Classic Country Night feat. The Tumbleweeds and Hurray For the Riff Raff
9 p.m. Wednesday
Desperados Pizza, 801 Frenchmen St., 943-9900
Sam Doores' life lately has resembled a country song in reverse. On his first night busking on Bourbon Street after hitchhiking here from Lawrence, Kan., in spring 2007, the singer/songwriter landed a weekly gig at Sean Kelly's Irish Pub, which also offered him a place to crash. (Job, house, check.) He met drummer Tony Fricky, bassist Dan Cutler and guitarists Matt Bell and Riley Downing, who would become his band the Tumbleweeds. (Friends, check.) And he found his female counterpart in Alynda Lee, gymnastic-gypsy voice of the similarly styled Hurray For the Riff Raff. (Girl, check.)
Somebody give the man a dog.
During a recent on-air performance at WWOZ, host Your Cousin Dimitri rejiggered the joke. "You know how to make a small fortune in country music?" the radio DJ baited the couple, whose harmonies extend to wide-brim hats, worn jeans and faded boots. "You start with a large fortune ..." (Laughs, check.)
Doores, Lee and Riff Raff violinist Yosi Pearlstein had stopped by the station to promote Classic Country Night, a shared January residency at Desperados Pizza on Frenchmen Street. Downstairs, the year-old eatery looks like any other Wild West-themed pizzeria. But for the past two Wednesdays, the warm, wood-paneled upstairs bar that formerly slung Santa Fe margaritas lives up to its name, transforming temporarily into a packed-house hootenanny: six players crammed around an 8-square-foot stage, picking and singing acoustic standards by Hank Williams Sr., Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Townes Van Zandt beneath the smiles of mounted longhorns.
"It sort of happened with our whole group of friends," says Doores, 24. "This place opened up, and all of a sudden Stumps the Clown is playing a weekly gig, then Stix the Clown got in here. It's a place where a lot of us kids who don't play the jazz clubs can start getting regular gigs."
Doores and Lee first collaborated in the band Sundown Songs, whose debut album was titled Like a Jazz Band in Nashville. "We felt kind of like that being a country band in New Orleans," Doores says. "These days we feel less out of place. There's a lot of people getting into good, old country. It's not any different than folk music or rock 'n' roll. It's all connected to the blues and gospel. ... I've always thought of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Sonny Terry, Leadbelly and Robert Johnson, as all part of the same thing. Country's just kind of like the white man's blues. I tried playing the blues and I wasn't very good at it. I tried country and I was a little better at that."
Though two distinct bands, the Tumbleweeds and Riff Raff are becoming increasingly entwined. They crisscrossed the country for two months in early fall and are about to embark on a second jaunt together, a two-week road trip starting at Lafayette's Blue Moon Saloon on Sunday, Jan. 23. Upon returning, the Tumbleweeds will head to Mark Bingham's Piety Street Studios to put the final touches on its debut LP, due in March. The Kickstarter-funded project reached its goal of $1,500 in four days. (It's now at $2,447 and counting.)
Country Night is a less corralled affair, Doores said before the last show. "It's more of a party. I just learned today a Garth Brooks song. I'm serious, I'm going to play it tonight. Riley learned a Hank Jr. song. Some of these songs are good. It's the production that made them cheesy."
A Williams family reunion, with special guest Garth Brooks, over pizza. Hold the cheese.