Imagine a Beverly Hillbillies episode where Jed, Granny, Jethro and Ellie Mae perform a black mass and summon the Ancient Ones, right there in the Clampett mansion foyer. That might be the vibe at Union Tavern for Saturday’s Hellbilly Halloween Hoedown. A half-dozen bands of the same sinister, country-folk ilk will come together, including local hosts Blackgrass Gospel and Farmageddon Records artists, The Goddamn Gallows.
The Gallows’ brand of “punk rock gutterbilly” will make you squeal like a pig (“I bet you can squeal like a pig…”). We became big fans when we chatted them up and caught their outlandishly fun live act last year at Walters. This year, the band is returning to find the folk-punk genre making strides in Texas. Two bands from neighboring cities — San Marcos’ Rock Bottom String Band and Austin’s Junkyard Mongrels — will help prove as much.
“Our particular blend of beer-drinkin', foot-stompin', Texas tainted trashgrass is intended to get people off of their asses and on their feet,” says Rock Bottom’s Alexander J. Schultz. “Have you ever seen a mosh pit form in front of a band smashin' out songs that were originally written in the 1940s? You should. It's fuckin' glorious.”
Both bands formed in 2012. Rock Bottom String Band is making its Houston debut this weekend. Nick Asken, upright bassist for Junkyard Mongrels, says they're returning to the area.
“We've played the Houston Continental Club and Rudyard’s; both venues were a blast." he says. "People seemed to have a good time, and we've made some good friends down there. We always look forward to playing Houston when we can."
Blackgrass Gospel was one of the four dozen bands at Wisconsin's Farmageddon Records Music Festival, this past August's gathering of like-minded acts that share a rootsy sound and punk-rock attitude. We asked Saturday's visiting bands why this fusion is gaining traction everywhere.
“I feel like some people are always looking for something they can relate to and something a little different," the Mongrels' Asken says. "It seems like the people that get into this sort of newgrass, folk-punk, trashgrass — whatever you want to call it — are mostly older punks like us, traveling kids and working class folks that can relate to the working class songs about real life and struggle that doesn't come from a life of privilege. They just seem to like it a little harder, rowdier, dirtier and faster."
“Roots music was everyman's music. People are bound to put their own type of stank on it as time goes on,” adds Rock Bottom's Schultz. “We like the trashgrass, folk-punk blend because of the DIY, dysfunctional-family feel of the scene. I think one of our main appeals is everyone can do this if they try, and will be welcomed do so with open arms. Pick up a guitar or a banjo or whatever, grab a six-pack, come hang out with us and fuckin’ jam.”
Schultz says his bandmates' musical backgrounds range from “classically trained to riding the train.” Those members are working on a new album tentatively titled Home Ain’t Where I’m From, and do see the genre as a natural progression of sorts, he says, a type of roots music with an edge missing from roots-pop acts like Mumford & Sons and Trampled By Turtles.
“I listen to those guys,” says Rock Bottom’s “washboard and trash pile” player, Tara Miller. “They're awesome musicians. They're like fancy-ass wine and we're like fine malt liquor. I think people appreciate the raw, realness of what we do.”
“Our music is like anyone else's, I suppose, a collaboration of the styles that have influence us over the years,” says Asken, who moved from Washington state to Austin with fellow Mongrels founder Ian Brown three years ago. “Namely, country — the good stuff, not that new shit — rockabilly, bluegrass, punk rock and metal. We never really ‘chose’ this genre. It just kind of came out that way.”
Both bands might appreciate Houston for different reasons. Rock Bottom String Band is getting a broader audience than home affords. Junkyard Mongrels get to escape the inundation of music that Austin has become.
“We're absolutely stoked that our first show in the area is with all of our brother bands, not to mention The Goddamn Gallows. We're good friends with all of the guys and gals in the lineup. Better start training our livers right now, cause this is gonna be one helluva good party,” Schultz said.
“Austin is a tough nut to crack,” Asken says. “It's really oversaturated, and I feel like most people have lost appreciation for live music here because it's everywhere you go, and I've heard the same about other big music towns, like Nashville. There is a scene for this type of music here. But the shows and crowds can be really hit or miss.”
If you’re reading this and made it this far, maybe you’d make like Mr. Drysdale and Miss Jane Hathaway and take a drive out to Union Tavern to set a spell with this bands Saturday. Maybe speaking not only for Junkyard Mongrels, but all the bands on the roster, Asken says it’s best not to examine the music so hard that you can’t just enjoy it.
“We just do our best to play as much as we can and hope someone gets it," he says. "So far, people seem to enjoy what we do. So we're just going to keep doing it.”
The Hellbilly Halloween Hoedown featuring The Goddamn Gallows begins at 6 p.m., Saturday, October 24, at Union Tavern, 435 El Dorado Blvd. Also on the bill are Blackgrass Gospel, Junkyard Mongrels, Rock Bottom String Band, Dixie Underground, Black TarPoon and Moose’s Last Stand. Cover is $10.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.