Rockabilly Doo Wop
by Joe Don Mooney, August 14, 2013
The eighth annual Rockabilly in the Redwoods Festival at the miniature livestock arena in Scotia, Humboldt County, was held during the weekend of August 1-4 to celebrate otherworldly wild western classical music. The main three-day festival took place Friday afternoon through Sunday morning.
This year's headliner was honky-tonk rockabilly phenom, Bobby Wells and her Swingin' Arky Revue from Lake Beaver, Arkansas, a suburb of Eureka Springs.
For burlesque fans, the festival organizers and the ever popular Gomer and Retro, plus a new Okie group, Thumper and the Cottontails, a house band at the Bob Wills Tulsa Playboy Club — all former Miss Tulsa beauty queens.
A surprise last-minute booking was Little Dickie Doo and the Don'ts, a retro group from Dover, Delaware, making a national doo wop revival tour.
At the Mooney clan's annual St. Paddy's Day gathering this year, uncle Eddie Mooney entrusted me with the secret clan recipe for quadruple distilled homebrew (Mooneyshine) brought from Ireland by my ancestors in the early 18th century. He also passed me the clan's ancient copper pot still. At the Biblical age of three score and ten, I'm now responsible for the advance of Mooney tradition. With the handoff complete, Eddie grinned, winked, slapped me on the back and crooned the Mooney tune, "There is nothing like whiskey to make maidens risky."
After the freedom of traveling light last year, I now have the burden of spreading Mooney culture, so I built a nifty two-wheeled teardrop camper trailer as a tanker to tow behind my methane powered turbocharged V-8 1943 Czech Tatra.
Rancho Puerco, my compound on Duncan Peak west of Hopland, home of the Okie Razorbacks, is perfectly suited for moonshining since it's remote, easily defensible, and harbors a herd of testy, slashing Razorback hogs led by Sharpie, a 1000 pound stud boar.
My early departure for the Festival on Thursday morning was a hopeful attempt to avoid the Highway 101 gridlock of stoner caravans rolling north to KaKa in the River, a reggae festival at Frog's Camp near Piercy.
Loading the trailer with camping gear, duds, gorp, water, icechest, hooch and weapons, I bid farewell to Sharpie and company, fired up my rig, and meandered down the mountain, tipping my hat to the leprechaun artists as I passed their unique pygmy forest enclave.
The gumdrop shaped Duncan Peak, due to its location and proximity to the Sanel Valley floor is a visually prominent feature in the Hopland area.
According to old-timers in Sanel Valley the peak was named after Elijah Duncan, a Tennessee native born in 1824 who married Elizabeth Craddock of Virginia in 1858, migrated to the town of Sanel, and in 1879 purchased 460 acres near the base of Duncan Peak on which Duncan Springs Resort was developed and maintained into the 1960s. And all this time I thought the Peak was named in honor of fast food huckster, Duncan Donut.
At Highway 101, I motored north to Ukiah for a traveler's breakfast at the Bebop Diner on South State Street — the official headquarters for the Rockabilly in the Redwoods Festival planners who meet all year long, eating and drinking much while planning little. The planners choose to remain anonymous, wearing Groucho glasses to avoid power trips.
After gobbling chicken fried steak with country gravy, eggs, fried potatoes, and toast while guzzling tomato juice and coffee, I ordered two different triple-decker "big bopper burgers" for the road: The "great balls of fire" with American cheese, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato and onion, and the "James Dean" with sauteed peppers, mushrooms, onions, jack cheese, lettuce and tomato — both heavily lubricated with "bop sauce."
For the fun of it, I launched a one-man parade north on State Street, the Champs d'Elysees of the Redwood Empire, to show off my unique little emerald green Czech Tatra with its three headlights and central tail fin. We got a few stares but virtually no rotten eggs and tomatoes. Most people were zoned out, thumbing their electronic gizmos, aware of nothing beyond their digital bubbles.
Traveling north through Calpella to West Road in Redwood Valley, I continued on Tomki Road along the Russian River past Oster Wine Cellars, Frey Vineyards, then up into rugged outlaw territory.
This route, though rough and dangerous, is the only remaining scenic bypass of Willits, a hard drinking cowboy frontier town that has mushroomed into a full-blown crank/pot theme park — a pharmaceutical oasis for speed and weed.
With the new Caltrans (Calturds) Highway 101 bypass now being dozed through Little Swamp Valley, the old country road eastern bypass route has been visually trashed.
