The 2012 edition of the Hangtown Halloween Ball brings 31 bands to the El Dorado County Fairgrounds for what Bethel, New York farmer Max Yasgur once called “three days of fun and music.”
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The comparisons to Woodstock don’t stop there. A polite production crew brings a gaggle of bands with strange sounding names and thousands of tie-dyed and dreadlocked fans to an unsuspecting rural community … What could go possibly go wrong?
Last year the answer was a resounding “not much.” The Placerville Police were on site throughout a long Halloween weekend, reportedly grateful that their estimated 2,000 guests were so well behaved.
Attendees were thoroughly entertained by the mashup of musical styles last year, which featured a couple former Jerry Garcia sidemen and several other bands influenced by the granddaddy of jam.
This year’s lineup is no less diverse, featuring it’s own pedigreed jammers, founding members of Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident; and Drew Emmitt and Bill Nershi, who escaped the back of the refrigerator, or more accurately the top of the stove to reconnect with their bluegrass roots as the Emmitt-Nershi Band. They’re on the main stage at 5:15 p.m. Friday and in the Hangin’ Hall late night Saturday.
Animal Liberation Orchestra’s quirky live shows cross seamlessly into jamland. Catch ALO Friday at 8:15 p.m. on the main stage.
Colorado-based Good Gravy proclaims jam band influences. Armed with bluegrass instrumentation, solid arrangements and a lot of new ideas, they seem determined to chart a different course over some familiar jam-grass turf. Check them out on the main stage on 10:30 a.m. Saturday and on the Gallows Stage at 12:45 p.m. Sunday.
A closer look at the 2012 Hangtown Halloween Ball lineup reveals that something funky’s going on. Funk music has long been an ingredient in indie rock and especially jam music. This year funk has taken a step forward as a dominant flavor in the Hangtown Ball’s musical stew.
L.A.-based Orgone’s adrenaline-drenched funk and sweaty-soul will heat up the Hangin’ Hall for Karl, also afterhours Friday night. They play again at 1:25 p.m. Saturday on the main stage.
How about some retro ’60s psychedelic soul with your funk? Look no further than the Gallows Stage at 6:10 p.m. Friday when the Monophonics blast off.
One observer of Reno-based Jelly Bread’s performance at Strawberry called them “the best funk band you’ve never heard of,” at least not until 2:25 p.m. Saturday on the Gallows Stage.
The funky improvisational dance grooves of South Lake Tahoe’s Groovebox open the Hangtown Halloween Ball at 1:45 p.m. Friday on the All Souls Stage.
ALO’s kaleidoscopic funk-pop ’n’ roll is on the main stage Friday at 8:15 p.m.
High energy Santa Rosa funk-rock groovers Adient Zoo play short sets on the All Souls Stage at 5:35 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday.
Innovative funk and jazz pioneer Karl Denson appears with members of Slightly Stoopid, a San Diego surf-reggae rock outfit that’s not as dumb as its name, performing a tribute to the Beastie Boys in a late night show Friday night and again on Saturday for a main stage gig at 7:15 p.m.
Denson has a long history of playing strange and interesting stuff with strange and interesting people, including five years with Lenny Kravitz.
Rooted in classic jazz, he was also at the forefront of the edgier acid jazz. He later spread the gospel of “West Coast Boogaloo” worldwide with DJ Greyboy as the Greyboy All-stars.
Denson mixed in funk, R&B and hip hop elements to create the Tiny Universe, dedicated to dance grooves and again touring internationally to great acclaim.
Since then Denson has branched into Afrobeat, but spent much of this summer paying tribute to the Beastie Boys … in the south … Really.
The 2012 lineup is laced with solid America offerings, including the Infamous Stringdusters, one of the top progressive bluegrass outfits playing today, a band that jam audiences love and for good reason. They play exceptionally pure bluegrass exceptionally well.
The Infamous Stringdusters are on the main stage Sunday at 1:50 p.m. and also have a late night set indoors on Saturday.
Michigan’s Greensky Bluegrass adds a dobro and some grit to the mix, Sunday at 12:05 p.m. on the main stage.
The Dead Winter Carpenters hail from Tahoe’s North Shore and have played striking roots music at the Cozmic Café and local festivals over the last couple years, winning friends and influencing people. They open the festival on the main stage at 1:45 p.m. Friday, just like Railroad Earth opened Telluride in 2001.
These pub rockers are garnering all sorts of buzz. They came together in 2007 as “rambunctious, trash-can-bangers,” according to a Rhapsody reviewer who apparently didn’t care for Delta Spirit’s recent self-titled album, calling it “atmospheric classic rock twice their age.” Ouch.
The band defends its 2012 effort as an escape from “rootsy Americana” and “twangy folk” labels — God forbid — and to have discovered themselves as “truly modern rockers.”
Hey fellas, don’t over think this. Yea, the early stuff is rawer and the new stuff is bigger and richer, crossing over into Arcade Fire-land at times. But hey, you can’t bang trash cans forever. It’s all good. Keep it up. You’ll be fine.
Listening to Nicki Bluhm’s honey-soaked country soul is like hearing your mom’s favorite song on the radio. Bluhm’s striking presence, strong vocals and songcraft made a strong impression on the Coloma audience in a brief cameo during her husband Tim Bluhm’s performance with Jackie Greene in 2009.
Nikki Bluhm and the Gramblers play at 3:30 p.m. Friday on the main stage.
Del McCoury cut his teeth with Bill Monroe and brings his boys to Placerville to gather around the microphone on the main stage at 3:40 p.m. Sunday to show us how bluegrass is done.
Several of the bands bearing the jam label cite him as an influence. Railroad Earth and Leftover Salmon played at McCoury’s festival, DelFest, in May.
McCoury’s lonesome high tenor is backed by his band’s impeccable harmonies, delivered on a single microphone, which requires the soloist to get close and the harmonists to lay back, ala George Clooney in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou.”
The resulting choreography adds a delightful visual element to the performance.
In an outfit like the McCoury band, with everyone singing harmony while playing their instruments, it can get crowded around that microphone. “You have some pretty fancy footwork to get in and out of there,” said McCoury in a 2006 interview on the CMT network.
The advantage is “you mix your own show,” he added. Closest is loudest.
In fact, the single-mic technique simplifies all aspects of the performance, from setup to mixing and practically eliminates feedback.
On the downside, the technique sacrifices fine control of mix balance, EQ and effects for individual vocalists.
Many new bluegrass and folk bands are nonetheless experimenting with the one-mic method. “It’s the way that we did it when I was coming up with Bill Monroe,” said McCoury. ’Nuff said.