Tag Archives: music

The Secret of the Outer Sunset: Hillbilly Hootennany West Side Review at the Riptide

honkey_tonk_san_francisco_outer_sunsetIt was Sunday and I hadn’t eaten anything since brunch when my boyfriend picked me up and we headed out. He didn’t know where we were going since this was going to be part of his Christmas present, and I didn’t really know where we were going either.

I only knew the address and that we were heading to The Riptide, “the bay area’s best little honky-tonk by the beach” for their Hillbilly Hootenanny West Side Review. It happens at the beginning of every month.

The Riptide is buried deep in the Outer Sunset, all the way at 46th and Taraval. Many people from farther in the city aren’t even sure the intersection exists, believing deep down that most of the Sunset is a foggy myth created to scare hipsters of their potential oblivion. But seek and ye shall find, and find we did.

We headed further and further until we reached that dark corner, San Francisco’s last resort before it gives into the ocean.

It’s a clear night and the world was silent as we got out of the car, looking ahead at Taraval Street. A couple of restaurants lit up the sidewalks, but it felt empty and forgotten. The lonely Riptide sign, a blue wave, shone on up the street.

Inside the bar it’s warm, both temperature and atmosphere-wise, and packed with regulars and more people wearing western gear than I could yell yee-haw at. The walls are covered in nautical motifs as well as a moose head and some country paraphernalia. Somewhere, I suspect, there’s a mermaid wearing a cowboy hat.  All around us, people are greeting one another and being friendly-like, excited to get the hootenanny going, or maybe just excited to get blammo’d on a Sunday night. I’m not a sociologist.

Finally, a man in a pearl-button shirt and a cowboy hat takes to the microphone, introducing the musicians, including a man that looks like Johnny Bravo’s cousin and a walking, talking, handle-bar-mustaching caricature of a saloon piano player. The music starts.

The definition of a hootenanny is something like “a gathering at which folksingers entertain, often with the audience joining in.” But what that definition neglects to say is that hootenannies are often spiritual affairs and can cause a deep stirring in the soul. The music was wonderful, country and heartbroken and twangy, sung by people who probably have day jobs and look forward to this all week or all month.

After the first couple of sets, guest musicians started to play and then the fun really began. My favorite performers were a pair of no-nonsense, fun-loving, belt-buckle brandishing women who didn’t just sing and play music. They took it to the next level, becoming the music they played and hamming it up shamelessly. We loved them for it.

Then it was time to go, on a Sunday, and we stepped out of the bar onto a street as silent as ever. But now we knew its secret, the secret of the honky-tonk and the fire inside (both literal and figurative).

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My life through the songs I’ve screamed

Chapter 1: Edmond, Oklahoma-“Under Pressure” by Queen

I was concurrently enrolled at the local community college my last year of high school. This was not, as most people assume, because of my insatiable love for learning. I took college classes because it  gave me a shortened school day that I could use to work on my television-watching hobbies.

My house was roughly a four minute drive from the high school and yes I drove every day. I’m from Oklahoma–unnecessary wheeled transit is what we do best.

On the way home from school my last semester in Oklahoma, as soon as I got in the car I would blast “Under Pressure” by Queen. I had to get the timing just right, in order to match the song with the drive. I loved nothing more than getting in every little “Umm ba da” or “Dee dee dee dee” right along with Freddie and then screaming at the very end, right as I was entering my neighborhood “WHY CAN’T WE GIVE OURSELVES ONE MORE CHANCE.”

As I was pulling into the driveway, “This is our last chance, this is ourselves, under pressure…….” And then I would switch off the ignition and run inside and make a cup of noodles for lunch and watch an episode of one of my hobbies.

Chapter 2: Boston, Massachusetts- “Endless Rope” by Patty Griffin

I went to college at Boston University with no time to transition out of a crush with a German man 5 years older than me or my ongoing crush on Conan O’Brien. I was also unprepared to be lonely and uncertain of where my best friends were. This led to me to identify with songs by Patty Griffin with lyrics like, “Say goodbye to the old streets that never cared much for you anyway…different colored doorways you thought would let you in one day” or “Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep with all the rain coming down.”

