiftly down my face
Wednesday brought the rain
Rain is holy grace
Grace be in my heart
My heart is in your hands


She said cottonwood, cottonwood
Don’t you cry
My source is the mountainside
If you keep me in your mind
My waters will find you

I will always pass on by
Reflecting changes in the sky
A thousand years is just a breath
A thousand miles before I rest



Slow down Figueroa
You’re breathing too fast
Twenty miles of boulevard
In a town that can’t last

I wake up at night
Hear your Saturday sounds
Helicopter, helicopter
Mission: surround

It’s a Highland Park serenade
Some are in love and some are afraid
It’s a Highland Park serenade

Five generations in this tumble down valley
From the concrete arroyo to T’s Bowling Alley
And a boy sprays his name on a newcomer’s walls
Just to let you know he’s not leaving at all


Calma te, calma te, calma te, mijo querido
Te amo, te amo, te amo, mi cuidad de pueblos todos

When the sun gets low
And the barbecues glow
There’s the asada you fear
And the asada you know
We’re living at the end of Monte Vista
Where the sun sets down right when I kiss ya



We said our farewells
In songs and warning bells
The oracles won’t tell
Where we are going

We climbed the mountain trail
In lightning and black hail
Carrying the seeds of the revival

Younger but wiser
Addled, drunk and wild
I’ll meet you on the other side
Younger but wiser
Carrying our lives
I gotta say I kinda dig the ride

You and Karen sailed beside the great gray whales
Telling your own tales of the insurrection
Hope is burning bright
Southern Cross tonight
Wondering at life beyond the horizon


You and me alone
Cottages of stone fill our dreams tonight
Sheep up on the hill, brandy in the still
Feasting through the winter time
Flax, hemp, silk, sweet goat milk
Heaven’s so nearby again
Baby’s in the yard, learning all the stars
Heaven’s so nearby again
Heaven’s so nearby again



Hunger Mountain Breakdown
Hunger Mountain Breakdown

I’d like to introduce you to the mountain
I’d like to introduce you to my friend
You know that if I’m up here on this mountain
My problems will soon be at an end

I traveled all the way across this country
To climb above these pastures once again
See the smoke rising from the chimneys
Like memories scattering in the wind

The view through the leaf-bare trees
White birch and white snow
Following animal tracks
While the stark, strong, winds blow

Welcome to the top of Hunger Mountain
400 feet of granite cliffs below
please tell all my friends in California
I’ll find satisfaction when I go

Hunger Mountain Breakdown
Hunger Mountain Breakdown

It sure is nice and quiet on Hunger Mountain
Now that my screeching demons are gone
Last night I dreamed about the ocean
And the time has come to travel on

Joy riding fighter planes
Golden eagle dips its wings
Slipping through the alpenglow
Back through your bedroom window

Hunger Mountain Breakdown
Hunger Mountain Breakdown


Thirty pages of Ulysses
That much closer to the day
When one of us is leaving
And the other must remain

Well the western sky reminds me
Of the time you went all fiery
From my moment’s hesitation
At our wild and wicked ways

And it wasn’t just your beauty
Or your cosmic sense of duty
Or the dolphins in the gables
On our fabled wedding day
Giving you away

Your love is going to kill me
Your love
Your love
Your love is going to kill me

You believe in beliefs yet have none
Sleep your deep sleep when day is done
Laugh as you chop down my grandiositree

Now I watch myself rising to your elevated plain
Listening to Terrapin Station in the rain

If you leave me I’ll ramble, I’ll jump, I’ll go mad
Our love is so good that it’s exactly that bad
You believe in blood medicine just like your dad


Heaven is in your kitchen
My inferno is in remission
If only fate was a decision
If only we could hold hands for oblivion
The skies of our own Armageddon
The skies



The wheels are rolling in the ruts of the wheels
That have rolled down this trail before
Tumbleweeds dreaming, the cactus seem to be
Pointing towards some distant door

Where’s the stewardess on this wagon train?
I need something to cut the fog in my brain
When I just can’t take it any more

If you lead I will follow
You give me comfort from the world
When my heart is feeling hollow
You fill it up with your diamonds and pearls

On the shores of Independence Rock
We roll and laugh and dance and talk and shake off the dust from the day
And I stand on the granite
Just like I planned it
And I’m wondering if I could stay

But the sun is sinking in the west
And this whole long trip is just one big test
And damned if I’m going to fail


The angels are singing and I’m still clinging
To the crag at the end of the ledge
You’re calling to me
Denying gravity
I close my eyes and step over the edge


Hawks launch KICKSTARTER Campaign!! New CD “New Kind Of Lonely,” 13 All Acoustic Tracks Guaranteed to Please

