Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The First Show...

I’ve been sitting here staring at my screen for about an hour trying to process and put into words the events of this past weekend. It seems like it went screaming past without so much as glance. So now I’m trying to sift and sort my memories in hope of capturing some semblance of what occurred. I do know this easily and readily; it was an absolute blast…

Friday afternoon we slowly winded our way through the Great Smoky Mountains and on over into Tennessee to our destination; a tiny town known as Cookeville. We arrived, checked into our lodgings and soon rendezvoused with our old pal, filmmaker Jason Griscom. We then followed the route that winded its way straight into nowhere, made a left turn and went even farther out. It is here the June Bug Ranch is located, site of the Muddy Roots Festival. Muddy Roots is a three day barrage of punk rock, country, rockabilly, blues and folk. Past festivals have featured a diverse array of luminaries such as Dr. Ralph Stanley, Black Flag, and Billy Joe Shaver.  This year was the largest yet, featuring Mudhoney, the Weirdos, the Blasters and Bobby Bare. ANTiSEEN wasn’t scheduled to perform until 6:00pm the following evening, but we wanted to get there early to see one of the headlining acts: spiritual ascendants, forefathers and garage rock legends the Sonics.

If you recall the film Apocalypse Now envision something akin to a cross between the scene when the Playboy Bunnies perform and the bridge at D’o Lung. Assorted vendors pedaled their wares in tents, trucks and trailers. The smell of sausage, sweat and stale beer hung in the air. Random people on motorcycles and golf carts zip about aimlessly. Fireworks periodically explode in the sky. The term ‘organized chaos’ would be apt. Several hundred acres of rolling hills transformed into a tent city populated with the children and grandchildren of Flower Power, Women’s Lib, Punk Rock and No Nukes. This is where the na├»ve hippy idealism of Woodstock and the wanton mindless violence of Altamont genetically merge. Its spawn are the refuse of middle class America; a dystopian sub-culture of tattooed and pierced ruffians raised on fast-food, cable tv and heavy-metal music.

We make our way to the main stage, aptly called the Old Wood Stage. My initial thought was the clapboard contraption would hardly withstand the weight of our gear. I can’t claim the veracity of the age but it certainly looked old and indeed was made of wood, half of which was covered by corrugated tin seemingly of equal old age. The lip of the tin roof was lined by a string of stage lights illuminating a mass of assorted equipment strewn across the boards being readied for the show.

The Sonics take what feels like forever getting ready, but when they finally kick in it’s incredible. These dudes are as old as my parents and rock harder than most young bands going today. Which proves that actual age is irrelevant; spirit has longevity. Opening with the bomb blast of ‘Cinderella’ and charging on through one classic after another, from “The Witch” to “He’s Waiting” to “Boss Hoss” to “Have Love Will Travel” to delivering the one-two knockout punch of “Psycho” and “Strychnine”.  The Sonics delivered a solid, good old-fashioned ass whuppin’ and left my ears ringing. Moreover they played some new unreleased material that sounded as vital and killer as their classic stuff. We left duly inspired.

Returning the following afternoon we killed time wandering about the festival grounds checking out the ancillary vendors and auxiliary stages located in large tents. The Rusty Knuckles folks had constructed a large booth allowing us ample room to set up and sell merchandise. Although initially overcast, the sun soon broke through the clouds and it appeared it was gonna shape up to be a pleasant evening.

We are given the high-sign to load our gear onstage. The organizers thoughtfully provided a handful of volunteer stagehands to assist us. We set up, do a quick check of the monitors and suddenly with minutes to go until show time, the sky opens forth with a torrential rain. I’m talking monsoon. The sound crew scurries to cover their gear and shut down all power onstage. Fortunately we are high and dry under the tin roof of the stage. On either side there are embankments that quickly flood. People have unwisely set up camp in these low-lying areas and are suddenly forced to confront what has essentially become a small river running through their tents. I can’t help but snicker at their dilemma. A port-a-jon begins to tip, threatening to flip over completely. People begin to watch it wobble in the rapidly rising water as it were a prize fight, some cheering for the water, some for the port-a-jon. The jon wins, remaining upright however I think its contents were voided in the floodwater. Pity those downstream…

Former ANTiSEEN drummer Phil Keller has showed up along with Owen Mays, a longtime friend and fan of the band. Mays is also a talented and respected musician in his own right. We pass the time talking wrestling and guitars. Still, I’m nervous and anxious to play. The extended last minute delay chafes my sense of order but not my overall good mood. After about an hour it finally lets up and decent crowd has gathered, braving the elements and is anxiously waiting. Finally we are given the go-ahead to play. I am somewhat out of sorts with my equipment but there is no time left to fuck around.

Clayton introduces us and before I can even think we’re off and running. We blast through the songs in rapid succession and I suddenly realize that I’m running largely on instinct. The volume of my Hiwatt amp seems to reverberate through me. I ground myself steadfastly in front of it, feeling the power surge knowing I’m controlling it. My Telecaster growls and howls and I love it. It’s an awesome sensation. I can’t hear the others very well and the stage is slick from the rain.  Trying not to slip I look again and the crowd has easily quadrupled in size. I’m learning on my feet, realizing this shit is not as easy as it looks. I’ve played guitar in other bands, but this is another beast entirely. I make a major mistake, losing the end of ‘Black Eyed Suzy’ completely. I learn the hard way if I don’t hold on to the reigns tightly I’m gonna get bucked. It’s a good lesson for me, I needed it. Gooch grins at me good naturedly, knowing exactly what I’m thinking. I get about a nanosecond to catch my breath and we continue. Before I know it I’m churning out the opening chords of “Fuck All Y’all”, our final song.  As it climaxes, Jeff takes his scrub board and sets it on fire. I churn out droning feedback while Barry and Gooch play a shuffle beat.

And then, as suddenly as it began, it’s over. 

I walk to the rear of the stage and am suddenly embraced by Clayton. This was his first ANTiSEEN show without Joe Young. I know it’s a heavy moment for him but he’s clearly pleased.  Then I hear the crowd. They are chanting “ONE MORE SONG!! ONE MORE SONG!!”  We return for a quick encore and then we are done.

Standing on the side of the stage is a familiar face. It’s Zander Schloss from the Circle Jerks. He also plays bass for the equally legendary Weirdos, who are playing after us. He shakes my hand, introduces himself and tells me my guitar sounded killer. Captain Sean from Throw Rag appears from the dark, gives me a hug and tells me “Thank-you”. My mind is blown. These are heroes of mine. We pack up the gear and I drink a celebratory beer, watch the Weirdos kick ass and then, exhausted, finally return to the motel.

I’m notorious for my harsh critique of most any and all things, but I reserve the harshest judgment for myself. I admittedly made some mistakes losing focus amid my nervous energy, but ultimately I feel really good about how it came off. And this is only the beginning. There are a lot of things in the pipeline heading on through fall and into 2015. In a few weeks we’ll be out on the road with the infamous Meatmen. So heads up.  It’s gonna be killer. 

Now get ready to get down and get with it….