Cisco Playboys at Ed Boudreaux’s Bar-B-Que; Thursday, May 25: Four Stars
• Genre(s): Western Swing, Cajun.
• Be glad you stayed home if: Accordions and cowboy hats defy your notions of a rocking band.
• Defining moment: The Playboys’ version of Harry Choates’ “Honky-Tonking Days.”
I usually judge a band on what I take away from the experience. The best outfits educate while simultaneously enabling the primal urge to dance with abandon. The five-piece Cisco Playboys fall into this dual category. Being foreign to Western Swing and Cajun music, I felt surprised when the band summoned my foot into a tapping frenzy that never abated. Also, names like Bob Wills and Harry Choates (seminal influences on the Cisco Playboys) will soon be members of my appallingly chaotic CD heap.
It also helps that the band members are both gifted and well rounded. “Gig-meister” Steve Burnside (founder of a glut of local bands, including The Rocking Zukes) changed instruments with ease — accordion, pedal steel and acoustic guitar were all manipulated by Burnside’s fingers. Guitarist Jon Corbin also alights the senses with his other band, The Rib Tips, and drummer Jor Sutton mans the vibraphone in his jazz band, Midnite Quartet. Sporting attire more suited for a Texas oil crawl, the Playboys played with fire that singed every plate of BBQ filing out of the back kitchen. The original instrumental “Smart as Big D” (composed by Burnside, and a tribute to lead singer and fiddler Don Rawson) fit snug among standard Texas-swing covers like “Take Me Down to Tulsa” and “The Old Cotton Patch” (both by Bob Wills). While the genre may be wrinkled, the Playboys have added vitality to the Texas/Louisiana sound that will enrapture any age.
Six months ago, I received a disgruntled e-mail writing off the majority of Asheville’s music scene as mediocre. I’ve conjured up many descriptions for our local scene — creative, daring, confusing, authentic, joyful, splintering, brain-gouging, haunting, playful, eccentric, gyration-inducing, diverse — but never “mediocre.” I’ve seen death metal at a quaint coffee shop; witnessed singer/songwriter night at a bar meant for hollering, not shushing; watched break-dancing while a sextet of white boys reinterpreted West African grooves; and I’ve flipped off the lead singer of Crank County Daredevils because it seemed the right thing to do. I received a crash course in mountain heritage at Shindig on the Green, and I’ve felt tantalized by Stephanie Morgan’s sultry vocals at the Anna! Ballet.
Asheville boasts a hip-hop scene in Fist Family and GFE (along with all its offshoots). Funk is alive and well with bands like Fifth House, the mighty Strut, and the burgeoning Afromotive. Dave Perkins, Toe Box Trio, and Midnite Quartet are among many who reinterpret jazz heavies like Mingus and Monk with style. For the Django fanatics, there’s not a finer gypsy jazz band than One Leg Up. The realm of experimental/indie continues to defy boundaries, and despite the demise of Vincent’s Ear, venues like Bo Bo Gallery, Fred’s Speakeasy, the Joli Rouge, and Broadways have taken up the slack. My horse blinders for specific genres are gone thanks to bands like The Poles, On the Take, Ahleuchatistas, Night’s Bright Colors, The Makeout Room, and Body of John the Baptist.
And (contrary to one resident’s accusation) I’m proud that Asheville’s grass continues blue. The Greasy Beans write songs that would curl Monroe’s toes. Town Mountain went over to Colorado and snatched the top-band prize at the RockyGrass Festival, and County Farm’s pickers have more childlike enthusiasm than a bustling playground. Our region’s distinction lies in mountain performers who prefer the porch to the stage — just wander over to Nelia Hyatt’s on Brevard Road on Thursday evenings to witness a collective woodshedding now in its 55th year.
That said, I’m not leaving my column post because of the music scene. I’ve been a critic far too long, and I want to become a fan again. I want to enjoy the pure aesthetic of music without jostling for a condemning pen. I became a critic because I was excited by Asheville’s diversity, not its mediocrity. I walk away with the same feeling.