Every year, for the Westword Music Showcase, we enlist our army of Backbeat wordsmiths to host various stages, and, in addition to their emcee obligations, we ask them to pull double duty (or triple-duty in some cases) and also write up the acts that appear on their individual stages. Dutch Seyfarth hosted the La Rumba stage. Page down to read his thoughts and see some photos.
Kentucky Street Parlor Pickers started things off at La Rumba just after noon. The string band plays with a confidence not often seen with young bands. After a few old standards including ole Hank's "Hey Good Looking, Whatcha Got Cooking," which the outfit soundchecked with, the sound system was dialed in things got started with the Pickers jumping into the first few bars of "Why Don't We Go Out Tonight."
Having the first slot at any music festival is never the optimal prospect, but a good band can make the best of it and this is certainly one band that did. These guys kill it with the old timey string band sound. Making vocals a priority, this band basically gave a master class in how it's done with everyone singing and harmonizing. Drawn by the Pickers' powerful sound -- which includes Randy Ramirez from the Heyday on mandolin -- people started spilling into the venue, and by the third song there's a solid forty people with more coming in by the minute. It made for a great start to the day.
Zach Boddicker of 4H Royalty knows his way around a stage and knows when to let his playing do the talking. You gotta love a band that doesn't bother to ply the crowd with boring small talk and stupid jokes. On that note, 4H Royalty opened with a two-minute blast of Kentucky Fried southern rock that worked like a magnet to draw the crowd from the back of the venue towards the stage.
The band is obviously centered around the guitar athletics of frontman Boddicker, and man, oh man, can this guy play the guitar. Pure American rock and roll. It also helps that the band's songs are tightly structured around something resembling a catchy pop rock formula, which is to say the songs are memorable and easy to sing along with. To top it off, 4H even did a love song dedicated to BMX bikes.
At this point, La Rumba was filling up nicely between those waiting to hear the Hollyfelds and other musicians slated to play later in the afternoon. The Hollyfelds opened with their trademark up-tempo brand of down home, shit-kicking music and smooth, high harmonies. The Hollyfelds played to the largest crowd of the day at that point, and they had everyone front and center near the stage with about half the crowd dancing in some form of bluegrass-meets-squaredance hoe-down foot stomp.
With the venue filled with about 150 or so people, the soundman put the finishing touches on the stage mix and the New Ben Franklins immediately launched like a drag racer into their set. With a very different vibe than any of the previous bands, the New Ben Franklins, armed with an array of Telecasters, recalled R.E.M. from the time when Reagan was president. Or maybe the Replacements? The most impressive thing about this band is their command of knowing when to play and when not to.
Tin Horn Prayer is best described as a band that plays campfire music -- that is, if you were sitting around a campfire drinking moonshine and cheap American beer and singing songs about drugs, prison, loose women and cheap beer. During Tin Horn's set, La Rumba was packed to capacity with a throng of people crowding the front of the stage singing along, hoisting beers above their heads, bobbing joyously arm in arm with their friends.
Tin Horn operates cleanly and confidently at breakneck tempos other bands fear to tread. If you haven't heard the group before, think of the punked-out riffs and harmonies of Boston's Street Dogs mixed with the instrumental layering of some old timey bluegrass band, played forcefully with accordions, harmonica, banjos, thundering bass and drums and angry distorted guitars.
After a brief set up and soundcheck, Arliss Nancy took the stage to a still mostly filled room. The energy and beer-fueled shenanigans of Tin Horn Prayer would be a tough act for any band to follow, but it didn't take more than a few bars of Arliss Nancy's opening song to draw the crowd to the fore. What sets the group apart from the other bands yesterday might be the electric piano leads and three-part vocal harmonies. All the songs veer towards the uptempo, hard rocking side of the coin, but the electric piano does a lot of the heavy lifting.
Anyone who hasn't seen Kinetix live owes it to themselves to catch the act at least once. No band can really start a party or play to a crowd better than this one. The confidence and showmanship displayed by this band is easily on par with any arena touring act in the world. While a typical Kinetix show features a mind blowing light show, here the band played on a small stage in a sweaty dance club. After every song, the capacity crowd, which was all dancing and smile, roared with approval. The segue from one of the band's original songs into Ozzy's "Crazy Train" pretty much blew the minds of everyone.
The Foot.'s stage show was textbook showmanship from start to finish. From the expert use of rhythmic starts and stops to full band drum solo (you had to see it!) to the heaviest of heavy Led Zep style riffs, the Foot. live is a force, using two vocal microphones (one vintage, one modern). As the sun was setting towards the west, the heat inside dropped a bit, but things never cooled down otherwise.
Wonderlic, led by the virtuosity of guitarist Mike Whalen, has an instrumental sound that combines elements of the Grateful Dead's jammier side and the rock and reggae elements of bands like 311, and it's nothing short of jaw-droppingly amazing live. More than a few times, it seemed perplexing of how the band find their way out of a particular groove. Yet, time after time, the seamless delivery of clean guitar tones and frenetic, ever-changing rhythms found their way into the dancing feet of the crowd.
Whiskey Tango is a band perfectly suited to the late afternoon. As the sun is setting off to the west above our fair Mile High City, the crowd was treated to perhaps the perfect wind-down of the day. Being the second band to feature a banjo, Whiskey Tango eased into their trademark laid-back sound, which incorporates elements of New Grass Revival, Yonder Mountain String Band and Leftover Salmon. The waning crowd between Wonderlic and Whiskey Tango instantly grew fourfold and crowded close to the stage. Whiskey Tango features the electric piano and banjo prominently in the music and every song featured gigantic musical hooks and soaring choruses.
Vocally, Whiskey Tango is in a class all its own with an impressive sense of dynamics, taking songs from soft to loud, and blowing up a guitar solo into the stratosphere. Sometimes you see a band and just know they're destined for bigger things. Whiskey Tango is arguably one of those bands.
-- Dutch Seyfarth
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music