Twangs for the Memories

Music mavens reflect on Twangfests of yore

Jun 7, 2006 at 4:00 am

What really makes Twangfest special are the musicians who attend — and so it's in that spirit that we present memories from some of the ghosts of 'Fests past.
— Annie Zaleski

"We always have a great time in St. Louis, because the people are kind and hospitable like nowhere else. But Fred Friction asking me to autograph his sandwich with a Sharpie is something I will not soon forget."
Greg Vanderpool, Milton Mapes

"In the alternative-country world where I creatively exist, there are not a lot of outlets and events where folks of similar mindsets can gather, mingle and show off their art. Twangfest is pretty unique in that respect. During my performance, I saw many old friends, made some new ones and generally felt like part of a larger music community. That's a rare thing these days, and much appreciated by us musicians. In a day dominated by huge corporate juggernauts, it's so heartening to see an event put together on a grassroots level by folks with their hearts in the right place."
Jason Ringenberg

"I remember the Waco Brothers playing one of the first Twangfests at some blues club out near the Bud brewery a long time ago, and being impressed by the sheer brute enthusiasm of the Twangfest hardcore for drinking and rutting. I thought we played great, but the fact that I have no concrete memories of our performance and the club asked us never to come back might betray a few clues as to the nature of Waco Brother showbiz professionalism that night. I believe we were all in the hotel partying at some point, but like most of the 1990s, it's all a glorious blur. I still have the T-shirt!"
Jon Langford, Waco Brothers co-founder

"The crowds at Twangfest are extremely passionate and well-educated about their music, and we felt like we had to hold up our end of the 'rock and pop' part of their stylistic umbrella. On my third Jack & Coke, I felt like I could see the big wave coming towards the boat. After the documentarians of the festival stashed away their minidisc recorders, the party moved to the Howard Johnson. I was expecting a handful of diehards laughing about Ryan Adams trivia, but it was an actual party. There definitely was kind of a debate-team-sleepover vibe, but there was also an Aerosmith backstage thing happening. My favorite moment was when I walked out with Mark Ortmann of the Bottle Rockets at about 4 a.m. Mark wandered into the flowerbeds planted along the hotel, and I thought he was going to relieve himself. Instead, he started picking daffodils and making a bouquet. I asked him what he was doing, and he said very seriously, 'I'm getting some flowers for my mom.' That pretty much summed up the experience for me."
Adam Reichmann, Nadine vocalist

"I was in the first band to play the first night of the first Twangfest. That should have cursed everything. It didn't. I wound up bonding with every blitzed soul in the bar. They'd come from Seattle, Australia, New York, San Francisco and Nashville. Among them were the finest music critics, DJs, musicians and fans I would ever meet — before or since. Afterward, the Waco Brothers were moping outside a club they had just annihilated. I figured their take wasn't what they were used to. I stumbled over to Steve Goulding, their drummer, and gave him my cut. He didn't want it. 'That was only the best live show I've seen,' I think I said, and walked away. Anyway, Twangfest has never been about money, weasels, egos or the stupid rock-star fucking machine. You gotta go to understand."
— RFT music critic Roy Kasten

"Personally, I don't think there's too much twang in the music I play with the Miracle 3. Lots of squonk and whoosh and rooooaaar and buzzzzz, but not too much twang. Nonetheless, I was honored to be invited to what seemed to be a very cool festival, and I also really like St. Louis and don't get a chance to play there that often. I took the gig and man oh man, I'm really glad I did. Everybody involved with Twangfest was so friendly and enthusiastic; the crowd was great and ready to have some fun. We played a wild, incendiary show, and the audience was there to ride every sonic wave from start to finish. We ended up [on] the floor, thrashing away in what felt like a communal jam session with every person in the room. It was a very memorable evening and one of my favorite shows of the last few years."
Steve Wynn

"Just know that to me and my band, Twangfest is the best audience to play for, bar none. We love the seat-of-the-pants, collective-power-of-like-minded-individuals fest origin. They're incredibly knowledgeable without having their arms crossed while they're listening — i.e., discerning music aficionados who aren't afraid to drink a beer, pump a fist and say 'Whoooooo!!!' when inspired. They challenge you as a musician, and they love music hands-on."
Kelly Hogan

"They've invited me to Twangfest in St. Louis twice. The first time I recall that the bar was really packed, and that a steel-guitar player with big serious eyes offered to 'sit in' with my band. I must not have replied that I was presenting a 'show,' because an hour later he was hauling his stuff (a pedal steel, seated human and amplifier together take up the area of a queen-sized waterbed; the same parallel could be invoked to describe the unsettling, mildly sickening effect of a steel hobbyist on an ensemble's sense of intonation) onto a large corner of the tiny stage and, soon after, noodling. After the show they put us up in a hotel where all the organizers of the festival and some of the acts were in the parking lot, yelling and singing and vomiting. My impression is that quite a lot of the Twangfest people are drunkards and frustrated musicians."
Robbie Fulks

"Mostly my memories of Twangfest are about the people who attend, not the music or the bands. There is an enthusiasm and a lack of pretension at Twangfest that is rare and welcome. Other music festivals all seem to be tarnished by the music industry's manic need to be 'cool' and by the bands' need to create a buzz. Twangfest is more like a big group of friends putting on a great party with some really great bands. Diane [Christiansen] and I sang as a duet at the opening party a few years ago. We even got a request for a song from our previous band, Stump the Host, that we hadn't sung in probably ten years. Viva la Twangfest!"
Steve Dawson, Dolly Varden

"That first year was nothing more than an oversize party, really, and we had no idea we were founding a festival. I remember standing in the back of the room [at the Waco Brothers' show] and watching all these drunk, happy people dancing their asses off to this thunderous country-punk music. It felt honest and real and good. Ten years later, I'd like to think it still feels that way to the people who come."
Kip Loui, Transmitters vocalist-guitarist