Holiday weekends can be a bit strange in the DC music scene. About this time national bands come around less frequently as we approach Christmas. Southern bands in particular don't like venturing north during the winter. But we also get the 'old home week' effect. Folks who grew up here or called this place home for a while do tend to return. Derek Huston often returns for Christmas. This week, for another example, Los Straightjackets are back in town. And sometimes this leads to some interesting combinations of locals and out of town friends on stage. As a result the whole music scene is rather hit or miss until after the New Year. And with all the other distractions in everyone's lives, crowds can be rather hit or miss at these gigs too.
This Thanksgiving weekend turned out to be a big 'hit'. Wednesday there were a couple good options. But I ended up at the Americana Motel show at the Birchmere. Unfortunately it was in the Siddown & Shuddup room. A few of the folks that were there for last years show, weren't this time around. But it was still a great cross section of the DC area Alt. Country/Rockabilly scene. They had two sets of six bands, each doing three songs apiece. It was a good night.
Last Train Home started things off. And their rhythm section, Martin Lynds & Jim Gray, stayed up for Jake Flack & Tom Clifford; reviving The Thangs. The only other guy on stage as much as Martin & Jim, was Chris Watling of the Grandsons. He probably played with half the bands. Jay Jenc was on stage pretty regularly with his washboard. For you Zydeco fans, no it is not a fratoir; it is an old time washboard. Jay fronts Jumpin' Jupiter (and you'll also find him in the Iota kitchen). He's got a powerful voice and he wields the mic stand like a weapon, leans on it like a crutch, and holds it like a lover. The last band was the Rhodes Tavern Troubadours. They added a rather punk finish to the show, with 'Eye to Eye' from Mark Noone's Slickee Boys days. The actual finale brought everyone back up on stage to do 'Don't take advice' from the Americana Motel CD and then 'Goodnight Irene'.
Friday night, Greg Brown and Garnet Rogers were back in the same room. Garnet opened the show. I've expounded on how much I like him too much in the past. So I'll spare you. Greg Brown is a similar folk musician, a singer/songwriter/guitarist. He's recently traded in what Garnet once called his 'Amish Rambo' look for one that is startlingly similar to John Mooney's. It amazes me that these two guys, solo, have as much stage presence as most whole bands. The songs can be very touching, thoughtful, or very funny. The problem is the good stuff has been added to the live songs, the CDs contain the straight ahead version. I want that additional commentary. Anyway, for the last third of Greg's set, Garnet backed him up on electric guitar, adding some tasteful but unobtrusive fills. The crowd did manage to pull the pair back for an encore. But they weren't able to get them back for a second.
Two of the area's best and most solid bands shared the stage last night at the State Theatre. There was a pretty big crowd with a lot of familiar faces, but I was surprised there were no more than a couple of the eclectic dance crowd in there. The Nighthawks kicked things off at 9pm. They did a quick half hour set, before yielding to Bill Kirchen & too Much Fun. Both bands were set up on stage, so the breaks were pretty short. And they kept switching throughout the night.
During the second iteration, Ratso came out. Ratso is a personality to be reckoned with. How many folks do you know who are real life fictional characters? Thanks to the Kingsta... Ratso is! Ratso also had as many costume changes as Joan Collins and a few less than El Vez. And also like Ms. Collins, he can contractually only be filmed through heavy gauze. All kidding aside, Ratso has a heavy impact on the stage and is a fine guitarist. Ratso also brought along Bob Spates, who is a great country fiddler. He's been in town for quite some time, but somehow none of us had run across him before Wednesday night.
As the night went on, more folks sat in with both bands. By the fifth mini-set, both bands and all the extras were up there. So you had Bill Kirchen, Pete Kanaras, and Ratso on guitars, Mark Wenner on harp, Jan Zukowski on bass, Jack O'Dell & Pete Ragusa on twin-drums, Bob Spates on fiddle, Jimmy Carpenter on Sax (on break from Thackery's band), Wayne Kahn was out there on fratoir, and Johnny Castle was helping out on Christmas bells and jug band Budweiser bottle. They were all having a blast and the crowd was right along with them. These guys all know each other pretty well, and have played a lot over the years. But it doesn't happen often enough. So this was a real treat.
If this keeps up. I'm going to have a hard time making it to Christmas.