Twangfest: Goes to 11
By Jim Caligiuri, 11:31AM, Thu. Jun. 14, 2007
OPEN IMAGE GALLERY
When it began in 1997, after a ‘let’s put on a show’ moment among Internet friends, Twangfest was at the heart of the then-burgeoning alt.country movement. At the time, few would have imagined it would continue for 11 years and provide some of the best underground talent in the country with an audience starved, and rabidly appreciative, of good music.
Held last week at the Duck Room in St. Louis, Missouri, where Chuck Berry still sells out once a month, this year’s Twangfest was light on the twang – alt.country’s dead, stick a spork in it – but heavy on the kinds of American rock that will never die.
While Geezerville didn’t attend the first night of the fest, which wasn’t held at the Duck Room, the three remaining evenings were packed with enough surprising performances and genuine thrills to make the weekend a success. Two trios, Columbus’ Two Cow Garage and Detroit’s the High Strung, brought a punkish sensibility to the stage. Two Cow has matured tremendously since the last time I saw them and their Replacements-meets-Neil Young crunch was appropriately juvenile and crisp. The High Strung had a late-Sixties power trio vibe that recalled the Who with musicianship and melodies to match.
Nashville’s Elizabeth Cook brought to mind a young, spunky Dolly Parton possessing enough ‘alt’ sensibility to cover Lone Justice. Austin’s Slaid Cleaves managed to hush the crowd with his dynamic stage presence and stellar songs, while Carrie Rodriguez, all wistful and glitter, failed to calm the party. Honestly, it might have been the wrong stage for the fragile singer-songwriter.
The biggest surprise was the reunion of Mississippi’s Blue Mountain. One of the original touchstones of the mid-Nineties alt.country movement, the trio gave no hint that this would be its first show in seven years. The mix of country and blues, aided by the manic guitar of Cary Hudson, brought back memories, and catalog songs like “Bloody 98,” “Sleeping In My Shoes,” and “A Band Called Bud” sounded remarkably fresh.
Other glimpses: Graham Parker is better with a band, which he proved by bringing out the Figgs after a long solo set to rock out on “Soul Shoes,” “Local Girls,” and other classics from his past … Tim Easton sounds more like Dylan with each appearance. When he was joined by Two Cow Garage, it wasn’t like the Band showed up, but almost as energizing … Chicago’s Dolly Varden, a personal fave, played a set that veered from arty to spiritual to rockin,’ but seemed unfocused … Saturday night headliners the Figgs closed things with an exhilarating and sweaty set of power pop. Why they aren’t more well-known remains a mystery. Take a gander at the photo gallery for more.