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Two Slope-Area Roots Fests This Weekend

by Robin Hoffman, via
When's the last time you felt that plaintive twang in your voice? Does your largest belt buckle languish in your closet, glinting like a Texas moon? Do you miss Kentucky and your Sweet Carolina? Don't cry, cowboy. Two big doses of Americana hitting the Slope area tonight will cure what ails you: country, roots, and bluegrass sounds will ring forth during the three-day Brooklyn Country Music Festival and the Fifth Year Anniversary hoedownhootenannyshindig at roots-haven Jalopy in Red Hook. The BCMF twangs and bootstomps with 12 classic country bands from around Brooklyn. The vaudeville-or-earlier environs of Jalopy will host a helping of roots acts Friday night.

* BCMF shows start at 9pm Friday, 8pm Saturday, and noon on Sunday. All FREE (but tip the poor bastards, ya mizer).
* Jalopy show starts at 8pm (Friday only), art opening at 6pm, $20.

The BCMF, entering its eighth year, is a centerpiece of the Brooklyn country music scene. Ok, I heard all of your record players scratching out there. Yes, there is a Brooklyn country music scene. There aren't any cows here, and a good portion of the population, at least in Park Slope, won't even eat cows, but we've got singing cowboys. Howzat? Well, go check out the John Deer hats on all the Iowa transplants up in Billyburg. I think we Brooklyn newcomers miss the things we left behind when we get here. Maybe? I know I (hand up, born in Iowa) never liked country and roots music so much as I do now that I live here. Maybe it's hipster kitsch, I don't know. Maybe it's because the country out here isn't so associated with the things we WOULD like to leave behind -- provincialism, xenophobia, Republicanism, no fucking cities, non-diversity (ok, maybe not that part. Country's white wherever you go.)

More importantly -- this ain't Top 40 fake-twang bullshit. Headed up by the perpetually performing Alex Battles and the Whiskey Rebellion, the BCMF bands play country the way snobbish music hipsters like it: old school. Think Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, slide guitars, cheap beer, and the feeling like you just wanna spit. Alex Battles, the jokey, deep voiced personality behind the festival and much of the borough's scene, also runs the popular Johnny Cash Birthday Bash and the CasHank Hootneanny Jamboree (that's Johnny Cash and Hank Williams in the title).

This year, the festival moves from its usual stables at Southpaw to Hank's Saloon, on the eve of the divey institution's demise at the hands of development. Hank's gritty stage has been home to Battles and many of the festival's other brandishers of harmonica and steel guitar. Friday, JP and the Gilberts prettify Hank's with some gentle, bluegrass-tinged folk. Saturday, Uncle Leon and the Alibis, a honky tonk band bred to play bars, closes out the night. Battles brings his deep, country drawl to Sunday's show, which coincides with the Atlantic Antic street fest that will swell nearby Atlantic Ave with food carts, live acts, and sweaty, sweaty Brooklynites.

If you skip the BCMF's opening night, Jalopy's five-year party ain't a bad alternative. The theatre (yeah, that's right--the 'r' comes first, that's how rootsy they are) and music school always looks kinda wrong not bathed in sepia tones. The old-fashioned proscenium stage, lined with a semi-rectangle of big bulbs and a swath of red curtain, looks out over creaky wooden floorboards and old church pews. There'll be a champagne toast, drinks, anniversary cake, and a documentary about the theatre (a flick just accepted into the 2011 Coney Island Film Festival). Catch the spare guitar and voice of Feral Foster, which could easily narrate a wagon's passage across a Kansas prairie (you know, if said wagoneers had an iPod) or the Depression-era roots of Whiskey Spitters. Jalopy artist-in-residence Robin Hoffman will adorn the walls with portrayals of the theatre's acts over the years.

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