Middlewest Music Festival; September 10, 2010; Otto’s, DeKalb
It’s a good thing I already had a ticket for Billy Bragg or I probably wouldn’t have gone once it was announced Ha Ha Tonka was in Madison. Even worse, I was the one who got one of my favorite local bands the August Teens on the bill before I knew the date of the show. Knowing what I know now about Bragg and opener Darren Hanlon, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, but if I hadn’t already paid $25 I might have thought twice. We made it back from Milwaukee in time to hear the last three songs, and the HHT boys still stayed at my house, and Brian still crushed me a dozen or so games of ping pong, but I felt guilty about not seeing them play a whole set. So the next day I drove to DeKalb for what turned out to be the Middlewest Music Festival, a multi-venue fest that featured local and Midwest artists.
Since they were limited to a half hour, HHT played their standard opening set geared toward folks who had never seen the band. Other than the fact the set doesn’t include “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart,” it’s a very solid collection of songs, mostly rockers like “St Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor” and “Caney Mountain,” but also songs that show off their always impressive harmonies like the a capella traditional “Hangman.” I’ll admit that half my fun tonight was listening to the excitement grow around me as they were setting up. The thirty people that had assembled in Otto’s big room for The Gunshy turned into several times that just prior to their set. “What?!” I heard a girl exclaim to her friend. “You haven’t seen Ha Ha Tonka before?” she asked incredulously, “they’re amazing.” Since this was only their fourth time in DeKalb, I was impressed that she had seen them. It seemed an even shorter half hour than usual (Brian said that’s because it was only 25 minutes), and it was over it a heartbeat.
While they tore down quickly to make room for William Elliot Whitmore, I asked if I should go do merch for them and was thanked enthusiastically. I love selling merch, especially for a band I am this excited about, and once I got back there I found I really didn’t have much interest in the rest of the show. I’ve seen WEW and find him somewhat gimmicky, and the Smoking Popes sound good but only for fifteen minutes and then it all starts to sound the same. I had a much better time meeting HHT’s fans. One had driven from St Louis and had been at the show in Madison the night before. “Are you the one they were all pointing at?” she asked after I told her how I’d missed the bulk of the show. I recognized her from the Twangfest show and the instore that afternoon at Euclid Records. We both agreed their set at the Duck Room that weekend was the best we’d seen. When the band played three dates with Lucero, I questioned whether that would actually translate to anyone coming to see them the next time they were in town. While it may not have helped in Madison, I met several folks tonight who were there for just that reason. Good to know.
As we packed up the stuff at the end of the night I said I would love to come out on tour for a week when the new record comes out and be merch girl. “Anytime” was the answer I got. Stay tuned.
Ha Ha Tonka