Unlimited sunshine: Travelling Hacks bask in tour glory

It started in St. Louis. The first big tour, the cross-country voyage that every smaller band must take on its way to being a bigger band. And this summer, it's happening to local bluegrass act (with a dash of punk), the Hackensaw Boys.

The Boys are part of Unlimited Sunshine, a 17-gig coast-to-coast roller coaster ride. Imagine a smaller, sleeker, (and far more intelligent) Lollapalooza– with the likes of Cake; theatrically inclined psych-rock band the Flaming Lips; indie rockers Modest Mouse; art-hop group De La Soul; and Mexican electronic worldsters KINKY– and you've got a pretty good idea what the Unlimited Sunshine Tour is all about.

Of course, the Hackensaws couldn't say no to being part of such a notable panorama of stars, and on July 31 their odyssey began at the Pageant in St. Louis.

When The Hook caught up with the Hackensaws last week, they were cruising along I-70 through Ohio aboard the "Dirty Bird," their signature 1964 GM motor coach (formerly a Greyhound bus)– 14 shows down and three to go.

"Soon it's going to be over," says mandolinist, singer, and songwriter Rob Bullington. "It's a big downer."

If the ending is sad, the playing's been something most musicians can only dream about. Bullington says the crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, numbered around 7,000– an "energizing" experience.

Bullington expresses disbelief at having played the historic venue that has seen the likes of Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and the Beatles.

"It was only a year ago," he muses, "that we were just playing the Blue Moon Diner."

Things really stated moving for the Hacks back in November 2001, when they opened for the alt-rock/country/smart-ass centric band Cake– whose song "The Distance" was a bit of an alt-rock hit a while back.

Cake's singer/guitarist and main songwriter John McCrea reportedly loved the Hacks, which led to them supporting the band on a 10-date tour going through the first two months of this year.

Friendships were forged, and after that tour was completed, McCrea and fellow Caker Pete McNeal offered the Hacks a slot on Unlimited Sunshine.

The band has been playing three short sets of 10 to 15 minutes each, roughly three to four songs each time, in between the other acts. Their 10-man mouth-harp-banjo-washboard sound has translated well to the big stage, Bullington says– the band does not use monitors while playing, so every night was "like standing on the edge of a cliff and shouting."

Hijinks, at least ones that could be reported, seem to have been kept to a minimum– the band says life on the road is made up of "lots of driving, sleep deprivation, and eating day-old catered food."

Aside from a stolen but recovered bike, and a minor tour-bus break-in in New York, Bullington gives the impression that the Boys are having the time of their lives. And on hearing that the Hacks get to spend off-hours haunting "random bars in random towns with the guys from Modest Mouse and the Flaming lips," any latter-day music fan with half a clue would have to say, enviously, that was most likely the truth.

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