Tahoe music fans got a special treat Saturday, March 26, at Cabo Wabo, when both Sammy Hagar and Kris Kristofferson took the stage in support of the American debut of the Appalachian Murder Bunnies, a folk act formed by children of each of the musicians.
Appalachian Murder Bunnies was assembled in preparation for a recent Kristofferson tour of Scotland. Andrew Hagar had met Kelly Kristofferson through her brother in 2015.
“I had never met Kelly for almost a decade that I knew Jesse (Kristofferson),” Andrew Hagar said. “When we met each other it was like sparks, and we started hanging out and dating. Around November, Kelly asked me if I wanted to go on tour with Kris Kristofferson in Scotland.”
Kelly Kristofferson had grown up playing music, while Andrew had always played guitar, performing in a punk band in college called Murder Bunnies. The two began floating half-serious ideas about forming a project.
“We had been joking a little bit about starting a band,” Andrew Hagar said. “Lisa and Kris, her parents, heard us joking about it and decided to book us as an opening act. They told us about three or four weeks before we were about to leave, so we had to get together and put together a set list.”
When Hagar the elder heard about the impromptu performance, he immediately set out to book the duo for an upcoming trip to Tahoe.
“I saw a video and they were great. So I got excited and I said ‘You’ve got to come ,’ we were planning to go to Tahoe for Easter so I said, ‘You’ve got to come up and play,’ ” Sammy Hagar said.
Appalachian Murder Bunnies kicked off the show Saturday, playing a series of original songs alongside cover tunes by the Flaming Lips and Neutral Milk Hotel.
With Andrew Hagar on an acoustic guitar and Kelly Kristofferson on ukulele and acoustic guitar, the two alternated between singing solo lines and combining for high-reaching harmonies as the normally raucous Cabo crowd pressed around the stage in hushed voices.
A number of the group’s songs were quite poignant; Andrew Hagar performed “Hibachi Holiday,” a song about a close friend who had committed suicide. Andrew had missed a call from the friend just before he took his life; the tune explored the regret and loss inherent in such an experience, with the striking line “don’t let the storms of yesterday rain on your today.”
Kelly Kristofferson provided some insight into growing up as the child of a popular musician before one song.
“My dad half writes a lot of songs, and will leave them lying around the house,” she said. “I found this one one day, and brought it to him, and he just said ‘Finish it.’ ”
Sammy Hagar took the stage after the duo wrapped up, joined by his elder son, Aaron Hagar and his wife, Kari Hagar.
“Cheers,” said the Red Rocker, raising a glass; the audience roared and cheered, hoisting a bevy of colorful beverages into the air.
The Hagars played a variety of covers, with the patriarch strumming away on a number of beautiful acoustic guitars, cranking out tunes such as “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode, and “Wild Night” by Van Morrison, with Sammy Hagar thumping through the guttural blues stomp of the latter tune. You could tell he missed his electric guitars, but the beat was rocking all the same.
Sammy and Aaron Hagar served up a particularly enjoyable rendition of Sammy’s “Where Eagles Fly,” with Aaron laying down some lovely vibrato on his vocals, ending with a high register sustained finish that drew a loud applause from the rapt audience.
“Isn’t it great to be young?” his father joked.
“Hey, I’m just acclimated to the altitude.” Aaron Hagar responded with a chuckle.
While Kris Kristofferson was mostly content to watch the performance from a private booth to the left of the stage, the renowned folk musician stepped out toward the end of the night with his daughter and the Hagars, performing a handful of songs, including his timeless tune “Me and Bobby McGee.”
While the acoustic performance with a rotating musical cast was no doubt more mellow and low key than the Cabo crowd is accustomed to, it was a delightful night of acoustic family music. The stock party atmosphere was still very much present, with Sammy Hagar at one point leaning out in the audience to pour rum into the outstretched glasses of cheering fans. All in all however, it was more reminiscent of a gathering around a beach bonfire under the stars than of the stadium rock atmosphere that usually follows Hagar.
After a heady few initial months of existence, Appalachian Murder Bunnies are hoping to hit the studio to break ground on a debut album, as well as pursuing a first run on an American tour circuit. The Tahoe performance was the band’s first in the United States.
“We’ve got some stuff in the pipe, I don’t know if it’s 110 percent for sure, I don’t want to jinx it,” Andrew Hagar said. “But we’re going on tour with a pretty big act this summer in support, and we’ll see how that turns out.”