The Lafayette Brewing Company has seen its fair share of incredible acts over the years, but last Saturday’s performance by the Legendary Shack Shakers is sure to be one of the most memorable.
Nashville’s own Legendary Shack Shakers have spent the last two decades peddling their backwoods blend of punk rock, traditional Appalachian folk music and Delta blues while opening for such acts as the Reverend Horton Heat and Hank Williams III. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin is also an admitted fan of The Shack Shakers, having the band open for him on his recent European tour. The true embodiment of psychobilly and cowboy-punk, the Legendary Shack Shakers are like a Dixie version of Flogging Molly, choosing moonshine over Guinness. This Appalachian wild bunch put on a show that should not have been missed.
Opening for the Legendary Shack Shakers was Adam Lee and the Dead Horse Sound Company from Kansas City, Mo. Clad in Western suits, ribbon ties and pomade-slicked hair, this threesome of good ol’ boys had the cowboys’ toes tapping and their sweethearts’ hips swinging. It’d be easy to walk in and assume that this was a Johnny Cash tribute band or a group of 1950s musicians who had just woken up from cryostasis, picked up their instruments and started to play the last song they’d heard, but these guys are the real deal. Playing old-fashioned country and blues, Adam Lee and the Dead Horse Sound Company make weekend trips to other parts of the heartland to play the music that has been inspiring artists since the ’40s and ’50s.
“We’re just trying to bring back that old honky-tonk,” said standup bass player Dave Boomerang.
As the Dead Horse Sound Company finished its set, the audience rushed to refill their drinks as the headliners prepared their set. Many a Stetson-capped cowboy, Southern belle and punk rocker crowded in toward the dim lighting surrounding the stage.
The Legendary Shack Shakers took the stage, ferociously led by the Kentucky-born, harmonica-playing Col. J.D. Wilkes, who has been called by many “the last great rock ‘n’ roll frontman.” Wilkes’ stage performance was more than just a performance; it was like watching a revival and a barn-burning with hints of an exorcism sprinkled in for good measure. The petite Wilkes flailed while roaring his Scotch-soaked lyrics into a blues harp microphone, alternatively howling through his harmonica like a steam whistle.
Lafayette natives Ked Green and Bridgette Kahn were among the many patrons there for the wild show, but they knew what to expect of the Shack Shakers.
“I made a pact with the devil. If these guys play within 500 miles of here, I’ll be there,” said Green. “It’s a real treat that they’re here tonight.”
“They’re legendary!” said Kahn. “When we saw them in Indy, (Wilkes) got so worked up, he tore out his chest hair!”
It turned out that this was not a one-time occurrence. In the midst of singing mere inches from a spectator’s face, Wilkes forcefully yanked out a handful of body hair and cast it skyward. He did this twice. Along with this semi-masochistic display, Wilkes would also dip his hands into the glasses of beer which were being held up to him and cast the amber liquid over the audience, as well as pantomiming the act of ripping out his own heart, taking a bite and then spitting it out in disgust.
Wilkes’ music and lyrics are inspired by his upbringing in Paducah, Ky. They are both fond and deranged, nostalgic and bitter. He sings of times before suburban sprawl and strip malls, while also cautioning against the poisonous backwoods swamps, and as any good Pentecostal would do, he also throws in a little religious flavor. Wilkes brings down the applause as he begins his next song, saying “All right, this one’s not meant for Lafayette, Ind. This one ain’t meant for you. This one’s for Jeebus!”
After playing their full set and two encores, the Shack Shakers finally called it a night and a victory in the name of country and rock ‘n’ roll. The Legendary Shack Shakers will be continuing their Agri-dustrial Tour, traveling all through the Midwest, South and Gulf Coast, where they will wrap up their tour in Dallas.