I often found myself walking back to my dorm late at night. The street would be mostly deserted and the night city felt like a secret. One of my favorite things to do while I was walking alone beneath the street lights and watching the stoplights turn green and crossing in the middle of the road was belt out the song “Nobody’s Crying.”

I would scream the end of the chorus, “Just have this secret hope, sometimes all we do is cope, somewhere on the steepest slope, there’s an endless rope, and nobody’s crying.” Note: I was never crying when I sang this song. Note: that’s probably not true.

Chapter 3: Cairo, Egypt-“Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

My second apartment in Cairo was located about a 20 minute walk from the nearest metro stop, a 20 minute walk along a highway that I would take every morning and evening.

In order to pass the time and forget my unfortunate location in an exhaust cloud on the freeway, I memorized songs, one of which was Rolling in the Deep. I would sing it at the top of my lungs while weaving through traffic, and go somewhere else in my head. I believed no one could hear me from the noise of the traffic, and I never felt more free than when the sun was setting and I could hear myself above the chaos screaming “YOU HAD MY HEART INSIDE OF YOUR HANDS” against the honks and the vrooms and the noise of a revolution settling.

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Why Bluegrass Night is Unlike Other Nights

A real picture taken by a real person (nokapixel on flikr) of bluegrass night at Amnesia in the Mission

It’s a Monday night in San Francisco and about one month ago I ironed patches onto my skinny jeans to stave away the quite serious hole progression in the upper thigh area. The patches are not the same color as my jeans and they are huge. Are they a fashion statement? Are they hideous? It doesn’t matter. I can sit cross-cross-apple-sauce in them without exposing myself, and it’s bluegrass night and my boots are on.

For me, bluegrass night is also improv lesson night, and while we play games and learn to forget our inhibitions, my boots have a mind of their own, stompin’ and gearin’ up for the pluckin’ and strummin’ of the folksy tunes we’re about to hear. Somehow, improv and bluegrass go together quite well, based as they both are in community and doing something for the love of the game.

And bluegrass night is unlike the other nights of the week, no matter how special they are. Other evenings don’t hold the same perspiration-scented twang that homespun bluegrass tunes carry, or the madness inherent in the wild twitches of the banjo player’s hand. Other nights have 20% less stomping, 38% less twirling, and 72% less “yips” and exclamations of yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-haw.

It’s a very present call to the past, an invocation of a time that may not have existed, a rootin’ tootin’ shindig.

At Amnesia, the bar that feels like the hull of a forgotten ship, which has an octopus in the corner and a selection of Belgian beers on tap and in the bottle, bluegrass draws them in. Some don’t understand what’s going on, don’t quite get the spirit or understand how to stomp and clap at the same time and which foot and which hands to use. Some are caught up in the stereotype. But the energy is contagious, the mixture of nostalgia and booze, the fire-spirited fiddle and plum-drum bass brewing the night’s mood.

Sway a little to the beat, pick up your feet and set them down, in rhythm. Don’t be afraid to believe in the myth, in the fields and the honky tonk and the sweet smell of hay and betrayed love. Because it’s bluegrass night, where the music is too good for pretention. It’s only simple if you let it be.

Grab a Maredsous, pick a partner and do-si-do, if you dare, or at least stand a little closer to the stage. Biting is for afterwards.

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Concert Review: “The Hair Was Good”

You have to be good to earn hair like the King.

I paid money for and attended a concert last night. This was unusual. Normally I listen to songs on YouTube until I’ve memorized 80% of the words and find someone who has the CD, if that even happens, then I don’t go to the concerts.

I’m a music fan but not a fanatic, which is why I always feel slightly awkward around crazy music people, the ones who are oblivious to other passions and clearly imagine that living in thrall to music is the most noble life. According to them, everyone else either feels the same way or is a dirt bag.

That makes me a dirt bag because I don’t love going to concerts unless I know all of the songs and/or there’s going to be crazy dancing. Last night was a perfect example of what happens at the kind of concert I don’t enjoy.

The local band (hint: unknown songs) started playing and the audience approached the stage from the darkness, drawn towards the musicians but fearing to leave the shadows and step into the stage lights. Most men in the audience were bearded, about 25% were wearing some kind of flannel, and there were too many whimsical patters to count.

