The Fast Horse Hootenanny
Bex Schwartz

The word "hootenanny" conjures up images of folk singers strumming on their acoustic gee-tars and slapping away at their ol' banjos. But not this hootenanny! The Fast Horse Hootenanny, which took place at the Knitting Factory in the midst of a sticky New York City heat wave, features music as far flung as afro-Cuban rhythms, garage rock, and slide guitar played with a butter knife. The world-jazz Wayward Shamans, the Seattle supergroup Minus 5, the esoteric and exotic Tuatara, and the legendary Delta bluesman Cedell Davis descended on downtown New York for two nights of showmanship and energy, proving that sweating profusely can actually be enjoyable, given the proper musical environment and several plastic cups of Corona.

The Hootenanny is named after Fast Horse Records, co-founded by ex-Screaming Trees and current Wayward Shamans drummer Barrett Martin. While studying in Cuba, Barrett met percussionist Joe Cripps (Brave Combo). Frustrated with the state of the recording universe, they decided to start their own label.

The Fast Horse Hootenanny crowd was incestuous. Barrett brought along one of his many projects, the world-music rock group Tuatara. Tuatara features a barrage of talented multi-instrumentalists, notably REM's Peter Buck and the ubiquitous Scott McCaughey, who also serve as the core members of Minus 5 (one of their albums is called "The Lonesome Death of Buck McCoy." Geddit?). Cedell Davis is just a legend; with his anecdotes, style and charisma, he's a living part of American folklore. Kinda like "O Brother Where Art Thou" but in the flesh, and in this case, backed by Tuatara. If these groupings were four slices of yummy musical pie, the Hootenanny sure would be tasty. And it is, folks. Oh, it is.

At this point, I should reveal why I know about all these bands. At one point in my life, I was a super REM dork. I had every book, every poster, every bootleg, every side project (Hindu Love Gods, anyone?) and I knew everything about the boys from Athens. I knew that Peter Buck sometimes played with sometimes REM-sideman Scott McCaughey in a band called Tuatara, so when I was in the same city that they were, I went to see them, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Peter Buck. I didn't know anything about the band other than that Vin Scelsa talked about them on his radio show, so I figured they must sound okay. And so when I saw them in 1998, they blew me out of the water. Completely shattered my expectations. I'd never heard rhythms like that before, and I'd certainly never heard a horn section worked in so many mysterious ways. At some point during the show, I realized that Buck was holding steady with a nice, pounding bassline. Peter Buck, the guitar guy - he was playing bass! And he was buried in back of what looked like dozens of wacky musicians. And it hit me -- Tuatara wasn't about Peter Buck the rock star - it was about the music, and he was just a part of it. And then I realized he wasn't even that much of an important part of it, but he looked real pleased to be playing bass with those cats.

And then this guy I knew gave me a copy of Tuatara's second album, Trading With The Enemy, and I used it as warm-up music for dance rehearsals for ages. It's really good - it has a beat and of course you can dance to it. But you can dance to it in that really good, body-freeing, butt-shaking, hip-heaving hippy-dippy way without feeling like an idiot - your body just kinda catches the rhythm and then you can't help but shimmy. So I was a little hesitant about going to see them during this summer of dreadful humidity, but I figured I could at least sweat off a few pounds of water bloat. And sweat I did.

Image: Tuatara

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September 2002

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