We get to the Port damn early, pulling into the backstage parking lot before the morning mist has yet to lift from the harbor.
A huge tanker chugs past, like a block long condominium set adrift by a jolting shrug of the San Andreas fault.
I pause a moment, guitar case in hand, as we unload.
I squint up at the stacks of containers moving past, then down to the waterline where the filthy port water is churned turquoise by the prow of the ship.
Propelled forward by submerged violence, I wonder at the sheer horsepower generated within that steel hull.
The miracle of fuel re-imagined as power, the massive screws twisting endlessly in battle against distance and time.
Nick got there even earlier, and has already staked out a prime spot near the stage.
We have room for not only our pop-up and merch table, but also for Nick’s straight axle gasser, Dethtrap.
It gives our staked space the cool feeling of being back in the pits, of those 1970’s evenings out at Ascot or Orange County International Raceway, where we would race under the lights on the tight MX track while just beyond a chain link fence the garage built cars smoked their tires.
The night air perfumed with the acrid sweet funk of melting rubber.
We’ve pulled an early set time, but that’s okay.
It’s just a thrill to be back here at a festival, though Tucker went through hell pulling this one off.
Through re schedules and band changes, the fest remained a torn flag on the horizon, a beacon to end this nutso Summer.
There is still the delicious vibe of chaos going on.
But the bands are indeed piling in and the stages have been set, and it looks like against all odds this thing is going to launch.
We get up there and do the thing:
We play alright, though it it is always interesting to air our setlist under the midday sun.
Forty year old songs of longing and desperation, nocturnal as raccoons.
Perhaps they are better suited to the late nights in sweaty nightclubs?
I wander the festival grounds, the vast space starting to fill in with all the people who have sensibly arrived after our set.
People come up and apologize for missing us, ask how it was.
I assure them it’s all good, though a shame they have missed one of our all time great performances.
We walk away from each other, each reassured by the white lie, faces intact.
Familiar faces everywhere, there is a sense of relief in the air.
The lines snaking up to the food trucks start growing long, the port a potties start reeking with their astonishing stench. By god, it is a music festival after all!
Back at the merch stand we huddle beneath the pop up, watch as Paul grumpily rejects another potential customer.
We don’t have that one in that size he repeats yet again.
But most people stop by not to look at our meager selection of T shirts, but at the car.
Nick stands by Dethtrap like a proud papa, pulling the pins to tilt forward the hood again and again to show off his build.
A mild ’61 Dart repowered and rebuilt to 357 cubic inches of primitive power, 500 horsepower atop a 2900 pound car.
It is Southern California.
As people stop and look at the car, the sight of it seems to conjure sweet memories of their own late nights in the garage.
Huddled over engines or flat backed underneath: a pal’s reassuring hands gripped upon their ankles to pull them out on the dolly, a four speed transmission cradled heavy upon chest, precious as an unexploded ordnance.
My brother JB comes by and I watch as he and Nick talk, and I know he is telling the story of his own ’72 Nova that he built and rebuilt, the most notable marker of his high school life.
And those memories are mine as well.
The nights pestering him for a look by shop light at the hulking big block, until he would finally send me to a corner of the garage with valve seating compound and a suction tipped wand to grind down the valve seats on a cracked head.
I haven’t thought of such things in decades, but I am instantly back in that Cerritos garage, long before we had the notion to egg carton the walls and turn up the amps.
I smell the upturned hubcaps filled with gasoline to soak dirty parts, hear the clatter of tools dropped out of reach and the string of cuss words that followed.
The three stages go non stop and the crowd sweeps back and forth with each changeover.
Every set seems a victory against the threat of a shutdown, under broken security lines or viral load.
The day gains terrific momentum, like pistons unleashed of gravity, sending propulsion to crankshaft with each miraculous ballet of intake and compression, ignition and exhaust.
The HoeDown lineup features several acts that tend toward rockabilly and sleaze rock, their mirrored audience looking like a generation longing for the days of leaded fuel and cigarette machines at full service gas stations.
Pinup dreamboats that look like they should be perched atop the classic rods and the greasy haired rockers who look like they should be underneath in the grease pit.
Back in the pits, another crowd has gathered around the gasser.
Marshall, my old pal who spent his career as a Ford mechanic, comes by and looks it over grimly, like a man who’d be happy to never peer at another greasy motor in his retired life.
But then Nick opens the hood and Marshall grins, and he goes, aw jeez, what have you done here….and then they are both pointing and talking.
An old punker stops in front of the car.
In typical uniform, short pants and Vans, a faded Suicidal Tendencies Tshirt washed thin through the years and stretched tight over expanded waistline.
He holds hands with a young boy, and though I first assume it his son, I do a quick calculation and realize he is my age, and therefore that is a grandson.
His eyes come alive with memories of past cars, the sweet torture of working part time jobs and counting a pile of soft bills weekly until he could buy his own ride
And then, in the time honored tradition of So Ca Speed, he starts customizing.
We take what we love and then immediately want to change it.
Faster, and louder.
The boy squints at the gleaming motorwork and tilts his head in wonder.
He has looked under a hood but once, that at his Mom’s Mercedes E Class wagon.
He discovered only a bland sheath of plastic cowling covering a small city of computers and injectors.
He knows only of the sewing machine efficiency of vehicles, bland couches that transport him to soccer practice, silent as a block in solitary.
PopPop points at the motor excitedly, relieved to finally show his grandson these things, to be able to explain how the gas goes from there, and mixes with the air here, and explodes there, and exhaust comes out there.
“That?” he asks in response to his grandson’s whispered question.
He squats until his face is level with the child’s.
They both point to the chrome contraption crowning the motor.
“That’s a carburetor,” he says, as if showing his grandson the last of a near extinct seabird.
And later this night, he will hold his grandson upon his shoulder as the pit rages for Suicidal, and the boy will look wide eyed at the sweet violence, pure as the blue spark that ignites gasoline and propels us onward.
Awesome concert photos by Ron Lyon @Ronlyonphoto