Review 2-12-10 Bend, OR

© Bob Kerr

February 19

What's the longest you've gone between seeing one band play live twice?

Some of you might've been lucky enough to see the Rolling Stones in the '60s or '70s, and then again on one of their recent “How Much Money Can A Human Make In One Lifetime?” world tours. Or perhaps you saw the Beach Boys way back when, and you've also seen the Hollow Shell Of The Beach Boys that's still on the road.

For me, I think the answer is 12 years. That's how long passed between the first time I saw the Austin, Texas alt-country combo The Gourds (in Lexington, Ky.,) and the second, last weekend at Bend WinterFest. That's basically one-third of my life!

I've changed a lot in that time; I graduated from college, met a girl, moved across the country, married that girl, moved to Bend. Now, the girl and I are getting ready to have our first kid, and 12 years will pass again before we know it.

The Gourds, on the other hand, haven't changed much. Thank goodness. You know that old saying about not fixing something that ain't broke? Well, The Gourds ain't broke.

In fact, I'd posit that The Gourds are one of the most consistent bands of the past decade and a half. From their 1996 debut “Dem's Good Beeble” to last year's “Haymaker!,” the band has focused on what it does best: idiosyncratic roots-rock doused with a heaping helping of Texas hill-country twang and a handful of Cajun spices, plus gobs of good humor.

Indeed, few bands skillfully walk a line between serious and silly as well as The Gourds. On the first night of WinterFest, that skill was on full display as the band used its 90-minute set to showcase all its tricks, musically, while frontman Kevin Russell kept a good-size (and chilly) crowd entertained with his affable banter and deft dance moves.

As I stepped through the WinterFest gate, the band launched its set with “(The New Way Of) Grievin' & Smokin',” an old chestnut from my favorite Gourds album, 1998's “Ghosts of Hallelujah.” By the time I reached the stage, however, they'd veered into the Charley Pride hit “Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone,” before veering back to “Grievin'”

From there, Russell and the band's other main songwriter, Jimmy Smith, traded off tunes while multi-instrumentalists Max Johnston and Claude Bernard colored in the space with fiddle, banjo, keys, maracas, accordion, or whatever.

Russell introduced “Hallelujah Shine” with a stark verse of “Amazing Grace,” only to giggle halfway through while watching snowriders racing down the giant rail-jam structure standing tall behind the audience. Smith tore through one of his best songs, “LGO,” singing past his ever-present toothpick as Bernard played the song's serpentine accordion riff.

Then Russell shifted from “Country Gal” into Queen's “Fat Bottomed Girls,” tossing in a Joe Cocker impression just for fun. Or maybe to stay warm, because the band looked cold, especially Johnston. Even a few reminders of home — a colorful zarape in the kick drum, cases of Tecate beer just offstage — couldn't make Central Oregon feel like Central Texas.

But the band soldiered on, inciting a full-on, puffy-jacketed hoedown with “Pine Island Bayou” and closing the main set with Smith's “Plaid Coat,” a song that feels constantly on the verge of crescendo, but never quite gets there. It's still great, though.

Called back on stage for an encore, Russell plucked the opening notes of the band's big hit, an extended hillbilly-jam cover of Snoop Dogg's “Gin & Juice,” and I headed for the car. It's a cute song, but one I heard 12 years ago and didn't need to hear again, especially with the sweet taste of so many Gourds originals in my frozen ears.

© Western Communications, Inc. 2010

Ben Salmon can be reached at 541-383-0377 or

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