Poor Man’s Whiskey (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Friday, January 20, a rainstorm that flooded the Santa Cruz Mountains and shut down Highway 17 was no match for the foot-stomping roots revival behind Poor Man’s Whiskey at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz.
Warming the crowd up were Santa Cruz mountain locals The Naked Bootleggers. Normally a four-piece, they debuted dobro player Will Fort as the newest and fifth member of the band, playing his first public show.
In addition to Fort, Don Mackessy, James Mackessy, S.T. Young, Jeremy Lampel, and Ona Stewart round out the rest of the fun-loving mountain town band. Many of their songs are the result of a group challenge to write a song a week or 52 songs a year — or about their marijuana crop guardin’ kind-smellin’ mountain neighbors.
After an hour-long set, the stage cleared quickly and Poor Man’s Whiskey were set up and ready to go by 10:30pm. When they took the stage, a special surprise for the Moe’s Alley crowd revealed itself when Ben Andrews of Bay Area rock and roll group The Stone Foxes sat in almost the entire show.
For the first of the two rambunctious sets from Poor Man’s Whiskey, they opened with “Carolina Pines” and “Let’s Go Out Tonight” before things started to get loose in “Wyoming.” Opening the tune with a reverb-drenched cowboy lick from the guitarist, a creeping piano and eerie violin added to the vast mystery before the slide guitar brought the range home.
Eventually “Wyoming” delved into an all-out funk expedition as the keyboards took over the tune. Not to be outdone so early, the lead guitar channeled his best David Gilmour and the band swung into “Angeline” with a flawless segue.
“Humboldt Hoedown,” a song that plays exactly how it sounds like it might, brought the band back to their Americana origins. But true to revivalist nature, they did not remain tied down to one, two or even three distinct genres — blurring lines and mixing sounds every chance they got. A cover of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” rambled into “Sierra Girl” near the end of the set.
But the keys stole the set for sure, rounding the set out with “Can’t Wait To See you Again” and “Roll On” which dipped into Parliament Funkadelic-reminiscent riffs of space funk and fiddle, with a little tease of The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” for good measure to end the set.
The second set started just after midnight and built on the high energy of the first set. Opening with “Goodbye California” it appeared that the guitar succeeded in his earlier channeling of David Gilmour, and used the boost in mojo to slay a Pink Floyd segue, covering the classic “Time” and “Breathe” section — but not without the perfect amount of mountain moonshine flair spicing up the joint.
Poor Man’s Whiskey then called out to “Raise A Glass” before riding the wave into “Mexico,” and eventually into one of the most rowdy endings to a show at Moe’s Alley in recent memory with a section of music that saw “Whiskey Creek” segue into a fat “Catfish John” with extended jam sandwich, and ended with the town favorite “Santa Cruz.”
Poor Man’s Whiskey will next play at The Fillmore in SF, opening up for the third and final night of Railroad Earth‘s three-night run this weekend.