On Thursday, Oct. 25, the annual Hangtown Music Festival will ring in the harvest season for its eighth straight year in Placerville, California.
Back in the more agrarian age of our society — when we were more directly tied to the seasonal cycles of the Earth — fall was the time to reap the crops that had been sown in the hot summer months, with communities working together to enjoy the fruits of their labor. It was also a time to pause and appreciate the changing of time, when the last, lively days of summer gave way to the solemn, cold nights of winter.
Hangtown Music Festival, which runs until Sunday, Oct. 28, always has seemed to embody those elements in different, beautiful ways. Coming in October, the festival marks the unofficial end of summer festival season. For people who endured the hot, crowded slog of the music industry’s 4-month busy time, Hangtown is a gleeful, final romp in the hay that features pleasant temperatures, an intimate and laid-back vibe, and high-caliber musical lineups that are on par with larger festivals such as High Sierra, Summer Camp and Northwest String Summit.
It’s the last hurrah before music-lovers and bands alike retreat from outside festivals and start hibernating inside, investing in club shows and tours until spring.
As always, the music lineup at this year’s Hangtown is top-notch. Railroad Earth again headlines the festival, along with notable acts such as Lukas Nelson and The Promise of The Real, The Infamous Stringdusters, Trampled By Turtles and Melvin Seals & JGB.
The festival’s staggered set times between its two stages ensure that folks will be able to see each band without any overlap, a truly fantastic feature for which organizers should receive their due credit. Even without any schedule conflicts to deal with, below are five bands that you definitely do not want to miss.
As official host of the festival, Railroad Earth has traditionally treated its guests to three sets of music over the course of the weekend. This year will be no different, although those sets will mean something different this time. Earlier this month, the band announced the sad news that multi-instrumentalist and Railroad Earth co-founder Andy Goessling had died after a courageous fight against cancer.
“His gifts and insights have been heard live and on recordings around the world, and he has touched so many by expressing his gentle, humorous soul through his playing,” said the obituary posted to the band’s website.
Many at the festival will have their own experiences with Goessling and his music that they’ll be reliving throughout the weekend, especially his bandmates onstage. It’s not yet clear how Goessling’s musical void might be filled, but RRE’s sets certainly will be a time to celebrate his life and work, and will provide an opportunity to start the healing process. An area will be set up for people to commemorate and pay tribute to the adored musician. No tribute, though, might be more fitting than the music Goessling helped create ringing through the Sierra Nevada once again.
The Claypool Lennon Delerium
Hangtown always boasts a lineup heavy on the funk, bluegrass and roots-rock based music, much to the delight of its mountain-dwelling based constituency. Psych-prog monster The Claypool Lennon Delerium is a far left-of-center musical beast compared to the festival’s traditional leanings, although it provides an opportunity for the Halloween/Dia De Los Muertos-themed festival to truly get demented in a way it never has before.
Spawned from the similarly odd worlds of Les Claypool and Sean Lennon, the band and music is a surreal soundscape of fuzzed-out hooks and mutant rhythms stitched together with the psychedelic synchronicity of its two leaders. It’s definitely the biggest, weirdest band the festival has ever secured and it might be the first time at Hangtown that the music will melt someone’s actual face off. All the ghouls and goblins should be out for this one.
Five Alarm Funk
Canada’s greatest third greatest export (after hockey and John Candy) — and No. 1 musical experience — Five Alarm Funk will roll into Hangtown this year for what’s sure to be a smashing debut. These grizzled, larger-than-life heathens have been party-rockin’ and show-stoppin’ for more than a decade with their gnarled form of funk, their impressively hard grooves forged in the fires of Afrobeat and Parliament/Funkadelic. Take the music and combine it with the confidence and charisma of a gonzo-action flick and the band’s whole show hits you with the awesome power of Sharknado battling King Kong in a scorched-Earth-version of “Vancouver.” Five Alarm Funk will bring the ridiculousness, the fun and a whole lot of sweat.
Ron Artis II
If you were to see and meet Ron Artis II on the street, his big smile and affable demeanor would naturally make you want to hang out and be friends with the guy. If you were to then see him take the stage and burn it down in a fiery sermon on blues, soul and rock, you would want to become his disciple. Artis II is a charismatic performer who can sing with the passion and audacity of Sam Cooke and shred the guitar with bluesy groove like Steve Cropper. In playing with his trio, he’s cut the fat off the music and delivers the most kinetic, powerful elements of soul, blues and rock like an electrical wire that’s been stripped of its insulation. Artis II is the full package and anyone who disagrees with that is just denying the truth.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
Just like their fans, many bands love to dress up on Halloween and they use the festivities as an opportunity to don a musical costume and play cover-heavy sets of influential artists. Hangtown will feature a number of acts getting in on the action, with Keller Williams and The Hillbenders doing a whole set bluegrass-inspired covers of Tom Petty, and Pink Talking Phish doing its stylized reimaginings of Pink Floyd, Talking Heads, and Phish songs. But the most intriguing musical costume has to be Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe presents Eat a Bunch of Peaches, which sees the sax man and his band picking through The Allman Brothers’ catalog to harvest the ones ripest for reinterpretation.
Denson’s West Coast, acid-jazz boogaloo sound might not be the first thing you think of when you recall the Southern-fried blues of The Allman Brothers. That makes the whole setup all the more enticing. One thing both bands have in common is the need to improvise and stretch things out onstage. It will be interesting to hear what kind of new places the Allmans’ music can go inside the Tiny Universe. All anyone will be able to do is sit back, eat a peach and enjoy the jams.
— Garrett Bethmann