Three words perhaps best sum up the Hootenanny: songs, storytelling and community.
Monday night at the Center for the Arts all three were on display as Hoot regulars made their way through classics on the Center Theatre’s stage. This summer that stage has hosted some big names from the music industry, but the Hoot musicians had no problem keeping up.
Jenny Landgraf and Sally McCullough (along with newer Hoot musicians Molly Watters and Molly Gibbs, affectionately dubbed “the Mollys”) brought the house down with their rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger.” John Sidle serenaded — and surprised — the crowd with a Tom Russell classic, “Blue Wing,” and in the second act Matt Montagne left the crowd with an overwhelmingly positive message in the Kingston Trio’s “Desert Pete” before diving into a harmonica-driven version of the William Tell Overture.
Stories — like one about Jim Curran writing song lyrics on a client’s wall as he was painting — were spritzed in throughout the evening performances. To cap it off the whole Hoot community came together at the end of the 2 and 1/2-hour performance to work through a group version of “I’ll Fly Away,” shaking the Center Theater and bringing the crowd to its feet in thunderous applause.
It was a night celebrating the county’s musical community and the unique, slapdash culture it provides the area, musical and otherwise.
But the Center’s Hoot didn’t just celebrate the musicians and who built that culture, though people like Bill Briggs, John Sidle and Hank Phibbs made a few separate appearances. It also clearly highlighted one of the Hoot’s greatest strengths, according to Phibbs: “Not just carrying on tradition, but welcoming and embracing new musicians, young and old.”
In an interview last week, Phibbs said he was keeping some of those new musicians’ identities a “surprise,” but hinted that the group was a “band with a funky name.”
On Monday, that band, Marmot Ate My Boots, a group composed of some of the Hoot’s youngest regulars — the Mollys, Ben Rossetter, Hannah McLimans and Joel Sandoval, who were all joined by Chris Bingman — did not disappoint.
Their three-part harmony on the bluegrass standard “Shady Grove” prompted a response from Briggs as he was introducing Matt Montagne.
“I like to think of these guys as my children,” Briggs said, getting a laugh from the crowd. “They’re new this year, which is a sign of our Hoot getting in new blood. They’re awfully good.”
For the musicians in Marmot, being able to play the Center Hoot was a rare treat. They’re new, but they met at the Hoot earlier this year, and they respect its tradition.
Rossetter had been coming to the Hoot since ’97. He has admired its players for over 20 years.
“To have this little group and to have it be a part of this community of people I’ve looked up to and idolized since I was 13 years old, it’s incredible,” he said. “It’s incredible to be a part of it.”
This article was updated to reflect that "Blue Wing" was originally written by Tom Russell. — Ed.