According to legend (and by "legend" we mean "Wikipedia"), the original model for the hootenanny was a result of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie's inability to pay their bills. The folk-legends-to-be invited all their musically inclined friends and Greenwich Village neighbors to attend an open jam session that doubled as a charity event with proceeds benefiting the Pay Pete and Woody's Rent Foundation.
This sort of entertaining and elaborate musical panhandling soon became a fertile playground for like-minded musicians, a widely used concert format within the folk scene of the 1950s and '60s and somewhat of a vehicle for folk music's subsequent rise in popularity. That is, until the British Invasion arrived.
Though it's never really gone away, the hootenanny seems to be experiencing a peculiar renaissance. The new breed of hoot that Austin singer-songwriter/journalist Michael Hall is credited with reviving in the '80s is still somewhat of a slapdash event, but far from an improvisational free-for-all. You start with the same essential ingredients: a group of musicians and some shared influence. The influence comes in the form of a particular theme that guides a Hoot Night's otherwise freewheeling spirit. Themes could be based on a particular artist or group (Blondie or Bob Dylan or Prince), genre (punk rock or pub rock or polka) or some other imaginative combination altogether (Satan vs. Santa or Elvis Costello vs. Elvis Presley or Jesus Christ Superhoot). Hoots are still rampant down in the Capitol City, and when Hall moved to Chicago he brought some of that sweet hoot love with him and spread it around Chi-town accordingly.
Amongst a battery of other adrenaline injections being administered to our local scene as of late, Callithump Productions has decided to establish a Hoot Night proper at Club Dada. Callithump headmistress Carlin Stultz was introduced to the Hoot concept last year, while in Austin for SXSW.
"I became enamored with the idea," Stultz says. "I've been tossing some ideas around to get it started here for over a year and finally just decided to get it going recently."
Prayer for Animals' Jeremy Jenkins provided some inspiration for the first installment in the series. "He mentioned that Teenage Symphony would be ideal for a Beach Boys Hoot, and I agreed," Stultz says. "I asked them, and they were excited to jump on board, as the Beach Boys are one of the band's influences."
That's putting it pretty lightly. Teenage Symphony—along with their fellow Hoot Night attendees Handclaps and Harmonies, the S-1 Committee, Tha Bracelets and Voot Cha Index—are proud disciples of Brian Wilson's sonic styling and the Beach Boys' harmony-riddled pop sensibilities.
Future Callithump Hoot Nights are already in the works, and it would be a nice thing to catch on. But that's as much up to the spectators as it is to the performers. While the tedious format of an open mic night is inherently focused on singer-songwriters, Hoot Nights are more concerned with groups of versatile musicians engaging an interactive crowd. Much of a hootenanny's success depends on the efforts of a responsive and enthusiastic audience. The tricky part will be coaxing some historically stoic Dallas concertgoers into active participation. Ya can't clap with your arms crossed.
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