It’s 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 6, and I’m looking down the barrel of 12 hours of live music at Frog and Peach Pub. It’s my fifth year playing Twang N Bang in as many bands (in order: Hayburner, Red Eye Junction, Magazine Dirty, The Gal Fridays—and this year—Hayley & the Crushers), so I know the drill by now. That’s why I’m wielding a spatula in one hand and a mug of strong black coffee in the other. I know that this day will call for caffeine and pancakes. Lots of caffeine and pancakes.
The weather is already scorching hot, and I know there will be even more sweat to come once the bands start rocking and the beer flows freely.
- PHOTO BY CHAD NICHOL
- STARRY EYED: Morgan Enos of Other Houses and Lexi McCoy of Bearcat added a quirky, melodious vibe to Twang N Bang X’s rock-and-country-heavy lineup.
I run through my set list, wiping the perspiration that has already congealed on my strings. Next: I pack up my guitar, amp, and pedals, summon my husband/bass player/Reid Cain, and drive the familiar route to Frog and Peach, the little hole-in-the-wall bar that holds so many of my musical memories. Exhilaration. Joy. Nausea. Embarrassment. Victory. It’s all there, mixed with that famous Frog and Peach stale-beer smell. I can’t wait to see what new writing has graced the bathroom walls (turns out the latest ladies room tag says: “touch my butt and buy me pizza”).
It’s about 2:30 p.m. when we belly up to the bar, and Santa Barbara’s Chasing Rainbows has already played for a half hour. A healthy crowd is assembled, and I’m stoked to see guitarist Brian Mathusek and drummer Merry Young of the Mutineers, who will be crashing at our house after the festivities close, somewhere around 2 a.m.
The best part of Twang N Bang is connecting with a vast motley crew of musicians. There’s a “family reunion” joy about it—without the family drama. Everyone’s hugging, bullshitting, catching up, and laughing. There’s a lot of enthusiastic high fives and the trading of CDs. I introduce my drummer and fest newcomer Ryan Jenkins to as many musician friends as I can. And just like that, another soul is indoctrinated into the church of Twang N Bang.
The sun may be shining, but time loses all meaning in this bar. Atascadero’s Creston Line is churning out sad country sounds, and Brenneth Stevens kills it on pedal steel. We’re up next, and I’m touched to see so many folks here (especially the smokers). This is our very first SLO show, but my nerves melt away once I plug in. I feel comfortable here, and I know it can always get worse. (Over the years, everything that can go wrong on this stage has.)
“I guess we are the first ‘bang’ of the day,” I yell into the mic, before kicking into “Siren’s Call,” a groovy little number about villainous mermaids. Fest founder and friend Patrick Hayes looks on from the street window as he tries to gauge how loud we really are. Considering the fact that Hayes himself plays in the loudest band in SLO (The Dead Volts), I probably fried some eardrums. Sorry-not-sorry, guys.
- PHOTO BY CHAD NICHOL
- FIRST GIG: Hayley and the Crushers made their Twang N Bang debut, and they sure were grateful for the opportunity to rock it.
Reid’s bass is a fuzzy burp; my guitar is metallic with layers of reverb. Ryan pummels the drums with a straight-forward style, no frills, no fuss—and he growls into the mic, making for a wild duet. When it’s all over, my heart is pounding, and I feel intense gratitude. Like a too-fast twirl on a merry-go-round, I want to do it again.
The first drink of Twang N Bang is always the sweetest. Jennifer Hix buys me a celebratory hard cider, and we make up silly dance moves while Other Houses’ Morgan Enos sings about intergalactic travels. Drummer Lexi McCoy patters along stoically, and it makes me happy that she is one of two female drummers on the lineup. As evening falls, the harmonica-fueled folk of M Lockwood Porter blurs into the hard rock sounds of HOT TINA, providing another electric wave of girl power. Ali Wenzl thumps her bass and she looks like a real rock star up there in her black sunglasses. Drummer Brian “B Ball” Morzel is rocking a covetable ’80s tuxedo T-shirt.
When the Mutineers’ harmonies heat up, I’m dancing. Nothing can stop it, even the disintegration of one of my cowboy boots, which peels off at the sole. The pancakes are wearing off. It’s always a painful moment when you know you have to go eat—and in our case—make the annual wardrobe change. If only there was a Twang N Bang food truck or even someone selling tacos outside! We dash to Creekside for a burger then home to quickly change, Reid into a suit with Western tie and cowboy hat and me into a square dancing dress and boots that actually work. I feed our two dogs, who look pissed off that they aren’t invited.
When we return to the bar, local boys American Dirt are just about ending their rambunctious tryst with the audience, and I am told it was a most heroic set (good thing we are spoiled and get to see them often). Armed with a standup bass and acoustic guitar, the Turkey Buzzards mesmerize the crowd into a swaying mass. Next, Red Eye Junction will take the stage after a few years of absence from the fest and the loss of a few good band members. Reid slips right back into his nasal twang like a pro, and I am proud to back him up on vocals, channeling my inner Loretta Lynn.
This band changed my life forever (I joined in 2011, Reid and I married in 2013, and I learned to sing along the way). Now, things are coming full circle at Frog, and I’m trying to soak it all in. Stevens is back on stage, this time on lead guitar, like a boss. Even though the group has had maybe 1.5 practices together ever, original REJ bass player Chad Hoffman and our good friend/Magazine Dirty drummer Chad Nichol keeps the train chugging along down the line.
By the time we finish, it’s nearing midnight—still two hours of music to go! The rest is blur of 50-Watt Heavy, clinking glasses, and dirty jokes. Long story short: We don’t make it to 2 a.m., but that’s OK. Twang N Bang is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Let next year’s training begin!
Hayley Thomas is still sleeping it off at email@example.com.