Willits boosters are frantically trying to "brand" the town as a tourist destination before the bypass is complete. Their job is already done. Willits is known nationally for two things: the Skunk Train and primo skunkweed. Drunktown has become Skunktown. "Visit Choo Choo Skunk town, home of the pot rush."
The grand marshal of this year's July 4 Skunktown Frontier Days parade was the head honcho of High Times Supply, the largest distributor of pot grow stuff in Northern California — including rat poison and a witch's brew of other toxic chemicals. The theme of this year celebration was "Hawaiian Luau." Welcome to the Hula pot frontier.
Driving Tomki Road is a suitable adventure for those who can tolerate stream crossings and gunfire. In June of this year a Mendo County deputy sheriff was fired on from 30 feet away by an Hispanic man in camos during a pot bust at the 20000 block of Tomki Road. The deputy returned fire, "missed," and camo dude went into the forest unscathed. How could the deputy miss at only 30 feet? Aren't the cops packing assault rifles? At the very least, pot raiders should be armed with AK-47s and bloopers.
From Tomki, I drove west on Canyon Road past the Frisco Bay Area Boy Scout camp to Hearst-Willits Road — briefly — then north and west on Reynolds Highway skirting the Okefenokee section of Little Swamp Valley.
Opponents of Calturd's Half Ass Skunktown bypass claim that wick drains used to suck moisture from the water table will desertify the Valley, converting an immense wetland into a vast desert. It's happened before in the Sahara. Hello Little Dunes Valley.
I admire the brave, idealistic folks are trying to stop the Calturds juggernaut, but they're up against an evil empire headed by Darth Dougherty who has a galactic mission to pave the entire state from Mexico to Oregon creating a fireproof nirvana with unimpeded runoff to fill the reservoirs. We'll all live in computer-controlled perpetual motion vehicles.
By using incoherent, fragmented tactics, the bypass opponents violated one of the oldest, most fundamental rules of battle: never divide your strength when faced with superior force.
The Calturds opponents remind me of an old Earth First! inspirational cartoon showing a Stone Age barbarian chucking a spear at an onrushing D-9 Cat. Without a return of Luke Skywalker their cause is doomed.
The Skunktown bypass is collateral damage from the "American way of life," and the owners of America say, "The American way of life is not negotiable." 90% of the population cheerfully accepts this reality.
On a positive note, the atrocious bypass will actually benefit interregional travelers who can avoid exposure to the squalor of South Stunktown. And I'm told that local stoners really groove on the highway construction pile drivers which sound like reggae drumming: THUMP THUMP THUMP.
At the Reynolds Highway/101 juncture, I turned the peppy Tatra north to climb Oil Well Hill on the way to future boom town, Laidbackville, home of Lumpy Gravy's Camp Winnacashflow and former location of the holy stoner papal conclave "Emerald Cup" at Area 101. The annual event is held in December to pick a pot pope for the year, typically the one who produces the most powerful strain of "medicine."
The "Emerald Cup" event which quickly outgrew Area 101 was held at the Mateel Community Center near Ganjaville last year where the holy stoner mob was so huge that organizers have moved the show to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds this year, anticipating a crowd of over 7,000. Pot is now the fastest growing organized religion in the world.
The traffic north of Laidbackville was already heavy due to early bird KaKa in the River caravans, and after Rattlesnake Summit, I was relieved to veer right on Spy Rock Road to visit my Okie school days chum, Buddy Roach and his Two Rock Ranch compound. Buddy, the unofficial mayor of Spy Rock, greeted me with a bone crushing bearhug then introduced his current girlfriend, Olivia, who he snagged at last year's Kaka in the River Festival.
Olivia, a 30-something former fashion model from Houston, Texas, was tall and lanky with big teeth, hollow cheeks, pert nose, saucer eyes, and a full head of short, erect black dreadlocks — the pincushion look. A dead ringer for actress Shelley Duvall. Buddy and Olivia, the odd couple, looked like Bluto and Olive Oyle in the Popeye cartoons.
Last year after Kaka in the River Buddy resigned as security honcho because the festival was getting too violent and dangerous even for a 6-3, 240 pound musclebound thug. He hated the music but loved the pay and used ear plugs to dampen the noise, only responding to high decibel screamers. He said, "It's sex, drugs and roving thugs, the music is background noise."
Buddy had agreed to help staff this year's Rockabilly in the Redwoods, gratis, just to get back to his Okie roots music. He'd shaved off his 13 foot long red topknot crowd control bullwhip and his ear to nose to ear mustache in order to create a rockabilly hairdo — a clerical tonsure with bald top, side fendrs and rear ducktail — the felonious monk.
