Hootenany U. kicks with everyone from Stray Cats to Little Richard
Cal. State Fullerton, Fullerton, Cal., July 5-6, 2003
By Dan MacIntosh
FULLERTON, CA - The 2003 edition of SoCal's annual Hootenanny roots fest was staged on a college campus athletic field this time, rather than one of the back-to-nature settings of years past. But it doesn't really matter where this retro rock reunion decides to call its home, however, because these slightly backwards looking music fans always dress and act like the rockers that time forgot. Ultimately, this was the chance to see a punk band like Social Distortion and an originator like Little Richard, play in front of pompadour-ed men and Forties dress wearing women, which just doesn't happen every day.
The first of these two days made up for its lack of star power with a reunion of the Stray Cats. And while the music this '80s video age band made/makes it fit in with the Hootenanny's general aims, the trio stood out as being, by far, the most commercial act over both days. Led by the always-enthusiastic Brian Setzer, the group sounded tight on the opening rocker, "Rumble In Brighton," and also had enough restraint to give the pretty ballad "I Won't Stand In Your Way" a warm reading. It was nice to have them back live, even though - as with most rock band reunions - it was not by overwhelming demand.
Day one's bill also had John Doe following Original Sinners, which is the relatively new band of his ex-wife (and X band mate) Exene. Doe took this high profile chance to make a few choice anti-Iraqi war remarks during a performance of X's "The New World," and also played Dave Alvin's "4th Of July," which would later be performed two more times (by Alvin himself, then The Blasters) before this event was all said and done.
Nothing during Original Sinners' set stood out, but since Exene is the model/template for almost every woman in the audience, the musical details didn't really seem to matter. It was a little like viewing a queen on her throne. Appearances by James Intveld, Hot Rod Lincoln and Russell Scott also made this opening day the more country-centric of the two.
The main draw of the closing day was an opportunity to see Little Richard once again. He's certainly not lost any of his touch on the piano, but his vocals sounded measurably weaker in person. He also looked mighty frail whenever he walked the stage. This made it especially scary when his people stood him on top of his piano at the very beginning of the show, turning such a move into a potential recipe for hip replacement surgery. But if you could block out all these visual distractions, it was still great fun to hear "Tutti Fruitti," "Lucille" and "Good Golly Miss Molly" straight from the horse's mouth.
The opening date might have contained the most real country, but the second stanza held the most variety, as well as the most big names. In addition to Little Richard, Social Distortion ended the afternoon with a blast of punk. And speaking of punk, Manic Hispanic turned old Clash and Damned songs into Hispanic anthems - just by changing a few words here and there. Dave Vanian, an original member of The Damned, performed some of his post-Damned material, which mostly revolved around songs about evil women. Early cow punkers, Tex & The Horseheads, made a rare appearance, with Tex looking just as delightfully slutty as ever.
Both Junior Brown and Dave Alvin have loose ties to the punk movement, even though you can't hear much of that in their music now. Although Brown's power was turned off before he could even finish his usual surf rock medley, he still sounded wonderful on "Highway Patrol" and "Party Lights." Similarly, Dave Alvin's songs - such as "Abilene" and "Marie Marie" - never seem to get old.
Along the way, traditional rockabilly was saluted by the Kingbees and Paladins, and Nekromatics provided the fest's lone example of psychobilly.
When it comes to the kind of American music The Blasters sing about (in their song of the same name) this year's Hootenanny covered a fairly good portion of that wide spectrum. Everybody - from the punks, to the rockabilly boys, to the later day hicks - appeared to be having a grand old time here at Hootenanny U.