Poor Man’s Whiskey and Great American Taxi Kick off their “2012 Left Coast Harvest Tour” on Halloween Night in Santa Cruz | JamBandsOnline.com

Poor Man’s Whiskey and Great American Taxi Kick off their “2012 Left Coast Harvest Tour” on Halloween Night in Santa Cruz

Review and Photos by Linda R. Tulett 

JBO was psyched to be in the crowd at this show. We’ve mentioned this Poor Man’s Whiskey twist on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in our August 2012 interview with Whiskey’s Jason Beard. Like lighting a shot of whiskey on fire, they have ignited Pink Floyd’s with their version “Dark Side of the Moonshine”, mixing the heady psychedelic sound of Floyd with their foot stomping bluegrass, creating quite an incredible disc. This is NOT your typical “pickin’ on” or “grass does”, like you may have heard before. They have put thought and love into this and it shows. We do suggest that you go out and grab this CD (and remember to love the second half just as much as the first).  

Halloween Night in Santa Cruz was the kick-off to their “2012 Left Coast Harvest Tour” which combines the music of Poor Man’s Whiskey with a new band I had not caught up with yet, Great American Taxi. Leading this band is one Vince Herman, who you may recall from his success with Leftover Salmon (who recently announced their 2013 tour so HEADS up!). Their webpage tells that Great American Taxi came together during Leftover Salmon’s hiatus in 2005. With Herman on lead vocals, guitar and sometimes mandolin, this band has elements of southern rock, folk and bluegrass, with their extended jamband-style moments tossed in to stretch the songs out from the 4 minutes of fame on a CD to lengths you can only get at a live show. Joining Herman are Chad Staehly (keys, vocals), Jim Lewin (guitar, vocals), Chris Sheldon (drums, vocals) and Brian Adams (bass, vocals).

In true Halloween spirit, they hit the stage in full costume; Herman dressed as a present or gift of a sort, with his hat clearly showing “To Women, From God”. There ya go – gotta remember that one when one of my friends calls me at the last-minute for an idea for the costume party. With Jim Lewin being a local player, sitting in withMonterey’s The Harmony Grits bluegrass band as well as the bay area’s Sherry Austin, the band certainly had their solid fans in the crowd. They knew it too, drawing them closer to the stage and watching as they begged for more. More music, more jams, more dancing, more cheese balls – yep, cheese balls were tossed over the crowd more than once, and they loved it!

Admittedly, I kept no set list for Great American Taxi. I didn’t know the names of the songs, the band didn’t keep a set list and my not so smart phone stopped recording pretty much during the first song…… I did chat with Taxi driver Chad Staehly, who had hoped someone recorded the set so he could send it to me. They, like Poor Man’s Whiskey, do not create or keep any sort of set list – they just play what they feel like playing the moment they choose to play it. [update: while I didn’t receive the set list, I did find the live recording on archive dot org, so thanks to you who posted it!]

I grabbed two of their CD’s at the end of the night (thanks Jim!). Their website brands their music as “Americanawithout boarders”. I hear their influence or inspiration comes from the likes of The Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, or maybe I recollected Little Feat or even Los Lobos at times, or the southern style of The Radiators out of the Bayou. Their latest disc, “Paradise Lost” shows the influence that Todd Snyder has had, both on tour and in the studio during production.  Check ‘em out, you can find their music on iTunes, myspace, and on archive dot org along with hundreds of other live recordings.

Poor Man’s Whiskey, the headliner that night, hit the stage well after the 11:00 hour, playing through to the wee hours of Thursday morning, after all the trick-or-treaters had sorted their candy by brand and size, made their trades, gorged themselves and went off to slumber…… Which reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her crew were running through the poppy fields towards Emerald City. On this night, Poor Man’s Whiskey hit the stage ready to give us some “Dark Side of the Moonshine” very appropriately dressed Oz-style – Josh Brough as “The Scarecrow”, Jason Beard as “The Cowardly Lion”, Chris Haugen as “The Tin Man”, George Smeltz as “The Wizard”, Aspen Stevenson as “The Wicked Witch” and, “Dorothy”, on fiddle, of course. We’ve all heard about watching the Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon playing in the background – must let the needle hit the vinyl right when the lion roars (wonder how that works these days with a disc).

Their set started with a foot-stompin’ “Humboldt Hoedown”, appropriately getting the crowd moving again after we were able to rest a spell after the energetic Great American Taxi set. I love this song because it’s like getting two songs in one – for eight minutes, it changes tempo back and forth, getting a little faster and more “grassy” before they bring it on back to Humboldt and finish the hoedown – hey, stomp your feet on the ground, yeehaw!!

Then we get what we’ve come for, as they dive right into “Speak to Me> Breathe”. The tempo is quicker than Floyd’s – bluegrass of course, but the songs are recognizably close. There is a smooth swing to these two opening songs that is hard to explain. You can’t help but sway to the sounds, and slowly, deeply… breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care….. The sound moves you back and forth, the fiddle filling in nicely, swirling around the banjo, guitar and mandolin and pulling us along into a faster pace, louder, with more conviction on the strings as they move into “On the Run”. I hear someone say, “Nice, really nice”, and I can’t help but to agree. [I just want to add a mention of Chris Haugen’s guitar pickin’ skills. He has to be seriously fast to keep up with the speed of the banjo and mandolin, sprinkling notes in between, above, below, and around. At times, almost jazzy.]

