One of the highlights of any barbecue cookoff is always the Friday Night Band. Now maybe this is just a Middle Tennessee thing - I sometimes take for granted the abundance of live music that we have around here - but I'm going to assume for our purposes that the Friday Night Band transcends geographical regions. If a cookoff has no other entertainment, they will still have live music for a couple of hours on the night before turn-in.
The Friday Night Band can be a ragtag bunch of local youngsters straight outta the garage, or a deft assembly of seasoned vets. They can be slick, ambitious and upwardly mobile, or contentedly underachieving. They can be rockin' country, or country rock. But there's one thing that every Friday Night Band has in common - covers. Play something we know.
At the beginning of this barbecue season, we set out to compare and contrast the bands we saw at competitons. After two years on the circuit, we knew to expect anything. We were not disappointed.
Porkin' in the Park (Clarksville, TN)
The Beagles were probably the oldest band we've seen at a barbecue cookoff, in terms of average age. I'd place it at about 42, and that's with a guitar player and a drummer who looked to be 10 years younger than everybody else. The Beagles seemed to be comprised of the kind of Baby Boomers the Bellamy Brothers used to write songs about - raised on rock'n'roll in the 60s and 70s, but have gradually made the transition to country. They played a sexegenarian set that ranged from the pedestrian ("Sweet Home Alabama", "Mustang Sally") to the inspired (Cat Stevens' "Wild World", the Byrds' "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better") to the head-scratching (Anna Nalick's 2005 hit "Breathe (2 AM)"). Overall, the level of musicianship was superior to what we normally see at events like this. Their playing was refreshingly efficient, free of the free-form histrionics that normally rage unchecked in a three hour set.
High on the Hog (Winchester, TN)
Some of the lads in Nashville's Sloe Gin probably could have been the children of some of the Beagles. Their setlist, however, still relied mostly on the classic rock standards of the 1970s, with some Nickelback and Creed peppered in amongst the Doobies, Stones, Eagles and Skynrd. Their meandering, indulgent style, replete with blues jams and ten minute guitar solos, seemed to be right at home on a balmy Franklin County night.
Sun Drop Country BBQ (Pulaski, TN)
This contest featured the unfortunately named Troubled Hush. Troubled Hush also hail from Nashville and used to be called Goodchild, which, amazingly, is a better band name. This band definitely seem the most inclined to "make it" in the recording industry, judging by the fact that they actually played several original songs, and by their MySpace page, which announces:
Goodchild made its name as a goodtime party band. Whereas Troubled Hush is looking to establish itself by making moving, lasting original music.
Oh, and there's also a band photo which features the lead guitarist taking a shit (very moving). Anyway...while I am not normally a fan of original tunes from the Friday Night Band, Troubled Hush somewhat redeemed themselves by playing some interesting covers. I heard, among other things, "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers, "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show, "Paradise City" by Guns N' Roses, "Undone (The Sweater Song)" by Weezer, and "Santeria" by Sublime. Definitely the first time I've heard Weezer at a barbecue cookoff! Even if their execution was a bit ragged and things got unnecessarily jammy at times, overall I dug it.
So there you have it, Dear Reader. Perhaps in the future we will have more in depth reports with setlists, etc. We'll see.
In closing, I will leave you with a bit of trivia. What ONE song do you think was played by all three Friday Night Bands discussed here? If you said "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" by the Georgia Satellites, you are correct. Who would have thought?