I was assigned to write an Artbash article for this week's New Times, which is always a Gonzo style first-person story. Naturally, I wrote about Twang N Bang X. Duh! (You can see the official story here.)
It’s 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6 and I’m looking down the barrel of twelve hours of live music at Frog and Peach Pub. It’s my fifth year playing Twang N Bang in as many bands (in order: Hayburner, Red Eye Junction, Magazine Dirty, The Gal Fridays—and this year—Hayley & the Crushers), so I know the drill by now. That’s why I’m wielding a spatula in one hand and a mug of strong black coffee in the other. I know that this day will call for caffeine and pancakes. Lots of caffeine and pancakes.
The weather is already scorching hot (a Twang N Bang tradition) and I know there will be even more sweat to come once the bands start rocking and the beer flows freely.
Even so, I throw on some white cowboy boots and run through my set list for the zillionth time (all 13 bands will play about 30 minutes each, but my set will be a short and sweet 20). I wipe the perspiration that has already congealed on my strings, pack up my guitar, amp, and pedals, summon my husband/bass player/ Reid Cain, and drive the familiar route to Frog & Peach, the little hole-in-the-wall bar that holds so many of my musical memories. Sadness. Exhilaration. Joy. Nausea. Embarrassment. Victory. It’s all there, mixed with that famous Frog and Peach stale beer smell. I can’t wait to see what new writing has graced the bathroom walls since my last visit (turns out the latest ladies room tag says: “touch my butt and buy me pizza”).
It’s about 2:30 p.m. when we belly up to the bar, and Santa Barbara’s Chasing Rainbows has already played for a good half hour, backed by Sacramento’s Californios. A healthy crowd has already assembled, and I’m stoked to see guitarist Brian Mathusek and drummer Merry Young of the Mutineers, who will be crashing at our house after the festivities close, somewhere around 2 a.m.
The best part of Twang N Bang is connecting with a vast motely crew of local and out-of-town musicians. There’s a “family reunion” joy about it—without the family drama. For the first half of the day, everyone’s hugging, bullshitting, catching up, and laughing. By nightfall, the whole bar is ringing with a boisterous chorus. There’s a lot of support; a lot of enthusiastic high fives, and the trading of CDs. I introduce my drummer and Twang N Bang newcomer, Ryan Jenkins, to as many local musician friends as I possibly can. And just like that, another soul is indoctrinated into the church of Twang N Bang.
The sunlight may still be shining, but time loses all meaning in this bar.
Atascadero’s Creston Line is churning out sad country sounds and Brenneth Stevens is killing it on pedal steel, just like he always does. We’re up next, and I’m touched to see so many folks have stuck around (especially the smokers). This is our very first SLO show, but my nerves melt away once I plug in. I feel comfortable here, and I know it can always get worse (Everything that can go wrong on stage already has, so that helps. The cops have been called, mics have stopped working, multiple, crucial strings have been broken. Amazingly, I’ve never been booed).
“I guess we are the first ‘bang’ of the day,” I yell into the mic, before kicking into “Siren’s Call,” a groovy little number about villainous mermaids. Twang N Bang Fest founder and friend Patrick Hayes looks on from the street window as he tries to gauge how loud we really are. Considering the fact that Hayes himself plays in the loudest band in SLO (The Dead Volts) I probably fried some eardrums. Sorry-not-sorry, guys.
Reid’s bass is a fuzzy burp; my guitar is thin and metallic with layers upon layers of reverb. Ryan pummels the drums with a straight-forward rock n roll style, no frills, no fuss—and he growls into the mic on a few songs, making for a wild duet. When it’s all over, my heart is pounding and I feel intense gratitude. Like a too-fast twirl on a merry-go-round, I want to do it again.
The first drink is always the sweetest. Jennifer Hix buys me a celebratory hard cider, and we make up funny dance moves while Other Houses’ Morgan Enos sings about intergalactic travels. Drummer Lexi McCoy patters softly along to the acoustic guitar, and it makes me happy that she is one of two female drummers on the lineup this year. As day runs into early evening, the harmonica-fueled folk of M Lockwood Porter blurs into the hard rock sounds of HOT TINA, providing another electric wave of girl power. Ali Wenzl sways as she thumps her bass and she looks like a real rock star up there in her black sunglasses. Brian “B Ball” Morzel (wearing a tuxedo T-shirt like his female bandmates) shows off.
When the Mutineers get up on stage (for one of the best sets I have ever heard them perform), I’m dancing out on the floor. Nothing can stop the booty-shaking, even though one of my cowboy boots has decided to come apart at the sole. Reid and I are getting buzzed and the pancakes are wearing off. It’s always a dramatic and painful moment when you know you have to go eat—and in our case—make the annual wardrobe change from Crusher to country. If only there was a Twang N Bang food truck or even someone selling tacos outside! We dash over the Creekside for a medium rare burger then home to quickly change, Reid into a 1970s wool suit with Western tie and cowboy hat and me into a lime green square dancing dress and boots that actually work. I feed our two dogs, who look pissed off that they weren’t invited to Twang N Bang—yet again.
When we return to the bar, the crowd has intensified size and volume. Local boys American Dirt are just about ending their rambunctious tryst with the audience, and I am told it was a most heroic set (good thing we are spoiled and get to see them often). With nothing but a standup bass and acoustic guitar, Turkey Buzzards mesmerize the crowd into a slow, swaying mass—a testament to Hayes’ lineup-crafting skills. Next, Red Eye Junction will take the stage after a few years of absence and the loss of a few good band members.
The honky tonk band my husband formed nearly ten years ago was one of the first groups to be invited to play Twang N Bang alongside Hayes’ Penny Jar, bluegrass group Cuesta Ridge, and so many others (just ask an “old timer” for the whole story). Reid slips right back into his nasal twang like a pro, and I am proud to back him up on vocals, channeling my inner Loretta Lynn.
I owe this band so very much (I joined in 2011, married in 2013). The first Twang N Bang we did together felt like a first date. Now, things are coming full circle, and I’m trying to soak it all in. Pedal steel guru Stevens is back on stage playing with us for the first time on lead guitar (God bless him). And even though the group has had maybe 1.5 practices together ever, original REJ bass player Chad Hoffman and our good friend/expert Magazine Dirty drummer Chad Nichol keeps the train chugging along dow the line. By the time we get off stage it’s nearing midnight—still two hours of music to go. The rest is blur of 50 watt Heavy, clinking glasses, and dirty jokes. Long story short: We don’t make it to 2 a.m., but that’s OK. Twang N Bang is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Let next year's training begin!