Last Sunday was anything but a day of serenity once the sun set over DC’s City Winery. From the impeccable look of the place, the Winery’s top floor Wine Garden’s still-new gleam, wine and full bar, professional wait staff, and delectable dishes might fool you into thinking you were in for a night of demure civilized conversations. But J.D. Wilkes and th’ Legendary Shack Shakers’ fans knew better, and were exchanging sidelong glances and smiles of anticipation from the moment they arrived.
The opening act was J.D. Pinkus — bassist for the Butthole Surfers, the Jackofficers, and the Melvins — and he played a banjo set starting out with a bottom end, tripped out bass sound track: “I think someone put something in my wine.” Playing thru an echo delay (maybe a tube-tape echo) with its psychedelic effect, Pinkus kept a hypnotic vibe going, and the sun was low in the August sky with amber rays streaming in across Pinkus’ face as he played. His was a very eclectic funked-out banjo set, and at the end he set up a loop with an incredibly low vocal with a spellbinding admonition: “You’ve got 5 minutes to finish your wine and get the f-ck outta here,” along with a very distorted low bass. It was really rather spectacular.
After his set JD Pinkus joined in with the crowd for the Legendary Shack Shakers set.
There were some young people in attendance — a testament to the timelessness of Wilkes’ style, and it might be a calculated guess that, judging from the looks of recognition to certain songs, they may have been introduced via last year’s Fire Dream: REVIEW: J.D. Wilkes’ “Fire Dream” is a Stunningly Imaginative Celebration. And then there was a whole swarm of fans who couldn’t wait to demonstrate their longer term fan loyalty. Legendary Shack Shakers no doubt know how to put on a show and hold a crowd rapt, and their fans are brimming with expectation.
The band appeared — frontman J.D. Wilkes on banjo, Gary Siperko on guitars, Fuller Condon on bass and Preston Corn on the snare. They ascended the stage rather stylishly and played Washboard Sam’s “Come On In” and then it was the Legendary Shack Shakers’ “Sugar Baby,” and Wilkes was still on banjo. “Dump Road Yodel” was up next and by this time the fans were already leaning in on the stage, pressing closer, and very few were left in the seats.
“Who Walks In” led into the popular “Hoboes are My Heroes,” one of the Legendary Shack Shakers’ songs that really highlights Wilkes’ storytelling acumen. On the lead-up to “Redwing,” Wilkes told the crowd that his grandfather bought him his first harmonica, as he was a picker who went to antique shows and found it there. “Gipsy Valentine” really showcased Siperko’s guitar licks, and then for “Blood on the Bluegrass,” (from Cockadoodledon’t) Siperko changed to electric and J.D. Wilkes demonstrated his frenetic, amazing and intense harmonica prowess. (For another interesting sample, check out his playing on Shemekia Copeland’s America’s Child last year, on the song “One I Love.”) “Fire Dream” had everyone dancing as it is a mythic, astral plane meet-up song, and then Wilkes again played wild, otherworldly harmonica for “Mud” from the Southern Surreal. “Old Spur Line,” from Swampblood, with “every dirt road leads to the south” and its diabolical groove continued to hold the crowd hop stomping.
During “No Such Thing,” Wilkes called the crowd to sing along and they exuberantly chimed in at top volume immediately without hesitation. “Swampblood” shook up the crowd in further recognition — it’s been on the HBO show True Blood. Then the final song, “Hip Shake,” erupted into a full blown celebration.
Legendary Shack Shakers’ show combines intelligent lyrical storytelling with raucous good fun in a romp through a Southern gothic experience. Wilkes is an author of two books and several short stories with wonderful, complex illustrations. He is also an artist with numerous comic illustrations to peruse and some are for purchase, both at the merch table and online. Luckily for the music and art world, rumor has it Wilkes and the Shack Shakers are working on an upcoming album, a country one this time. Information is here: https://www.patreon.com/jdwilkes Stay tuned for more information here: www.jdwilkes.com