- First in a series
Tic-tac-toe, six in a row, Hangtown Festival was another hell of a show.
This year’s iteration of the Halloween-themed festival was another success that brought some of the best in the jam scene to party in Placerville for an extended weekend. Railroad Earth was steadfast in its role as festival hosts, playing three sets over the weekend and members Tim Carbone, Andy Goessling and Andrew Altman being ever the musical socialites and guesting with numerous friends throughout. As with any good festival it was also a hub of unique performances that can only come when the spirits come out to play, with a one-of-a-kind set from legendary masters John Medeski and Billy Martin with Mad Skillet (to fill in for missing bassist Chris Wood), a sighting of the rare Incidental Animals, and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe donning Prince’s “Dirty Mind” as a musical costume.
One thing that Hangtown is so good at doing, and yet is so hard to find in this day in age’s musical culture, is fostering a community here for the music. People of the Hangtown community came for the music as much as the party, if not more so. It was very few and very far between when you would catch people staring at the action right in front of the viewfinder of their video three inches from their face. It just didn’t happen. People at Hangtown didn’t need to champion their own minutely crafted personal narratives to friends with Facebook and Instagram posts (#Hangtown #RREXing #Festylife #Wishyouwerehere #JK #pumpkinlatte for all the Grammers out there).
Most likely, their friends were right there with them in the thick of it, dancing, laughing and doing what they need to do to make their lives worth living. They’re not going to remember everything that happened, weed and booze will do that, but they’re going to remember the feeling they had when they connected to the music, to the crowd, to the festival, to the greater world. Life can’t be captured and summed up with a perfectly angled photo of a sunset over a festival stage, nor should it be. Hangtown Festival is a place where live music can still happen and a genuine connection made between artist and fan.
Gene Evaro Jr. a supernova from Joshua Tree
Quite simply, Gene Evaro Jr. put on the best set of music at Hangtown this year.
Evaro and his white-hot band blew in from Joshua Tree and commanded the crowd for an hour and a half of spellbinding, scintillating music. The guitarist has been making music in relatively obscurity for years now in the desert, but the mystery of Joshua Tree can longer contain the supernova that is Gene Evaro Jr.
The band has the power and dexterity of Earth, Wind & Fire, the music has the soulful craftsmanship of Stevie Wonder, and Evaro can sing, play and lead in a way that brings to mind Stephen Stills or Prince. Those are marquee names for sure but Evaro and his music are made to be shown in bright lights. His songs have a natural showmanship built in to them, from charging, salsa-tinged breakdowns to fluttering horn drops, to big-city guitar solos.
Listening and watching to the band felt like you were experiencing some grand force of nature spiritually, like making love in a hurricane or testifying to the heavens in a meteor shower. New song “California Is Burning” was smooth, astral soul that glowed with intensity and “We Didn’t Need To Be Sold” was big-bang funk that showcased the bandleader’s dirty guitar work.
To end the set, the band played a blistering, sultry version of The Cure’s “Lovesong” that shot through the crowd like a flare. Most people didn’t know Gene Evaro Jr. before they walked up to the Gallows Stage Saturday night, but they did when they left and soon the whole country will, too.
Editor’s note: Tahoe Onstage photographer Larry Sabo and writer Garrett Bethmann captured the essence of the sixth-annual Hangtown Music Festival. They’ve distilled the four-day autumn celebration (2016 edition) into a series of articles and photo essays. Stay tuned this week for their reports.