The Grand Ole Echo is happening every Sunday at the Echo, starting this week with a ‘Season Opener’ on Easter Sunday. It’s always a good afternoon of country music with beers and barbecue, welcoming families and their kids of all ages, and it’s the only time of the week where you may see a cute toddler trying to reach for a glass of tequila forgotten on the edge of the stage. I decided to check this year’s season opener which featured Sarah Gayle Meech, GospelbeacH, Angelica Rockne and CB Brand on the patio, and it was a full and fun time, filled by honky-tonk and people dancing their heart out.
CB Brand is a strange and enigmatic name but it actually stands for Chad Brown, the young frontman of the band with an old soul and a taste for authentic country music. I loved his embroidered Tex-Mex pants and, with his sort of Jared Leto look, he and his great band played a laid-back bluesy country with a touch of foot-tapping honky-tonk, singing with a strong voice, which sounded deeper than usual for his age. CB Brand is a bit mysterious, there’s basically nothing about them anywhere, but their slow tempo songs sounded as convincing as the originals, while one of their tunes, mentioning a girl and whiskey, the epitome of country songs, was matching a road trip in a train.
Angelica Rockne and her band brought country guitars, a folksy voice and sprawling melodies, reaching sometimes a shade of darkness. She basically had two kinds of songs, as the music was either evoking large open spaces or was going in a more plain traditional country direction, with a happy tonk in the lead guitar. She was pushing long powerhouse yells with a strong nasal voice exulting pain, a cathartic vibe and a desert feel, and if it was often too torturous and despair-like to turn outlaw, there was a rebellious feel in the music.
GospelBeacH was born from the ashes of many other indie bands (psychedelic country band Beachwood Sparks among others), but frontman vocalist and guitarist Brent Rademaker and his bandmates know how to keep their musical productions fresh and inventive, with the California sun right in their radar. With their Laurel Canyon harmonies and an organ, their breezy tunes were more California coast than pure country, and they certainly brought a slice of the beach in the country folk flavor of the day. But they also had diversity, sometimes playing a sort of Beatles-to-Eagles psychedelia, some Harrison-to-bluesy guitars, jumping with ease from steamy honk to blissful reverie and enough buoyant surprises to reinvent the 70’s.
I saw Sarah Gayle Meech opening for JD McPherson this summer on the Santa Monica pier, and I was impressed by her incredible stage presence. The firecracker from Tennessee was back in LA headlining the Grand Ole Echo with her violin-injected honky-tonk. Once again, she commanded the place with an assurance beyond her age, making sure the audience had left enough room for the dancers and telling us stories about her life, when she was living in Echo Park. She now resides in Nashville and has self-released, self-produced her new album as the independent woman she is, and she reminded us this a few times. She often wandered from the straightforward honky-tonk of the first songs she played, to a whipped dry guitar tempo and she sang the slow languid songs and the outlaw-spirited ones, with the same confidence and badass attitude. The songs were about heartbreaks, bars or getting your favorite prescription pills in Tijuana, and she mentioned several times her new album ‘Tennessee Love songs’ with a twang in her voice, just try ‘Watermelon and Root Beer’ or ‘No Mess’ from her last album, and you may understand they are still some good things coming from Nashville. She wished happy birthday to Jesus (?) with a glass of Tequila in one hand as the audience was asking her to sing a few more of her rootsy honky-tonky repertoire.
The Grand Ole Echo is the gatekeeper of country music in Los Angeles, it’s a piece of the south happening in my neighborhood, every Sunday at the Echo, where people still dress up in boots and hats, and I must say, it’s a great place to meet cowboys.
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