It's a Twang Thang

The long, hot summer of 1972 was a schizophrenic time to flip on the radio, with bombast rock from Three Dog Night and Janis Joplin battling for pop supremacy with cheesy acts like the Partridge Family and the Osmonds. Into that great divide a single with a new Southern-fried sound slipped through: the Eagles' "Take It Easy." The song was a modest hit. But more important, it heralded the arrival of the California country-rock scene.

Country rock wasn't an entirely novel entity; since the mid-'60s, rock-band refugees had been noodling around at L.A. clubs like the Troubadour, integrating roots and bluegrass sounds with rock phrasing and instrumentation. But acts like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons never found their footing on the rock charts. The Eagles were the first to break through, with hit after hit throughout the '70s.

S.F. roots rockers the Bellyachers.
S.F. roots rockers the Bellyachers.

But somewhere along the way country rock lost its footing. Modern formula-driven radio stations play either "hot" country from the likes of Faith Hill or traditional Grand Ole Opry tunes, while rock stations prefer garage to twang. Yet that sweet roots sound is still a part of our state's musical landscape, and at the First Annual Westbound & Down California Country-Rock Show and Chili Cookoff, S.F.'s rocking hillbillies play Battle of the Bands with their SoCal compatriots. Six honky-tonk mavericks command the stage, from the gospel-tinged bluegrass of L.A.'s I See Hawks to the guitar-fueled Bakersfield rock of S.F.'s the Bellyachers. Performances from Orange County's Kaz Murphy Band and Mike Stinson as well as local acts Dave Gleason's Wasted Days and Johnny Dilks & His Visitacion Valley Boys round out the daylong fest. Be sure to come hungry: Representatives from 10 beer companies and Bay Area record labels will be cooking up batches of special-recipe chili. The admission price buys you a sample of each effort and a vote on the best entry.

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