We just finished tracking 13 acoustic songs for our new CD “New Kind Of Lonely.” We recorded old school, sitting in a circle around some fancy microphones. Cliff Wagner played some blazing banjo, Gabe Witcher added some fiddle, and Dave Raven played drums on 3 songs. We’re getting ready to mix, master, and make CDs, and calling on our friends for some financial love to see this through. Here’s the website if you want to kick in for the cause, we have some hard to resist premiums: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hawks/new-kind-of-lonely


I See Hawks In L.A.
Live at the Cinema Bar, December 4th, 2009

Being stuck in L.A. for a couple of weeks can be trying, but it also has it’s bright spots. There are listenable radio programs here, readable free tabloids and world class live music any night of the week. I always gravitate to the Cinema Bar (the oldest bar in Culver City, as they say) because it’s free and because it’s a good scene. They book the coolest Alt.Country/ Americana acts around and the patrons are mellow and down to earth. Beers are six dollars and the stage is right in front of you. Went down to see I See Hawks In LA and, brothers and sisters, they made a joyful noise.

I bought two of their albums about a year and a half ago and had them in my truck’s cd player for months, but I never had the chance to see them live before. Their albums are great, but I think you really have to see this band live to grasp what they’re all about. They’ve been touring and they were very tight, creating their hawk world for the home crowd in this cool and intimate space. Their songs are humorous with surprisingly deep undertones, their sound is a seamless blend of classic country and psychedelia, and their musicianship is top notch. Front man, Rob Waller plays acoustic guitar and is warm and engaging on lead vocals. Shawn Nourse is an impeccable beat master on the drums. Bassman, Paul Marshall, a veteran of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, is a real pro and an outstanding singer and songwriter in his own right. Lead guitar player, Paul Lacques is mind blowing. If there’s a lick that he doesn’t know, then no one else knows it either. Leo Fender invented the Telecaster and the Deluxe Reverb Amp just for Paul to do his trip with. They’re a fun band to see live, and you can’t avoid having a great time.

This is California country in style and spirit. Their lyrics are full of references to California places and their jams riff-check California rock tunes. In Hawkworld you can go to a New Year’s Eve party where Slash is playing, only to find out that Slash is also playing at the party across the street. Hippies bum rides with redneck truckers. A dude tries to pass himself off as a biker so he can ride with the Motorcycle Mama. In Hawkworld you score big on some Humboldt Green and you quit your job and buy an airplane ticket to Tibet. Somebody once said there are two kinds of country music; beer drinkin’ country music and whiskey drinkin’ country music. This is Tequila drinkin’ and Sensemilla smokin’ country music. Buck and Merle meet the Graterful Dead and have one hell of a party together…
The Cinema is great because it’s the real thing. You’re standing right in front of the band hearing and feeling the guitars straight from the amps and the drums directly from the sticks. The Hawks sometimes have lots of instruments on their albums, and sometimes play live with pedal steel, fiddle, etcetera, but this night it was just the four of them, and that’s probably the best way to hear it. It worked for me. Albums are great, but you really get to know a band by seeing them live. I had a chance to get to know a great live band, and get to know L.A. a little better, too. The Grapevine will never be the same…..
Lost Hills
photo by Erin
— “The Earth is not dying. She is being murdered, and we know who is killing her and we have their names and addresses.” Utah Phillips

Roots Rockers Night At The AMA’s

In a newsroom scandal sure to rock the L.A. Times to its foundation, the article on the recent American Music Awards that esteemed pop critic Ann Powers actually wrote has surfaced. We offer it here as a comparison to the heavily edited version that appeared http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2009/11/ladies-night-at-the-amas.html in today’s L.A. Times. Here’s real story; thanks for the courage and vision, Ann:


Pop & Hiss

Roots Rockers’ night at the AMAs
November 22, 2009
Sure, the shallow pretty young things performed on the show Sunday evening, but it was the veteran roots rockers who blazed.

Are the Idol Factory-produced hotties even making relevant pop music right now? That’s a ridiculous question, obviously, but after Sunday’s American Music Awards telecast, it seems almost reasonable. Though plenty of over-groomed and under-contentalized twenty somethings performed during this roundup of both trending and reliable chart toppers, the show’s heat emanated from the grizzled/embittered Los Angeles roots music veterans sphere.

Kip Boardman playing a blazing piano, Rob Waller and Mike Stinson giving touchingly rough-edged vocal performances, a startled Tony Gilkyson grabbing the top prize from the spectral grip of Michael Jackson — this show wasn’t just another over-emoting diva night: It marked a notable shift in American pop music.

