Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series about the 2015 Hangtown Halloween Ball in Placerville. To see the full set of photos by Larry Sabo, click the LINK
Day 3 at Hangtown Halloween was a full-throttle ride that didn’t stop until the morning mists of Sunday.
With a day and a half of music underneath its belt, Hangtown put the pedal to the metal and left behind anyone who wasn’t ready for the ride. The grace period for people to get acquainted with the pace and schedule of the festival from Thursday and Friday was over and it was time to get down to the nitty gritty of the party. The day was packed to the gills with high-octane acts that kept the RPM’s maxed-out set after set. If you were going to attend the festival for one day, you would have wanted it to be Saturday.
Montana’s the Lil’ Smokies opened the mainstage with a big breath of fresh, bluegrass air. Faced with a crowd smaller than a basketball team, the band looked destined to be a victim of the hangover blues. It’s got be a weird feeling walking out to such a small crowd, but the Lil’ Smokies seemed unphased and played an inspiring version of Led Zepplin’s “Going To California” that made the song as much their’s as it was Zeppelin’s, and followed that with their own spirited ode to the Golden State, “California.” By the time the band was done a sizable crowd had emerged to kick up dust with them, including some very enthusiastic Ninja Turtles. The Lil’ Smokies won this year’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition and with a gorgeous six-pronged attacked of all the major bluegrass instruments, along with dobro player Andy Dunnigan’s singing with the warmth of a fall campfire, the band is poised for great heights.
If the Lil’ Smokies provided the refreshing glass of water that eased last night’s hangover, Fruition was the shot and beer you took an hour later for to pick you back up to drinking speed. The hardier partiers in the crowd will say that the best way to cure a hangover is to keep drinking, and if that is the case, Fruition was Hangtown’s hangover cure Saturday. The Portland collective was coming off a late-night with Yonder Mountain String Band on Friday, but showed no signs of easing into the early afternoon set. Pistol-hot from the start, the band plowed through the crowd with its rousing alt-country anthems, even having Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone share in its bender halfway through for a handful of songs. A set-ending “Boil Over” had the crowd as worn and eager to find shade as the band so it could recharge for the music that still lay ahead.
There definitely wasn’t a lot of time to find solace in a lawn chair or a bite from one of the delicious food stands if you were trying to hit all the shows Saturday. The mighty, nine-headed monster of funk that is Turkuaz kept the hits coming on the main stage with cuts from it’s newest album “Digitonium,” with the colorful “Percy Thrills the Moondog” being a highlight, while The Dustbowl Revival got everyone ramped up on Prohibition-era party songs, on The Crypt stage (It’s still a mystery how the group fit all eight members on what was essentially a very small gazebo). The Dead Winter Carpenters played its second set of the weekend on The Gallows stage in commanding fashion as dusk started to settle in.
In two of the most riveting sets of the weekend, North Mississippi Allstars and Scott Pemberton Trio gave outstanding previews of their late-night sets slated for Sunday. The North Mississippi Allstars laid down their usually greasy set of Delta-bred blues rock, with the brothers Dickinson being joined by Sharnay Thomas on drums and Randy Johnson on bass. Luther Dickinson was all smiles in the set, grinning and laughing with every howling lick from his guitar or moment of musical joy shared between him and his bandmates.
That same elation was felt in Scott Pemberton, whose crowd overflowed into the road and campground at The Gallows stage. Pemberton is someone who feeds off pure inspiration and you could tell his stunning guitar acrobatics were fueled by the raucous crowd. He was in fine form and his deep, positive, timber rock from Portland in “One Time” and “Spin and Breathe” resonated with the audience. Pemberton and Dickinson are two of the most joyous and humble guitarists touring, and it was a really powerful experience to watch them play back-to=back Saturday.
If there was ever a time when the music eased a little on Day 3, it was during Yonder Mountain String Band’s and Railroad Earth’s sets on the mainstage in the evening.
Yonder is a different beast with the addition of mandolinist Jacob Jolliff and fiddler Allie Kral since Jeff Austin’s departure, but the new members add a nice, fully rounded sound to the band and Saturday’s set the band proved it’s just as dedicated to pushing boundaries in its newest form as its original form. The band was joined by Railroad Earth’s Carbone and multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling for the last two songs of the night, including a jammed out “Shakedown Street.”
Railroad Earth played two sets that featured the band digging into the Halloween spirit of Hangtown. The stage was lined with dozens of jack-o-lanterns and was decked-out in candles and tapestries and webs, giving it a very haunted house vibe, and the band played dressed as a horde of vampires. They opened their second set with a self-penned spook anthem that had a mass of musicians from the weekend, including members of Dead Winter Carpenters and Fruition, waltz out on stage to dance along as some kind of monster coalition and directly lead into the festival’s official anthem “Hangtown Ball.”
Both bands played fine sets, drawing some of the larger crowds of the weekend. But after three full sets of string-band music, people began to count down until the late-night performances.
With two sets of blistering funk from Kung Fu and Lettuce, Saturday’s late night show was one to be remembered for Hangtowns to come. Kung Fu has the pounding energy of a band like Umphrey’s McGee, who is looking to melt your face off with arena rock energy and intricately tapped melodies. The musicians succeeded to bring the house down on the pulsing “Samurai” and showed they have the potential to headline a late-night set of its own in a year or two.
Kung Fu certainly took notes on what to do with a headlining set when Lettuce took the stage. The band is at the top its game right now and showed that it is only creating new rules to play by with a set that included songs from its soon-to-be-released album “Crush.” “The Force” has that old-school bounce with a new-school swagger that Lettuce does so well, marked by the hefty lines from the Shady Horns.
The band always has been bombastic, so it is was interesting to hear it work in more atmospheric and nuanced textures with the new songs, including a tantalizing new song called “Phyllis” that spun around in dense cosmic rays.
For the people who had danced through nearly 16 hours of music Saturday, the break in music at 4 a.m., as people filed away from Lettuce couldn’t come at a better time for their exhausted bodies, though they probably could have gone on for another hour.
Related story: Reporter shoulders Rumblebucket, becomes part of the story. LINK
Related story: Day 2 Hangtown Halloween. LINK
Related story: Backstage with the T Sisters LINK