There were people square dancing and two-stepping in the Soda Bar last Wednesday and somehow, amidst the cowboy boots, banjos, and beer-fueled patriotism, it was a great show.
The majority of the crowd was there to see San Francisco bluegrass outfit Goodnight, Texas, but the openers were surprisingly captivating. San Diego’s New California Sun played their inaugural gig that night, but you wouldn’t know it by how well-rehearsed and technically proficient they were. And though their sound was occasionally a little too Kentucky Fried Chicken for my taste, they won me over with their vocal harmonies and undeniable talent.
The Gift Machine followed with a mind-blowing performance. They quickly changed the pace for the night, playing fuzzed-out folk rock with vocals reminiscent of Lou Reed. The Washington trio played genuinely sweet and gritty songs that showcased the frontman’s songwriting prowess. They were a surprising but welcome addition to the night’s lineup.
Finally, Goodnight, Texas took the stage with a light-hearted, upbeat energy. The drummer and bassist hopped onto the stage barefoot while the band’s two songwriters and guitarists, Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf, tied American-flag-patterned bandanas around their mic stands. Wolf crooned patriotic songs into his mic during their soundcheck as the crowd laughed uncomfortably at how far out of key he was singing.
The crowd breathed a big sigh of relief when the bluegrass band ripped into its first song and Wolf began belting with an arrogant, unyielding voice. Despite nobody in the band appearing to be over the age of 25, they all played so confidently and whimsically, you’d think they’d been touring together for decades. Wolf and Vinocur, who landed on the name Goodnight, Texas because the city is the geological midpoint between their two hometowns, impressed all by sharing front man duties and alternating between guitar, banjo, and mandolin with ease.
The high point of the set was “Jesse Got Trapped in a Coal Mine,” which had a touching, sad narrative complemented by a driving, catchy melody on the mandolin. The show fell on Independence Day Eve (a pseudo-holiday if you’re at a country show and have enough light beer in you), so Goodnight, Texas also did a hilariously overblown rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” complete with an overdramatic Southern drawl, which seemed to go on for about 10 minutes.
Bluegrass and country music can be hit or miss, but Goodnight, Texas’ set served as a lighthearted, easy-to-digest reminder of the genre’s beautiful simplicity. Their debut album, A Long Life of Living, is worth a listen regardless of your music preference, although their recordings don’t hold a candle to the energy of their live show.