Aplscruf's Music Blog

Best Show of the Year: Southern Culture On The Skids at The Tractor Tavern 08.30.14

Southern Culture on The Skids

Southern Culture on The Skids

I know, I know.  The year ain’t over yet.  When the show ended Saturday, all I could say was, “That was the best show of the year!” I kept repeating it into the wee hours and into the next week.  I guess I should say it was the best show of the year, so far, in a small venue.

The warm Ballard evening started with an interesting and delicious meal at Stoneburner, conveniently situated across the street from The Tractor. In the summer months, they offer outdoor seating and open-air window tables throughout the restaurant and bar, attracting the sidewalk strollers’ attention. We took the only little table left inside the bar.  Inside, the wood-paneled walls and intricate details and furnishings harkened back to an earlier era. I ordered a cocktail that included suze, a French liqueur infused with a bitter root.  It was…different–not sweet, but a little floral.  We also shared a meat and cheese tray and managed to gobble down almost everything on it: piles of thinly sliced salami and prosciutto; a large strip of soft cheese; little mounds of pickled cucumbers, candied cherries, grapes and baby carrots.  We also shared a nice salad with a champagne vinaigrette.

We took our time with dinner and still had a few minutes to stop by Hattie’s Hat for a gigantic, hot homemade brownie and ice cream for dessert. SO good. I felt like a hedonist.

Inside The Tractor, the crowd pushed forward.  The first band, Johnny 7 and The Black Crabs was ready to go on stage. We eyed our favorite table stage right, but it was full.  We meandered to the other side and found our friend Dean near the backstage gate that led to the loading dock.  We re-introduced ourselves, as we hadn’t seen him since last December at The Big Sandy show. There was also a table on his side, which we found we liked even better this toasty evening because the outdoor breeze coming from the loading dock funneled its way toward us.

The Black Crabs: Johnny 7 Stuart, Brigitt Rains and Wesley Amundsen

The Black Crabs: Johnny 7 Stuart, Brigitt Rains and Wesley Amundsen

The re-invented Black Crabs have a few new members now.  There is a lot of band member swapping and sharing in Seattle.  Johnny Stuart, lead singer and guitarist, now works with a new bass player named Wesley Amundsen and drummer “Crazy Mikey” Daugherty, but occasionally brings in former members as guest musicians.  Brigitt Rains, formerly of The Swearengens, now sings with Johnny on a few songs.

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Johnny and Brigitt

It was a treat to see The Black Crabs again. They played my favorites from their previous albums as well as several new ones. Their rockabilly sound is so appealing and authentic.  The band performs mostly originals and a few covers, including the catchy opener, “Say Mama”.  The trio blasted through 16 danceable numbers, but tonight the crowd was too packed to allow the space needed for two-stepping, Western Swing, or any other kind of twirling ’round.

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The Black Crabs ended their show with “Blast Off” with Johnny edging closer to the crowd, holding guitar above their heads and rockin’ out while Wesley tilted his bass on one side and rode the thing while continuing to slap it and moved the audience into a frenzy.

Johnny teasing the audience

Johnny teasing the audience

Now the audience was well-primed for Southern Culture on the Skids.

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S.C.O.T.S.

We had not seen Southern Culture on The Skids (S.C.O.T.S.) before, but knew they played The Tractor and other venues in Seattle for several years.  Originally from South Carolina, they have been going steady since 1983. They have also played with Los Straitjackets, including their big Halloween party/tour/album last year called Mondo Zombie Boogaloo.  Our friend Dean told us before that this was a must-see band. We were just happy to have another free weekend and time to see some live music.

Mary Huff

Mary Huff

The week before the show, I checked their website and watched some of their crazy videos.  The big wigs and go-go boots worn by bass player Mary Huff immediately reminded me of Kate and Cindy of The B-52’s. Some songs also reminded me of the silliness and party style of The B-52’s with titles like “Double Wide”, “Camel Walk”, and “Daddy Was a Preacher But Mama Was a Go-Go Girl”:


Their music, led by guitarist Rick Miller in a seersucker suit, was a quirky blend of surf, punk, blues, rockabilly, roots rock, and kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll. He had us completely mesmerized as his nimble fingers slid over his fret board delivering scorching solo runs. Drummer Dave Harman stood at the drum kit and pounded away, while keeping up a rapid-fire surf beat. He sported a nice bowling shirt at the beginning of the show.  He quickly removed it as things heated up and exposed his wife-beater t-shirt with the screen-printed phrase, “Free Mustache Rides”.  Even funnier was the fact that he had no mustache. Mary’s turn on bass was seemingly effortless as she thumped out fast, repetitive bass riffs and kept her cool, only showing the heat when powdering her nose and checking her giant bouffant wig on stage between songs.

