Pigging out: Hogs rule the Mall

Hogwaller Ramblers
at Escafé
Sunday, August 31

It can strike people as a little odd that the Hogwaller Ramblers, one of the best old-time/bluegrass/rootsy rock n' roll acts in town, has had a regular gig at Escafé on the Downtown Mall on Sunday nights for the last couple of years.

The eating establishment has no other musical entertainment­ and in fact has no real "stage" area where groups can perform– and the posh young professional-oriented restaurant might seem the last place you would find a group as eclectic as the Hogs.

But, interestingly enough, everything seems to click on Sunday nights-­ Escafé is usually packed, both with regular fans of the band, and others venturing out late on a work night to get one last glass of the weekend.

At about 10pm, the Hogwallers began their set, shortly after moving a table or two to the side. Their present lineup includes Budd Bryant on bass, Rick Olivarez on banjo, Rolland Colella on violin, Spencer Lathrop on drums, Sandy Gray on lead guitar, and Jamie Dyer on acoustic guitar and vocals. Dyer is probably the most visible member of the Ramblers, but when the band perform live, he's merely another member, his voice competing with the banjo and lead guitar for the momentary glory of being the group's center.

The first song of the evening I did not recognize, though I hesitate to put it in the original category, but it did get the crowd going fast. A rollicking 2/4 beat, and extended banjo solo, and Dyer's no-mic, belting out lyrics at the top of his lungs showed the group starting the evening out strong, and the Hogwallers only got more rambunctious from there.

Their second piece was a rootsy cover of the Rolling Stones' "Prodigal Son." The song was presented in a verse/instrumental freak-out/verse/instrumental freak-out style, a number of tasty fiddle solos, and more than one banjo flourish.

The bassist began an instrumental version of "It's Your Thing," and soon the whole group (save Dyer, who was conversing with a couple) got into it. Gray's clean electric guitar leads came out to play here, and, my God, the man can jam.

After about four minutes of the jam, an instrumental version of the Ohio Players' "Roller Coaster of Love" started up and evolved for a bit before Dyer took his amazing projecting voice once more out of the box for an original tune.

"Wake up my children, for the morning light (?) is here," belted out Dyer, more testifying than singing, as the Hogs shuffled around him.

From there, more testifying, a little old fashioned rock n' roll, a bit of Zeppelin's "Kashmir," and a small bit of blues carried me and the rest of the customers at Escafé into the Labor Day holiday. One of the best groups in town, hands down.


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