The Hangtown Halloween Ball Placerville, CA October 24-27, 2013
Words and photos by Travis Souza
The Hangtown Halloween Ball, in its third year, is held annually the weekend before Halloween in the Gold Country town of Placerville, Ca. The festival is named after the original name of the community. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, just a few miles from the discovery that sparked the California Gold Rush, the town featured a mighty oak and became a center for frontier justice and was filled with scores of fortune seeking souls, eager to find the American dream.
In what has become Hangtown Halloween tradition, the host band Railroad Earth kicked off the Thursday evening entertainment, performing an original live score to an old silent movie. This year’s selection was a strange French adaptation of the Poe classic The Fall of the House of Usher. Putting aside commentary of the film itself, the score was very well done, creepy and wistful with a dash of humor. Tim Carbone, after the film set of the first Hangtown Halloween in 2010, shared that they prepared by sketching out some of the elements but that it was mostly improvised to the visuals they were seeing. The early crowd seemed to thoroughly enjoy the novelty despite not being able to see the performers.
The evening continued with a raucous set from the Portland, Or. based, string infused quintet Fruition. Throughout the day, small bunches of folks dressed as bananas, could be seen hanging about with knowing grins. When the band took the stage in bright yellow outfits of their own and addressed their co-conspirators, the unadorned all wished for their own bananna outfits of their own. Even more so when they brought out Allie Kral dressed as, you guessed it, a banana to play for a couple songs including a cover of Mellow Yellow.
Closing out the first night stage, San Francisco based Hot Buttered Rum gave a taste of bluegrass Oktoberfest, and it was a set to be seen! Allie Kral has been touring with HBR while Aaron Redner and his wife have been adjusting to life with their new baby, and joined them for their set even though Redner had made the short trip to the fest. As a special treat she and Aaron play together for the whole set, with the two dueling fiddles and Redner playing mandolin throughout the show. Featuring some high energy covers, including ‘Late in the Evening’, ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’, and Daft Punk’s hit ‘Get Lucky’ along with Hot Buttered favorites like ‘Summertime Gal’, ‘Missoula to Miami’, and ‘Entangle’ kept the audience moving throughout. An absolutely smoking version of ‘White Freightliner’, showcased the electricity that have made Krals sit-ins famous.
The Friday main stage lineup traversed the musical spectrum starting with the bluegrass and Americana of Fruition and Dead Winter Carpenters. In both sets the audience and bands were happy to see Tim Carbone sit in for a song or two. Hailing from just over the Sierra Crest in Tahoe, Dead Winter Carpenters has become and hopefully will continue to be a Hangtown fixture. Their midday set, under a blazing October sun, included much of their new EP, Dirt Nap as well as boot stomping numbers like ‘One Foot in the Gutter’ and ‘Detrimental Tendencies’ with Jenni Charles on vocals.
Next up was the jazzy Marco Benevento Trio followed by the blues-rock of slide slinger Anders Osborne with guest Benevento for the entire set. From the smiles and natural vibe, the effortlessness of their collaboration made the show seem like a reunion of old friends.
The Pimps of Joytime threw down with their genre bending style dance party. Bandleader Brian J rocked it as Willy Wonka, while the rest of the group held the groove. ‘Your Love is My Gold’and ‘Cardia’ stood out along with back to back jams over twelve minutes.
Those able to muster at the El Dorado stage Saturday morning were treated to another scorching Hot Buttered Rum w/ Allie set. Tim Carbone joined for a couple songs to fulfill the requests for “More Fiddle!” Taking their hosting duties seriously, the members of RRE were always ready to take any stage and kick the party into overdrive.
Out of Oakland, Ca, The California Honeydrops take crowd participation to a new level. They are masters at infusing their audience with energy and then unleashing it all in a wild frenzy. Their performance in the Vaudeville Tent at High Sierra this year is bound to go down in festival history. While this crowd was not quite as energetic, the band had them dancing and singing along in the hot sun.
Mike Dillon, Marco Benevento, and Stanton Moore took the stage next as ‘Super Trio’ and delivered a fun and funky set. Much weirdness and improvisation ensued as the three masters of their instruments displayed a chemistry that bordered on supernatural.
Add even more weird with Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang. After several songs Les invited ‘Crazy D’ Mike Dillon, and Carly Meyer up to join the fun. Les bantered with the crowd between songs even inviting three costumed fans on stage for backing vocals; a sexy cop that spanks, an “Oompa Loompa”, and a shirtless disco throwback. When the “Disco Dude” went to hug Claypool, a collective chuckle rippled through the meadow . Les responded simply, “Dude, I’m a germophobe,” proving that sometimes phobias and common sense intersect.
Galactic’s set was funky as always and ended up as a sort of super jam with Benevento and Dillon sitting in along with Tea Leaf Green’s Josh Clark. Clearly, Stanton Moore knows how to have fun. The packed crowd responded in kind enjoying the tunes and the warm evening.
As Railroad Earth took the stage for the first of two sets, their opening number “Minor Swing” matched the stage decor and the evening’s roaring “Undead 20’s” theme. A spirited “Dance around Molly” into “Dandelion Wine” got the VIPs in the pit energized, somewhat to the dismay of the photographers working for a few shots. Midway through a “Shakedown Street” early in the second set there was some nasty distortion and all stage power suddenly quit. All was quiet for a few unsure moments before the stage lighting started coming back and a walker came out and chomped on Tim Carbone’s liver. Yep, undead Allie just bit Tim, complete with blood pack. As they started in to the theme from The Walking Dead the crowd stood there grinning up at them, looking the part of a swaying mob of zombies.
Sunday morning, the Mike Dillon Band got the day rolling with some punk-rock gospel The stage antics and interplay of Carly Meyers and Mike Dillon are hilarious and should not be missed. Throughout the weekend smaller acts cut loose on the Gallow’s stage. The second stage featured a great selection of regional bands including The Nibblers, Tracorum, and Vokab Kompany. Festivals often come down to choices and they are rarely easy. This held true for Allie Kral’s stripped down set with the Morrison brothers from Brothers Comatose on the small stage up against Elephant Revival on the main stage, leaving many fans trying to sprint between acts and split the difference.
Keep an eye and ear out as this young festival evolves into a Halloween monster. Railroad Earth is a gracious host band and their loving vibe was evident. The lineup was diverse and power-packed with collaborations that were outstanding and awesomely relentless. Do yourself a favor and put the Hangtown Halloween Ball on you to do list for 2014.