Rick Miller

Rick Miller

Although the music stood alone and was entertaining in its own right, there are some hilarious traditions that happen at a S.C.O.T.S. show.  One is, if you are dressed in appropriate attire (extravagant and colored wig, go-go boots, 60’s dress or possibly a light blue tux), you may be invited up on stage for a little dancing.

Guest Dancers

Guest Dancers

If you like fried chicken, you might be asked to serve (throw) it to audience members during their song “Eight Piece Box”.

Chicken Throwers

Chicken Throwers


When Rick played “Jack The Ripper” he shredded that guitar in an extended solo and went all Jimi Hendrix on us.  He played his guitar behind his head, held it out over the audience, and eventually laid it down–not to light it afire, but to sit on it and make it scream.  Bizarre, hilarious, and fantastic, but without losing the quality of the blazing solo.

Butt Solo

Butt Solo

We were so engaged in the entire evening, we didn’t realize that it was almost 1 am.  Time had no meaning this night.  After their outrageous performance, we thanked each member and asked them to sign a copy of their latest CD entitled Dig This. Each member was so appreciative and friendly.  We’ll be sure to hit their show next time they come around.  I listened to CD with the ragtop down that next week.  I dug that.

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Check out S.C.O.T.S. tour schedule–mostly Southeast dates the rest of the year.

September 28, 2014 Posted by | aplscruf, Big Sandy, black crabs, Concert Season 2014, southern culture on the skids, The Tractor Tavern | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Backwoods” in the Evening: A Rowdy Night with Massy Ferguson and Friends

Massy Ferguson celebrated another EP release on Friday, August 8 at Conor Byrne Pub in Ballard.  

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We began the warm summer night with a special treat: a parking spot directly in front of The Tractor, across the street from Conor Byrne. After all these years, we’ve never parked that close, especially on the first go ’round.

Fredd Luongo, lead singer of The Swearengens, stood in front of the Tractor with his band mates and watched us park the car.  I stayed in the car for a minute and pulled on my boots. I caught Fredd in my peripheral vision, staring me down.  His blue eyes followed me as I stepped onto the sidewalk, and I knew what he was going to say.

“You’re going to the Massy Ferguson show tonight, aren’t you?” A very sober look crossed his face.

“Uh, yes. Yes we are, Fredd,” I said, my voice full of remorse. “I’m so sorry!  We already committed to their show before realizing that you were playing tonight, too.  I’ll tell you what–if there’s time, we’ll run over and catch your show, I promise!”

I felt like some sort of traitor.  I love The Swearengens just as much as I love Massy Ferguson. Lately, for some reason, the timing has been off in our efforts to make it to a Swearengens show. Both bands have played in the Seattle area for years and tour with other local and national bands, too.  And this night, they played across the street from each other.  The stars were crossed tonight, I’m afraid.

With tails between our legs, Pat and I headed down the to Bad Albert’s for a quick and hearty dinner–pulled pork on toasted roll with slaw and fish sandwich and chips.  Great pub food, and inexpensive, too.

Conor Byrne is a long, rectangular brick building with a bar lining the left side and a few benches and tables along the right wall and scattered near the stage.  The triangular stage was ridiculously small for the piles of equipment loaded on and around it.  A low velvet couch against the wall near the side of the stage looked like it was built about the time of the opening of the original structure. We chose to sit on the couch and sunk way down into the worn, threadbare cushions.  That was OK–at least we didn’t have to stand for the show.  It was going to be a long night.

Hook and Anchor

Hook and Anchor

Hook and Anchor, a talented, five-piece, multi-instrumental Americana band opened the show. I liked their bluegrass vibe.  The female lead singer, Kati Claborn, had quite a large vocal range, and hit some beautiful high notes in a song near the end of the set.  She also played banjo and acoustic guitar.  She switched out to upright bass for one song and let the bass player Luke Ydstie lead on banjo.  Fiddler and guitarist Gabrielle Macrae sang her own song and accompanied on others. The band also included collaborator Erik Clampitt on vocals, guitar and steel, and Ryan Dobrowski on drums. They reminded me of The Gourds in the way they democratically let everyone take a turn at different instruments and vocals. The band had a helluva time switching out instruments, positioning amps and monitors, and changing places on the tiny stage.  They really deserve to be on a larger stage to showcase their fine talents without the distraction of trying not to get in each other’s way. 