Then, the barn door flies opens and the roosters begin to crow; Jason is pulling the strings on his mandolin like the heartbeat of the morning – “Time”. Waking up to this would be much more up-tempo than my morning for sure! The song speeds you up like you had a double espresso and then, seconds later, slows you down by putting a warm robe on you, telling you not to leave the house just yet…… enjoy one more sip while, “Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain…..

I watch as Haugen puts down the guitar, sits, and grabs the electric lap slide as they move into “The Great Gig in the Sky.” The combination of the lap slide and fiddle really added that Floyd feel of the soaring guitar sound that would come from Waters and Gilmore, with the banjo, stand up bass, mandolin, and drums softly playing in the background keeping that grass-feel.

Then the sound of the bass hits – scaling up and down; suddenly I realize the crowd is coming closer to the stage and I’m about to lose the nice space I had. Hum. What’s up with that? Jason leans over to the two girls next to me, and says “OK, now.” They join the band on stage and I’m looking for mics – are they gonna sing? No mics. One is dressed as Dorothy (now there are two Dorothy’s on stage, double-Dorothy), and leans over to pick up a bin of beer cans. She hands them one at a time to Jason, who holds the can up to the mic to get that “pfsstttt” sound of the can opening. I look over and see The Tin Man clanking beer bottles into his microphone. Here we go – “Whiskey”, their version of “Money”. And, I get the answer to why the crowd has suddenly crowded around the stage – those who’ve seen this show before knew they’d be handing out free beers during this song! Each time Jason opens a beer, he handed it to the other girl who passes it to someone in the crowd. Gotta love these guys!

Then, the wonderfully soothing, swirling, hip swaying sound of the banjo and fiddle starts. Joined by the guitar, mandolin, bass and thump of the drum I can tell they are moving into “Us and Them.” Singing “us”, “us”, “us”, “us”, “us”, “us”… “and them”, “them”, “them”, “them”, “them”, “them” each one into their mic, in a circle around the stage, really making it feel like you were listening to them on surround sound. Nice touch.

The seamless move from one song to the next – “Us and Them >Any Colour You Like>Brain Damage>Eclipse”- was like a beautifully written novel, with many short stories woven together with beautiful sounds. They took their time with this, stretching it out for nearly 20 minutes and caring about each note that carried us, us, us, us, us, us, and them, them, them, them, them, them together through their story of the Dark Side of the Moonshine. Oh and the Kazoo towards the end of “Us and Them” – nice touch Josh, but must say, Miss Nicki Bluhm has one up on ya there – the girl can pl-ay that kazoo! I have to just mention again the talent of the fiddle player. Wish I caught her name so JBO could give a shout out to the woman who held her own on that stage, poor or not, man or not, whiskey or water – she turned her fiddle into a psychedelic guitar at the right moments, moving this Poor Man’s Whiskey show beyond bluegrass and into the stratosphere of psycho-grass…. Or maybe we should call it grass-o-delic.

With the clock barely showing midnight, the band treated the crowd to another hour of a handful of favs to keep us dancin’ into the night. In the mood to jam, the first two song combo lasted 20 minutes, starting with a quick paced “Poor Man’s Whiskey”, which really opens kind of funky, actually, before it hits a manic stride in the middle, before heading back down the road to funk. This moved nicely into “Catfish John” and the energy in the room soared when Haugen tore into really heavy guitar jam that could have ripped you in two – in a good way, of course.  And who’a thought you’d hear Stevie Wonder bluegrass style? Well, with Poor Man’s Whiskey, you never know what you’ll get, but you can certainly count on it being high energy, foot-stompin’, whiskey drinkin’, dance around crazy loads-o-fun!

After all that, they come down off the stage “pool side” and play unplugged. Wait, let me catch my breath, wipe my brow, get a drink of water, and get ready to slow it down…. Did I say slow it down? My bad. “Whiskey in Heaven” is not a slow song – it may have started slow, but sure enough, quickly moved into the high-energy Poor Man’s Whiskey pace! Someone in the audience was made very happy, after shouting out their request to hear it a handful of times throughout the night. Gotta love when the band hears a request from someone and then decides to fulfill it – they simply look out to the audience for the person with the biggest smile, or maybe singing the loudest or dancing the hardest, and know that is who they are really playing the song for.

A shout out to Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz for hosting such a fun Halloween Night filled with costume, music, libations, dancing and just an overall great time. Not too spooky or scary, no haunted hallway, or tricks up anyone’s sleeve………… but I must say, I did notice no treats? Seriously, not enough chocolate to call it Halloween in my book!

Great American TaxiRide, Travelin’ Man, Reckless Habits, Big Sandy River, Coming Home, Season of the Witch, Space Is The Place>Shape I’m In, Pulling The Devil By The Tail, Straw Man, Unpromised Land->Whiskey Before Breakfast-> Unpromised Land, Swamp Song, Voodoo Queen Marie, Good Night To Boogie

Poor Man’s WhiskeyHumboldt Hoedown (crowd warm-up song), Speak to Me> Breathe, On the Run, Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, Whiskey (Money), Us and Them> Any Colour You Like> Brain Damage> Eclipse, Poor Man’s Whiskey> Catfish John, Santa Cruz, You’re the Only [Bluegrass] Woman   E. Whiskey in Heaven, Sierra Girl

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