I could never achieve the 50s hairdos. Even with gobs of Lucky Tiger Hair Wax, my flattops always wilted, and each hair grew at a different rate, so the flattop became a rolling plain and eventually a mountain range. I was a pre-punk pioneer. Today my hairstyle could best be described as multidirectional combover.
To fortify us for the grueling traffic jams on Highway 101, I uncorked a jug of Mooneyshine and warmed up the big bopper burgers on the stove. Buddy grabbed the Great Balls of Fire and by default I took the James Dean — a kindred rebel without a clue. Olivia passed since she is a third-degree vegan who won't eat anything that casts a shadow and survives on trace minerals, lichen, algae dust, and creeping pot.
After chow we piled into the Tatra, Buddy in front with his Marine Corps duffel bag and Olivia twisted like a pretzel in back. The Tatra's rear mounted engine and running gear allow for a roomy cabin, comfy even for big guys like Buddy.
At Highway 101 the traffic flowed like molasses but speeded up at the four-lane sections. From Cummings to Leggett to Piercy we eventually approached the Dreadboldt County line and hit a cloud of ambient pot smoke that was dense enough to require headlights.
At Kaka in the River grand entry portal we stopped, uncoiled and offloaded Olivia, who, wearing only a thigh high, tie-dyed hemp flour sack, dissolved into a swirling mass of dreadlocked and loaded zigzag zombies, never to be seen or heard from again.
Buddy seemed unconcerned. He's been a serial womanizer ever since his college sweetheart, Rhonda Jo Petty, ran off with Joe Bob Briggs to become an adult film star.
At the time, Buddy went ape-shit and virtually destroyed the I Phelta Thi sorority house on the Okie University campus. For that Samson trip, he was permanently dismissed from the football team — until the next game.
Through Richardson Grove we traveled in silence north to Ganjaville for a free gas-up pitstop at KBUD radio then pushed onward to Phillipsville and detoured through the majestic Avenue of the Giants redwoods where Buddy came to life and fired up a big fatty.
At Shively we harvested a gunnysack full of organic veggies as our contribution to this year's Festival dinner featuring road potluck stew.
At Scotia, the rockabilly early birds had flocked and joined staff in the arena for "orientation" — a bad omen, indicating an attempted take over by friendly fascists.
Bud and I set up camp, roasted weenies, grabbed some beer and went to the arena for a look-see. Buddha Bud, the human beer keg on stilts, was AWOL, while an officious looking twirp named Phil was organizing an evening "workshop" titled "Whither Rockabilly."
Since most of the mob was already loaded, this looked like fun, so we blended into the crowd to give our input.
The workshop quickly tanked into ranting shoptalk, bitching about work. "My boss is an asshole!" "Get over it, that's the job description, or be your own boss and be your own asshole." "The company doesn't appreciate me!" "The company's job is to 'depreciate' you." "They don't pay me what I'm worth!" "You're worth what they say your worth and nothing more."
Twirpy Phil was, "Like totally" peeved and stomped off in a huff. Who let him in? Don't we have shit detectors?
Rockabilly rebels don't do workshops, we do work parties: work a little, party a lot. On full red alert, rockabilly rowdies gathered around the evening bonfire to guzzle and strategize.
According to evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, the campfire is one of the founding pillars of civilization. Humans are the animal kingdom's greatest practitioners of what he calls "eusociality." We form groups containing multiple generations and perform altruistic acts as part of our division of labor. And the focus of these groups is a pile of burning wood.
Around the bonfire rockabilly wisdom prevailed: "America doesn't have a culture, it has a depraved way of life that is actually a living death, and the rockabilly resistance, spread face to face, telepathically, or via smoke signals, is gradually gaining cultural identity and culture trumps politics, blah blah blah."
"The rockabilly revolution has reached critical mass. We are the birds of the coming storm, blah blah blah." "Like whatever, dudes, let's not take ourselves too seriously. It's party time!"
Early Friday morning, still fuzzy, Buddy and I crawled out of our sacks, gobbled gorp, guzzled coffee and checked out the scene. The arena campground was nearly full of rockabillians positioning vintage cars and trailers, firing up Webbers, swilling beer and getting stoned for the Festival Parade which was scheduled to begin at high noon.
