Today is the official release of Hangtown Dancehall, the folk-opera creation of Grammy-nominee Eric Brace and D.C. songwriter Karl Straub, set in the California Gold Rush.
Folks, we know you've been clamoring for a folk-opera about the California Gold Rush. And we're here to give you what you want.
There are rumors that Jay-Z is writing a gold rush musical. That Adele is working on her gold rush opera. That Arcade Fire is blitzing through a gold rush ballet-song-cycle.
There's a folk song from the 1850s that tells of two young lovers, Betsy and Ike, who trek from Pike County, Missouri, to Placerville, California, after catching a bad case of "gold fever." That song, "Sweet Betsy From Pike," ends as Betsy and Ike arrive in Placerville (aka Hangtown), and part ways after a spat as soon as they get there. To Eric (who used to hear the song as a boy growing up in Placerville), that seemed a bit sudden. After walking 2,000 miles together, they split up, just like that? With Hangtown Dancehall, Eric and his songwriting comrade Karl Straub give you the rest of the story.
This CD comes in a beautiful custom-designed package, featuring the carvings of East Nashville artist Julie Sola. Designed by Red Beet Records' go-to guy, Bill Thompson, the CD includes a 24-page booklet with all the song lyrics as well as the text of the story to read along with as you listen.
And while it does tell a single story over the course of 22 songs, Hangtown Dancehall was conceived so that each tune could stand on its own. You can dip into the flow of the story, and everywhere you land you'll find a gem of a song that's worthy of your time and your ears. No filler here. There's folk, bluegrass, western swing, Glen-Campbell-60s-pop, Kurt Weill-esque piano drama, old-time string band music, and Americana rock. It's got quite the musical breadth, folks. We hope you'll listen.
Where can you get this magical musical? Why, right here, at our Red Beet Records store. You can also get it online at Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes, and most download stores. (Keep in mind that with the digital download you won't get that beautiful 24-page booklet. But if you do go the digital route, please stop by www.hangtowndancehall.com where all the booklet pages -- and lots more information -- can be found.) It's also available at Village Records, Fat Crow Press in Nashville, Politics & Prose in Washington, DC, and if you live in San Francisco, you can find copies in the gift shop of the California Historical Society.
But here's the deal: We've got 'em all beat. Hangtown Dancehall is the very first song-cycle/musical/folk-opera of the 21st century about the California Gold Rush! ("Paint Your Wagon" beat us to the punch in the 20th century...)
Hangtown Dancehall is nearly an hour of music written by Eric Brace and Karl Straub, and features such Americana, folk, and rock luminaries as Kelly Willis, Tim O'Brien, Jason Ringenberg, John Wesley Harding, Darrell Scott, and Andrea Zonn. And those are just the singers! The musicians on this album are amazing, and include Casey Driessen, Fats Kaplin, and the late, great Mike Auldridge.
For those of you wondering when there might be a live performance of Hangtown Dancehall, we'll keep you posted. And if you're interested in hosting a performance, shoot us an e-mail.
Meanwhile, get yourself a copy, and see if it's not the best folk-opera/song-cycle/musical about the California Gold Rush you've ever heard!
What people are saying about Hangtown Dancehall:
"This killer production is most likely to be the fuse that ignites a new folk explosion. This album flirts with perfection so hard that perfection can feel this album’s breath on it’s neck. Packaged in a cool package that houses a theatrical presentation peopled with nothing but top shelf players and singers that pretty much define alt.country and Americana, this set is worth all the gold in Placerville. Hot stuff throughout." - Chris Spector, Midwest Record
"It’s a smart, engaging and musically diverse show that should have a future in theaters across the country." - Ken Paulson, Sun209.com
"If there's one thing I love, it's not the theatre. When I hear, "musical soundtrack," that's like hearing, "dentist appointment" or "Limp Bizkit" or "Duke basketball." So when my duo partner and arch-nemesis, Eric Brace, told me he and oddball genius Karl Straub had written a musical about the gold rush called "Hangtown Dancehall," I walked away to go make a dentist appointment. Eric tugged me back, tied me in a rope and forced me to listen to the musical. I hate to tell you how great it is. Emotionally eloquent songs, performed by brilliant musicians and singers, creating a compelling story. Eric and Karl made these characters up, and now they're real, they live and breathe and they sing better than I do. Jerks." - Peter Cooper, Senior Music Writer, The Tennessean
"Words escape me (and we know that doesn't happen often). How wonderful it was. Eric Brace and Karl Straub have written a most enjoyable piece...surrounded by some of the finest musicians Nashville has to offer. The hour and a half was one of the most enjoyable I've had in some time...if they ever perform it again...count me in...and all ya'll had better not miss it..." - Phil "The Road Mangler" Kaufman