Kip Boardman tears up the keys

The AMAs always offer spectacle, in part because the awards themselves feel less meaningful than either the Grammys or more genre-specific fetes like the Country Music Assn. Awards. Won in a public vote after nominations are made according to highly manipulated and corrupt radio charts and ever dwindling retail sales, these prizes always have seemed somehow less prestigious than those determined by industry insiders or artistic peers.

What’s been fun about the AMAs is the breadth of the show, as top draws in many genres work to generate the most glitz in what amounts to a pop free-for-all. But this year was startlingly different.

This year, rock bands such as U2 played and sang earnestly, and Will Smith (assisted by 50 Cent) rapped at the top of his game. Yet these moments felt like standard fare on a buffet overflowing with more scintillating choices.

It’s not that vapid pop manufactured by accountants and hack producer/songwriters hiding behind their massive ProTools rigs no longer speak to the mainstream; Taylor Swift’s album rather quietly became one of the year’s bestsellers, as did the latest from Kings of Leon, who were nominated for artist of the year yet chose not to perform Sunday evening when they were demolished in the final vote by instrumental guitar slingers Double Naught Spy Car.

But pop’s current mood — hooker-glamorous and faux-emotionally open, crotch-busting and calculated — reflects qualities associated with the creepy music executive’s view of the feminine. Authenticity and rawness, songs written about something, guitars played with feeling and originality, drums unconstrained by editing, vocals that haven’t been pitch-corrected into marketplace-approved sterility — for years these have been overwhelmed by costume, dance, processed singing and highly stylized, melodramatic confession.

But at the AMAs, the most successful performances came from (mostly) men who are pushing 40 and even beyond. Several — including the one-named wonders Stinson, Janisch and Waller — combined Neil Young-style dance routines with elements that were both futuristic and grounded in good old-fashioned musicality. Literally, in Mike Stinson’s case.

When he moved from his more dance-centered first song into a ballad, he did so by smashing through a glass wall and sitting down at that fiery acoustic guitar, where he proceeded to crush Coors Lite silver bullet cans as he sang. (Now, that’s heavy metal!)

Cliff Wagner stepped off of a carnival-style Wheel of Death to tear into his banjo instrumental medley; Double Naught Spy Car led what looked like an army of cyborgs as they delved into low end heavy unison riffs that merged into pure glorious noise as they shook their collective trademark hips. And though Dan Janisch didn’t execute his big comeback number that successfully — he took a tumble while performing his new single “Humboldt,” setting the Twittersphere afire — give him credit for trying on an androgynous and newly tough style in his boxer’s outfit and Neil Young-style hairstyle.

The night’s most exciting new face (and voice) was also hopelessly outside the sphere of hooker hotness. The Pasadena singer and songwriter Rich Dembowski made a fierce and sultry duet partner for Dave Gleason, debuting Old Californio’s new single “I Don’t Have A Computer”; Dembowski overshadowed the song’s third vocalist, Joe Berardi, not an easy task for a newcomer.

WhitneyJoe Berardi puts the heat on Rich Dembowski

Other artists worked hard but didn’t make such a fresh impression. Carrie Underwood sounded great on her middling single “Cowboy Casanova,” but her bordello-inspired routine was too much like the one she recently did on the CMAs. Janet Jackson, opening the show, seemingly lifted a medley from her recent tour (and obviously lip-synched). Following actual badass singers The Chapin Sisters and their ungilded vocal majesty, Underwood and Jackson seemed suddenly as dated as a Big Mac left in a greasy bag overnight.

Mary J. Blige and Kelly Clarkson both kept things relatively simple and were histrionic as always, but calculated spectacle isn’t always memorable when it follows genuine music as generated by the SoCal roots upstarts at this year’s AMAs.

The artist who made the biggest splash — one that risked being a belly flop — was American Idol’s latest product Adam Lambert, who closed the show with a very sexy, rambunctious reading of his single “For Your Entertainment” that included tongue-kissing, crotch-grabbing and plenty of orgiastic dance moves. Lambert startled the audience with a notably spontaneous confession before leaving the stage: “You know, I’m grateful for the new house I just paid cash for in Los Feliz, but I’d give it all away just to study songwriting with I See Hawks In L.A.”

Lambert’s vocals were sometimes off (picture an offstage pitch correction engineer being given his walking papers as Lambert made his exit), but his all-out plunge into erotic exhibitionism was very entertaining and pretty freaking rock ‘n’ roll to this jaded, shallow, and thoroughly unqualified rock critic. Eminem and 50 Cent uttered obscenities that were bleeped out on the telecast; it wasn’t possible to hide Lambert’s in-your-face routine. His startling post-song I See Hawks confession was edited out for TIVO broadcasts.

