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|Silver Statesmen: The Alkali Flats, May 29 at the Moline Bier Stube|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Wednesday, 28 May 2008 02:26|
In their song "Old Salt Wells," the honky-tonk musicians of the Alkali Flats - based out of Sacramento, California - perform an up-tempo ode to the titular establishment, described in one of songwriter Tim White's lyrics as "the place where I first fell in love." It begins: "If you ever get the notion / That you'd like to see some motion / And you really wanna have yourself a ball / There's a roadside attraction / That'll give you satisfaction / They let it all hang out and that ain't all."
But if you're unsure about exactly what sort of roadside attraction the band is referring to, a subsequent introduction to its employees might help:
"There's flat 'n' flabby Franny / With a tattoo on her fanny / She makes you wish that you could have a taste / There's pistol-packin' Pearlie / She's my favorite go-go girlie / 'Cause all she wears is a holster 'round her waist."
"There's naughty, knocked-up Nellie / With a baby in her belly / She dances 'til she's passed out on the floor / There's busty buxom Betty / And she shakes 'em 'til they're sweaty / And she'll let you touch 'em for a dollar more."
Yet if, for whatever reason, you're now planning an immediate road trip to Old Salt Wells, the Alkali Flats' Mark Miller says not to bother. "It's a place that burned down last July," states the band's drummer during a recent phone interview. "It's gone. But yeah, it was one of the last brothels out there in Nevada."
And naughty knocked-up Nellie herself?
"I think that was just Tim's creativity."
Playing the Moline Bier Stube on May 29, the Alkali Flats have been professionally creative for the past five years, performing a blend of honky-tonk covers and originals that, like "Old Salt Wells," often make you laugh while you're tapping your foot. The band is composed of Miller, White and Chris Harvey on guitar and string bass, Erik de Kok on electric guitar, Keith Cary on mandolin, dobro, steel guitar, and harmonica, and Andy Lentz on fiddle, and beyond an affinity for Stetsons, bolo ties, and twangy country vocals, the musicians also share what Smith told Sacramento Magazine is "a deep-rooted dislike for slick, Nashville [based], modern country music."
"Yeah, that's probably pretty accurate" is Miller's response to the quote. "There just isn't much to it, you know?"
Before their debut as the Alkali Flats, Miller says that "Chris and Tim and I started playing together about 15 years ago, just kind of playin' on street corners and art galleries and things like that."
In 2003, the men added de Kok, Cary, and Lentz to their trio, and since then, says Miller, "We generally play around Nevada a lot. There's kind of a series of ghost towns there that we go to. We'll spend a week out there sometimes, and then play all these little towns with a population of, you know, two, three hundred people."
Yet Miller adds that even with considerable fan bases in Sacramento and, especially, Nevada - "there's a lot of regional songs we try and do for that area, like ‘Salt Wells' and another one about the Gabbs Valley, that are pretty popular" - finding the right dates on which to perform is frequently problematic.
"That's always the tricky part," he says. "Chris is a firefighter, so if he has enough warning, you know, he can get time off. But I also work on old houses, and so does Tim. Keith is a musical-instrument repairman in Winters [California]. And Eric is a city planner."
Lentz, for his part, also performs with five other country bands in California. "So usually, you know, three of us can make it," says Miller, "and another two are kind of wild cards, and another one is really difficult to get."
Currently, though, the musicians' schedules have managed to align for the Alkali Flats' first Midwestern tour - the group will play Nebraska, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Colorado, and Illinois between May 28 and June 6 - which, Miller says, "will be an adventure for most of us. Tim's from Ohio, but the rest of us are all California boys."
It's likely to be an adventure for audiences, too, at least if they enter an Alkali Flats concert expecting an evening of traditional country-western fare.
Amidst such covers as Ray Price's "Heartaches by the Number" and Jimmie Rodgers' "In the Jailhouse Now," the group's repertoire includes several subversively funny originals, ranging from the salute to the "Old Salt Wells" whorehouse to a lament for an alcoholic lover in "You Hug the Bottle" (as in " ... more than you hug me") to a tongue-in-cheek poke at grieving Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans in "Number Three," which features the chorus: "Number three, number three / Why are you haunting me? / I guess you were too tactful to slow down / You see what has become / Of your Wal-Mart martyrdom / You're on the back of every pick-up truck in town."
"Chris wrote that," says Miller of the song. "I think he was just kind of sick of that whole kind of saccharine country thing."
And while the Alkali Flats do perform traditional bluegrass-gospel numbers such as "You'll Be Rewarded Over There," they'll routinely follow them with decidedly untraditional bluegrass-gospel, such as Harvey's "Jesus Don't Come Knockin'," a verse for which goes: "Jesus don't come knockin' on my trailer door / Last night I got a little drunk and passed out on the floor / You know I love my savior, but I love my liquor more / So Jesus don't come knockin' on the trailer door."
"We're actually big fans of the [gospel] sound," says Miller. "But some of the more preachy aspects of those songs, I think, we're not such fans of. You know, we try not to take anything too seriously. Obviously."
The Alkali Flats play the Moline Bier Stube on Thursday, May 29. For more information on the group, visit (http://www.myspace.com/thealkaliflats).
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