The venue itself is an ideal place to see musicians play; the up-close-and-personal atmosphere offers a memorable experience for audience members. The venue features exposed rafters, unfinished concrete floors, no windows and low lighting with an easily approachable stage. The layout feels as though everyone is hanging out in someone's basement with the added bonus of live music.
The pre-show crowd began to filter down the stairs while, with eager anticipation, I took in the arrangement of the stage to admire the variety of banjos, guitars, upright basses and unexpected drum set, as bluegrass and old-time country music typically does not involve drums. Also providing foresight into the evening's talent were the six microphones lined up across the front of the stage.
Lydia Loveless opened the show with a beautiful singing voice that filled the room. Her defiant, tell-it-like-it-is lyrics are accompanied by her acoustic rhythm guitar and some upright bass played by Ben Lamb. Lamb rocked the bass, alternating between picking the strings while thrashing his long hair around, or using the bow to glide across notes for a smoother sound.
Loveless opened with "Always Lose," and held the audience's attention with her commanding voice through the rest of her unfortunately short set, including "Jesus Was a Wino" and ending with "Crazy." Lydia is young but has the perspective of someone much older; her punk-country sound has limitless potential.
The next act was local band Rum Drum Ramblers. Their presence ignited the crowd and quickly boosted the energy in the room. The three-piece band wowed the audience with performances on the harmonica, washboard, upright bass, guitar and percussion. Their refreshing Delta blues musical style brought a feel of New Orleans' Bourbon Street directly to St. Louis. It is exciting to see young talent unafraid to create this style of music and pour immense amounts of enthusiasm and soul into each song. The final song, "I Got Mine," featured a guest appearance by St. Louis's Pokey LaFarge. This collaboration generated a booming crowd response and was fun to watch.
And finally, the headliners from Virginia, the Hackensaw Boys: This sextet featured the usual bluegrass instruments, all played exceptionally well with flawless timing. The band performed over 20 songs without taking a break, and the momentum never slowed, in fact, it only increased as the show went on.
Each of the six band members sang either lead or harmony, and the instrumental talent was evenly distributed as well. Except for the fiddle player: He played with such animation and intensity, it was impossible to steer your attention away from the passion in his performance. Also notable was the quick and seamless handling of a broken guitar string; the rest of the band interacted with audience in a fun and personable way while also playing random beats while the string was quickly repaired.
The entire show was organized, flowed well and the music was addicting and fun with a highly responsive crowd. I cannot name a poorly-played song, but a few highlights include "Keep It Simple," "Flora," "Alabama Shamrock" and "Smilin' Must Mean Something."
In the end, the Hackensaw Boys left the crowd wanting more and deserve to have their photo on the wall at Blueberry Hill.