One of the great indie record companies is Bloodshot Records out of Chicago. There are many reasons to love them, including the fact that they're currently sponsoring a nationwide free (or dirt cheap) tour to celebrate their 15th year in business. On Saturday they stopped in my adopted hometown and ripped it up.
There were a total of seven acts on the bill, all for the friendly cover price of $0 (although you did have to request in advance to be put on the door list). First up was a group called the Meat Purveyors. I knew nothing about them, and they were pleasant enough but nothing to get excited about. Next was Bobby Bare Jr. and the Young Criminals Starvation League. I knew the name and heard his music was hard to categorize, and that turned out to be an understatement. His band was all over the map - weirdly-tuned guitars (think Sonic Youth) one minute, followed by a horn-based anthem (kind of Sufjan Stevens), and then something that could have been sung by Solomon Burke. He's the kind of performer who creates strong impressions. I loved him, my companion hated him.
The next two bands were the ones I came to see. The first was Ha ha Tonka, which is not exactly a household name but will hopefully become one. Smart, tight guitar-driven tunes, with just an occasional hint of twang. Also very hard to place - you could describe it as southern gothic rock you can dance to. Their prospects for success also won't be hurt by the fact that their lead singer has matinee idol good looks (like Brad Pitt, Ha ha Tonka hails from Springfield, Mo).
Next up was the Bottle Rockets, one of my favorite live bands. They're veterans of the road and have played with a lot of top names (the lead singer played and toured with the late great Uncle Tupelo, before it split into Wilco and Son Volt). They sounded great, as usual, and their just-released CD is worth a listen.
Although there were three bands to go (including Jon Langford's Waco Brothers and Townes Earle, Steve Earle's son), other commitments (i.e. my ride had to leave) led us to call it a night. Still, it was a great late afternoon/early evening of music, and an incredible value -five CDs purchased, four live bands, and three microbrews for a total of $42. That won't even buy you a hoodie at a Katy Perry show.
Even if you're not familiar with the Bloodshot recording artists, I strongly recommend catching their tour. It will only cost a few hours of your time, and you'll probably like what you hear. They have shows scheduled for Minneapolis (today), Austin, Boston, Chicago, NYC, and Philly, with at least one show planned for the DC/Baltimore area on a date TBD. Here is the tour schedule as it stands now.