By Mark Grabowski
In my long tenure as The Hook’s music editor (three months or so) I have never spouted even one word about those down-home, lo-fi-ethos-personified perpetrators of a good time hoedown, The Hackensaw Boys. This might have been simply because they have been out on tour for most of my pen time here, and previewing their upcoming show at New York’s Knitting Room would be a little confusing (and amusing, as I have only been to NY once).
But the band gets a huge amount of local press, and perhaps a recent letter to the music editor of another paper, berating him for his heavy Hackensaw coverage, prompted me to down-prioritize (say that five times fast) their near-ubiquitous position on the Charlottesville music scene.
But let’s face the facts here, folks– the Hackensaw Boys and their new-grass sound are our town’s “band most likely to hit the big time.” They have the looks, the showmanship (faux names and everything), and the large local fan-base. But most of all, they have the tunes.
Part bluegrass, part punk rock admirably limns the Hackensaw Boys sound for you three or four people in town who have not heard them yet. I admit it, I’m a sucker for anything pop without being overtly so: catchy melodies and juicy harmonies make me feel all warm inside, and in this respect, the Hackensaw Boys do not disappoint. Listening to tracks like “Smilin’ Must Mean Something,” or the title track from their latest album, Keep It Simple, one is caught first by the strong melodies, and then the racket a 10-man band can produce.
Four of the Boys are the principal songwriters, and though the contributions of guitarist David Sickmen move me the most (he wrote the two tracks mentioned above), I do not mean to write off the other three. Banjo player Robbie St. Ours seems to specialize in up-tempo good-time rants (although the newer song “Grandma” is a notable and rather touching exception); bassist Tom Peloso does slower, more introspective work; and mandolinist Rob Bullington limns simple tunes which show off what kind of sound 10 men can make.
From playing on the Downtown Mall in ‘99 to recording their first album a year later, things are moving mighty fast for the Hackensaw Boys. A tour with Cake behind them, and a slot on the Unlimited Sunshine tour this August (featuring Cake, the Flaming Lips, De La Soul, Modest Mouse, and KINKY)– most likely this band won’t be a local secret for much longer.
My advice? Catch them while you can.
Hackensaw Boys and the Old Crow Medicine Show perform at Starr Hill, June 28. $10/$8adv. 9pm.