At Ground Zero I noticed an elegant lady riding what appeared to be a snazzy electric bicycle which on closer inspection was actually a rare, historic, mint condition 1901 Indian Camelback motorcycle featuring an air cooled 200cc single cylinder engine, dual chain drive, front mounted throttle and choke levers and trademark "camel's hump" over the rear fender draped with bulging black saddlebags.
At the information kiosk, mystery lady dismounted and waved, presenting a vision of Marianne Faithfull in the classic 1968 French movie, "Girl on a Motorcycle." Now in her late 60s, Faithfull was a headliner at the Kate Wolf Memorial Festival at Laidbackville this June.
Mystery was clad in an emerald green rayon riding suit, black hemp kneelength motorcycle boots, and I a pink kevlar crash helmet which she removed to reveal an ancient Celtic hairdo with beautifully spiraled curls, both in front and hanging down either side, briaded down the back and confined at the ends with light hollow golden balls.
I stumbled over for introductions and "Breezy Rider," a nurse from Mendopia Village who hails from New England and was curious about rockabilly, a foreign music, her passion being doo wop. She was drawn to the festival primarily to hear the doo-wop group and as an environmental and animal rights activist, she wanted to check on our environmental bonafides and treatment of animals.
I assured her that we ran a clean show with pampered animals including last year's hamster olympics gold medal winners who were given lucrative promotional contracts by "Wheaties, breakfast of champions." Used, but not abused. At that bit of blarney, she laughed outloud and said, "It's the same thing."
While admiring her rig, I learned that the Indian was a family heirloom purchased by her grandfather, Red Ryder, who rode the motorcycle west to become a cowboy movie star.
Breezy was also scouting the scene to get ideas for her dream of organizing a doo-wop festival in Mendopia. Her knowledge of doo-wop was amazing, tracing the form to early American black vocal harmony, primarily gospel. Important 20th-century influences were the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots in the 30s and 40s. After the Ink Spots faded, two similar groups, the Ravens and Orioles, gained national stardom in 1949. By the early 50s doo-wop was a growing phenomenon with many singles topping the R&B charts. It remained popular through the 50s and 60s but dwindled in popularity by 1964 due to the British invasion. King George III got his revenge.
But doo wop didn't die, and it didn't fade away. Periodic doo-wop revivals keep the sound alive. Rock 'n roll connoisseurs still regard doo wop as the cream of the cream.
Breezy said, "Doo-wop" was a term used to describe the characteristic nonsense syllables invented early in the game by background harmonizers who didn't get to sing lead.
I heard a different version from my "Music Appreciation for Jocks" teacher at Okie University, an Irish-Italian football washout from Brooklyn named Pookie Spaniello. He said — with a straight face — that doo-wop was an Italian hair style.
So, why doo wop at rockabilly festival? Because rockabilly is country doo wop, evolving, in part, from the vocal harmonies and yodeling of groups like the Sons of the Pioneers. Doo-wop preceded rockabilly by about five years. The first rockabilly recording was Elvis Presley's "That's Alright Mama" on Sun Records in 1954.
Suring the OK 50s, rhythm and blues music was rarely heard on the airwaves until Wolfman Jack shined his musical beacon on mid-America from a multi-mega watt pirate radio station in Mexico across the border from Del Rio, Texas. At midnight he could be heard all the way north to Canada and west to California. I've talked to Sonoma County natives who boogied to Wolfman Jack's beamed-in music at coast beach parties in the 50s. Wolfman advised listeners to "Get yo' self nekkid" while peddling various snake oils, plastic Jesus statutes, coffins, and "inspirational" literature.
At high noon, Buddha Bud emerge from the shadows and fired his earsplitting ancient blunderbuss to announce the beginning of the Festival parade around the tiny arena.
As the rockabilly clubbers gathered along the perimeter, a black 1923 Ford T-bucket Roadster emerged pulling an antique redwood haywagon carrying the "Rockabilly Belles" from the Redwood Empire Fair clad in short shorts, sleeveless tank tops and high-heeled sneakers. They smiled, blew kisses, and waved the rockabilly flag showing the 50s era hot rod pulling a hay wagon over a field of horizontal red, white, and blue stripes with the motto, "Don't you tread on my blue suede shoes."
The Ford customized roadster had exposed chrome chassis rails, mammoth V-8 engine, individual sparkplug wires, chrome headers and side pipes. Other features included open suicide doors, a tufted seat and tilt down window.
