The Hard Working Americans Rock Out The Rio |

The Hard Working Americans Rock Out The Rio

November 14, 2017

Photos and Review by Linda Tulett  

The Rio Theater on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz is an intimate venue with a big dance floor in front of the stage and just under 700 fixed theatre style seats. The stage is at leaning level for someone 5’2”, which is fairly low to the floor, bringing the musicians that much closer to the crowd. That’s also nice for a short photographer who often has to look up at the stage, which is not always a flattering angle for the person at the receiving end of the shutter click. While it was not a sold out show, the venue was full of fans that wanted to be right up close, up dancing and sharing the energy flow from the stage. With only a small dance floor and limited seats, the effort needed for getting up close was minimal.

The opening act was a nice surprise, for me anyway, but not those who clearly showed up early to catch his solo act Jerry Joseph of Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons. He’s got a rawness to his playing and a voice that has weathered the storms of life. He also liked to toss in a story here and there, giving the crowd a sense of who he is and where his music comes from; life perspective. He’s got about 34 releases out, some with just a handful of tunes and some remakes of old, but his career has been going since 1987. Here’s a tidbit for you Heads, he had a few releases that came out of jam sessions held and recorded at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios and were produced by Dave Schools (Widespread Panic, Hard Working Americans). He also had some killer guest musicians sitting in such as Mookie Siegel, Scott Law, Steve Kimock, Jason Crosby and Michael Lewis. One other tidbit, some were put out on Voodoo Doughnut Recordings, in collaboration with Joseph’s own label, Cosmo Sex School Records. I wonder if it smelled like doughnuts…. even just faintly….. or maybe they gave a coupon for a donut…. (hahaha….) Not knowing what to expect, I was impressed and captured by his raw sound and honest energy. While not able to keep a setlist as I’m not familiar, I do remember stories and songs like, “Giraffe,” “White Dirt,” and a song after a band he loved, “Dead Confederate.” Go check him out here >>>  

If you haven’t heard of ’em yet, the Hard Working Americans are Todd Snider (lead vocals), Dave Schools of Widespread Panic (bass, of course), Duane Trucks (also of Widespread Panic and on drums, of course), Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi (keys), Jesse Aycock (lap steal guitar) and typically it would be Neal Casal of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood on lead guitar, but, with Casal steadfastly dedicated to and out on tour with the CRB, they now have Daniel Sproul sitting on lead. Man, oh man. They hooked up themselves a good one. Amazing talent. He shreds. 

The band formed in 2013 and soon after released their first album that included 11 songs from not so well known folks they were, “shining a light on the folks that get missed in the modern shuffle.” Their fan base grew as they hit the road to perform live with shows that cover a mix of American rhythm and blues, to southern rock and roll, to a good helping of psychedelic jam rock – all good time music that gives you plenty of chances to get your boogie on. With 2016 came their third release, Rest in Chaos, (they released a live album in 2015, The First Waltz) that was filled up with 13 original tracks that Dave Schools calls, “sort of psych-rock, riff-rock, garage-y sounding thing with hints of Americana song forms.” And, with some of those songs scattered into their set, I might just agree. This year, they’ve put out another new release, We’re All in This Together, that is filled with remakes and only one or two brand new, including the title track. This is what I’ve read from their site about their latest: “Snider’s story that became the album’s title track is a metaphorical tale of how he and the band found one another, as well as an expression of the band’s philosophy of inclusion. ‘The moral of the story is Todd being lost at sea, and this band coming together behind him and teaching him we’re all in this together and that we’re stronger together,’ Schools continues. ‘I think that message resonates really loudly in this day and age, where people are so divided. The whole reason of Hard Working Americans, and everything we’ve discovered as a band, is that we’re stronger together.’”

While I’m a bit of a HWA music newbie, with this first cover, I can share what my favorites of their set were, from my vantage point stage left. The tunes that stuck to my ribs, so to speak, were, “Throwing the Goats,” which really had Schools laying down those seriously low vibrational notes. The energy was driven by Duane Trucks just wailing on the drums and Staehly making the organ rumble, and the sticky southern drawl sounding guitar work from Sproul coupled with Aycock on screamin’ lap-steel led to some uncontrollable raging boogie moves out on the dance floor. You an always count on the Santa Cruz hippies to bring it; and it’s infectious. I really dug, “Roman Candles” too. A slower groove and a moment that lets Snider’s voice quiet down and sing a little smoother. That’s almost impossible from someone who’s got such a weathered sound to his vocal chords; deep and raspy, his accent, if you will, is uniquely his own and the songs they choose really fit it to a “T.” There’s also always a spot in my soul for a tune that gives space for good harmonies, which this does.

I guess I’m partial to the rock tunes, the one’s that give the guitar players room to escape the melody and just explore what’s in their head, translated down to the strings. “Muscadine Wine,” was just… Sproul. It was just his song there for a moment, just blew it out. He’s really got a strong sound and powerful energy behind what comes out of his guitar. (Listening to a live version of this from the Tower Theatre this year actually knocked my speaker down. Yup.) Or was it, “Is This Thing Working?” Holy cow, both of those tunes just screamed, just electrified the whole place, it was all energy and rumble.

Their three-fer encore was what I needed to end it, to keep me energized for my ride back south to Monterey. The first of the three, “Acid,” well, just blew my mind. Holy shit the guitar….. it was very intensely freaky, spacial and, well, made ya feel like you were on acid. Even the studio version I found online was pretty heady. I really dug the low beat and energy of, “Run a Mile,” the slow pull and grind of the guitar lead just puts the southern in the dirty rock. They closed with a Todd Snider tune called, “Stuck on the Corner,” which is one tune I know I’ve heard on the local radio station. Its got a rockabilly groove to it, a quick shuffle to the feet and a big ole crowd sing-a-long as they responded, “Yeah, yeah!!” followed by an, “Oh, yeah!!” 


Hard Working Americans. Yeah, yeah. I might agree….. 

While I didn’t keep a setlist myself, heres what our friends over at have for the night. I’ve yet to find the set for Jerry Joseph:

Hard Working Americans
Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
(Opening Act: Jerry Joseph)


In Between Jobs, I Don’t Have a Gun, Throwing the Goats, Welfare Music, Half Ass Moses, Just Like Overnight, Roman Candles, Something Else, Blackland Farmer, Muscadine Wine, Burnout Shoes > Another Train> Is This Thing Working> Another Train
Encore: Acid, Run a Mile, Stuck on the Corner


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