While a Mississippi River fish fry in the pristine high '80s summer weather with a slight breeze and low humidity would be a perfect post-Independence day party for most, the full night of music from a slew of talented artists to follow was icing on the cake -- or tartar sauce on the catfish, rather.
Familiar faces filled the patio in a celebration of friendship and good weather as the line for fresh fried fish crawled closer and closer to the sweet beckoning smell of breading and fillets. As the patrons and the artists all mingled with each other and caught up on stories of road trips across the west and rashes in Las Vegas, people filled up on grease and brew in an attempt to mask the remnants of the hangover from the night before to get ready for a swell night of swinging sounds.
The Southwest Watson Sweathearts started the night off right with a quaint outdoor performance while the audience grazed and slowly swayed to the soothing sounds of a mandolin coupled with the beautiful harmonies provided by Rum Drum Ryan and his gal, Kellie.
The Hobosexuals moved the party to the inside stage with a gang that did their part in trying to get the crowd up and on their feet. With an upright bass, fiddle and a steel guitar played with stunning skill to the beat of a snare drum, the Hobosexuals put on a damned good show, and front man Ryne Watts was happy with their performance.
"We usually get really inebriated before our shows," he said as he sipped his suds after his set. "I think we found that perfect balance." He went on to comment on the close connections that have been formed throughout the St. Louis folk over the years: "That's what I like about these Big Muddy Records events; it really is a family here." And that fact couldn't be more obvious in an place where everybody knows everybody and everybody is in everybody else's band.
The previously deserted dance floor finally was breached by folks with happy feet and buzzed blood as the night grew later. Swing dancers took their partners by the hand and let the sounds of Jack Grelle and the Johnson Family and Lonesome Cowboy Ryan and His Dried-Up Teardrops. The twang was in full force and the excitement in the crowd was palpable, but there was a musical treat just around the bend.
Bob Reuter's Alley Ghost took his spot on the bandstand with his circle-framed specs for an incredible change of pace for the night. Pure country folk turned pure punk rock 'n' roll with a side of fiddle and took the crowd for a ride. It was hard not to be overtaken by the music, as people filled the floor with stomping boots and good times. Reuter's act was a definite highlight of the night that was ultimately topped by the final act, the Rum Drum Ramblers. Bringing the event around full circle back to the true spirit of the fish fry, the humble sounds of the three piece filled the room with brilliant harmonica rifts and washboard flicks. Truly a fitting end to a swell night.
With good food, good music and good company, the Big Muddy Records Fish Fry was a great success. Guitars were packed up and farewells were said as the shindig came to a close. But while the night was coming to an end, the afterglow from the Off Broadway magic lingered long into the weekend.
All photos by Mike Gualdoni.