In second order came the Turlock Shriners precision riding mower unit consisting of fat guys in overalls driving John Deeres. Then the crowd favorite, Abracadabra topless tap dance troupe, attempted to make noise dancing on turf. Distracted by Abracadabra, the Hayfork precision pitchfork drill team lost cadence resulting in superficial wounds and bandaged butts. Following the carnage, Hippity Hoppers square dance troupe, consisting of 16 hefty folks in matching the overalls and red checked shirts, twirled to polite applause, clearing the way for the Bindlestiffs, a roving band of hobos, tinkers, and gypsies singing Woody Guthrie songs. Bringing up the rear, sitting atop a 1955 Ward LaFrance Texaco firetruck, the beloved Emmet Otter Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Jug Band played rockabilly standards.
When the arena cleared, rockabilly staff and volunteers began setting up for for fun, games and music.
After chow and preshow lubrication, the rockabilly mob packed the arena for an evening of musical bliss.
The hayseed duo, Gomer and Retro, opened playing squeezebox and ukelele while singing silly and risque lyrics to popular tunes including a pot grower parody, "Home on the Ridge," an Amsterdam tribute, "How much is that Dolly in the Window?" and a hit spoof, "Ghost Writers in the Sky."
After a polite round of one hand clapping, Gomer and Retro introduced little Dickie Doo and the Don'ts who hopscotched on stage to a warm welcome. Lead singer Richard Dooley has a terrific voice similar to Johnny Maestro and the backup vocals are superb. With alto sax legend Ornette Cobb on board, the group has produced an entire repertoire of doo-wop covers many of which are better than the originals.
The 50s look Triple-Ds opened with covers of the Cadillacs "Speedo," the Jewell's "Hearts of Stone," the Harptones' "Life is but a Dream," the Flecktones "This Little Girl of Mine," Johnny Maestro's "Trouble in Paradise" and the Del Vikings' "Whipsering Bells."
Bowing to a whooping round of applause, they downshifted to mushy slow dance stuff that we called "groin grinders" back in the day starting with the Channels' "That's my Desire," followed by the Skylineres' "Since I Don't Have You," the Capris "There's a Moon Out Tonight," and the Hearts' "Long Lonely Nights."
After a short break the doo-wop mimics returned for a sentimental medley starting with the Dells' "Oh what a night," followed by the Dupres' "You belong to me," closing with the Flamingo's spine tingling classic, "I only have eyes for you."
The audience exploded in sentimental, misty-eyed cheer as the Triple D's high-fived for a prolonged standing ovation.
As the crowd disappeared, I reminisced about the high school groin grinding sock hop days of nearly 60 years ago. The dances, held in high school gymnasiums, were called "sock hops" because we had to dance without shoes to prevent damage to the hardwood floors. Buddy, ever the clown, went barefoot just to cause trouble. The prissy dance monitors threatened to throw him out for spreading athlete's foot but even then he was too much to handle.
Buddy was 6-5 in high school and had a hard time groin grinding. To play the game he to either dance on his knees, or lift his partner a foot off the floor. To compensate, he develop a floor-clearing style of free-form dancing to woo the chicks using his favorite pickup line, "Come go with me."
After fetching some hooch, I joined Breezy and Buddy at the evening bonfire wondering if we should introduce the Celtic ritual of human sacrifice, thinking of that annoying twerp, Phil. Passing the hooch around the horn we wondered why many of the early doo-wop groups were named after noble birds — Orioles, Ravens, Cardinals, Robins, Flamingos, Falcons, Penguins. Why not Coots, Vultures, Dodos and Boobies?
And why was "Angel" used in so many subtitles? "Angels listened in," "Devil or Angel," "Angel Sang," "Blue Angel," and "Earth Angel," Breezy's favorite doo-wop tune.
While "Earth Angel" by the LA group Cleve Duncan and the Penguins is considered by many to be the best doo wop tune, I favor the Cole Porter classic "In the still of the night" by Fred Parris and the Satins, a group from Connecticut. Buddy's favorite is "Come go with me" by the Del Vikings originally pegged as a rockabilly group.
We thought Breezy should now be known as "Earth Angel" since she's an Earth Warrior and a bonafide angel of mercy. At that, she described how doo wop music helped her get through a hellish Vietnam tour as an Army nurse.
Buddy and I knew that country very well at we each turned and smothered Breezy with emotional welcome home hugs. Goldilocks and the two bears.
Changing the subject, Earth Angel asked why Scotia is a rockabilly stronghold and wondered about its history.
Records show that the village was established as Forestville in 1863 and was renamed in 1888 supposedly by Irish immigrants using the ancient Roman term for Ireland — Scotia.
