Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles by Garrett Bethmann, who reported from the Oct. 22-25 Hangtown Halloween Ball in Placerville.
Waking up Friday morning at Hangtown Halloween felt like Christmas had come early for the thousands of people spread out across the El Dorado County Fairgrounds.
When you were a kid on Christmas, you most likely tried to get your parents out of bed as soon as possible, jumping into bed and screaming ‘It’s Christmas’ as your parents tried to burrow deeper in their pillows; that’s the morning sun at a festival. It brings you the great news that another day of music is up on you and does not let you go back to sleep once the news has broken.
Coffee brewed from Coleman stoves and granola was passed around as people traded war stories and tried to put their lives together after the first night of Hangtown. One or two people still wandered the campgrounds pushing the last few minutes of the night into the mid-morning, but most were checking schedules and readying for a packed day of music.
For those who had been hitting the snooze button all morning, they were finally jolted awake by the strings of The Kitchen Dwellers’ 10:30 a.m. opening slot on The Gallows stage as it blared through the campgrounds. The band’s zippy bluegrass was like an espresso shot for the day, and it’s always going to be a fine day when the music starts before noon.
People had been expecting the T Sisters Friday morning at the main stage but instead were met by its British sister band, The Spice Ghouls. Thankfully, they played a gorgeous set of T Sisters covers and it was hard to not see the stunning similarities between the bands. Jokes aside, the T Sisters were a beautiful blend of rootsy rhythms and crystalline harmonies that was best encapsulated by the stirring “Fight Song.” There is something to be said about familial harmony, and the way all the sisters poured into an a capella version of “Rickety Tickety Tin” stopped a lot of people in their tracks. Further props to the band for diving feet first into the spirit of Hangtown on its first trip.
With more than 32 artists on the bill, it was a delight walking between the three stages and checking out intriguing new bands and bands that had been on my must-see list. Zach Deputy was one of those artists who had been dangled out in front of me like a carrot on a stick and it was a thrill to see him in his full ninja-soul self. Alone on the stage with a guitar and a loop machine he boogied the crowd down with his unique blend of acoustic soul that layered on top of itself like an ice cream sundae.
World’s Finest was a bright ray of sun on Friday when it graced the The Gallows stage. The band had an attractive vibe that combined the stoned SoCal legacy of Sublime and Slightly Stoopid with the ethereal aura of its native Portland’s singer-songwriter. With both an electric banjo and saxophone, the band went some cool places on its jams that built in pressure like a teapot until it spilled out in a soothing groove.
While some bands were trying to build a following at Hangtown from their rookie appearances, Dead Winter Carpenters gave its trusty fans a tried-and-true set of alt-country that reflected its wise old sage status at the festival from playing all five years of the festival. Getting in the holiday spirit, the band had a gorgeous array of origami deer masks that lined its monitors with fiddler Jenni Charles sporting one during the first handful of songs. With rousing takes on “Whiskey Ain’t My Wife” and “Tahoe Gal,” the band felt like an old friend who had returned for its annual blowout in the area. The Dead Winter Carpenters even included a surprise cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” that had the whole crowd singing along as passionately as if it was 1993.
The day’s theme was “Who Do Voodoo Mardis Gras Masquerade Ball” and New Orleans was well represented Friday by Tubaluba and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Seattle’s Tubaluba laid down a funky set of second line jams at The Crypt stage that marinated in the old school style of Bourbon Street. Singer Samantha Willis was dressed as Mardi Gras fairy and the band’s infectious rhythm had the whole crowd bopping
As the day turned to night, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue electrified the festival in one of the best sets of the weekend. It was impressive to see these guys in action as they drew the perfect combination of New Orleans’ traditions and explosive contemporary rock and funk that rattled the rafters on the mainstage. It was one of the more thrilling sets I’ve seen in the last couple years as Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews was a musical Swiss Army knife who played both drums and trombone and sung with ferocious intensity that matched the powerful performances by Orleans Avenue’s guitarist Pete Murano and saxophonist BK Jackson, who delivered some delectable solos throughout the concert. Passionate covers of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” and Green Day’s “Brain Stew” threw the crowd into a frenzy and showcased the versatility of this amazing group.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue didn’t take any prisoners when it took the stage and it echoed the no-nonsense party atmosphere that Hangtown fostered Friday on its first full day of music, leaving a great taste in everyone’s mouth.
Coming next: Fruition was Hangtown’s hangover cure on Saturday.
Related story: Day 1: Reporter shoulders Rubblebucket like the Pied Piper. LINK
For the full set of Larry Sabo’s photos from Hangtown Halloween, click the LINK