Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hoots & Hellmouth: February 4th, 2012

Hoots & Hellmouth
February 4th, 2012
Elk Creek Cafe +Aleworks
Millheim, Pennsylvania

I only wished I had written of this experience while it was fresher in my memory.  This was the first concert of this year that I went to, taking place on February 4.  It was one of the best and most intimate concert experiences I have ever had.  I know that H&HM aren’t exactly a huge act that would draw an insanely large crowd, but I do believe that is why it was one of the best concert experiences of my life and I have come to really appreciate the small, intimate venue for concerts.    

For starters, the Elk Creek Café +Aleworks is a restaurant and ale house.  It is maybe 75 feet by 200 feet, and that is going by my horridly poor guestimated calculations.  It is essentially a restaurant, with a chimney in its center and a stage on the wall opposite the bar.  It is a very nicely lit and maintained establishment.  There was a logo for the cafe on the wall behind the stage.  The Alehouse is what it sounds like; it is a small microbrewery and restaurant.  We had the privilege of ordering and enjoying a wonderful meal prior to watching the show!

We ordered our meals and pitchers of ale and started the evening off.  I believe I had the bacon cheeseburger, if I remember correctly.  I think that a burger is a good menu item to try out at a new place to see how the food will be.  Though somewhat pricey for what we got, the food was definitely enjoyable.  The people I was with ordered a dozen wings, which they let me sample a few of as well as pitchers of ale for the evening.  The wings were some of the biggest I have ever eaten.  What I do remember the best is the delicious sauce that came with my burger.  I don’t know what it was for exactly, so I smeared some on my burger and proceeded to dip folded fries into it.  After a good full belly I started on some ale, which was a brown ale something or other that was on special in pitchers for the night.  The bar is also a microbrewery and they make all of their own beer.  The beer was quite delicious and I enjoyed a few foaming glasses throughout the evening.  On with the show!

The acoustics in this place were amazing.  The sound booth and man were right in front of our table so I watched intently as he and the guys messed with it earlier in the evening to get it just so.  I should mention that the place was so small, the band was hanging out the entire night at a table in the far corner to the right of the stage, which was probably about 20 to 30 feet away.  Pretty amazing.  Just wolfing down my burger checking out some musicians I find quite amazing.  A definite moment for the books (or blog)!  I wasn’t sure what to expect when the show started.  I had two of H&HM’s albums at the time and rather enjoyed both of them, though I had never seen them live.  I did not have their new album, Salt, which was only released a month or two prior to the concert.  Let the show begin.

So the room quiets down a bit and the lighting changes and they finally start into their very first song, which is Roll, Brandywine, Roll, followed by The Good I Know You Know.  These were the two songs that my best good pal I had accompanied to the show had wished to hear above all!  Score!   I think I had my phone up and was recording throughout this.  Before they got into the next song after their opening, Rob (mandolin/etc) made a joke about making history here tonight and being sure to upload to your Facebook, commenting on the video taking that was going on around them in a positive way.  How delightful!  These are the only songs I remember a specific order for.  I do remember hearing Forks and Knives, and some others off of their first albums, but then the latter part of the performance seemed devoted mostly to their new album Salt.  I swear it almost seems as if they played the album in its entirety, and who knows, they may have.  I had heard their concerts described as “revivals” and as the night progressed I was soon to learn just what this meant. 

Dancers swarmed the stage, stomping in a line right in front of the boys.  During the intro of The Ache, I remember the sound of the bass completely filling the room, thick like smoke, and when he dragged the bow across those strings I swear that I felt it in the gray matter of my brain!  As the band moved through their sets, it was more and more evident what was meant by revival.  Slowly more and more people would migrate to the front of the room to stand before them and stomp, clap, dance, sway, or any combination of the aforementioned movements.  People were getting right up in front of them and taking pictures and video with their phones and cameras.  Meanwhile, they performed perfectly, like they were a framed piece of art or a living tourist attraction. 

During the break, I perused the items they had for sale on the back table they were sitting at earlier.  Among the items was the book Seeds of Discent by Nic Esposito, concerning self sustainable agriculture, as they were there having played the PASA convention that they frequent every year.  I was told the owner of the Aleworks was the man who started PASA.  I chitchatted with the guy they had selling the stuff for awhile, discussing the book and other things.  He gave me a business card with the books name, etc, on it so I could check into it later on.  Eventually the band came around and my friends and I were able to speak one on one with them.  I ended up purchasing two vinyl records while there, The Holy Open Secret and a copy of their new album Salt.  I was able to take the copy of THOS around to each of the band members and have them sign it.  They doodled on it, as the drummer, who I started with, told me they did if people didn’t mind.  Mind?  Yeah, I will “mind” big time if you doodle on a copy of your vinyl sleeve in front of me with a Sharpie while we chit chat like we’re pals.  This was epic. 

I remember high-fiving Mike Reilly, the drummer, who was very chill and layed back.  Rob Berliner (mandonlin/piano/banjo/organ/vocals) was actually the one who checked me out with his super technical phone swiping “device”,which we had problems with.  He said I would have to wait and apologized.  “Ohh no!!” Whatever will I do.  I guess just stand here and talk to you some more.  I believe he told me I had a nice name and we discussed where I hailed from.  He was a nice guy.  Todd “Bud” Erk, the bassist, was one of the shyest guys I have met and it was incredibly awkward getting his signature on the album.  He sort of stayed on the stage and wasn’t talking to folks as much, but I got him! 

This left only Mr. Sean Hoots. His glasses, beard, hair combo were drawing me in.  He had a presence that I had been marveling over the entire evening, that I couldn’t even explain if I tried.  He was great in person.  Up close and personal, his style of playing was a glorious thing to witness!  The way he passionately attacked the strings of the guitar and channeled Jesus on stage!  I had to tell him!  “…you have one of the most powerful stage presences that I have ever seen…”, there I was, kissing ass to underrated musicians.  “Aw, shucks.  Thank you.” he said to me.  I got Sean Hoots to say shucks?  What an honestly awesome guy!  Seriously. 

Their second set was even more stomptastic than the first.  Feet were flying and people were bouncing; you couldn’t NOT move to this music!  The sheer power that I felt in the room during each rise and fall during Why Would You Not Want To Go There? changed my life!  The song has a maddening pace combined with swaying lyrics, and an excellent use of absences.  Being such a closeup observer of the strumming pattern of Sean Hoots and his channeling performance was moving to say the absolute least and I ended up being obsessed with this song for a few months afterward. The wall of energy in front of them at that moment was phenomenal.  Everybody in the entire room was feeling and contributing to that song.  "That just comes right back to you!" Sean had told me, when I was commenting on the "wall of energy" to him.  It was a revival, alright.

Every time that I listen to Being Borned Again, the last song on the Salt album, I am transported back to that night and I can remember the entire crowd/room being instructed toward stomping and clapping in perfect time and unison to the beat of the tune in that dimly and perfectly lit room.  Blue tinted lights illuminated the band, and I heard one of the best songs for the first time in my life and immediately fell in love with it.  Muscle memory will always connect that song for me to that stomp clap pattern and that room where the whole crowd was revealed to be one energetic organism moving together. 

I had one of the most intimate musical experiences of my life seeing Hoots and Hellmouth at the Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks and I look very forward to seeing them perform again! 

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