Live Review – Hillgrass Bluebilly Launch Party

On Saturday night the Hole in the Wall in Austin, TX was transformed into “Dirtyfoot” headquarters for fans, bands and extended family of Hillgrass Bluebilly Records for their Launch Party. Folks from as far as Canada, Seattle, Minnesota, and Boston flew in exclusively for the event and helped pack the walls of the Hole to near capacity, while over 150 people from around the world tuned in through SCM Live to share the experience.

7 bands and 5 hours of music meant both Hole in the Wall’s stages were pressed into service. Darren Hoff & The Hard Times got things stirring with their hard edged country on the smaller stage, while some started biting nails wondering if the second band The Boomswagglers were going to show for their second slot. As was explained later, “We forgot to put gas in the truck,” which they reportedly tried to remedy by pulling off a radiator hose and trying to siphon gas out of a motorcycle before calling someone to pick them up. Now if that ain’t country. . .

The Boomswagglers get the award for most authentic band of the night, in a night packed with authenticity. As they bled out their country/bluesy mix about bad women and hard times the shot glasses and beer jars stacked up on an amplifier like a mocking model of Austin’s ever-increasing skyline of posh condo buildings. Whatever the high rise condo represents, The Boomswagglers represent the polar opposite. Spencer Cornett is taller than a beanpole and skinnier than Shaggy on crack, while Lawson Benett is as tall is he is round. Together they are like dirty country’s Laurel and Hardy, with a larger-than-life, almost rock-star air around them even though they are the nicest, most down-to-earth “just blew in from the corn field” country boys you’ll ever meet.

The Boomswagglers were the one band that night I was most curious to see because I had no idea what to expect. Their song “Run You Down” that was featured on the Outlaw Radio Compilation has been one of the most popular songs in underground country, but was this just a one hit wonder? What I found was they are above-average pickers with solid and original songwriting ability that deserve whatever praise their small but loyal fans give them. Keep an eye out for their first Hillgrass Bluebilly release coming soon.

Next was Roger Wallace, who on such a stacked bill might have been overlooked by some, but was one of the standouts of the night. Roger is pure country, but with some soul and boogie to him as well. He also boasts one of the best bands to be found, with Jim Stringer on lead guitar, and the amazing Lisa Pankratz on drums. Lisa has also played with Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, and Billy Joe Shaver to name a few. Like so many of the bands that performed, Roger deserves his own separate review.

Tom VandenAvond and his “Say Hey Kids” band afforded the most memorable moment of the night, when he finished his set on the main stage with the song “Brick by Brick,” and was joined on stage by the headliners Possessed by Paul James on fiddle and Larry & His Flask, as well as Brian and Molly Salvi in one of those family-feeling moments that can’t be rehearsed or staged.

The best flat out musician from the night, on a night filled with so many great ones, might be Jim Chilson who flew down with the rest of the Ten Foot Polecats from Boston exclusively for the event. The seemingly effortless trance-inducing guitar rhythms with ridiculous fingerwork put the blues in this Bluebilly event, and was accompanied by balls out singing from Jay Scheffler and expert drumming. Who needs bass?

Now we have come to the point where I am supposed to somehow explain with human language what it is like to see Larry & His Flask live, but no words, no videos do it justice. Larry & His Flask are sheer madness. They are the essence, the pinnacle of on-stage energy. I talk often about one man bands, and how they must put out the energy of a full band. Then there is Hillstomp, which is a two man band, with both men putting out the energy of an entire band, doubling the equation. Well play the analogy out, and Larry & His Flask are like a six man band. No, this isn’t stating the obvious because there’s six people in the band, what I aim to say is they put out the energy of six bands combined.

You might think that their punk approach to an eclectic combination of roots is not for everyone. Videos just make it seem like theater. You have to appreciate that NOTHING in music trumps Larry & His Flask in the amount of energy.

The night was capped by Possessed by Paul James on the small stage, which immediately after The Flask finished, was crowded around so thick even us 6+ footers had to settle for hearing and not seeing. Nothing can trump the energy of The Flask, but it was perfected in mood by Possessed’s heartfelt soul. At that point all these folks from all around the country, from different walks of life and varying musical slantings, young and old, male and female, were all family. It was no longer about launch parties or Austin, or any of that; it was about the fellowship that a dizzying night of music can create for the soul when it is capped so perfectly by true, heartfelt expression.

Tom VandenAvod & Larry sing along to "We Welcome You Home"

A few tears were shed as all joined in Possessed’s “We Welcome You Home” at the very end of the night, and the mood in the room was such that you might anticipate all participants would disintegrate into the cosmos in a moment of infinite bliss and communion with the almighty. However reality met you cold in the face the next day, but nonetheless the participants of the Hillgrass Bluebilly Launch Party, in person and online, will never be the same after their experience, and the joy and understanding will remain inside their souls till death and beyond.

Two guns up.

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