Country fest proves more popular than Chuck Norris
The Brewery, Raleigh, N.C., Jan 29-30, 1999
By Andy Turner
RALEIGH, NC - It's a good thing folks didn't just stay home and watch "Walker, Texas Ranger," as The Backsliders' Chip Robinson pointed out they very well could have. They would have missed the real Southern Plunge Into Trailer Trash Leisure and Entertainment. This fourth year of S.P.I.T.T.L.E was two nights of celebrating the pleasures of barbecue, boots, beer, big hair and butt-stomping twang focusing more on the Triangle twang scene minus Whiskeytown.
After a successful performance featuring about seven encores last year, Cigar Store Indians headlined Friday's show this year. The band once again won over the crowd, sending them into wild fits of butt-wiggling. Combing elements of country, swing and rockabilly, CSI are a competent and entertaining bunch who know how to work an alcohol-addled weekend crowd. But don't count on remembering many of their songs in the morning.
If they had of been around back in the Œ50's, it seems likely Two Dollar Pistols of North Carolina would have sold so many records that they could have afforded owning their very own pistol-shaped swimming pool that would have out-classed Webb Pierce's guitar-shaped pool.
But it's the Œ90's, and it seems unlikely that they will ever be heard on mainstream country radio, much less have multi-platinum selling records. That didn't stop the Pistols from delivering their premier honky tonk with uplifting originals like "How it Feels to Die" and "Me, Myself, and Wine" and cover songs like "No One Loves a Loser." Ex-Backslider and red hot guitar slinger Steve Howell has made the band even more dangerous.
Ex-Lubricator and ex-6 String Dragger Kenny Roby performed a set that downplayed his twangier leanings and rolled through an interesting assortment of "My Aim is True"-era Elvis Costello pop, ragtime and blues. Roby even tried his hand (unsuccessfully) at a reggae song.
With twisted story-songs that sound like they could have been written by Harry Crews or Larry Brown, The Drive-By Truckers delivered a powerful and very loud set. The band performed intense versions of songs off their album, "Gangstabilly," like "Buttholeville" and "The Living Bubba," plus new songs like "Uncle Frank" and "Too Much Sex, Too Little Jesus," a song exploring the wacky and profitable world of radio preachers.
Saturday headliners Phil Lee and the Nashville All-Stars put on a fabulous set that was unfortunately missed by many crowd members who headed home early. The All-Stars were supposed to feature Duane Jarvis, Tim Carroll and Kevin Gordon, but Lonesome Bob and Wilco's Ken Coomer ended up with the duty instead. Lee offered a full slate of ragged and lonesome country. Lonesome Bob took over vocal duties towards the end of the night and performed a handful of songs off his "Things Fall Apart album." Bob delivers tales of dysfunction better than most any one else.
The new version of The Backsliders, which includes Terry Anderson on drums, put on a rocking set. Chip Robinson and company have moved away from the West Coast honky tonk they mastered on "Throwing Rocks at the Moon." Saturday's show had the band going for a more Southern rock sound that may disappoint fans who liked them for their hard core honky tonk.
Trailer Bride showed they're still the best swamp-gothic-blues-country band around. But the band doesn't always have to sound bizarre to sound good, as evidenced by the tender and sweet "Porch Song."
Buffalo natives the Steam Donkeys played solid and catchy country, but their set seemed stale and lacking in firepower.
Ruthie and the Wranglers of Washington, D.C. were tight and lively with country/rockabilly numbers like "Don't Bug Me Baby" and "He's a Honky Tonk Man."
All and all, S.P.I.T.T.L.E. '99 delivered. It didn't have as many big national acts as in recent years - the Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain and The Derailers all performed last year. The festival showed that the Triangle scene is at an interesting point. Two Dollar Pistols and Trailer Bride proved they are only getting better. While the Backsliders and Kenny Roby are definitely in a more transitional period.
However it turns out, rest assured that S.P.I.T.T.L.E. was a lot more fun than watching television and waiting for Chuck Norris to chop someone in the neck.