Legendary Oaks

Legendary Oaks

Legendary Oaks, a four-piece rocking alt-country band loaded in after shuffling around the equipment. Pat and I talked to them outside before the show. We saw them back in January at The Sunset Tavern. I remember it well, because there was this strange turn on the dance floor that night.  The boys were up on stage rockin’ out, and these girls that looked like they’d just been to a Bellevue dance club came in wearing pretty dresses and high heels and started raising the roof!  We had a good laugh over that, and frontman Craig Schoen remembered my written account of the crazy evening. We were looking forward to another great show, but with probably a little less disco on the dance floor.

They rocked again with some psychedelic jams. Their lead guitarist Zoran Macesic could be The Edge’s protege, with echoing, haunting, repetitive guitar licks.  Schoen’s vocals turned a dark corner, Dave Grohl-style, and went from a smooth, even tone to a wail.  He jammed on his acoustic like a true rock star, with posturing and angst-riddled facial expressions.  Their sound has a bit of a Tom Petty vibe, too, which makes their songs so addictive.  Bassist Chris Jordan and drummer Justin Ansley kept the tight beat going for their strong set. They left the stage soaked in sweat.  Legendary Oaks also packed the floor, although the dancing was minimal this time around. 

As promised, we trotted across the street to see if The Swearengens were still on, hoping to catch a few songs before Massy Ferguson took the stage.  We just missed them.  Fredd was manning the merch table. We caught his eye and slowly waved goodbye to him with pouting faces.  Sorry, Fredd.

Massy Ferguson

Massy Ferguson L-R: Tony Mann, Dave Goedde, Adam Monda, Ethan Anderson

Massy Ferguson’s new 6-track, mostly acoustic album, entitled Backwoods is just what I would expect from the boys.  It has just the right balance of beer-swillin’ songs and sober, thoughtful tunes. Lead singer and bassist Ethan Anderson shared his thoughts about the new EP: 

An album is a time piece, I’ve always thought. It captures a moment, a snapshot of what an artist or band is or what they are feeling at the time. In that way, albums are bound and chained to the stage of life of the artist. And, honestly, these are more “sober” times for MF. Three of us have had kids with wives/girlfriend, etc., and all the grown-up stuff that comes with that, and Tony is leaving the band for the better part of a year (he’s headed to Costa Rica – hence the song “Last Note”). I think all of us have been feeling a little more worn down by the “business” of music–maybe it’s age, maybe it’s wisdom. Sober is not a bad thing, it gives you ability to better reflect; and I think this album is, at its core, quite reflective. Reflective on individual expectations, on art, on nature, on personal histories, on places and spaces we’ve occupied.

“We’ve proven over the years that we can write songs for the bar-room, but we had this palette of songs that were more pretty, introspective and acoustic – 6 of them to be exact – and they didn’t really fit in with the feel of our other new material. They felt like a break from what we do, and I’m really glad they turned out the way they did sonically.”

Massy Ferguson started off strong with the title track and “90’s Darlin'” from Backwoods.  They squeezed in a couple of female vocalists to the stage, adding to their already-big sound and filling up every square foot of stage space with instruments, pedals, and power cords (and power chords, of course).  The band got the people on their feet and clapping to their energized blend of alt-country, with mostly upbeat songs keeping them engaged throughout the night.  

DSC05956Ethan took a few moments during the set and christened the new EP with a poignant yet humorous speech about where he’s headed musically and where he’s ended up physically with this band.  He paraphrased it later: “…the moment right when you start to wake up in the morning where your brain is cloudy and you realize you are not in your bed at home. As a musician this is something I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve woken up in a bed next to Tony in a Richland, WA motel room, I’ve woken up next to a 68 year old British man named Nick on our recent UK tour, I’ve woken up on the floor of the Brick Tavern in Roslyn...Backwoods in the Morning is probably mostly about waking up (literally and metaphorically) in a better place, a better headspace, in a new recognition of your life and who you are, where you have been.”

Even the bar was a different space for them. “As for the Conor Byrne show, again, even the show was a departure from the usual. That’s not a room we play, but we’d heard it was a good room for acoustic music. The sound for us wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped, but the show was definitely fun. Once you’ve been a musician in a town for a long time, you like to shake things up a bit, and I  think we did just that with the Conor Byrne show. It was a bit more of an unknown commodity than, say, the Tractor or Nectar or places we’ve played a lot. And, truthfully, the EP is a bit more of an unknown commodity too, compared to what we usually do.”

