Words by: Frank Etheridge | Images by: Anthony A. Bowers
Hackensaw Boys :: 06.14.08 :: The Loft :: Columbus, GA
By way of introduction, Hackensaw Boys boast a few seconds into the folkish fury that is their most recent studio effort, 2007's Look Out!, that, "We're the Hackensaw Boys, gonna bring you a helluva time."
This prediction held true at The Loft, as the Boys had a one-night stand in Georgia between tour stops in Asheville, NC and Birmingham's City Stages Festival. The band thrilled a foot-stompin', whiskey-swillin' and hoot-and-hollerin' audience it held captive through two sets and an encore that was, at its more frenzied moments, equal parts hoedown and musical experience.
Nearing the decade mark of relentless touring, the Hackensaws have carved out quite a niche for themselves, creating a sound that's just at home at sunshine and rainbows festivals as it is in chicken wire and busted beer bottle roadhouses. They are ever-mindful of the bluegrass traditions of the Blue Ridge – the band hails from Charlottesville, Virginia in the heart of this storied region – and this respect shines through in superb craftsmanship, especially on their albums.
But, it's a crazed connection the Hackensaw Boys have to the ancient Celtic intonations that inspired bluegrass and country in their respective home states (the band members' hometowns stretch from Deep South Louisiana to the upper stretches of Appalachia). Their songs tell old-timey stories, marked with verses that are narrative vehicles for tales of women and whiskey, life and death.
However, their musical reverence is infused with a punk-rock sense of urgency and no-bullshit swagger. The rapid-fire succession of Americana that is the hallmark of their live shows is not for the faint of heart. If you're crippled inside, feeble outside or just a bit too buzzed, their energy is likely to whip you like a rented mule. But it's in that agitation where a lot of the magic of a Hackensaw show lives. The band does not map out a setlist prior to stepping on the stage, typically preferring to size up the crowd before picking out what songs to play. The band's previous stop in Columbus was on a weeknight last summer, a show marked with more subdued songs for a more sober audience. This show was markedly different, fast and quick-hitting from the start.
The first set was highlighted by crowd pleasers such as "Baltimore," "Sweet Petunia" and "Gospel Plow." Then things got loose. Bartenders brought shots to the stage. Fiddler Ferd "Four" Moyse busted banjo player Shawn "Mang Tang" Galbraith's balls about looking like Wade Boggs before shouting, "Is everyone having a good time?" A resounding chorus of rebel yells was the answer.
| Hackensaw Boys :: 06.14 :: Columbus, GA|
The second set opened with the appropriate "Sweet On Me," with its refrain of "Alabama's getting near," considering that the Chattahoochee River separating Georgia from Alabama is only a few hundred feet from the venue. After "Sweet On Me," the crowd and band really seemed to click. After a few switches of instrumentation, Rob "Mahlon" Bullington was back at home on bass and thumped a thunderous lead into "Oh Girl." The band turned a tight corner after a frenetic finish to "Oh Girl" and slammed right into "Cannonball." Moyse went all wild-eyed mad scientist at this point, feverishly striking his bow across the washboard part of Justin "Salvage" Neauhardt's unique, hand-crafted kit. "I got tons of junk on that thing," Neauhardt explained after the show. "I got juice cans. I got soup cans. I got tin cans. I got the hubcap of a '67 Chrysler."
"Whiskey, Momma" and "Look Out Dog, Slow Down Train" provided a wild finish that was capped off by the typical Hackensaw encore, where the whole band steps off stage and play in the midst of the fans, a nod to days gone by when they played in the streets. "Take Me There," "Put The Chain On" and "Poor Thing" filled the encore and thrilled a rowdy crowd before sending them home satisfied.
"We go on feel," Neauhardt said about their approach to playing and song selection. "Tonight felt wild. It felt fast. It felt good."
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