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Our Dumb Nation

Hootenanny was as American as meat loaf and apple pie

By Gina Arnold

DUMB AMERICAN." That's what some of the T-shirts they were selling said at last week's Hootenanny concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre. They cost a bomb, but nevertheless I coveted one. It might be dumb to wear a T-shirt that puts you down, but it's satisfying from a semiotic standpoint. After all, a bunch of dumb things are happening every day all around the world, thanks mainly to Americans. I know we can't personally prevent them, but when I was in Europe I still felt like being American was dumb. On a lighter note, Hootenanny was all about dumb American fun, and there's really nothing more fun then the dumb American kind.

Indeed, Hootenanny was D.A.F. at its finest. The all-day rock concert, which occurred the day after Independence Day, featured a ton of roots and rockabilly acts, as well as a really groovy hot-rod show, similar to the one that was touring the Guggenheim museums last year, only looser and, frankly, better. The promoter must be a genius. Local hot-rodders were allowed free admission, and showed up in droves in their souped up Ford and Chevy roadsters, with their pristine metal-flake paint jobs positively blinding us in the burning sun.

But more importantly, the lineup of bands made me glad to be American, dumb or not. The acts included X, the Blasters, Lee Rocker, Hot Rod Lincoln, Tiger Army, Nashville Pussy, the Reverend Horton Heat and many others. Alas, Hank Williams III canceled at the last moment, because, according to gossip, his band quit on him.

One thing that was really nice about the show was its comfort level. Retro-rock doesn't exactly draw legions into the fold these days, so the main stages at Shoreline weren't open: the show took place in the concession area, on three small stages, which alternated acts so that there were no set changes. One simply planted oneself on the lawn and turned around each time the band changed. The music was awesome, a really great panorama of different schools of American blues, folk, country and rockabilly, from the Cramps-influenced psychobilly of Tiger Army to James Intveld's beautifully crafted country songwriting to the Rev.'s revved-up fake-revival meeting stuff.

But what really made Hootenanny perfect was the audience and who they were. By my estimation, the show drew about a thousand people, which made it extremely comfortable rather than cramped. Not only that, but they were a special thousand people, retro-music fans who dress and coif themselves beautifully, the guys in creased jeans and those Country & Western blouses with piping and embroidery, the women in 1950s sun dresses, hair nets and high heels.

A modern touch was added by all the fabulous tattoos of Bettie Page and the like. In the ladies' room, women were furiously rubbing SPF 50 sunblock on their soft pale skin to protect the ink portraits that peeped through their universally lovely dresses. For practically the first time ever at a rock concert, I felt hideously underdressed.

I must say, though, nothing makes one feel more festive than a gig where everyone's dressed up and some are even two-stepping. Not only that, but the show was perfect for parents. We weren't the only ones lugging a baby around in a tiny Elvis T-shirt, and not just because we aren't ready to give up rocking. Baby had a fabulous time playing with shaved ice in the grass and dancing along to the music.

We all whipped our necks around to watch Lee Rocker do "Stray Cat Strut." Isn't it funny, I thought. This song seemed so old when I first heard it 20 years ago, and now it's 40 years old, and it doesn't sound particularly out of date!

At that point, we left. As we walked back through the dusty parking lot listening to the music get fainter with each step, we were suffused with a sense of well-being. No one could say that Hootenanny was groundbreaking, but sometimes it's nice to meander down a well-worn path instead.

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From the July 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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