I first heard of Los Straitjackets while reading They Came to Nashville by Marshall Chapman. I saw Ms. Chapman perform in Nashville in June of this year and purchased her book soon afterward. Eddie Angel was featured in her book because he used to play in her band back in the 80s. He then formed Los Straitjackets in 1994. Chapman named Los Straitjackets as her favorite Nashville band, and Eddie Angel as her favorite guitar player. When I heard they were coming to the Seattle area, I had to go.
Los Straitjackets played the Tractor Tavern in Seattle on Friday to a sold-out crowd. I was not able to attend the show, but heard they were also playing at the first annual Slow Food Roots Music Festival in Stanwood, about an hour north of Seattle. I decided to take my teenage son with me, since the festival was family friendly.
My goal was not only to introduce my son to some great music, but also to show him what fair food should be: locally grown, whole food. I’m always surprised at the paradox of our local fairs to showcase beautiful farm animals, vegetables and fruit, and then serve heavily processed, fried, greasy fast food.
The Slow Food Roots Music Festival goals were to create an awareness of Washington’s agricultural heritage and showcase the local farms and restaurants, and to benefit Slow Food Port Susan. The Festival achieved their goals and served up delicious local fare, including grilled hamburgers with fixin’s that included rhubarb ketchup, herb-infused mustard, an ass-kicking habanero relish, beautiful butter lettuce, ripe tomatoes and fresh, hand-cut buns. They also served beef brisket that was cooked on an on-site barbecue for 15 hours, roasted corn, veggie wraps, fruit smoothies, salads, desserts from a local bakery, and locally roasted coffee. And while sitting and enjoying the delicious food, the Festival provided wonderful entertainment on two stages from a variety of local and visiting musicians.
We sat down on some little risers just yards from the main stage and ate our juicy burgers while listening to The Moondoggies finish their tight set. They sounded fantastic on this warm summer day, and I kicked myself for not driving up a bit earlier. I do plan to see them again soon.
The laid-back crowd of just a few hundred picked up a bit when it was announced Los Straitjackets would be coming on stage in a few minutes. People brought in blankets and low beach chairs for the show; I’ll note that for next time. The venue was so small, every spot was a good one. There was also a beer garden to the left of the stage that filled up quickly.
My son refused to see a video or any pictures of Los Straitjackets. I thought he was just being a lazy teenager, but he told me he really wanted to be surprised. I only told him they were an instrumental surf band, and they wore Mexican wrestling masks. That was good enough for him!
I watched my son’s metallic grin spread all the way across his face as Los Straitjackets took the stage, decked out in their campy, colorful spandex wrestling masks, black bowling shirts with their names embroidered on the pocket, and black pants.
Their matching, sparkly Galaxie 4 guitars were custom-made by DiPinto Guitars, located in Philadelphia, PA, and they put them to work. By the third song, “Casbah,” more people showed up and started paying attention. Senior Angel spoke in pidgin Spanish, sans accent, and introduced the song: “Gracias, damas y caballeros, otro cancion es…Casbah!” The three guitarists lined up and jutted their heads like pigeons to the beat of the song.
Senior Angel’s guitar playing was so skillful and unique. Maybe even the best I’ve ever seen, for pure entertainment value. He was all over the frets, throwing his pick hand behind his head, making it look and sound like he had some kind of telepathic control over that guitar. He was plucking, picking, pounding on the neck, and making that thing scream out sounds I’ve never heard. Maybe he was possessed. El Diablo, Dios Mio!
The second guitar player was introduced as El Stupendo, El Fantastico Senior Gregorio El Grande (Greg Townson)! He rattled out solos, playfully hit harmonics, slowed it down, and complemented Angel’s guitar to perfection. He stopped through part of a solo, threw his arms up toward the crowd in a show of triumph, and the audience whooped and clapped for more. When not touring with Los Straitjackets, El Grande plays in another band with the drummer, Jason Smay called The Hi-Risers, based in Rochester, NY.
Senior Smay also had his hands full keeping up with the fast surfer pace and banging away in the hot August sun. He had a remarkable drum solo of his own during a cover of “Sing, Sing, Sing” and received a well-deserved standing ovation.
The bass player, Pedro (Pete) Curry, whose mask was epic with winged sides like some loco Jurassic lizard, had very difficult and fast runs and some fun coordinating dance moves with the two guitarists during the long set.
Many of the songs were fun covers, but they are also getting ready to drop a new album, and played three original songs, including “Bobsleddin’,” “Space Mosquito,” introduced as “Mosquito del Espacio!” and one called “Positively 6th Street.” I only wish we were watching their act at a beach party in Southern California, where we were free to dance and get a little…Psycho!
Some of the other covers included “Tequila,” in which Angel asked the beer garden: “Quiere Tequila?” and blasted into that famous song. They also played “The Munsters” theme song, The Stones’ “Time is on My Side,” and–uh, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” The Titanic theme song. It sounded so cool, though!
Senior Angel kept forgetting where he was playing and exclaimed to the crowd, “Viva, uh…Stanley? No? Stanwood. Viva Stanwood! Y Viva… [he read off the festival name from Gregorio's wrist band] Slow Food Roots Music Festival!” The crowd laughed and cheered heartily, and he continued, “Viva Beer Garden!” More cheers. “Viva Batman!” and they dove into the Batman theme song to a happy crowd.
Viva Los Straitjackets!