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.
We drive to McCabes. There’s a parking space ten feet from the door. This has never happened before. A good omen? Paul M arrives with Colleen. The Old Californiots pile out of an old Honda (Toyota?). Richie Lawrence pulls up with daughter Bevan and accordion. Cliff Wagner arrives with lovely wife and lovely banjo. The bonhomie begins. The love is here. We bring in our guitars. All is well.
Lincoln and Mikki, the superpro and supercool McCabes kingpins, and soundman Wayne give us the big welcome. The Hawks sound check through the gleaming new mixing board, which sounds great. Levi and Rich of Old Californio do a weird and fascinatingly repellent East Pasadena line dance while we run through a song. Woody, Californio’s scary-great guitar player, contemplates a Yamaha 12 string hanging on the wall. Californio sound checks. We head upstairs to the beer, wine, and male sexual enhancement elixer (ha ha, McCabes) stocked dressing room, hang out with an ever expanding circle friends and family. The Irish whiskey begins to vanish. Big fun, and the show is still ahead.
Old Californio hits the stage. Paul L is sitting in with the band and notes the roar from the crowd as the band walks down the staircase to the stage. There is big common ground between the two bands, and a big crossover of fans. The room is packed. We’ve sold out. OC are a powerful electric band, with a solid and daring bass/drums combo of Jason Chesney and Justin Smith, soulful lead vocals from Rich “Taut N Righteous” Dembowski, sweet ambiance from keyboardist Levi Nunez, and, as mentioned, fearless and often startling guitar work from Woody Aplanalp. But they are reluctant acoustic performers. Their McCabes set should set that to rest. It was a beautiful blend of Rich’s deft finger and flatpicking, Levi on the McCabes piano, Justin switching to brushes on a suitcase, Woody on Martin guitar, and Paul L on dobro. The on the money harmonies are up front like they should be, and the richness of Rich’s voice and witty banter are in the spotlight. The sound is folky as can be. The crowd is entranced by this kindler, gentler Old Californio.
The Hawks’ new CD, New Kind Of Lonely, is all acoustic, and here we are in the epicenter of acousticity, and we can’t help but be overly aware of this. Nervous? Well, yes. But we settle in, and the ten new tunes shine. Cliff Wagner powers our new bluegrass tune Hunger Mountain Breakdown on banjo, switches to fiddle for The Spirit of Death and New Kind Of Lonely. We almost didn’t put Spirit of Death on the record. Death is an almost taboo subject in popular song since the days of the Stanley Brothers and Carter Family, and we sing about our dear departed friend Amy Farris. To incorporate something that personal into a song you’re putting into the world is tricky and feels a bit strange. But the audience goes with it. We did the right thing.
We do a long set that passes in a moment. Richie Lawrence brings in his big accordion sound for the last part of the set, Kevin Jarvis smacks the snare drum for our last song, Good And Foolish Times, which sounds like a folk anthem tonight. We’re immersed in waves of love from the crowd, do some encores, and it’s over. This is one of our favorite shows of all time. We pack up — the big whiskey bottle is drained — head downstairs, engulfed by fans and friends and family, hang out for a long time, and scatter into the mild ocean fed night. Life is good.