Not knowing anything about rockabilly, I arrived at the Rattleshake Festival well before nine and settled in. There were a couple of guys performing a sound check, so I proceeded to find out what exactly this festival was all about. As it turns out, Vancouver has an excited and loyal fanbase for a kind of indie rock reminiscent of Woodie Guthrie, Muddy Waters and Hank Williams. Now that I could relate to. The style was a cross-section of punk, country, old-timey and blues all mixed together. It reminded me of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou, but modernized, with exquisite lyrics from all three bands delivered with a rock edge.
David P. Smith was the opening act. They warmed the stage with an accordion, picking up the low end as eager music-goers milled into the venue. I particularly loved Smith’s clever writing: dark, wry and humorous with catchy melodies. “Stumbling, Mumbling, Jumbling Cowboys” had everyone singing along. By the time Knotty Pines took the stage, the Railway Club was at full capacity. The Pines started off with a jazzy instrumental. Sweet and sentimental, they hooked the audience into a rare Vancouver sight: people actually dancing. “Pookie Honey, It’s for Real”, a crowd favorite, was dedicated to the trucker dad of lead singer Linda McRae, whose passionate, edgy and powerful voice held us in vice grips until she was ready to let us go.
When Herald Nix finally sauntered onstage at half past midnight, the room’s energy had begun to fade. Dancers were all pooped out, but the die-hards stuck around. Apparently, Nix has been on the Vancouver scene for 10 years and was, despite the tuckered state of the audience, the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night. It was lovely. By the time the night was over, I’d made a few new friends, been fed nuts by a good-looking one whose name I never discovered, and found out that the nice couple sitting at a neighbouring table were also my neighbours in reality. The whole night was inspiring enough to send me back to myspace.com/northernelectric looking for more. I’ve been converted to the ‘twang’ side… and that’s not bad for a middle-aged black woman.