Sunday, April 6, 2008

Live Music (It Ain't Canned)

I went to a concert last night. Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks played at the Piper's Opera House in Virginia City. Aries wouldn't go with me - he can't stand that band. Admittedly, Dan Hicks' music is somewhat eccentric, and definitely an acquired taste. He has a dead-pan stage persona and dry sense of humor, and his music is a strange mix of swing, folk, jazz and country. I've been a fan since the early 1970's. I had a wonderful time - for me, great music in a great venue.

Most people know Virginia City as the little dot in the middle of the burning map that opened the old Bonanza television show (in all of my travels, even when I don't speak the language I can always get across the general area of where I live by humming that theme song). Samuel Clemens began his writing career in Virginia City, but didn't use the pen name Mark Twain until later. Nevada became a state in 1864, without enough people to qualify for statehood, because President Lincoln needed the resources provided by the silver mines of the Comstock Lode to finance the costs of the Civil War (state nicknames: Battle Born state, the Silver State). Money made in Virginia City in the 1860's built San Francisco. Today, it's the largest federally designated Historical District in the U.S. and is maintained in its original condition. "C" Street, the main business street, is lined with 1860's and 1870's buildings housing specialty shops of all kinds.

Piper's Opera House, built in 1885, is actually the third Piper's built in Virginia City - the first two having burned to the ground. It has been undergoing restoration for years now and, while not finished, is finally in shape enough to begin hosting events once again. Maximum capacity 360 people, says the sign at the door. The wooden auditorium floor is built on ore cart springs, adding a bit of a bounce said to be exceptionally nice for dances. The stage is raked, rising 4 feet from the front edge to the back, so as to provide a better view of the action. For this performance, wooden chairs had been set up in rows with a center aisle.

Dan Hicks, songwriter and lead singer, also plays rhythm guitar. The Lickettes, two women, provide harmony voices and hand percussion instruments. The three Lickmen play lead guitar, a stand-up bass, and violin/mandolin. It was a bit of a homecoming for Dan. He got his start as the drummer for the house band at the Red Dog Saloon in V.C. in 1965. The light shows and hallucinogen-fueled dances held at the Red Dog were the direct inspiration for the legendary psychedelic San Francisco scene that blossomed shortly thereafter.

In such a small venue, there wasn't a bad seat in the house. But, being by myself, lucky me, I found a single seat in the front row. What a great time!

"Canned music, canned music, playing on the radio
Canned music, canned music, without a dime it doesn't go
Favorites on the jukebox are only half the show
When it's canned music, canned music" --Dan Hicks

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