Something Old, Something New
By Simon Weedn
It doesn’t seem so long ago, that you could roll out to the Showcase Theater in Corona or The Glass House in Pomona every once in a while and step into some parallel reinterpretation of the ‘50s. Men with their hair soaked in pomade, decked out in engineer boots, cuffed jeans, tight t-shirts and leather jackets or denim vests. These stylish hooligans would congregate around chopped down, customed-out hot rods and motorcycles. While the ladies, dolled up in high heels, fish net stockings and an assortments of poodle skirts, cocktail dresses and tight blue jeans gossiped amongst themselves and helped each other fix and sculpt massive and impressive hair dos. Eventually everyone would roll inside the venue to take in the performances by bands whose imitations of ‘50s rockabilly and rock and roll were as flawless as their hair. Or, if you were at a particularly rowdy show you might see huge, cyclonic wrecking pits erupt in the audience to the driving sounds of psychobilly music; a style that borrows as much from punk rock as it does from classic rock and roll. The Showcase has been closed since 2008 and Southern California’s psychobilly scene has died down a bit, but the love and passion for ‘50s culture and style—in its many iterations—is still very much alive and still especially strong in the Inland Empire.
For this subculture the resources are readily available out in the IE. Want to take in a night of good music? Head to spots like Characters Sports Bar in Pomona, The Hood Bar & Pizza in Palm Desert or The Vibe in Riverside to listen to acts like The Deadbeat Daddies, 3 Way Ricochet and Richie & The Blue Jean Rebels. Need to pick up some awesome retro threads and accessories? Cruise over to The Atomic Boutique or Scene Stealer Clothing in Upland. Jonesing for a car culture fix? Motor over to Tuxies Cruise Night in Riverside or the Pomona Swap Meet and hang out with local car clubs like The Dead Sleds, The Shifters, Los Reyes or The Old Farts Racing Team. The Inland Empire has everything you might want for a night or day of vintage styled enjoyment.
One of the more important purveyors of retro culture in the Inland Empire is TED’s Rod Shop. TED’s, which gets its name from the first initial of each owner Todd, Eric and Dave opened its doors in 2008 when long-time local mechanic and hot rod builder Eric Newman got the help he needed from his friends and co-owners to open his own business. “I used to do all of the pin-striping, graphics, bullet grills, spoilers and all that stuff for local car dealers around here for twenty one years, and I’d build hot rods, one at a time, out of my garage for different people,” Newman explains. “Eventually, I started taking on more hot rod work and I had a ten car waiting list, and so Dave and Todd helped me get the shop going.”
Now, with five years under its belt, TED’s continues to roll strong doing everything from basic servicing to full restoration and custom builds. However, it’s TED’s involvement with the long running Orange County rockabilly festival the Hootenanny’s car show that’s truly worthy some attention. “We’d been going to the Hootenanny and its car show since day one,” explains Newman. “The car show started dying down; they’d had some fights there, and not enough security in the area so people didn’t want to go anymore.” Newman continues, “So we went to Bill Hardy the promoter, and offered to take over the car show four years ago and have been building back up since.”
With the efforts of TED’s Rod Shop the Hootenanny’s car show this year will boast somewhere between two-hundred and two-hundred-fifty pre-1965 classic cars with trophies being awarded in categories like “Best Pick-Up” and “Best Custom.” In addition to the cars, there will be car-related art vendors who will custom pin-stripe everything from your car to your phone, while you wait. This year will also add live tiki-carving to the line-up. Lastly, for anybody still concerned about the fights of years past Newman is quick to point out that since TED’s has taken over the car show they’ve stepped up security and there have been no incidents of violence.
