Bluegrass Meltdown, Montrose-Style

Medicine Show, J.W. Americana and Two Star Symphony have the cure for the Monday-night blahs

The Trade picked up their instruments and headed upstairs to continue their set. Medicine Show took the stage downstairs. Back in January, I caught these guys at Brasil, and they told me then that they felt more comfortable at Helios, and it was easy to see that this was true. Their voices and instruments -- guitar, banjo, mandolin and washtub bass -- were barely amplified, and the vibe was a lot like the rowdiest Asylum Street Spankers gig ever, one without a shred of the preachy overtones you can get from that Austin band. Before long, the audience was clapping their hands over their heads. As they ripped through a few bluegrass standards such as "Rocky Top," Bluegrass Breakdown," and "Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms," the guys on the stage were stomping their feet so hard that great clouds of dust were billowing waist-high.

Soon the members of Two Star Symphony and J.W. Americana started joining in, and the show went through a few symphony-like "movements." There was a Jimmie Rodgers vibe for a while, and then a Kosmo-led Cab Calloway vamp session, which segued into a hip-hop groove complete with somebody beat-boxing into the mike as Kosmo hollered improvised verses about stuff like Ralph Macchio and spring break '86. Next came some Django Reinhardt-style hot club Gypsy jazz. Three or four tall and attractive women were dancing right in front of the stage. While all this was going on, musicians were all over the place. Kinsey -- who in his top hat looked more like a demented Abe Lincoln than ever -- waved a voodoo stick with plastic skulls tied to it. Saxman Moreno chipped in while standing on a chair at a table at the back of the small room. A harmonica player wailed from the bar. The now-shirtless Kosmo was running around the club yelling things like "My pubic hairs are shy!"

Then the Gypsy jazz gave way to ragtime, and later to laid-back Chet Atkins-Floyd Cramer-style piano-guitar duets. Most of the musicians were crowded at the bar, knocking back those $2 Bocks with tequila and Alabama slammers. At some point most of the musicians took the stage and starting playing again. Most of us -- fans and pickers alike -- had yelled ourselves hoarse. The musicians all left the stage at once but continued playing as they walked around, chasing the barflies before them. Everybody in the club walked in a huge circle, the musicians at the rear. When they got back on the stage, they continued playing as if nothing had happened. Just before closing time there was a drunken sing-along of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene," which, as it happens, was co-written by those Lomaxes I am related to.

How strange it was that across town at that very minute thousands of people were lined up to become the next American Idol. There were no Idols here, save for Edgar Nova's friend at the bar. What was here was music the way it was before it became a ticket to something else -- money, fame, power. This was music for the sheer hell of it, and it was just about as much fun as you can have.

And, as it happens, you will have two chances to catch the mayhem this week. On August 23, J.W. Americana will play with Sugar Shack, 30footFALL, Deconstruction Crew and Austin's Strap-Onz at KPFT's Back to School party in the backyard of the station. (The show will be hosted by Rad Rich and his Rock-n-Roll Revue cohorts.) The next night, J.W. will be at Rudyard's 25th Anniversary Gala, capping off a weekend of events at the now-officially venerable Montrose club. The Meat Purveyors/Pong show kicks off the weekend's festivities on August 22, and Buddhacrush plays Saturday. There will be a raffle and free food during Sunday's broadcast of The Simpsons, and one lucky guest will ride off on a Fat Tire bicycle.

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