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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


High Noon At The Hoot
Rockabilly heaven hits paydirt in Orange County

By Joya Balfour

On the first Saturday in July, a few thousand people descended on Oak Canyon Ranch in hot, dusty Irvine, California. Just a day after the punk-oriented Vans Warped Tour rolled into town, the crowd here couldn’t be more different—Greaser boys, Bettie Page girlfriends and tattooed folk everywhere.  This was the Hootenanny.


Having heard of past Hoots from friends on both coasts, I ventured down the I-5 past Disneyland with a couple of girlfriends in tow. Wearing as little as possible (to beat the heat of course, but looking cute and sexy is a priority not to be undermined), with my requisite bobby-pinned curls, gingham top (which could easily be called the Hoot girls’ uniform) and tortoise-shell shades, I arrived at the ranch only to discover that the parking lot was about a 20 minute walk in the dust to the festival site. I immediately relished the fact I had on cheap Steve Madden floppies, and not delicate vintage pumps as some girls were wearing. The dusty walk downhill in the dirt was not pretty for these lovelies.

Photo ©Joe Wood
Upon gaining entry to the gates, I quickly realized why so many rockabilly folk glorify the Hoot’s annual occurrence. It was carnivalesque in atmosphere, with food concessions, retro-roots-vintage shopping heaven and a people-watcher’s delight all rolled into one. A sea of classic cars and hot rods populated the first grassy field, with oglers wandering in between the Hudsons, Oldsmobiles, Mercurys and Roadsters. Some of the low riders were so low that any bumps in the road were sure to cause their owners hundreds of  dollars in grief. Others were so meticulously polished that you dare not touch them, lest a burly cuff-jeaned man with attitude to spare chase you away. The sheer dedication to preserving these great old cars was impressive to say the least.

The vendors, who formed neat rows around the stage area, catered to the attendees with scores of bowling shirts, creepers, halter tops, pinup paraphernalia, rare CDs and cherry-motif items galore. I bought a pair of high-waisted red pleated shorts and a wicker purse with blackberry design (if only to get away from the red cherries every girl had on her ears, in her hair or pinned to her bosom), and would have spent more had not scores of other girls in attendance bought the same thing. That, ultimately, is the fashion risk you take in a small, style-conscious scene.

Photo ©Joe Wood
The bands played short 30-minute sets with the exception of the headliners. Stand-outs included the Knitters, made up of X members Xene and John Doe; and Stray Cats alumni Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom, whose onstage guests included the Reverend Horton Heat and the legendary Scotty Moore. Hank Williams III lived up to his famous pedigree with rollickin’ country twang, and Royal Crown Revue, who always liven up the Hoot with their jazzy, hard-boiled edge, had the audience clappin’ to the beat.

With the sun beating down and the crowd pretty dense, I admit to spending a decent amount of time backstage at the artists’ tent, which catered to very few artists and many friends/wives/family members/hangers-on who appreciated the gentle mist that emanated from the sprinklers. It was a nice respite, and also a prime viewing area for the many rockabilly chicks who clamored around any band member who looked unaccompanied, batting their fake eyelashes and twirling their Chinese parasols.

Photo ©Joe Wood

It was hard to tell whether these Hoot folk came for the music, or the scene, or both. I don’t think you can have one without the other. What made the Hootenanny fun for me wasn’t that I felt the need to swoon at crushed-purple-pants-wearing Chris Isaak, or buy the latest Sailor Jerry accessory, but that it was a unique social event that conjures up a melding of American Graffiti and Sid & Nancy. With an assortment of characters, some who live the ’50s life, real or imagined, 24/7, as well as those who do merely as a form of escapism, there was no lack of substance for sightseeing. And no girl could resist the lure of the many vendors who catered explicitly to our shared pinup doll fantasy. The music was a far cry from the bubble-gum pop that is so emblematic of the last decade, but that’s the whole reason behind the Hootenanny: to celebrate the roots of rockabilly and rock’n’roll music, and throw one heck of a picnic while you’re at it. Next year, I’ll remember to bring more sunscreen.

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