Throughout history and prehistory Celts of the Irish shore crossed the 12 miles of open water into the northern land of what is now Scotland. In one such wave, about AD 500, after the Romans had withdrawn, the "Scots" established a new kingdom of Dalriada on the long Kintyre peninsula. Scots are Irish.
According to local folklore Scotia Village in northern California was named by Irish immigrants Darby McGill and the little people who created a miniature livestock arena and other village landmarks. Rockabilly celebrates its Celtic roots in Celtic Scotia.
Having driven away the bonfire mob with boring historical tales, we called it a night and went our separate ways.
After Saturday morning breakfast, the still woozy rockabilly wild bunch assembled in formation for a welcome day of head-clearing fun and games.
Festivities started with the banana slug race which was not completed before darkness causing the finish to be postponed until next year.
The canasta tournament was won by Spade McCue, a non-GMO corn farmer from Oxford, Indiana who was later disqualified for palming cards.
The Bouncing Hoss Blanket Toss was a dud since four musclebound hunks — one at each corner of the square blanket — couldn't lift Frisco's Sister Boom Boom even one inch. Boom Boom, a defrocked nun and former Sutro wrestler, holds the record for a non-technical climb of Frisco's Mount Sutro Tower.
Sister Boom Boom and Titania, a burly barn party legend from Burlington Iowa, squared off as finalists in the hominy grits wrestling competition but neither could pin the other.
In an attempt to introduce a cultural event, staffers organized a rockabilly poetry reading contest won by a foppish barrister from Fort Bragg, Aubrey Conover (Shakespeare Man) who wowed the crowd with an emotional reading of Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby." El Centro native Fannie Flagg was a close runner up reading Gene Vincent's "Bebop A Lu La."
The main event, held midafternoon, was the cowpie frisbee competition easily won by Twirpy Phil, a Calturds PR hack from Eureka who has perfected the art of tossing bullshit.
Due to the popularity of last year's Hamster Olympics, the kids were treated to another special pet event, gerbil gymnastics, sponsored by Holly Robertson author of "The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter" whose father Ronald, the first gerbil czar, was obsessed with the "pocket kangaroo" resulting in a lifelong quest to breed the perfect gerbil. The gerbil athletes were hilarious, particularly on the rings and parallel bars. And the tumbling event looked like bouncing fur balls.
The kids also enjoyed a full day of entertainment by the Emmet Otter Frogtown Hollow Jubilee Muppet Jug Band from Waterville Arkansas who performed at the miniature bandstand.
Exhausted by a day of extreme fun and games, the ravenous rockabilly herd galloped to the feed trough for evening chow which included Hobo Roadkill Stew prepared in 30-gallon trash cans, steamed cabbage, grilled artichoke hearts, kosher corn on the cob, Bud and Wonder Bread, followed by hand-cranked ice cream provided by the Ferndale milk dudes. The fresh roadkill was graciously donated by Twirpy Phil, courtesy of Calturds.
With full bellies and high spirits, the rockabilly rebels gathered for the grand finale as the warm-up band, Thumper and the Cottontails, hopped on stage: Four stunning southwestern beauties clad in red, white, and blue gownless evening straps, pink bunny slippers, western straw hats with bunny ears and strategically placed cottontails.
Thumper, a kettle drum virtuoso, opened with a tom-tom crescendo as the Cottontails, tooting kazoos, sinuously moved to the beat, dancing a prolonged ecdysiast western swing version of the Bunny Hop then one by one up on stage to thunderous applause and calls for more!
With the mob warmed up to the boiling point, Bobbie Wells and the Arkies stomped on stage to Thumper's tom-tom beat and displayed themselves wearing thigh-high Tony Llama beaver pelt booties, pink spandex Apache shorts, red, white, and blue star-spangled strapless halter tops and ten-gallon white Stetsons.
Bobbie and the Arkys opened with a brief set of original tunes including "Mud Room Stomp," "Slow dog rag," "Swamp snake boogie," then sang a medley honoring forgotten rockabilly artists Thumper Jones' "Rock it," Pee Wee King's "Catty Town," Autry Inman's "Be bop Baby," and Arky Bittle's "Jitterbug drag."
Following a whooping applause and short break the band closed with a tribute to former rockabilly queens including Alvadean Coker's "We're gonna bop," "Boots Collins' "Mean," Sandy Keen's "Ballin' Keen," and Sparkle Moore's "Rock a Bop."
The ensemble then gathered onstage for a sing-along medley of classic tunes by the Sons of the Pioneers, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," "Cool water," "You'll never miss the water 'til the well runs dry," and the spine chilling closer, "Ghost Riders in the Sky."