In addition to an awesome car show and Sullen Angel Miss Hootenanny 2013 pin-up contest, Hootenanny promoter Bill Hardy has again put together an amazingly diverse line-up of musical acts that mesh seamlessly with the old school car culture and life-style. Historically, the Hootenanny has featured an array of talent with everyone from classic punk rock acts like The Cramps, X, and The Clash’s Joe Strummer and his band The Mescaleros, as well as some of the great country and rock and roll pioneers like Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Link Wray and Little Richard. This year’s festival is no different featuring an array of distinct bands like local new comers Vinnie & The Hooligans, The 454’s and Gambler’s Mark, as well as veteran acts like wild one man band Blood Shot Bill, singer-songwriter country artist Lindi Ortega and Southern rockers from hell Nashville Pussy. On top of that, the festival’s headliners include some of the greatest of Southern California’s old guard of punk rock, including Social Distortion, who are performing at the festival for the first time in six years and Dave Alvin & Exene Cervenka of the legendary groups The Blasters and X, respectively. The line-up is fleshed out with more contemporary alternative country/rock and rollers The Old 97’s and Murder By Death, as well as legendary country music songwriter Roger Alan Wade.
One of the more anticipated acts of The Hootenanny is long-running high desert punk rock act Face To Face, who will be making their first ever appearance at the festival. The Victorville quartet’s sound has evolved a great deal since the band’s original inception in 1991. However, their style has always been deeply rooted in both early Southern California punk rock along the lines of Social Distortion and ’77 era British punk, similar to The Clash. Most recently, the band released their eighth studio album (the second since their four year break-up between 2004 and 2008), Thee Chords And A Half Truth. Three Chords marks one of the band’s most ambitious albums to date with the 12 songs on the record covering a great deal of musical ground and encompassing a wide range of lyrical topics. For most bands under-taking such a diverse array of material might seem like a daunting task, however, Trever Keith explains it as the band’s natural progression from their last album. “There are different ways to approach making records and we like to, at least, not do the same exact thing we did on the previous one. Our last album, Laugh Now, Laugh Later was a very urgent, slip-shot . . . we wanted that kind of honest immediacy for that record.” Keith elaborates, “With this new record, we thought, why don’t we sit down and craft this one a little more, spend more time on pre-production, whip the songs into shape, and see if we can do something a bit more polished.”
Perhaps most fittingly for their performance at the Hootenanny the band even shows off a bit of country influence in their new album. When asked about it, Keith easily draws parallels between punk and country, “The whole spirit of this genre of music is that anyone who has something to say and the heart to grab some instruments and put a band together is allowed to do it. You don’t have to be some kind of consummate professional and that’s what I think the common thread is between roots country and punk rock.” With new songs from an album only a few months old on the ready, there’s no doubt that Face To Face will be drawing a large, almost home town audience and fit in just fine amongst the throngs of punks, psycho-billies, rock-a-billies, hill-billies and car enthusiasts sure to be packing in the Oak Canyon Ranch for the day’s events.
As summer begins to roll in across the Inland Empire, there’s no doubt that the activities for those in the rockabilly subculture will continue to increase. It could be anything from hanging out at big outdoor events like the Hootenanny, attempting to sweep the prettiest girl at the bar across the dance floor to the righteous thump of an upright bass or cruising with the local car clubs just to feel some cool breeze on your face. It could be picking up a new summer wardrobe from any of the vintage shops, eating a bit of Southern BBQ and grabbing a cold beer, or for some, blowing your paycheck on some fresh ink at the local tattoo shop. For anybody looking to adopt the style themselves or make some new friends, one need only look for a local burlesque night or classic car show to see and meet some folks with similar interests. The broader culture has moved into an age of great technological advancement and a life-style somewhat out of science fiction. But, for some of us, the more vintage aesthetic and lifestyle still has a special appeal. One thing is for sure, with all of the bands, car clubs and other practitioners of vintage style in the Inland Empire, vintage lifestyle, aesthetic and enthusiasm won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
The Hootenanny at Oak Canyon Ranch, 4700 Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado Canyon; thehootenanny.com. Sat, July 6. 1pm. Tickets $49-$100. All ages.