The most important thing about this crowd, however, is that its 8:15 dance of choice was to stand and watch with the occasional head bob. In other words, they were a bunch of boring stiffs. Literally, their bodies were stiff like corpses and I wanted to shout at them, “Move! Move your bodies or you shall lose your souls!”

Instead I invented new dance movies, including the slow-mo kiss blow and twiddling my thumbs to the music high in the air. Why the others didn’t join me, I’ll never know. The first band finished their set, and the crowd gave up a “too-cool-to get-excited-about-anything” cheer.

The second band and their hair appeared on stage.

According to our backstage informer, the crew had just gotten hair cuts that allowed them to literally outshine and outpoof everyone else. Their long hairs had been trimmed short on the sides and swept up on top to make a glossy pillow of hair that added a half foot to their total height.  The hair pillows were mesmerizing and by far my favorite part of their performance. As they jerked and jumped to the music, their ridiculous hair-dos also jostled around but somehow always found their way back home.

Their music didn’t have a chance when compared to the hair. In fact, they could have jumped on a trampoline for thirty minutes and I would have enjoyed watching them just as much. The highlight of the night was probably right before the concert started when we found an awesome parking spot that was close by. More on that later.

This concert only whetted my appetite for screaming and thrashing movements (singing and dancing.) I need to go to a cover band show ASAP.

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Mamma Mia, Pop Song or Demonic Torture Device?

I went to a friend’s choral concert last Saturday expecting a lovely evening of culture. Though the performance was indeed lovely, I unfortunately left possessed with a madness more deadly than unrequited poet love.

Had I the foresight of my Swedish ancestors, I would have sensed danger when the director announced the evening’s program, which included “Mamma Mia” by ABBA, one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of pop music.

They excelled at producing plague-like music that would sweep entire countries and yet I thought nothing of it, sitting politely and listening as the choir sang “Mamma Mia.” I hadn’t heard the song in a long time and was struck by the tune which was both plaintive and upbeat. Yes, it was quite the catchy song.

Later that night, lying in bed while sounds from the street leaked into my room, the tune echoed endlessly in my mind, “Mamma mia , how could I forget you. Mamma mia, just how much I missed you….mamma mia, here I go again.” Dear God what was happening to me.

I woke the next day with “Mamma Mia” on my lips and proceeded to waste thirty minutes watching the music  video on repeat. A product of the fashion-confused seventies, the video showcased precarious hip swaying with the daring addition of finger snapping and outfits inspired by a futuristic version of Xena the Princess Warrior in a winter landscape. It was the kind of material only an anthropologist could find impressive.

Oh but the song was maddening, addicting.  With each encore, it fermented my brain, crawled beneath my skin, and replaced the blood in my veins.

I tried to mock their outfits and teeth but I was a slave to the song, which like a fungus had taken root in the damp recesses of my mind where an entire ABBA colony was growing. My thoughts were replaced with “Mamma Mia,” the notes ricocheting in my skull without mercy, and I realized my sanity had been hopelessly lost.

Now, infected with “Mamma Mia” psychosis, sometimes the world fades to white and I see Agnetha, Benny, Björn, and Anni-Frid dancing and smiling invitingly in a world where lovers can cheat as long as they wear strap-based clothing. The members of the second most commercially successful act in the history of pop music were now my personal demons.

They haunt my every moment, parading in my dreams with ever stranger costumes—so many clasps! So much arm sleeve! And all day long– while making coffee, sitting in class, forgetting my passport, washing my spoon– I hum the dreaded song, “Mamma mia.” I know the lyrics now. I know them almost perfectly.

Once I’ve lost everything to this song and my mind is wasted, will that be enough? Will you then leave me, Agnetha, when I know it all? Will you depart from here, Benny?

Leave me be, ABBA demons! Away from here! Let me live the life I was supposed to live, the life others hoped for me. Let me return once again to dreams of rainy day naps and snow covered cabins. Take your poison music to someone with with no future, like a law student,  and let a simple Arabic student continue her doodles in class.

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