Fool's Night Out
Fools Night Out comes from a song by Phil Wiggins | Moon photo courtesy Michael's Photo Gallery.

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When a Festival Goes Bad
© Scott Mitchell (03/04/22)

The lineup was pretty good: Kirchen, the Grandsons, Ruthie, Janine Wilson, the Hulas... The only reason I had heard about it was the band mailing lists. That is how it ended up on Fools Night Out and Wayne Kahn's mailing. But to the best of my knowledge there was no other advertisement. I'm referring to the Americana Rocks! festival this weekend at the Prince William County Fairgrounds outside of Manassas.

The fairgrounds weren't too hard to find, but I almost drove past the gate because there weren't even a dozen cars in the lot. That's a bad sign... still it was kind of early. Besides, the day started off overcast and nasty. The Grandsons were playing as I walked in. The venue was a open sided cow show barn... concrete floor, bleachers on each side. The sound was adequate, though the kick drum tended to rattle the tin roof. The bands sounded good. The sun came out and we had a really nice day. But there was no one festing in Prince William County. At the crowd's height during Bill Kirchen's set I counted forty people, and that included the bands and their families.

So the rumors started. How are the bands going to get paid? The Grandsons were waiting around while the promoter ran home for his checkbook. Then the rumor had it that "He'll make good on it, but they can't be paid now". It is a tough position to be in for a band. In the end, the decision was made the whole thing was killed off. Put out of its misery may be closer to the truth. Because even though the bands sounded good, it wasn't a fun gig. There was a palpable sense of desperation and dread. I can only imagine what it was like for the bands.

I ended up at the Bop & Bowl in Falls Church rather than fighting the Donna the Buffalo crowd at State Theatre. The headline act was Lee Rocker, who's claim to fame was as the bass player for the Stray Cats. Unlike the festival, there was a good sized crowd for this show. I can't say I was blown away by anyone in particular, but together they were great. Lee handled the singing and played a silver metallic flake upright bass. He had a solid drummer and a pair of guitarists, one on Telecaster and the other on a hollow-body Gibson.

They did a lot of originals and didn't lean too heavily on the Stray Cats stuff. The sound was great... very tight and well assembled. What really made the band was their stagecraft. It had fully engaged the crowd. And it wasn't just "Stupid Bass Tricks" , though there were a few. There was a great interaction within the band and between the band and the audience. And the band seemed to relish the somewhat bizarre concept of playing in a bowling alley.

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