The hooting, hollering, whistling mob gave a prolonged salute, then slowly fanned out into the campground for all-night jamming while pondering the message given by the Sons of the Pioneers to the local pot pioneers who've made a Faustian bargain by shamelessly promoting and encouraging an outlaw culture. Now the rivers are trashed, the water is almost gone and salmon are doomed. "So, like dudes, let's boogie!"
Sunday, the day of atonement, opened with a high noon sunrise service led by Preacher Roy, a former big league baseball pitcher who warned that "There are no timeouts in the game of life; the clock keeps ticking, so live each moment as if it will be your last. The game of life can't be won, only played. So mend your ways before the final days and never take a third strike — always get wood on the ball." Good advice, but what about the beanball?
As the rockabilly rebels broke camp and packed, I realized that the Festival with full capacity crowd of 250 has reached a critical mass. Do we prevent runaway growth that will ruin the magic?
The crowd, as always, was upbeat and well behaved because live acoustic music is the primeval medicine to cure the blues. I don't like message t-shirts, but one made me smile: Music = Life.
Earth Angel, bidding farewell, was taking the long way back to Mendopia stopping at the Yellow Rose in Petrolia to rendezvous with friends.
Now a rockabilly convert, though still a doo-wop devotee, she asked about the festival's primitive sanitation — slit trenches and tarps. Why not portapotties?
Because they're gross, ugly, toxic, smelly, unnatural, and festooned with tacky advertising. And judging by Kaka in the River, people don't like to use them.
Regarding her dream of creating a doo wop festival on the Mendopia Coast, I encouraged her to contact two doo-wop experts in Fort Bragg — Doug at Northtown Brewery and Paul at Thanksgrabbing Coffee.
I also offered my help, thinking that a start would be "doo-wop in the dunes" at Big River beach during the Mendopia Music Festival.
We hugged goodbye and off she went probably never to be seen or heard from again. The ephemeral American way.
Buddy rode back with Buddha Bud after the Pike Minnow fishing derby on the Van Duzen River. They both bend the rules by fishing with their hands, but who's going to stop them?
After helping with cleanup and packing my rig with gear and Festival leftovers I headed to Rio Dell for a logger's breakfast, then traveled south on the Redwood Highway.
At Frog's Camp, the Kaka in the River drones were still chanting Hookah! Hookah! Hookah! A modern version of Tora! Tora! Tora!
The pot stench was so intense that my eyes reddened with tears of pain so I stomped the gas pedal and cleared the area quickly, motoring to Leggett, then southwest on Coast Highway 1.
At Westport I downshifted for a leisurely drive along the coast as the fog lifted to reveal a blue-green mirror extending to infinity.
Ruminating about Earth Angel's doo wop quest, I wondered how a charming person like her could tolerate living among the pompous snobs of Mendo Village. Any attempt organized a festival of simple retro unsophisticated music would be immediately stomped out by the village gentry.
Too bad because doo wop features the most beautiful soundingmusical instrument in the world, the human voice, and vocal group harmony has been an integral part of rock music development at every stage. With the Mendo Music Festival including an a capella group this year there may be hope for doo-wop after all.
Approaching MacKerricher dunes, I noticed a thundering herd of Harleys approaching from the rear in three columns led by a ghost rider wearing a San Quentin tank top who resembled Marlon Brando's "Johnny" in the 50s cult classic film, "The Wild One" which features a motorcycle gang that terrorizes a small town. When the town mayor asks Johnny, "What are you rebelling against?," he replies, "Whatcha got?"
Rockabilly rebels are more focused. We are rebelling against the entire techno, whacko, hyper digitized American way of life.
I slowed down to let the bikers pass, but they backed off and stayed on my tail, yipping and waving. With my serious weapons out of reach in the camper and armed only with my "Old Slabsides" Colt .45 service pistol, I recalled something Hunter Thompson said, "A mass Hell's Angels run is one of the most terrifying things you'll ever hope to see. When those bastards come by you on the road, that's heavy. And being a part of it, you get this tremendous feeling of humor and madness. You see the terror and shock and fear all around you and you're laughing all the time. It's like being in some kind of horror movie where you know that sooner or later the actors are going to leap out of the screen and burn the theater down."
