It’s 5:03 p.m. The Hawks Traffic Guardian Angel has been kind, and we fly through Friday Sacramento traffic with nary a slowdown. The clouds lift as we race towards the foothills. We’re on time in Auburn. We weave through Auburn streets, aim for the water wheel marking the Liquor Outlet Event Center and see our lovely and benevolent host Evangeline waving us towards the load-in. But right in front, awkwardly blocking the entrance and two parking spots, sits the deathly black Yukon XL. Clearly the El Californios need to be put in their place.
It’s raining under a bright sun and blue sky as we load in. The interior of the Liquor Outlet Event Center is quite surprising. A bland 80s exterior doesn’t hint at the warm, inviting barnlike room with long bar and long stage, country rock posters and arcana lining the walls. The verbal jousting with the El Californio boys begins immediately and never stops. We deal a serious blow by hogging all the soundcheck time. Hawks 1, Old Californio zero. They make a strong comeback by dialing in a great sound in five minutes. Score tied. We take a sharpie to the green room sign and presto: it’s an exclusive Hawks dressing room. A second bit of penmanship and the men’s room is now the Californio green room. They see through our ruse and both bands pack into the green room, pouncing on pizza and beers with the intensity of rival hunter gatherers.
Love fills the room as the Gold Country and Sacto adjacent music aficionados filter in and showtime approaches. Old friends, old bandmates, cousins greet the bands. KVMR is in the house. It’s 1972 tonight. Old Californio starts off low key, as a humble opening band should, but then builds steadily to a slamming 90 minute set. The dance floor fills with hippies and townies young and old. Old Californio’s fiendish plan is working. They’re going to be a tough act to follow.
We open with a majestic “Mary Austin Sky.” It’s big, sweeping, cosmic Americana. And we’ve got a secret weapon: Pete Grant, legendary steel player, he who was invited by Jerry Garcia to join the soon to become Warlocks soon to become Grateful Dead jug band, he who played steel on Aoxomoxoa, joined the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, and inherited Jerry’s steel rig. Pete sends the sound into the landscape of our minds, the Platonic Hawks ideal. We ride a big soft cloud and the audience climbs on board for the ride. Lovely lasses fill the floor, cowboys and bohemians shuffle and spin. Take that, Old Californio.
But wait! They’ve infiltrated the dance floor, in matching denim shirts and levis. No–but yes. They’re doing their mock Urban Cowboy side step, one part metrosexual and one part macho. They sweep Evangeline off her feet, charm the lassies, and, yes, appear to mock us. Are Old Californio mocking us? As we launch into Hope Against Hope, our fears are confirmed. At the climactic chorus, Levi steps onto the floor right in front of Rob and launches into a calculatedly spasmodic Jennifer Beals Fashdance number. Where did he get the chain and water bucket? The three singers start laughing. The chorus collapses. Score one for Old Californio.
But we rally, recover, and rock. Richie Lawrence has brought his big growling accordion into the mix. We entice Woody from Old Californio onto the stage, and he betrays his mates by raising the rock ante, and raising the roof. The Hawks Orchestra burns through Humboldt, Motorcycle Mama, I Fell In Love With The Grateful Dead, and Good and Foolish Times. It’s a long set, and over too soon. Thank you, Auburn. We hang with the audience, sign CDs. The audience filters out into the cold wet night. The verbal jousting with Old Californio resumes immediately. We battle to a standstill. It’s a dead heat. Pete Grant regales us with tales of Garcia and the Bay Area at the moment of creation. We go our separate ways. Thank you Evangeline, Scott, and people of the north.