This is the first in a series of guest posts by Craig Toney about the amazing thing that is Holiday Hangout. If you aren’t familiar with this event then you are really late to the party. It’s a small, three day gathering of amazing people and even more amazing music that happens at the legendary White Water Tavern in Little Rock, AR every December. I asked Craig to write up a night and he wrote up all three so you all get a little peek in to what some of us look forward to all year! – Romeo Sid Vicious
For the past five years, one hundred and fifty music lovers have come to Little Rock, Arkansas for the Holiday Hangout to celebrate independent rock and roll and roots music. The Hangout originated from a birthday party that Travis Hill threw for himself from 2009 – 2011. Travis, the owner of Last Chance Records, wanted to celebrate with some of his favorite bands. As interest grew, his birthday party became one of the most anticipated events for lovers of Americana, alt-country, and independent rock and roll.
When you round the curve on 7th street and see the back lights of the White Water Tavern, you get that warm feeling that you are going home.The WWT has inspired songs from a few artists. It is a place to romanticize the music and people that have filled it throughout the years. For those that have not been there, it is an old wooden building that you might think is just a shack sitting in a residential\industrial section of any small city. Inside, the wooden planks that make up the WWT, magic happens. A few bands have been saved by this little bar and the people that frequent it. Many lifelong friendships have been made here. There is something magical about this little dive bar.
The music kicked off with Benchmarks. This band is fronted by Todd Farrell, guitarist of Two Cow Garage. Their music is rock and roll with a punk edge. The crowd was enthusiastic about the music and were singing along to every song. This prompted Todd to say “I guess someone shared that something that I told them to keep secret”. That “thing” was the upcoming album Benchmarks will release in the Spring.
Salty Dogs were up next bringing some local flavor to the night. Their music is a mix of country and rock and roll. It almost had a Dwight Yoakam feel at times. It was a strong set and kept people rocking.
Lydia Loveless made her first official HHO appearance. Last year, she was added at the last minute. Lydia usually has one of the best bands in rocking roll backing her. Her HHO sets have been solo. Lydia is a rock star. When she is solo, you can really see how powerful and captivating her voice can be.
When you think of powerful voices, Austin Lucas comes to mind. This year he did a solo set and showed off that voice. During ‘Go West’, he had the entire crowd singing along with him. He is truly underrated when it comes to his performances.
Romantica brought a fun vibe to the night. The crowd wasn’t as familiar with them but that didn’t stop frontman Ben Kyle keeping everyone dancing along. That says quite a bit about the band and the oneness that the attendees have.
Arkansas has a few favorite sons when it comes to music. Adam Faucett has become one of them. His voice is unique and more powerful than a steaming locomotive. He makes you want to stare in awe and singalong at the same. time.
The music coming from Oklahoma rivals any other location today. John Moreland is one of the best songwriters today. His songs will make you cry. Tonight, he returned to his roots and had a full band. The band had John Calvin Abney on lead guitar. John could have stayed safe and used them to provided layers behind his voice. Instead, they went full electric and powered through the set. I can only imagine it was like seeing Springsteen in the early days.
Joey Kneiser and The Living Flames closed the night. Joey played songs from his album ‘The Wildness’ and added a couple of new songs. Kelly Smith provided the beautiful harmonies that she has provided with Joey since the Glossary days. It would have been the perfect way to close the night except Glossary drummer, Eric Giles was in the house….
Four Fifths of Glossary were at the WWT. All night, people asked Eric if he was going to play. He would just shrug his shoulder. Eric joined Joey, Kelly and Bingham Barnes on stage to rip through four Glossary songs. It was the first performance for Glossary since Eric had his shoulder issues. During ‘Little Caney’ I had tears because it made me think of what might happen. This is the 20 year anniversary of Glossary becoming a band. Everyone is hoping Todd Beene will join his bandmates and give us a few Glossary shows this year.
Night one was at an end. Seven plus hours of music. Countless hugs from friends. This is what we have come to expect from the HHO. People wandered out of the White Water almost giddy from the night. We went back to our rooms or to the after show Hangout that Dave Parsons has been hosting. It was a great kickoff to a wonderful weekend.
All images are used with permission from Melissa Brawner Photography. Melissa is the official photographer for Holiday Hangout and she does an amazing job. She has graciously allowed us to use her photos for this series of posts. She does much more than shoot shows, check out her website and if you are anywhere close to he there is no better photographer you could use.