PHOTOPHILE- Ramble off: Hogwallers end 16 years of Sundays
With the windows thrown open, the lights turned low, and the music turned up, every seat– and more– in Fellini's were filled for the Hogwaller Ramblers' September 2 Sunday-night show. Packed tightly in their regular corner just inches from the bar, the old time, toe-tapping ensemble's eager strumming and breakneck tempos pleased the cheering downtown crowd.
But after 16 years playing Sunday night gigs at The Blue Moon Diner, Escafé, and Fellini's (long enough for each venue to change hands a few times), the Ramblers have decided to slow down a bit, and this performance marked the end of the Sunday night tradition, according to frontman Jamie Dyer.
"Charlottesville's not the same town anymore," he says. "We're starting to feel like a tourist attraction."
Indeed, the Hogwallers were a gritty rock/bluegrass/country band long before anyone ever heard of the Hackensaw Boys, and are as much a homegrown treasure as one stadium-filling Charlottesville-based band.
In fact, for historians of that other band's rise to stardom, it's impossible not to recognize the Hogwallers as major players in the 1990s local music scene. They played Farm Aid in 1999 and performed on Michael Feldman's NPR radio program "Whaddaya Know." But it was those every-Sunday-night gigs dating back to 1991 that made them local legends for the wild fun and debauchery they inspired.
In many ways, the ever-changing line-up made the Hogwallers something like a local non-profit support group for musicians. "I'd swear," Dyer told the Hook in 2004, "half the town can claim membership in this band at some point or another."
During breaks, the band's semi-official harmonica player, Sidney Tapscott, regaled the crowd with a few a cappella ditties.
While Dyer cites his full-time job and a few gray hairs as reasons to cut back on gigging, it's clear the changing face of the local music scene has also informed the decision.
"This used to be a funner town to play music in," says Dyer. "Now it's become so cut-throat. People aren't playing for the music anymore; they're concerned about where it will get them."
Even so, the band will remain a staple of the Charlottesville music scene a while longer, playing the last Saturday of each month at Fellini's.
A Charlottesville music icon, frontman Dyer gives the Rambler's their distinctive voice.
Hoots, whistles, and applause swell from the diverse crowd, as everybody from college students to greying locals enjoy the old-time picking.
A couple look on as Rolland Collela offers a violin solo.
Dyer with drummer Cristan Keighley in the background. The band has been playing downtown on Sundays since 1991.
Guest musician Jeff Romano plays harmonica with Rambler's bassist Budd Bryant in the background.
The show is so crowded, some spectators watch the live performance on a television upstairs.
Although the era of weekly Sunday-night shows is ending, Dyer assures the crowd the local band isn't going anywhere.