Adam Monda on lead guitar decided to go all acoustic tonight and follow the tone for their new EP, which added a rich, subdued sound to some of the more rocking numbers.  It worked on this smaller stage, although as Ethan mentioned above, there were some sound issues and the occasional feedback hum.  Tony Mann had some great solos on keys, including a noticeable turn on “Last Note” from the EP.  Dave Goedde is fun to watch on drums; his long arms pounded out the strong country-rock beat.  He must have felt a little claustrophobic this night, crushed into the very back corner of the miniscule stage. 

Adam Monda (Guitar) and Ethan Anderson (Flute) of Massy Ferguson

Adam Monda (Guitar) and Ethan Anderson (Flute) of Massy Ferguson

Our favorite part of the night is when the flute comes out. We know there is going to be a sing-along to a cover song, and possibly a few extra fans or musicians on stage to help out.  Ethan held the revered flute up high and the audience cheered. The band held nothing back, and several of the other band members joined them until there was absolutely no room for any more people or instruments.  Guest percussionists pounded on pint glasses (more than one broke and ended up on the stage) to add to the wall of sound.  The audience, as instructed, sang and danced, bounced and clapped heartily as they played “Last Note” and “Bum Drunk” to finish off the fabulous night.  

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I enjoy evangelizing when it comes to our favorite Seattle bands.  We try to invite friends every time we go out to a show.  Many get the thrill of experiencing an unknown band for the first time.  It’s so invigorating to watch their eyes light up when a particularly rollicking song catches their attention.  I feel like we’ve done our part to spread the word about the great music that happens every week in Seattle.  This night was no exception.  Pat invited his friend and co-worker Gary, and he was thankful to get out and listen to new music tonight.  His wife and friend came to the show later after attending the Lady Gaga spectacle at Key Arena.  They were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the bands here in this tiny bar.  Quite a bit of a scene change from Lady Gaga.

The rowdy night ended with the setlist, signed CD’s, a drive with the top down, and Dick’s hamburgers at 1 am. 

Massy Ferguson Setlist

Massy Ferguson Setlist

**Catch Massy Ferguson around town over the next few weeks, including The Tractor Sept. 19th with Austin’s Band of Heathens, and Ballard’s Macefield Festival Oct. 3rd, where they will play at The Sunset.**

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Americana, aplscruf, Concert Season 2014, Conor Byrne, Hook and Anchor, Legendary Oaks, Massy Ferguson | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs 3.11.11

I wasn’t going to write up a blog for this show.  I didn’t write a setlist.  I just wanted to go and enjoy Star Anna and absorb myself into the music.  But I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures.  Star and the Laughing Dogs tore it up once again. 

If you want to see a review from December, click here

Also, I met Tim DiJulio of North Twin fame.  He’s in a band with Mike McCready and Ty Bailie called Flight To Mars.  They’re playing The Showbox April 8.  We’ll be there!

And now for some more pics:

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Concert Season 2011, Music, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs, The Tractor Tavern | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The One Time I Didn’t Bring My Camera…

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The Gourds at the Tractor Tavern, Ballard 07.13.10

The Gourds played one of their breast–I mean–best shows ever at the Tractor, and I did not bring my camera.  Big mistake.  I figured I had enough pics of The Gourds; we’ve seen them at least 5 times in the last few years.  But this time, the audience, including our neighbor who met us at the show, got more of a show than they expected!

We started with a pre-show warm-up by pigging out at Hattie’s Hat next door to the Tractor, using our will-call confirmation for a buy one, get one for half-price meal.  Not a bad deal.  And we were starving by the time we finally found a place to park.  I believe we arrived there around 7:45 or so after circling the block several times.

There were just a few people milling around when we arrived about 8:30.  We went directly to our favorite spot, and placed our drinks on the little table next to the stage.  We were able to sit on the table for a bit while we waited for the band and more people to arrive.  It was going to be another 3 1/2 hour standing marathon, so we were happy to be off our feet even for a few minutes.  We made sure to get lots of water that night, as it was pretty hot already.

Just after 9:00 Shinyribs (a.k.a. Kevin Russell) opened the show with a bang.  He brought out a different bass player and used his drummer from The Gourds.  Shinyribs’ music is a little different, much more of an old timey Southern revival style.  It moved me.  He would break into a rhythm of claps an repetitive whoops and get the audience jumping.  I felt so alive, so fulfilled.  He played some covers of old and new, including Leadbelly’s “We’s All in the Same Boat” and Sam Cooke’s “Change is A-Comin””  and a mandolin version of T Pain’s “Let Me Buy You a Drink”.  He also did a sensual song about the Sweet Potata, his favorite root vegetable, he said.