In Fort Bragg I pulled over and the bikers peeled off into the Northtown Brewery parking lot. The gnarly Hulk Hogan gang leader ran across the street flashing a toothy, bug splattered grin and said, "Hope we didn't scare you, but your rig was so cute we wanted it to lead our parade into town." He called himself "Sonny from Oakland," and after some brief shop talk about cars and bikes, offered to buy me lunch but I declined preferring the lean cuisine of Cafe 1.
After three days of gut-busting junk food, the Cafe 1 chow hit the spot. Topping it off with a light dessert and several cups of Gold Rush black, I beelined south past Mendo Village then southeast on Comptche-Ukiah Road to Orr Springs Road along the south fork of Big River to my evening destination, Montgomery Woods. The whole drive from Highway 1 was eerie, as if eyes were watching and following my every move. Welcome to outback Mendopia, the land of big medicine.
Exhausted from four days of whoopie, I spread my poncho liner atop the camper and climbed aboard sprawling flat on my back looking up through the towering old-growth redwood sentinels as the setting sun illuminated their tops with a golden glow.
As an old-growth human I felt a strong kinship with the ancient trees — part of a continuum along the round river of life. Preacher Roy's words ring true, "There are no timeouts in the game of life. Live each moment as if it will be your last."
Sadly, Mendopia's counterculture is in denial about the realities of aging. It's pathetic to see flower children gone to seed. As John Tully said, "And now the crows of trouble our walking around their eyes."
The Mendo boomers current age-avoidance fad is drinking deluded hydrogen peroxide as an oxygenator to prolong life indefinitely.
Mendopia's dominant religion (other than pot) is Tinkerbellian Peter Pantheism — the childlike fantasy that "Wishing will make it so." Wave your magic wand, sprinkle stardust and your dreams will come true.
Don't worry, be happy! A boogie a day keeps the doldrums at bay.
At Monday morning sunrise I was awakened by gunfire in the distance. Still sprawled atop the camper, my whole body ached as I slid down the back and prepared for the day. After a handful of gorp and a cup of cold coffee, I shouldered my pack and trusty blooper, then began an uphill ascent northeast to Leonard Lake which was named for an infamous Anderson Valley skalawag.
I had a glimpse of the lake from atop Eagle Peak last year when I planted the rockabilly flag and wanted a closer look-see. The climb through redwood, mixed conifer, and oak woodlands on maintained jeep trails was easier than expected.
The lake squates i a small basin that drains into Mill Creek which runs through Reeves Canyon and into the Russian River.
At first glance the lake seemed too small because the water level is extremely low. I glassed the shoreline and spotted telltale poly pipe siphons signifying big medicine country.
Feeling vulnerable after the sunrise gunfire, I retreated to safety in the ancient redwoods and packed my rig for the gun lap home. Before leaving, I made a note to research the origins of Leonard Lake since it's called "Leonardo" Lake on some maps.
Traveling east past the hippie dunk tanks at Orr Springs, I climbed to the summit and down the long ridge east to hellhole Ukiah, then south on State Street for a pre-dinner cocktail at Ukiah Brewing Co., the only watering hole in town that gives a veteran discount.
Chugging the beer in two gulps, I boogied south to Be-Bop's diner for homecoming dinner of onion rings, coleslaw, Peggy Sue Burger, deep-fried Twinkie and chocolate milkshake.
Be-Bop's Diner won the Wurlitzer prize for the best bebop music in America so I tossed in two nickels for dinner music: Come go with me, by the Del Vikings, Be Bop A Lu La by Gene Vincent, Blue Angel by Orbison, Earth Angel by the Penguins and, In the Still of the Night by the Five Satins.
After high-fiving the Be-Boppers and cranking up my righ, I popped a 5 Satins cassette into the tape deck and drove south to Hopland then west into fading sunlight grinding up Duncan Peak to Rancho Puerco, home at last.
Sharpie and company were pawing the ground and snorting for food so I slopped the hog trough with roadkill stew, poured myself a tumbler of moonshine on the veranda and enjoyed the evening chorus of frogs, crickets, and leprechauns.
As Duncan Peak gradually spread its gumdrop shadow across the valley below, I mentally reviewed the past weekend festivities.
Other than our fifth anniversary blowout three years ago this was the best festival ever, and the crowd was more diverse as the rockabilly movement spreads.
We've come a long way since that first planning bash in 2005 around the bonfire at Sonoma Beach near Jenner.
At maximum density the Festival must either grow and move to a new location or sustain itself indefinitely at Scotia.
We'll hash this out at Be-Bop's when the planning year begins in mid-August.
As darkness fell in the still of the night, I wondered about Doo Wop in the Dunes.