Hillbillies, Hippies and the Hackensaw Boys
The venue was near capacity when they took the stage. The crowd was ready to get down, and the band delivered. I’d seen them twice before at festivals, but this was my first experience with them in a club, and it was a totally different vibe. Unencumbered by a rigid time slot, the band took the fans on a journey through their catalog, sprinkled with anecdotes and conversations with the audience between songs. Shooting from behind the band I kept scanning the stage for setlists; there was nary a one to be found. For close to two-and-a-half hours they basically played without a net, scripting the show as it progressed. At one point, John Miller talked Ward Harrison through the chord progression for the next song while David Sickmen kept the crowd entertained with a story about their motel for the night. It had something to do with Scotch or Scottish in the name, and he invited folks to come hang out with them after the show. I imagine a few of them did. It was an intense, high energy show that culminated with the band coming out into the crowd to play three or four songs acoustically, finishing with “We Are Many”, a song that speaks to the universality of the human race and how music is a common bond. There were plenty of crowd favorites like “Oh Girl”, “Kiss You Down There” and “Cannonball”. I personally enjoy the compositions when Ben Townsend and Ferd Moyse team up on the fiddle on songs like “Blue Run”.
About a third of the way through the show, former Hackensaw Boy Rob Bullington joined the group with his mandolin and played the rest of the way. It was a typical, high energy, intense show. Strings were breaking! Rosin was flying! Sweat was dripping! Bryan Gorby was beatin’ the hell out of the charismo! How intense was it? John Miller had to keep applying duct tape to his plucking fingers to lay down that bottom end, that’s how intense! In the end, the crowd and the band were drained and happy.
The Charlottesville-based group Chamomile & Whiskey did a great job of warming up the crowd with a mix of traditional favorites (including “Seattle”, written by Robert St. Ours) along with original material like “Driving Rain” and “Inverness”. This five-piece band features Koda Kerl on guitar, Ryan Lavin on banjo, Marie Borgman on fiddle, Brenning Greenfield on drums and Tim Diebler on bass. Their style, while rooted in folk and bluegrass, was a bit more edgy and the audience responded well. And while just about every opening act talks about how excited they are about the headliner, all five of them partied and danced along with the rest of us to the bitter end.
The Hackensaw Boys are touring behind their European release “For The Love Of A Friend”. This CD/DVD combo documents their week-long stay in the village of Kinderdijk, the Netherlands and the tribute show played for Rene Verkerk, a big fan of the Hackensaw Boys who died in a windmill accident. It’s worth it for the CD alone, but the DVD documents the relationships the band formed with Rene’s family and friends and includes video performances of “We Are Many”, “Parking Lot Song”, “Radio”, “Can’t Catch Me”, “Ruby Pearl” and “Box of Pine”.
Rumor has it that the band has studio time reserved in May and plenty of material ready to be recorded. Here’s hoping a new release is imminent from the Hackensaw Boys.
By John Phillips
Photos: Festy Shots Photography