About two songs into the set, our neighbor S showed up.  He wanted to go with his wife, but they had trouble finding a sitter for their two boys on a Tuesday night; so he went solo.  Our boy was at summer camp, so we were free.  We were glad to have company that night, as none of our friends seem to have the time to GET OUT and see some live music.  S was relieved to finally get to a show.  He used to be a bouncer, so he would see a show every night of the year.  He is very knowledgeable about many genres of music.  I need to pick his brain sometime.  He listed several bands worthy of a night out, so I’ll need to take some notes next time we talk to him.

After a brief intermission, The Gourds came out; and the audience, now a packed house, responded with claps, whoops and cheers.  They played Old Gourds, New Gourds (off their album, Haymaker!) and “Gourds Shit” as Kevin said.  They also did a cover of a Waylon Jennings song and a few others that were either covers or songs I didn’t recognize.  The ones I did recognize were: El Paso/Mr. Betty/Burn the Honeysuckle/You Bought the Last Bottle to name a few.

It was quite an eclectic set, and the audience responded well.  I told P The Gourds are my religion!  I just feel like my soul gets a lift when I watch them play and stomp and gyrate on that small stage, and hear their chants, screams, growls and hollers.  I whoop back and clap along and tap my boot heels.  I never felt that way in church.  So maybe this is where I belong.

So on to that One Person at the show.   As I explained in the Old 97s blog, there is always One Person who stands out in the crowd and either makes for an interesting night or nearly ruins it, depending on the activity of said person.  This night, that One Person was directly to my right (what am I, a One Person magnet??).  P and S were on my left, near the very left corner of the stage.  I was enjoying watching the band and being up close to witness Max, the fiddler/banjo/slide player.  Out of the corner of my right eye, I kept seeing these hands of this very short woman flailing about, turning and twisting to the music.  She would then grab a beer, and continue her flailing, scaring the audience with the  beer sloshing through the air around her.  I tried not to pay too close attention, and just focus on the band.  Her little hands kept moving in my line of sight, so I nudged P and told him, “Look at the lady next to me…she’s a hoot!”  He peeked over me, then with eyes wide, leaned over to S to tell him to take a look.  I wasn’t paying attention after that; I just focused on the band and tapped along to their music.

There was another intermission as the band was deciding on the next song and tuning their instruments.  P and S talked to me about the lady next to me.  Apparently she had pulled her shirt down and was fully flashing  the band while standing next to me!  I didn’t even notice!!  That would explain their strange looks.   P was happy to get to see four real boobs the same night.  Good for him, I thought!  S said she must’ve just got ’em, because she seems so proud of ’em! ha

She then moved to the other side of the stage.  They told me to watch her, as by this time she was fully hammered, so the chances she’d flash again were imminent.  And yes, she did it again!  There was a photographer on that side of the stage who suddenly went from focusing on the band to focusing on her breasts!  We all got a good laugh.

The funniest part came when she finally pulled her shirt back up (it was a very stretchy v-neck), and a skinny young man approached the front of the stage and lifted his yellow T-shirt up and showed off his whole chest and stomach to the band!  Everyone laughed so hard!

The Gourds ended the show a bit earlier than usual, as it was a week night.  Jimmy, the bass player, sang one more encore song, then his strap broke, sending it sliding off to the stage floor.  He picked it up and had to rest it on his thigh to finish the song.  He placed it next to an old Gibson acoustic guitar and the boys gathered for a bow.  While they were scrambling to get lined up for the bow, the bass got tapped and fell into the side of the Gibson, cutting a hole in it!  Ugh! On that note, said Jimmy, they decided to end the show!

We arrived home around 1:00.  I was beat the next day, but dragged in to work a couple hours late.  We saw our neighbor after work that week, and as we were walking down our shared driveway, P pulled his shirt up and greeted him.  Tonight, S did the same thing!  I’m really hoping none of the other neighbors saw that.  They’ll begin to wonder about us…

July 17, 2010 Posted by | Concert Season 2010, Music, The Gourds, The Tractor Tavern | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gourds…For the Unwashed and Well-Read

Kevin Russell of The Gourds

We are going to see the Gourds at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard tonight.  I’ve spoken of them many times.  For more info, see www.thegourds.com.  For previous blogs, see “The Gourds” Category on right.

Looking forward to a foot stompin’ good time, as usual!

July 13, 2010 Posted by | Concert Season 2010, Music, The Gourds, The Tractor Tavern | , , | Leave a comment