It was a love-it-or-hate-it moment in a night full of them. But one performance was wholly admirable: Christina Ortega’s delivery of the ballad “Death to Capitalism,” from the comeback album that’s sure to return the original blockbuster diva to the height of her glory.

Standing still at the microphone, as if to resist the pull of all the gyrating younger women who’ve moved into the pop spotlight, Ortega sang without assistance from the cowering pitch correction engineer trembling just offstage. At one point, she paused, as if to cry — and then called on the rotting music industry, and the media sycophants who forstall its inevitable and welcome collapse, to kiss her ass. It was a truly old-fashioned diva moment.

And it was timeless, reminding everyone present that even a pop alpha female must show depth within the glitter she generates.


Live review: Artists try to cope with the loss of Amy Farris — and honor her — in a tribute concert

Amy F from LA TimesDave Alvin hosts the event in remembrance of the late singer-violinist, who died in September at age 40.

“When we lose a member of our tribe, we don’t mourn, we celebrate, and we make a lot of racket,” Dave Alvin said at the outset of a 3½-hour tribute to the late violinist, singer and songwriter Amy Farris Sunday night at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.

The event, which Alvin hosted, featured some of the most revered members of the L.A. roots music scene including veteran singer-songwriters Peter Case, Stan Ridgway, Rick Shea and the trio I See Hawks in L.A.

The musicians played on a stage outfitted with a piano bench adorned with candles, flowers and photos of the Texas-born Farris, who died at Sept. 29 at the age of 40. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office is still awaiting toxicology results from an autopsy to determine the cause of death, but it is being investigated as a possible suicide

Each set reflected the various ways of coping with grief. I See Hawks leaned on songs Farris often performed with them when she joined them at their local gigs. The band began with Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” with its layered expression of affection for the kind of artist who “can take the dark out of the nighttime / And paint the daytime black.”

The group brought both levity and poignancy to their choice of one of Farris’ own songs, a honky-tonk weeper called “Pretty Dresses” about a heartbroken woman hoping that if she wears the right dress, her former lover will return to her. They often played it together, singer Rob Waller said. “She would do a verse then I’d do a verse, and sometimes we’d do it even when she wasn’t with us. That was our little secret.”

Ridgway turned to a couple of songs he’d written in recent days, inspired to an extent by feelings Farris’ death had sparked and what came across as a wish to understand what leads some people to desperation. “Through the sunshine and the rain / I gave it everything / Where others tried to walk/I always tried to run.”

Upstairs after the show, Ridgway addressed the complexity of the evening’s emotions. “What do you do? Everything seemed inappropriate . . . She was dealing with a major illness, and sometimes people do things in a desperate attempt to get some kind of control. It’s just sad.”

Case seemed to yield to exploring the moment, following a year with losses of several musician friends. “It’s kind of rough up here,” he said before also offering eloquent compositions emphasizing the spiritual dimensions of life and death rather than personal anecdotes about Farris.

Alvin brought Shea out for his set, starting with “Downey Girl,” a song that carries with it the idea that assessing the full measure of a life sometimes takes years. Noting that none of the previous performers had included anything addressing Farris’ pride in her Texas heritage and her role as the only women ever to play in country crooner Ray Price’s band, Alvin turned the microphone over to Shea to sing Price’s aching hit “Faded Love.”

The title song from Alvin’s 2004 album “Ashgrove” addressed the futility of the desire to return to imagined happier days gone by, at the same time recognizing the role that a deep yearning for another time and place can play in life: “We all need something just to get us through.”

Alvin, who had produced Farris’ only solo album, also had performed at another memorial event held three weeks ago in her hometown of Austin; there, he was accompanied by his band, the Guilty Women, of which Farris had been a member, in addition to Texas singer songwriter Kelly Willis and X founding member Exene Cervenka.

Alvin mentioned during Sunday’s show that proceeds from donations collected from the two tribute concerts are going to Hungry for Music, a nonprofit group that supplies instruments to underprivileged children. (Two young violin students Farris had taught, 8-year-old Aeden Gasser-Brennan, and his 4-year-old brother Jonathan, opened the event with a short recital.)

Alvin ended the show on an upbeat note, choosing an all-hands-on-deck finale of Wanda Jackson’s rockabilly rave-up “Let’s Have a Party,” each singer grabbing one verse. “When Amy did her own shows,” Alvin explained, “she always ended with this song.”

A more spirited send-off would be hard to imagine.


Photo: Dave Alvin. Credit: Stefano Paltera / For The Times