Twang Time

The fifth annual Twangfest offers the best in alt-country (whatever that means)

Twangfest, the four-night Americana music festival held annually in St. Louis, is practically an institution, widely hailed as the best showcase of its kind in the world. Organized entirely by a group of music-nut volunteers who met through the online alt-country newsgroup Postcard2, Twangfest draws true believers from as far away as Norway, Australia and Ireland to our fair burg, where they bowl, picnic, drink prodigious amounts of alcohol, bitch about the humidity and revel in some of the finest roots music the scene has to offer. For five years running, Twangfest has kept things fresh thanks to inspired booking and a no-repeat-performances policy; although the lineups change, there's always an interesting mix of established artists and promising next-big-things, of loyal traditionalists and genre-warping deviants. This year, the festival moves from its former home at Off Broadway to Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, where fans will flock to hear a special acoustic performance by Festus' finest, the Bottle Rockets, as well as sets by former V-roy Scott Miller, singer/songwriter Slaid Cleaves and local hard-country favorites the Rockhouse Ramblers. True to its cyberspace origins, all performances are streamed over the Internet in Quicktime, allowing those unlucky souls who can't make it to St. Louis -- or those hapless hometowners who didn't get their act together in time -- to see exactly what they missed. To whet your appetite, RFT writers have chosen a few of T5's highlights, but remember that the series will surely sell out every night: Count on showing up right when the Duck Room's doors open or ordering advance tickets for the whole shebang (www.twangfest.com/tix.html). -- Saller

Karen Poston
9 p.m. Friday, June 8
Singer/songwriter Karen Poston isn't widely known outside Austin, Texas (where she's lived since 1994), but that's likely to change soon with her appearance at Twangfest and the release of her first CD, Real Bad, scheduled for July. With a dozen mostly original compositions, ranging from hardcore honky-tonk rave-ups to weepy waltzes, the CD features stellar trad arrangements -- generous helpings of pedal steel, Poston's sprightly rhythm guitar, an occasional accordion or mandolin -- and harmony vocals from such alt-country luminaries as Kelly Willis and Slaid Cleaves. Poston's songs are sharply observed and often funny, with wistful references to steel guitars in Longhorn bars ("away from bald guys with ponytails"), perilous road trips and bittersweet conversations with ex-lovers ("I could loan some lonesome to you/If you're wondering who or what to cling to"). Vocally, Poston resembles a cross between Connie Smith and Merle Haggard; as a lyricist, she's one part Lucinda Williams, one part Buck Owens. Of course, when a critic strains to make such elaborate comparisons, you know you've got a true original on your hands. Find out for yourself on Friday night, when she brings the house down. -- Saller

Charlie Chesterman and the Legendary Motorbikes
10 p.m. Friday, June 8
There shouldn't be anything memorable or wonderful about another roots-rock band grounded in two guitars, bass, drums and a strict diet of Buddy Holly, Mersey Beat and Buck Owens. And there wouldn't be, without the bottomless talent of a singer and songwriter like ex-Scruffy the Cat leader Charlie Chesterman. It's rather easy now to take Scruffy's Everly Brothers-meet-the-Ramones sound for granted, but 15 years ago, only a few other cult bands -- Green on Red, the Long Ryders, the Blasters -- were fusing country, R&B and loud, hooked-up rock as well as Scruffy. Throughout the '80s, the band saturated the Beantown club circuit with epigrammatic, surreal tunes about small animals living underground and a galaxy of kisses, and banged banjos and accordions while peers such as the Lemonheads and Buffalo Tom were just banging guitars.

Elizabeth Cook
Elizabeth Cook
Charlie Chesterman
Charlie Chesterman

Details

Begins on Wednesday, June 6, at the St. Louis Brewery & Tap Room and continues Thursday-Saturday, June 7-9, at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.
St. Louis Brewery & Tap Room & Blueberry Hill's Duck Room.

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With the demise of Scruffy, Chesterman formed the short-lived Harmony Rockets and then his current band, the Motorbikes (featuring guitar genius Andy Pastore). Chesterman has delved deeper into American roots music and dropped the jokes, though you wouldn't know it from the corny title and artwork of his latest release. But Ham Radio has all the intangible essentials of vintage rock & roll without the nostalgic trappings: dreamy melodies, unpretentious lyrics, loud-but-twangy guitars and a generous, feckless spirit. It's been more than a decade since Chesterman has played St. Louis; his return may just be Twangfest's most exciting sleeper of all. -- Kasten

Blood Oranges
Midnight Friday, June 8
Had there been a Twangfest in 1990, the Blood Oranges wouldn't have been the obvious choice to headline it. At the time, they were regarded as a rock band that just happened to have a mandolin player and just happened to have a handful of traditional folk songs in their repertoire. The Blood Oranges' reunion became plausible in 1998, after the critical success of bassist Cheri Knight's solo album, The Northeast Kingdom, which reminded critics about her old band with Jimmy Ryan and Mark Spencer. On Corn River, in 1990, the Blood Oranges sounded like an American Fairport Convention, drawing from the traditional mountain music of the East Coast to create a rock & roll of grace and dark mystery. Rumbling Stratocasters vied with delicately plucked mandolins over a rock-solid rhythm section that lagged just behind the beat. Ryan sang tales of accepting one's fate as Knight's alto shadowed him.

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