Ted Mills, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
April 20, 2007 9:56 AM
“You can see as many live bands in Austin in one night as in two weeks in Los Angeles,” says Peggy Jones, the programmer and founder of Sings Like Hell, the Americana music series that has reached its 10-year anniversary at the Lobero.
To make it 10 years, though, Jones has had to live in the center of American music. Since 1999, she has made the bars and clubs of Austin, Texas, her office. Her work hours have become 5 p.m. to closing time.
Any band worth their sweat passes through Austin, and Jones helps divert some of the best to Santa Barbara. The result is Sings Like Hell’s broad menu of Americana.
A 10th anniversary? Pretty good for a former PR-firm head who started programming small concerts at her home in Los Olivos. When popularity dictated a larger venue, Jones decided to bring a different culture to the Lobero, which, up to that point, she says, was just a little stuffy.
“There was no place where singer-songwriters could get an airing,” she says.
Now the Lobero is attune to the sound of a bluegrass band as much as a symphony, and much of that is Hell’s doing.
“By my second year, I knew the audience,” she says. “They want to hear new stuff, but not ‘new music.’ ”
The second half of Hell’s 21st series balances new acts and returning favorites. Corb Lund & the Hurtin’ Albertans lead off the series tomorrow (see adjacent story). In May, Jones brings in Jesse Winchester and Tom Rush, who are the reasons she became interested in the singer-songwriter scene in the beginning. Also returning is Jimmy LaFave, an acclaimed Dylan interpreter and songwriter. He’ll perform with his band, and Joel Rafael will be joining the show.
The Alejandro Escovedo Band, an alt-country favorite, performs in August. In 2003, Escovedo nearly died from complications of hepatitis C, but he has returned to rock with abandon. “Heaven wasn’t ready for him, but Hell sure is,” the season’s press release says.
Some musicians pass through Hell and become so popular Jones can’t bring them back to the medium-size venue. This happened, she said, with bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss, who played in the 2003 series. Jones predicts the same fate will meet The Lovell Sisters, who play in July. Jones caught them at the usually low-key Folk Alliance in Memphis and was blown away.
“This year’s Folk Alliance conference was better than (Austin’s) South by Southwest,” she says. “I think I saw the future of country music with The Lovell Sisters.”
The John Cowan Band, which ends the season, also bears watching. As an ambassador of “newgrass” or “thrashgrass,” depending on whom you ask, Cowan makes his Santa Barbara debut in September.
“Bluegrass is the heavy metal of trad music,” Jones says. “Everybody solos, everybody trades leads, everybody plays loud and everybody plays fast.”
Information and a full schedule of the 21st season can be found at www.singslikehell.com