Oregon-based alt-country Bucket Boys are patriots in their own way
Back in 2000, when jailbirds Ulysses Everett McGill, Delmar O’Donnell and Pete Hogwallop broke out of Depression-era Mississippi and onto the silver screen in Joel and Ethan Cohen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the trio’s ensuing adventure did not only draw attention to Homer’s “The Odyssey,” upon which the movie was based.
According to Kenny Feinstein—the Santa Cruz-born guitarist and mandolin player for The Water Tower Bucket Boys—the movie’s heroes helped turn the youth of this country (and him, in particular) on to the rich tradition of Americana music.
Specifically, Feinstein believes that “Man of Constant Sorrow”—an early 20th century song popularized by the film—provided the spark that ignited the bluegrass and folk revival, which has left a mark on the indie music scene for the past decade.
“I think that spurred it for everybody,” Feinstein says of the song, originally recorded by Kentucky singer Dick Burnett, and interpreted by The Soggy Bottom Boys—Ulysses, Delmar and Pete’s musical alter ego in O Brother. “I remember hearing that song and thinking,‘Wow! This is amazing.’”
He felt an immediate and visceral connection to the song deep in his bones—it drew him closer to his identity as an American. “You can feel that music. It’s part of our blood. It’s part of our culture.”
Feinstein hopes that fans of The Water Tower Bucket Boys feel that same nostalgia he experienced when he first saw O Brother and heard “Man of Constant Sorrow.”
For Feinstein and the Bucket Boys, country music—and being American, for that matter—isn’t about being the toughest guy on the block with the biggest truck.
On “Telegraph,” from the band’s fourth LP and first national release, Sole Kitchen, the Bucket Boys sing about staying up late, drinking beer and playing Rancid songs in Berkeley—presumably somewhere near 924 Gilman St. In the song, the band seems to be singing to a demographic that commercial country music would never address.
“Our goals with Sole Kitchen are to reach people who have never enjoyed the banjo, mandolin, or fiddle. To bring songs that are relevant in today’s social climate while maintaining their roots,” Feinstein says.
There was a time, not so long ago—from the mid-’60s to early ’70s—when groups like The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band merged the spirit of that era’s youth movement with the old-timey sounds of roots Americana and bluegrass.
In the decades that followed, with the emergence of new wave, electronica, rap, metal and alternative, country music fell out of vogue with the counter culture crowd, and by the late ’90s, commercial country radio was ruled by pop acts like Shania Twain and the macho, jingoistic jams of Toby Keith. For some millennials living in major metropolitan areas, the entire country genre was something to be avoided at all costs, precisely because of its rabid nationalist tendencies.
That’s not the Bucket Boys’ scene at all. Like contemporaries Old Crow Medicine Show, The Builders and the Butchers, The Avett Brothers, and Mumford & Sons, Feinstein’s band is crafting an alternative country sound, which, if all goes according to plan, will make all people—even the punk rock kids hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley—proud to be American.
The Water Tower Bucket Boys play with Vandaveer and Cheyenne Marie Mize at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $8. Call 429-6994.